The summer solstice arrived this year on June 20 in the northern hemisphere. We know it on our calendars as the first day of summer. On the summer solstice the sun appears to stand still momentarily in its swing across the heavens, reaching the southernmost point of its swing before it begins moving back in the other direction toward the equator.
For the oak-loving Celtic societies of ancient Britain who lived by a lunar calendar of thirteen months, their seventh moon-month (roughly June 10 through July 7) was the month of the oak and was called Duir. (Each month of the Celtic calendar was assigned a specific tree species.) The word Duir comes from the Sanskrit “Dwr” meaning door and for the Celtic priests, known as Druids, the solstice was a time when the door to other spiritual worlds was momentarily swung open. With the proper ceremonies and intuitive ability, one could even communicate through that door and discern the future or far-away events.
In many cultures over time, people believed the oaks (and other trees) contained a spirit that expressed itself at certain times and to certain individuals. In Native American societies, some believe that the elder trees of all species contain the wisest spirits, and if one listens closely with their “third ear,” the heart, they can learn many insightful things.
In Greek mythology, this spirit that resides in the oaks was called a dryad. The dryads were a type of tree nymph, a female nature deity in the Greek hierarchy of deities that presided over forests and groves. They were usually associated with the gods Pan, Hermes, and Dionysus and the huntress Artemis. (The Percy Jackson book series has reintroduced this mythology to a new generation here in the U.S.). The dryad either lives in a tree, in which case she is called a hamadryad, or she lives close to it and is intimately linked to the life and health of the tree. When the tree dies, then the dryad supposedly dies with it, though in some other sources on nature spirits, I’ve read that the spirit of a tree lives on within the wood long after it has been cut.
All of this obscure information about the solstice and mythological dryads is simply a way to introduce this new post and image – the Dryad Oak, near Avery Island, LA.
While making this image, I was struck by the obvious similarities of this oak’s shape to a stretching female figure. The more time I spend around oaks, the more I notice how some trees appear to have an almost human-like shapes and characters expressed in the twists and curves of their trunks and limbs. It’s no wonder that the Greeks, through their mythology, tried to communicate their emotional response to nature and the wonder and awe they experienced in their wilderness woods and groves.