Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 17, 1906.djvu/64

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54 The European Sky -God.

30,000 acres thick-set with oak-trees. So useful was this oak-timber for ship-building, that it is said to have been part of the instructions of the Spanish Armada to destroy it.^ One storm alone, that of February 18, 1662, prostrated over 1000 oaks and as many beech-trees in this forest. A survey made the same year showed that the forest contained 25,929 oaks and 4,204 beeches. In 1783 the numbers had grown to 90,382 oaks and 17,982 beeches.^ Enormous oak-trees, such as ' Jack of the Yat,' ' the Newland Oak,' and one near York Lodge, are still the pride of the forest.^ Mr. C. W. King remarks that the pillars and entablature of Nodons' temple must have been constructed of oak, since no architectural fragments have been found.* In the adjoin- ing county of Monmouthshire it is still believed that fairies dance ' under the female oak, called Brenhin- bren.'^ But in the forest of Dean sanctity attaches nowadays rather to the holly. At least, it is noteworthy that the free miners of the forest, who form a peculiar community with its own court of justice, are sworn by means of a special oath, in which they touch the Gospels with a stick of holly.^ The choice of a red-berried sub- stitute for the oak is not without significance, as the sequel will show.

^ Giraldus Cambrensis trans, by T. Wright London 1905 p. 371 n. 4. cp. Camden Britannia ed. Gough i. 267, where 'oats' is a clerical error for ' oaks. '

^H. G. NichoUs The Forest of Dean London 1858 pp. 39, 210.

^ Id. ib. p. 207 ff. ■* Lydney Park p. 29.

^Wirt Sikes British Goblins London 1880 p. 105 f.

^Nicholls The Forest of Dean p. 149.

■^ Vide my next article. The resemblance of the holly {ilex aquifoliuni L.) to the holly oak or holm oak {qtierais ilex L.) can hardly have been a determining cause, since the latter tree appears to have been introduced into this country only about the middle of the sixteenth century (E. Step Wayside and Woodland Trees London 1905 p. 18). R. Folkard Plant Lore, Legends., and Lyrics London 1884 p. 376 supposes that Christmas holly is a surrogate for boughs of oak.