Acorns and Oaks

Acorns and Oak
The oak tree has long been venerated by people of many cultures as a symbol of strength and power. James Warwick / Getty Images

The acorn is a symbol of strength and power. In the fall, these tiny yet hardy little nuggets drop from the oak trees to land on the ground. Most will be eaten by passing wildlife, but a few will survive to form a new tree in the spring. Because the acorn only appears on a fully mature oak, it is often considered a symbol of the patience needed to attain goals over long periods of time. It represents perseverance and hard work.

Did You Know?

  • In many cultures the oak is sacred, and is often connected to legends of deities who interact with mortals. 
  • The Celts, Romans, Greeks, and Teutonic tribes all had legends connected to the mighty oak; in particular it was tied to deities that had control over thunder, lightning, and storms.
  • The acorn is a symbol of strength and power, as well as perseverance and hard work.

In many cultures the oak is sacred, and is often connected to legends of deities who interact with mortals. Throughout history, most of the major civilizations of Europe held the oak as a highly venerated tree, and it was associated with deities in many pantheons. The Celts, Romans, Greeks and Teutonic tribes all had legends connected to the mighty oak tree. Typically, the oak was related to deities that had control over thunder, lightning, and storms.

Beautiful red oak leaf in autumn sunlight
DavidPrahl / Getty Images

In Norse legend, Thor found shelter from a violent storm by sitting under a mighty oak tree. Today, people in some Nordic countries believe that acorns on the windowsill will protect a house from being hit by lightning. In parts of Great Britain, young ladies followed a custom of wearing an acorn on a string around their neck. It was believed that this was a talisman against premature aging.

The Druids are believed to have held rituals in oak groves, and certainly mistletoe was to be found on oak trees. According to legend, mistletoe was indicative of the a god stopping by via a lightning strike on the tree. Certainly, oak trees seem to be more susceptible to lightning strikes than other trees, although this could be because it's often the tallest tree around.

A lone oak tree with a double y-shaped trunk.
David Clarke / Getty Images

Author and artist Carl Blackburn writes,

"One thing that seems to tie together much of the ancient reverence for the oak tree is lightning... As the oak is generally one of the tallest trees in the forest, it is well known as the tree most prone to lightning strikes. Once struck, it will continue to thrive. The Druids believed that when mistletoe grew in an oak tree it was magical and sacred—it had been placed there by a lightning strike and was therefore the most powerful of all the mistletoe that grew in the forest. The mistletoe was cut from the oak by a white cloaked priest with a golden sickle, and two white bulls sacrificed. The religious ceremony culminated with the rendering of an elixir that was said to cure infertility and be an antidote to all poisons."

Rulers often wore crowns of oak leaves, as a symbol of their connection to the divine. After all, if one were a living god, personification of the god on earth, one had to look the part. Roman generals were presented with oak crowns upon returning victorious from battle, and the oak leaf is still used as a symbol of leadership in the military today.

Paul Kendall at Trees For Life says,

"Perhaps because of the oak's size and presence, much of its folklore concerns specific, individual oak trees. Many parishes used to contain what became known as the Gospel Oak, a prominent tree at which part of the Gospel was read out during the Beating of the Bounds ceremonies at Rogantide in spring. In Somerset stand the two very ancient oaks of Gog and Magog (named after the last male and female giants to roam Britain), which are reputed to be the remnants of an oak-lined processional route up to the nearby Glastonbury Tor. The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest is purported to be the tree where Robin Hood and his Merry Men hatched their plots, and is now a popular tourist attraction (though this particular tree probably does not predate the 16th century)."

Around the reign of King Henry VIII, oak became popular for its use in construction of homes for the wealthy. Managed oak forests in Scotland supplied thousands of pieces of timber for use in London and other English cities. The bark was used as well, to create a dye that was used in ink-making.

Today, many modern Pagans and Wiccans continue to honor the oak. It is found in the Celtic Ogham symbols, and contemporary Druids still celebrate its power.

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "Acorns and Oaks." Learn Religions, Sep. 22, 2021, Wigington, Patti. (2021, September 22). Acorns and Oaks. Retrieved from Wigington, Patti. "Acorns and Oaks." Learn Religions. (accessed June 3, 2023).