A Pilgrimage to Herne’s Forest
The tree had lived for at least 600 years having fallen from its parent as an acorn whilst England was in the grip of the Black Death. It knew the land before combustion engines when all around was silent, but for the falling hooves of passing horses. It had seen peace, and it had tasted blood when many fell around it during the English Civil War. It might not have known Herne’s Oak, but it stood within the same ancient forest, and its parent tree would have stood, tall and wise, as Herne’s Oak fed from the same sunlight, only a mile or so away. There were other trees around it that had been brought here and planted by wildlife – the offspring of Herne’s Oak stood all around.
The men had driven for about 2 hours and parked the car, getting out and stretching their legs in the warmth of the early Spring day. Their rucksacks packed with hot water and tea they stepped over the stile, and into the countryside.
“Shall we form a circle and get in touch with our intent?” one asked.
But it was thought better to just walk a little way deeper into the woods, away from the sound of passing cars (although the jets from Heathrow flying just overhead would be harder to escape from). Soon the noise of the busy road lessened, and the men formed a circle in that ancient place and they intoned the Awen. They had come to ask the land to be led to the Heart Tree of the Forest. Each one had his own relationship with the Pagan Horned God, and today they were together in honour of Herne. They had come to the ancient woodland of Windsor Great Park, the home of the legend of Herne the Hunter.
The tree could sense something was different today. An old memory was returning, not its own memory, but a genetic memory granted by its ancestors. Of being worshipped by mankind. Of being held in reverence by an ancient group of people. Of its brothers and sisters forming Sacred Groves, Nemeton, where these ancient people held their rituals. The tree remembered, as the group of men drew closer.
There were so many trees here! How would one stand out among so many wise and ancient beings? It didn’t matter. The men were detached from any outcome, just enjoying the search and the feelings of brotherhood and friendship, yet also feeling that every step was leading them ever closer to, something.
A lightning-stuck Oak called out.
They gathered, but it was not the Heart Tree.
Then it was as if each one turned simultaneously and saw a copse of trees, apart from the rest.
The Old Tree breathed in the sunlight, and waited.
They knew as soon as they saw it. It didn’t appear any more special than any of the others, but it had a presence that could not be denied. They approached the tree. There were tears. The land was vibrating. Then they saw the gateway, standing tall, leaning in towards the ancient Oak like huge antlers thrusting out of the earth, the vast head buried beneath. Just beyond the gateway a faerie tree stood as watcher and sentinel, with roots in Annwn, and its trunk and branches in Abred. Its old wizened face observing.
The men took time to communicate with the old oak. It stood in the centre of a wide grove, and all of the land around it was blessed by its presence. Each man had brought a gift, an offering to be given, should they be led to the Heart Tree. An open branch stood like the head of a stag, its mouth open. Words were spoken, and offerings placed within the mouth.
The tree knew then that it was still honoured as its ancestors had been before. That there were still those who revered the Old Ways, the Old Gods. The men were blessed by its spirit, and the Oak was blessed by theirs.
Each then approached the gateway, made a small internal prayer, and stepped across, into whatever would come next.
The tea on the journey back tasted good.