February 24th – The Felling of the Wych Oak Remembrance Festival

The Wych Oak was felled on this day in 1635, by royal degree. In previous decades it had been a popular gathering place for the people of Buentoille, being then placed on the closest edge of Monarch’s Park, a deer hunting estate that has since been incorporated into the City proper. Each summer the Oak was adorned with colourful ribbons, and danced around in fertility rituals. The tree’s gnarled trunk was shaped roughly like a ‘T’, and served as the perfect spot to watch the springtime mummer’s plays that were shown on that edge of the park. In the winter unmarried women would climb atop it and gather buds from the highest branches they could reach, using them as part of love potions to attract a partner.

It was the rituals and potions that did for the Wych Oak, along with its name, that is. The early 1630s were a time of witch hunting, and of destroying anything that sounded at all occult of witch-like. The name ‘Wych Oak’ does not even derive from the word ‘witch’, but rather from ‘wish’ as the ancient tree was often called upon to grant wishes. A legend surrounded the tree that it was a forest god, a greene man who had been seen by human eyes abroad at night, and had turned into an oak to hide. It could be kept captive in tree-form as long as a specific springtide festival known as ‘The Earthing’ (still celebrated with other trees to this day) was conducted. In its captive form the greene man slept, and its powers were potentially leveraged by suggestions slipped into its dreams.

The Monarch of the time, Queen Matilda Bathenhurst, was herself accused of witchcraft, and sought to do anything to distance herself from it and maintain political power. The existence of the Oak on her own royal hunting grounds was obviously contentious, and unfortunately it had to go. Matilda, actually a great lover of trees, reconciled herself with the thought of the political kudos she would receive from the felling; she even took the first swing with the axe herself. Unfortunately, the felling did little to help her cause.

The tree was thick, over eleven feet wide, and took a gang of men to cut down. It should have been done with a two-man saw, really, but the Queen liked the image of using axes. When they had reached about half way, and about half of the crowd had dispersed from boredom, one of the woodsmen called out ‘stop!’ There, in the core of the Wych Oak, was a white bone. As the surrounding wood was stripped back, a complete human skeleton was revealed, probably male given the measurements of the skull. The skeleton seemed to inhabit a small hollow in the centre of the tree that divided the central thirty rings. It would seem that the body had been there a very long time.

Nobody has ever been able to propose a scientific explanation for how the skeleton got there, and it certainly did the Queen no favours. She was captured by a witch-hunting mob later that night, purportedly found crafting a potion of disguise, or organising transport to Strigaxia, depending on which story you believe. The body and tree were burned together where they lay, leaving only a black mark in their place. In Garrik’s Museum of Infernal and Occult Curiosities there is a piece of wood that was allegedly taken from the tree before the burning. It is convex and smooth, as if polished, and is inscribed with a number of runes and glyphs that have never been translated. According to the glass cabinet it sits in, the piece was part of the wall of the hollow that held the skeleton.

Celebrations for this festival are small and considered. Delegations of occultist groups are given free entry into Garrik’s Museum to view the piece of wood, though they are forbidden to get too close to the cabinet. Three burly security guards are stationed around the piece. On the site of the tree-burning (now a clearing in an overgrown derelict zone behind a newsagents) the soil is still black, and nothing grows there. An acorn is planted there today, in the vain hope that it will grow. Only once has the acorn sprouted, and the sapling turned black and died two years down the line. Different rituals and incantations are performed each year, along with different care tips gathered from prestigious gardeners and dendrologists. In one common ritual. wood alcohol derived from oak is poured out, whilst oaken boughs are laid over the blackened soil.

The guards have been stationed around the piece of wood in the Museum since 1946, when a group of occultists attempted to steal it, citing a prophecy that suggested they should try planting the wood to regrow the mythical tree as their motivations.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Capsaicin Freak

  • Long Distance Relationship Day

  • The Best Freehand Circle of Enlightenment Competition