There are five trees in the City that are thought to be greene men and women, oaks one and all. Today these alleged mythical creatures are subjected to a yearly ritual, The Earthing, in an attempt to keep them in their tree form. Each tree is well over three hundred years in age, but two of the trees are an estimated nine hundred years old. There were once seven of these trees in the City, but one was burned down and another simply disappeared.
The festival is short, spread out over a number of locations in the City, but it is considered an important event in the calendar for occultists and folklorists, who make a point of carrying on the tradition. The ritual around which the festival is centred is in essence very simple; a handful the first leaves that begin to poke out of their buds in spring are removed from the tree and buried beneath the tree roots. Whilst most oak trees in the surrounding countryside do not begin their leaf burst until early May, trees in the City are affected by the higher average temperatures and light pollution, so leaf earlier. As such, the festival date varies on the weather each year, and buds are closely observed for the first few weeks of spring.
The burying of the leaves by the tree’s roots is thought to trap the greene man or woman in their oaken body for another full year, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Famous folklorist Graham Yerbal theorised in his 1999 documentary about the occult, The Dark That Dwells So Near, that the ritual could be ‘focusing the world’s attention in the tree’s roots, rather than the renewal that the branches are experiencing, thereby negating the energy the greene man is trying to funnel into a more wholesale renewal.’ Whatever the reason, the ritual seems to have been successful so far in eliminating the possibility that the tree might transform and walk off into the forests.
A greene man or woman is said to be a forest spirit that is extremely affected by thought and symbolism. When seen by a human, the green person turns into a tree for its own self defence, as in the form it cannot be so easily manipulated by thoughts directed at it. Unfortunately for the green person, other people have devised a method of keeping it trapped in this way. Many people think it cruel to keep another being trapped in this way, but are too afraid of the punishment the woodland sprites might mete out for their years of captivity, and so keep them trapped despite themselves. Another common excuse is that the Earthing actually has no real effect, but that it is the constant presence of human eyes and thoughts that keeps the green people trapped inside their woody prisons.
Whilst humans are not able to exercise any direct thought control over these mythological creatures, there are some who believe that control may be taken through influencing the creature’s dreams. These cabals of occultists and sometime witches believe that there is a body sleeping within the woody exterior, in a perpetual dream state. Throughout the year they attempt to modulate these dreams with circles of salt, music, tinctures applied to the roots and wafts of acrid smoke into the canopy. They do so in the hope that they can leverage the being’s ‘magical powers’ and grant themselves longer lifespans, summon woodland familiars, cast spells or curses, and gain a greater connection with the earth. There is little evidence other than oral testimony that any of the occultists were successful, but that doesn’t seem to discourage any of them.
The festival had become somewhat unpopular in the late seventeenth century, when there were still six of these oaks in the City. According to one unverified tale, often bandied about by occultists, one of the oaks was little known by the population on the whole, as few wanted to be associated with witchcraft for fear of persecution; one of the trees had already been destroyed as a reactionary response to allegations of witchery. When the elderly couple who had steadfastly been ‘earthing’ the sixth oak for many years died in a house fire, nobody else remembered that it needed to be done that year. A few days later from the festival (that year performed on the 19th of April) was a violent localised thunderstorm, driving folk indoors. When it cleared, the tree was gone.
The question, if one is to accept the assertion that these entirely normal-looking oak trees are actually woodland spirits, is why are they in the centre of a city in the first place? How did they come to be here? Have they stood there, for hundreds of years, originally on the edge of woodland where a human spotted them, watching the City slowly close about them? Or did they have some purpose traversing a place so patently dangerous for them? Did they tire of life, wanting to sleep through the next thousand years? Are they like those foolish humans, who ventured too far into the primordial forests, where they did not belong?
Other festivals happening today:
- A Soulfulness That Sinks Deep – A Festival for the Memory of Redine Clithero
- The Festival of Polishing and Shining
- Is It Too Early On In The Year To Barbecue? LET’S FIND OUT!
- The Festival of Viewing The Necklace of True Wonder