The Oak and Oakmen

Most people know the rhyming proverb 'Fairy folks are in old oaks'.

'The Gospel Oak' or 'The King's Oak' in every considerable forest had probably a traditional sacredness from unremembered times, and an oak coppice in which the young saplings had sprung from the stumps of felled trees was thought to be an uncanny place after sunset. An oak coppice was often considered an evil and dangerous place to travel through at night, especially if it was a blue-bell wood.

The oak derives its Gaelic name from the Sanskrit word duir, or “door.” As its roots reach far beneath the unseen world it is believed that these trees were in fact doors to the faerie realm. The oakmen are seen as inhabitants of this realm and protectors of the animals within the woods.

Oakmen are male dwarf faeries who are the guardians of sacred oak groves. They are not seen as friendly towards people, however no one has ever been harmed by one. They are described as having huge heads being squat, dwarfish people with red caps. Although they origin from Germany and Scandinavia; scattered references have also been found in Northern England.

The Oakmen are believed to be created when an oak stump sends up shoots. One should never take food offered by them; they may offer delicious food to passing mortals, but as soon as the fairy magic on them is reversed, you will see they are, in reality, bits of poisonous fungi. It is unwise to wander around felled oaks, as Oakmen may be lingering around them, angry at the loss of their parent tree. They guard the wild animals of the forests and dwell near clumps of bluebells. If a traveller damages bluebells in the woods the Oakmen will make sure that they become lost.

Although there are scarce stories of Oakmen in English folkore, there are certainly two written accounts of Oakmen, Beatrix Potter wrote about them in her book The Fairy Caravan. Her description of them matches those described by Ruth Tongue in her book ‘Forgotten Folk Tales of the English Counties’ which features a story from Cumberland titled ‘The Vixen and the Oakmen.’ Similarities in the description and nature supports speculation of a wider belief of Oakmen which may well have originated with German and Scandinavian settlers in England.