The Metaphysics of Faerie Trees

‘Faerie Folks
Are in old oaks.’  Traditional proverb

In 1452, thirty-four French villagers were questioned by an ecclesiastical commission about a ‘faerie tree’ (arbor fatalism, gallide des fees) in Domrémy, as part of the process of overturning Joan of Arc’s conviction at the hands of the English/Burgundian Gestapo twenty years earlier. In the face of her inquisitors, Joan herself had offset her own belief in the faeries by apportioning it to her godmother, who had apparently seen the faeries gathering at the tree. And, even though the villagers were under no threat from the commission (quite the opposite in fact), none of the thirty-four interviewees would admit to a belief of the faeries, or that they had ever seen them at the tree. Instead, they informed the commissioners that “they had heard that in the old days faeries were said to have been seen there.” As the villagers would have been well aware of the Inquisition’s requirement for questioning of anyone who confessed to a belief in faeries, this was probably understandable. But the fact that there was a ‘faerie tree’ to begin with, suggests that there was an ingrained belief in the faeries and their penchant for gathering at a certain tree, amongst the rural 15th-century French peasantry in Domrémy.

Thomas the Rhymer and his Eildon Tree

Thomas the Rhymer meets the faerie queen under the Eildon Tree by Katherine Cameron

An intimate association between faeries and trees is found even further back in the literary tradition, in the ballad of ‘Thomas the Rhymer.’ Thomas appears to have been a 13th-century visionary and poet from the Scottish Borders, and his adventures with the faeries, and most especially the faerie queen, can be found in several medieval sources as well as being updated through the 18th and 19th centuries, notably by Sir Walter Scott. In the ballad, the interface between consensus reality and the faerie realm is ‘the Eildon Tree’, a hawthorn where Thomas meets the faeries and is transported into their world. There is much arboreal imagery in the ballad, which makes it clear that the faeries are woodland entities: “At the beginning of each summer, when the milk-white hawthorn is in bloom, anointing the air with its sweet odour, and miles and miles of golden whin adorn the glens and hill-slopes, the faeries come forth in grand procession, headed by the Faerie Queen.”

Scott’s setting of the ballad creates a woodland world, itself a place of magic where the otherworldly faeries are able to slip into reality to coax Thomas to join them from beneath the Eildon Tree:

‘Come with us, mortal, come! a welcome to
Through the moonlit shades of the forest glades,
Where the Faeries meet in their dim retreat,
Come with us, mortal, come!
There the shy dreams creep from the darkness deep
To flutter with noiseless wing,
And the bright-eyed stars ‘mid the branching bars
Of the oak and the elm-tree swing.
Where the merry Fays through the wildwood ways
Dance by the firefly’s light,
Thou shalt read the runes of the silver tunes
That ring through the dewy night.’


Further back still, in Ancient Greece, Dryads (Δρυάδες) and Hamadryads (Ἁμαδρυάδες), often given the general term of Nymphs (νύμφη), were female tree spirits, that were 4e224c0b6fc57b77b974abc5b66d9826usually recognised as being one with the tree, protecting it with their vitality and receiving symbiotic protection and life in return. Pausanias, in his 2nd-century Description of Greece, although distancing himself from the b5fbd39326ac4c8d44ae3e130c5a3d43belief, says: “Those Dryads who in days of old, according to the story of the poets, grew out of trees and especially out of oaks.” Some Hamadryads life spans were directly related to the trees, and although usually temperate and kind in nature, they would deal retribution on any person destroying or damaging their trees and habitats, often with the help of the gods. They frequently also had to appeal to the gods (and sometimes humans) to protect them from satyrs, who would rampage around woodlands, drunk and on the lookout for the alluring arboreal dryads. Many of the Dryads are named in the legends, and it is clear that the Greeks apportioned different characters to different trees. The poet Pherenikos described the Dryads as Nymphs and apportioned their roles to individual trees:

Aigeiros was the nymph of the black poplar (Populus nigra);
Ampelos the nymph of the vine–including the wild grape (Vitis silvestris), bryony (Bryonia creticus), black bryony (Tamus communis) and the wrack (Fucus volubilis);
Balanis the nymph of oak-trees–such as the holm oak (Quercus ilex) and prickly-cupped oak (Quercus aegilops);
Karya the nymph of the nut tree–both the hazel (Corylus avellana) and the walnut (Juglans regia), and perhaps also the sweet chestnut (Castanea vesca);
Kraneia the nymph of the cornelian cherry-tree (Cornus mas);
Morea the nymph of the mulberry tree (Morus nigra) or else the wild olive;
Ptelea the nymph of the European elm tree (Ulmus glabra);
and Syke the nymph of the fig tree (Ficus cardiac).

It is clear the ancient Greeks regarded these named and categorised tree-entities as metaphysical representatives of an otherworld, who would only interact with humanity during certain conditions. In this they are faeries in all but name – seen through the cultural lens of classical Greek civilisation.

The Hawthorn as a Faerie Tree

These historic associations between trees and the faeries are suggestive of a deep folk tradition and belief that tied the two together. It is a connection that remains intact to the present day, where folklore informs a modern belief in the importance of certain trees – most especially solitary trees – as arbiters between this world and an ultra-dimensional

Eddie Lenihan and the faerie hawthorn at Latoon

faerieland. This is nicely illustrated by the exploits of the Irish folklorist and storyteller Eddie Lenihan, as captured in the 2000 documentary by John Walker, The Fairy Faith. Eddie was instrumental in persuading Co. Clare council to re-route part of the Newmarket-on-Fergus bypass road at Latoon, in order to avoid the destruction of a faerie hawthorn tree, or sceach, which was initially due for uprooting as part of the road construction. A media campaign garnered the support of local people, and even The New York Times was motivated to write a piece about the plight of the tree. Eddie appealed to the intrinsic folkloric beliefs attached to the hawthorn, suggesting that the centuries-old idea that this particular tree was a focal point for the gathering of supernatural beings should be respected, and not simply ignored for the sake of materialistic expediency. He won – the tree remains to this day, albeit marooned between the highway and the slip road.

There is a very deeply ingrained belief and understanding in Irish culture as to the importance of these solitary hawthorns, which have gathered folk traditions about them, often in relation to the faeries. They go by various names – Wishing Trees, May Bushes, Rag Trees or Faerie Trees – and are frequently found in association with holy wells or

Clottie-covered hawthorns at Cnoc na Teamhrach

prehistoric forts (raths). They are also regularly festooned with ribbons, rags and trinkets, sometimes known as clooties, which are demonstrative of a continued folk belief in the spiritual ambience eminating from the trees. The clooties were traditionally tied to the trees as an offering to the nature spirits that inhabited it (sometimes Christianised to the spiritual presence of a saint or saints), in the hope that with their decomposition, ailments or bad luck would disappear with them. This tradition continues, and now incorporates a range of beliefs as to what the clotties are supposed to do. They may be tied to the trees as simple offerings with prayers, as wish-fulfillers, or as a recognition that the tree contains a metaphysical consciousness. These be-ribboned hawthorns can be found all over Ireland, perhaps most famously on the western banks of the Iron-Age hillfort that tops the Hill of Tara (Cnoc na Teamhrach) in Co. Meath, where there are two trees, permanently covered with offerings ranging from tiny ribbons to pink surfboards.

This tradition can be found throughout Ireland but also in Britain, where many solitary trees attached to a prehistoric site or next to a holy well, will have its branches decorated with offerings. At the approach to the Neolithic long barrow burial chamber at West

The Guardian Oak at West Kennet with Silbury Hill in the background

Kennet in Wiltshire there is a tree known as The Guardian Oak. One tradition states that if a ribbon or piece of cloth with personal value is tied to its branches, the faeries will inform you whether it is advisable to continue along the path to the long barrow. If the answer is no, then all is not lost, as you can take a slight diversion to the nearby Swallowhead Spring nestling between field banks, where a hawthorn and oak hang over the spring that feeds the River Kennet, and is covered in clooties left by people who recognise the charged atmosphere of the place.

A Filmic Faerie Oak

Photographing Fairies (1997)

The association of faeries with trees is vividly brought to life in the 1997 film Photographing Fairies, where we are presented with a mighty oak acting as a tree where the faeries are to be found. In this case the faeries are small luminescent beings who seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the oak. They can only be seen in and around the tree (always with the aid of a psychoactive flower), which acts as the interface between consensus reality and the world of the faeries. Interestingly, it also acts as a hub for death in the film, with the faeries operating as arbiters between life and death. This plugs into the folkloric concept that faeries are intimately connected to the world of the dead, able to cross over between material reality and a metaphysical reality, where there is nothing but consciousness. It also acts as a shrine for the two little girls, Clara and Anna, after the death of their mother (who falls from the tree in an altered state of consciousness whilst communing with the faeries), linking into the idea discussed above, that faerie trees can be receptors of offerings, mediated by the supernatural entities that reside there.

Nature Spirits and Elementals

Whilst the faeries in the film are not necessarily portrayed as nature spirits, their reliance on the oak tree is implicit throughout, bringing them into line with the concept that what underlies the folktale perception of the faeries is a deeper metaphysical authenticity. In a series of lectures between 1908 and 1924, the Austrian spiritual philosopher Rudolf Steiner outlined his concept of these nature spirits (sometimes calling them elementals) and their fundamental role in ensuring the propagation of the f8d16e459d4768e8f183e46bcf2a76e4natural world, most especially in relation to trees. Steiner took clairvoyance as a given reality, and his descriptions of the inter-penetrating of the physical world with the spiritual world is compelling, and points towards a deeper, cosmic understanding of the nuts and bolts of how the world really works. He terms consensus reality as the sense world, and the spiritual realm as the supersensible world. For Steiner, the supersensible world exists as a field of energy devoid of matter, but which constantly interacts with the physical sense world. What exists in the supersensible world is in effect a fifth dimension of reality upon which our own four dimensions rely, and which is essential to the well-being of all life, but can only be perceived by clairvoyance. It is this special faculty that allows people to recognise how the worlds of matter and spirit intertwine.

A Brian Froud Gnome

Steiner saw the supersensible as indispensable to the material world in the same way as consciousness is the necessary animating force to the physical bodies of humans. And he saw consciousness as the key to crossing the boundary between our world of the five senses and that of the nature spirits. He insists that ‘thought forms’ are the only way we are able to perceive the elementals and to understand what they are doing in nature, which he likens to unseen electricity bringing life to dormant machinery. To do this, a person must transform their usually passive thought forms into something more dynamic:

‘If someone really succeeds in entering the world with his clairvoyant soul, it seems as though his thoughts were not things over which he has any command; they are living beings… You thrust your consciousness into a place, it seems, where you do not find thoughts that are like those in the physical world, but where they are living beings.’ Perception of the Elemental World (1913).

‘Faeries and Trees’ Virginia Lee

The elementals in the supersensible world exist as a range of beings, from devas, which are responsible for entire autonomous landscapes, through to the smaller nature spirits charged with the growth of trees and vegetation. Steiner divides these into four main types corresponding to earth (gnomic), water (undines), air (sylphs) and heat/light (salamanders). Steiner describes the chthonic nature spirits responsible for the health of trees, which:

‘… send down their roots into the ground. Anyone who can observe what they really send down and can perceive the roots with spiritual vision (for this he must have) sees how the root is everywhere surrounded by the activities of elemental nature spirits. And these elemental spirits, which an old clairvoyant perception designated as gnomes and which we may call the root spirits, can be studied with Imagination and Inspiration, just as human life and animal life can be studied in the physical world. We can look into the soul nature of these elemental spirits, into this world of the spirits of the roots.’ Elemental Spirits and the Plant World (1923).

Morphogenetic Fields

Steiner’s language and ideas are informed by his involvement with the Theosophist movement, and may grate with a 21st-century reader. But his metaphysics finds common ground with the compelling recent theory of Morphogenetic Fields propounded by the biochemist Rupert Sheldrake. This is a theory of formative causation in nature:

‘Over the course of fifteen years of research on plant development, I came to the conclusion that for understanding the development of plants, their morphogenesis, genes and gene products are not enough. Morphogenesis also depends on organising fields. The same arguments apply to the development of animals. Since the 1920s many developmental biologists have proposed that biological organisation depends on fields, variously called biological fields, or developmental fields, or positional fields, or morphogenetic fields.’ Rupert Sheldrake’s Morphic Fields.

the_presence_of_the_past_morphic_resonance_and_the_memory_of_nature-sheldrake_rupert-15105071-frntSheldrake’s description of this organising principle behind the natural world is issued in the language of biochemistry, but in effect, what he postulates is the same as Steiner’s vision of nature spirits in action. There are invisible forces that are essential in ordering life on earth, something that conventional science accepts in the case of gravitational waves or magnetism, but has a hard time with when it comes to life itself. Steiner’s thesis is that the nature spirits are anthropogenic representations of these morphogenetic fields, imposed upon them through the thought forms of the observer, who perceives them clairvoyantly. Call them what you will, but they exist, and are essential in maintaining reproductive life; they are a form of consciousness responsible for the creation and sustenance of matter. They are the memory of nature.

The Wood Wide Web

With great serendipity, Rupert’s son, Merlin Sheldrake, a scientist specialising in mycorrhizal fungi, has recently put forward the theory that trees and plants are able to communicate through their root systems, mirroring the concept that a form of consciousness is operating to ensure the natural vitality of plant life. This has been nattily titled the Wood Wide Web:

‘For centuries, fungi were widely held to be harmful to plants, parasites that cause disease and dysfunction. More recently, it has become understood that certain kinds of common fungi exist in subtle symbiosis with plants and trees, bringing about not infection but connection. These fungi send out gossamer-fine fungal tubes called hyphae, which infiltrate the soil and weave into the tips of plant and tree roots at a cellular level. Roots and fungi combine to form what is called a mycorrhiza… In this way, individual plants and trees are joined to one another by an underground hyphal network: a dazzlingly complex and collaborative structure that has become known as the Wood Wide Web.’

The Wood Wide Web by Enzo Pérès-Labourdette

Whilst the ‘messaging system’ is physically conveyed through the fungal hyphal network,  the actual messages must be generated by a form of consciousness. Could this consciousness be one and the same as Steiner’s nature spirits and Rupert Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields? As discussed in a previous blog post, Altered States of Consciousness and the Faeries, certain fungi such as Psilocybin and Amanita Muscaria can allow a direct route into what Steiner would call clairvoyance, potentially opening up a psychedelic state of consciousness that is able to see and interact with the faeries, in whatever form they might take. These mushrooms are part of Sheldrake’s fungal wood wide web, and may be acting as routers; allowing us to collaborate with the fundamental natural consciousness that is being manifested. This manifestation could be partly responsible for what we have come to think of as faeries, nature spirits or elementals, allowing for the cultural coding that will generate what we see and experience.

This faerie experience seems to be especially and intrinsically linked to trees and vegetation in the natural world, whether we are looking at Steiner’s elementals, Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields, classical dryads or the faeries of folklore. They have an intimate relationship with trees, and we recognise this even if we don’t properly understand it. But at a metaphysical level maybe we do recognise the relationship, and the clustering of faerie traditions and beliefs around trees is an expression of this. Trees are one of the primary life-forces on the planet – for sound ecological reasons, perhaps we need to respect them, live with them and love them as much as the faeries seem to.

A pareidolic tree manifesting its consciousness

For a breakdown of faerie tree folklore by species, there is a good overview here.

For an Irish perspective, here is Ali Isaac’s excellent article: The Curious Phenomenon of the Irish Fairy Tree


Author: neilrushton

I write about my subversive thoughts... a lot of them are about those most ungraspable of metaphysical creatures; faeries. I published my first novel in 2016, "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", and my second novel was published in 2020 - 'Dead but Dreaming', where some very cosmic faeries are awaiting the protagonist at an English psychiatric hospital in 1970...

31 thoughts on “The Metaphysics of Faerie Trees”

  1. Beautifully tied together with research and creativity. This subject is huge part of shamanic work as well. Thank you for crafting this and I will add this to my recommended reading list for my shamanic students.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Such a perfect bit of reading to go with a gorgeous day in May. Trees with faces and dead wood fungi wearing grins are part of my world, and I thank you for the links to the Sheldrakes and the video (of which I apparently have already watched 30 minutes). I am most interested in seeking out you novel, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The respect, reverence or trepidation shown towards such trees suggests paganism still lies close to the Earth’s surface.

    On another level, how sad it is that the votive offerings found hanging from trees today are black bags full of dog excrement.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve some amazing historical detail in your posts here of the background of fairies / nature spirits Neil, I’ve been working my way through them. I personally started to see them and interact with fairies / nature spirits a few decades ago, you / your readers here might like to read of my experiences here:

    You last section above ‘strikes me’ in that this is has been my overall ‘impression’ after years of interactions. They do appear to be ‘intelligences’ that look out for / care for aspects of nature. For example, you can find mention of ‘landscape’ fairies and ‘weather’ gods / nature spirits on the internet which would be expected if this is correct.

    Now as I’ve been spending the last 2 decades examining personal experience anomalies as well as ‘stripping’ down ‘reality’ from different angles then I’ve collected rather a large ‘body of evidence’ that at least our ‘external / environmental’ reality is very definitely ‘artificial’ i.e. it’s ‘software’ defined. So, my feeling now is that ‘fairies / nature spirits’ are actually glimpses of / and in my case direct interactions with artificial intelligences that are ‘keeping different aspects of out natural environment / living spaces ‘functioning’ as correctly as possible.

    The current climate chaos / changes / heating / cooling?!?!?! are ‘possibly’ nature spirit ‘reactions’ to our poor treatment of and for ‘poisoning’ of large swathes of land / the natural environment as well as our air and water!!!

    This page here: correlates a lot of weird / anomalous personal experiences that one can deduce are ‘likely’ if we are subtle beings being interfaced to a physical human ‘avatar’ form (in a perhaps software defined external environment).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this message TrueSpirit – some really interesting insights. I’ve been attempting to unpick the reality behind ‘the noise’ in this blog – sometimes more successfully than others. But I get the impression that small disclosures are being made all the time – and it’s up to us to pick up on them and try to understand the metaphysics… and I certainly agree with you about the climate chaos reaction… humanity has become blind and severed from spirit… could end very badly, very quickly. I will be checking out the links. Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment – it’s much appreciated…


      1. If you read the second link in my comment above then there is a lot of evidence that we are all ‘subtle’ beings interfaced to a physical human body form as part of ourselves having an undisclosed ‘human’ experience. So, if we are subtle forms interfaced into a physical ‘environment’ then subtle researchers / curious subtle folk are then very likely to develop interfacing to engage with / research / investigate different facets of the physical environment.

        For example any ‘subtle’ form/person that say develops interfacing to investigate/research a physical pond, stream or river environment will likely be mistaken for a water nymph or water spirit form. So, I originally eventually / after some time considered that ‘nature spirits’ were subtle researchers and or subtle ‘monitors / adjusters / overseers’ of different physical ‘land’ environments, while now my feeling is that that most nature spirit / fairy encounters are a mixture of the two / i.e. subtle researchers investigating ‘physical’ reality and ALSO AI’s as ‘fairies’ / ‘nature spirits’ forms.

        Now in a software defined environment there is also the ‘problem’ that you can then have ‘symbolic’ representations. So, if you’ve a subtle researcher / researchers whom are compiling information i.e. a database of some or many aspects of the physical environment / physical life then how will this be represented to ourselves ‘here’ to the people whom are actually ‘IN’ the physical / are now living a physical life, and particularly in ways that will be difficult to understand / figure out. You have to remember that there is a massive ‘BIAS’ for academic and scientist types here to explain everything from a physical materialistic angle i.e. it is part of there job to ignore anything else (I ‘used to be’ a medical research scientist).

        So, how would you keep obscured from the physical population the data / knowledge being accumulated by ‘subtle’ researchers? Well, a database is of an unfolding, recursive branching structure cataloguing ‘information’ which could be described as representing many different ‘books’ covering different categories of knowledge each holding ‘pages of information’ which can be conceptually thought of as the ‘leaves of different books’.

        So, how could this ‘information’ held within the subtle environment be represented to a former subtle researcher now interfaced and living a physical life within a software defined environment?

        Well, as a start, in that books are ‘actually’ made from trees then there is a very obvious and very direct ‘symbolic’ linkage between knowledge/wisdom and ‘trees’. Also, a tree has a recursive branching structure that’s ends up presenting many ‘leaves’. Also, you’ve some ‘fairy’ types seemingly extremely interested in and VERY focused around trees that are specifically ‘deemed’ to be sacred/special while also being associated with spiritual / higher knowledge. We have ‘tree of knowledge/tree of life’ terms in common use (even to the point of having pictures / diagrams of trees with ‘knowledge’ labels on their branches)!!!!

        In other words on this specific page/post it is highly likely that some of the pictures of the trees depicted actually ‘REPRESENT’ databases of knowledge.

        In other words, it is highly likely that some easily observed physical ‘TREES’ are in fact symbolically representing a subtle database aka a ‘branching structure holding knowledge’ and the ‘fairies’ associated with these specific trees are likely to be subtle ‘researchers’ rather then the AI nature spirits (or a mixture of both)!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ooops I missed the top two lines of the above comment (you could copy and paste the below to the above!!!):

        Hi Neil, yea, ‘noise’ sums up the problem that ‘questioning’ people here have trying to get their heads around all sorts of ‘anomalous’ experiences / weird ‘stuff’!!!

        There are many ‘layers’ or obscuring facets / factors of how reality itself ‘presents’ things to ourselves.

        For example:


  5. This has been beautifully written. I found it very interesting and informative. I have a passion for faeries and love to research faerie folk law and meta physics too. I love how each nymph was given a name and how they are connected to the trees and protected by them. The history is fascinating and it your blog explains why people are so reluctant to say they believe in them. I always wondered why minds had been closed and never realized it was because of the inquisition. Thankfully in this day and age consciousness is forever expanding and we can not openly admit to believing in them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I have come to realise that the faeries are everywhere, in many different forms. We simply need to tweak our consciousness to recognise them and interact with them. Breaking out of the reductionist-materialist mindset that has been imposed upon us in Western society is an essential starting point. Thanks again for reading…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are very welcome. Yes I agree with you. As consciousness expands which I believe it is doing at an accelerated more people will realize this. Yes it is an essential starting point and many of us are breaking out of it. You are welcome and thanks for writing it.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Fantastic… Very well researched and thought out Neil. Man after my own heart as they say. I managed to reach 197 people sharing this on Facebook too… think it was suitably well received.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. An excellent article, Neil, and thank you so much linking to my post, very kind of you. 😊 Your comments on the fairy tree as a meeting place reminded me of the sacred inauguration trees of ancient Ireland, a tradition which continued as late as the 16th century, when the Irish were trying to organise themselves against the English. You might like this post… hope you don’t mind me including the link here.
    Delete the link after you read it if you like, I just thought you might be interested. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Share away Ali… I very much enjoy your take on things, and appreciate that you have a deeper understanding of Irish lore than me. You have a lightness in your writing… I wish I could match it, but my prose usually takes a darker turn – I think my Grandmother Flynn has imbued me with Celtic gloom without the twinkle, that you seem to have. Thanks for reading…


      1. Haha! Well, I am attracted to the darkness, it’s where you find the brightest light. I try to keep it light on purpose, as I want to bring the old Irish stories to as wide an audience as possible. But since I started uni I realise that I also need to write in a more credible way (as you do), so I am trying to adjust. Can you tell me a little more about your book? And how does an archaeologist turn to writing fiction? 😊 It was always my ambition as a youngster to be an archaeologist, but then life happened… sigh!


  8. Thank you; what an excellent post. Here in the Westcountry we call them ‘cloutie trees’ (pronounced ‘clootie’). I’m currently completing a book that is in part about trees, the wood wide web and the Otherworld in a Brittany forest, so was v pleased to follow a trail to your blog.

    Strangely, this morning I was reading an interview (an old one) in the New Yorker on Merlin Sheldrake, and asked my partner if he knew whether M S was Rupert Sheldrake’s son (as if he could be anyone else’s!) – and there’s my answer on your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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