The Talking Forest Runes

The Year's Apotheosis

Field notes for September  October 2023

by Kay Broome

Wheat Stooks 2023 - Kay Broome
Wheat Stooks, southern Ontario (photo: Kay Broome)

More than any other sabbat, the Autumn Equinox, or Harvestide, owns food. Fruit such as apples, pears, plums and peaches are ripe at this time, plus a vast array of berries, squash and melons. And let us not forget our beloved tomatoes, beans and corn on the cob! The fall equinox also heralds the ripening of barley, malt and grapes – all of which are used to make various celebrated drinks.


Cornucopia clipart from

Although the Cornucopia or Horn of Plenty has frequently been used in Christian iconography to celebrate the harvest, it is actually a pagan symbol dating back to ancient Greek mythology.  The story originates with the god Zeus being cared for in his infancy by various nymphs.  One of them, Amalthea, owned a nanny goat who produced superb milk.  In other tales, Amalthea was herself the goat.  At one point in the story, the exuberant infant Zeus accidentally broke off one of the goat’s horns.  He later honoured Amalthea by making this horn perpetually full of ripe fruits.  The symbology of this myth illustrates the sky and weather patterns rendering the earth ever fruitful by way of rain and sunshine.

As a weather deity, Zeus’ traits were similar to those of various sky gods throughout European mythology: among them Jupiter of Rome, the Norse Thor and Perun of the Slavic nations.  All were volatile in nature, often warlike and dangerous, but frequently magnanimous and generous.  And common to all, the oak tree was sacred to them.

The Mighty Oak

Oak Tree High Park 2022 - Kay Broome
Oak Tree, Toronto (photo:  Kay Broome)

This high regard for the oak was due not just to its size alone, but in part also to its generous shade and beautiful and highly utilitarian wood. Perhaps most notably, oak’s tendency to attract lightning, and frequently survive it, renders it a tree of distinction. Much like the various weather gods it honours, Oak is a tree of contrasts.  Although a focus for lightning, the tree is a haven for many creatures.  A favoured provider of wood for homes, fuel and furniture, oak however was used more than any other tree as a gibbet, due no doubt to the perpendicularity of its massive limbs, capable of supporting heavy weights.

Red King, White King

White Oak Leaves, 2022 - Kay Broome
                                              Leaves of White Oak (photo: Kay Broome)
Red Oak Leaves, 2022 - Kay Broome
     Leaves of  Red Oak (photo: Kay Broome)

The two major branches of the genus Quercus, members of the mighty Beech family, are the white and red oaks, and their differences are compelling.  White oaks have leaves with rounded lobes and edible nuts, called acorns, which arrive every year.  Red oaks, in contrast, have leaves with pointed lobes.  Their acorns are bitter, with a higher tannin content and only appear in alternate years.  Although there are exceptions, most white oak species have lighter coloured wood than red oaks.  More patient than their red cousins, white oaks generally grow more slowly, but attain greater size and live longer.

 While fruit trees such as apple and plum may, in autumn, take centre stage, in Canada, this season also heralds fruition of all members of the Beech family, including the oaks.  Like other fruits of Harvestide, acorns are quite varied; from the green acorns of white oak (Quercus Alba, below left), to the woody brown ones of northern red oak (Q. Rubra, below, centre). Those of the bur oak (Q. Macrocarpa, below, right) are quite charming, somewhat resembling Russian fur hats.

White Oak Acorns - Famartin - Open Source
WIkimedia Commons (Famartin)
Red Oak Acorns, Hladac, Open Source
WIkimedia Commons (Hladac)
Bur Oak Acorns, Unknown,
Leafy  Place (

From Hunter-Gatherers to Farmers

 There is evidence that humans ground acorns to make flour long before we learned to harvest other sources. Perhaps the tiny acorn eventually led hunter-gatherers to become farmers. Acorns must be soaked in water repeatedly in order to leach them of tannin, and their flour, while wholesome, is rather tasteless. So early humans may have, in due course, sought out the more palatable grain plants.  Many archaeologists believe that the innovation toward farming profoundly altered human interactions.  When we advanced beyond hunting and gathering, we were able to provision more food and to settle down in one spot for longer.  When you had dried fruit, seeds and grains from your garden plot set aside for the winter, there was less worry about famine. The myth of Amalthea’s horn takes on poignant meaning when we ponder Zeus's acorn and its probable role in the advance of agricultural societies.

Advantageous as it may have been, however, early farming brought more intensive work, especially for women: tilling and hoeing of soil; grinding meal from acorns, rice, barley or wheat; and preserving and drying of fruit and vegetables.  In addition, farming societies eventually led to the idea of personal ownership, and thus to more frequent warfare. When you own more, you have more that needs protection, mainly from other tribes who, in times of famine, may be forced to resort to theft and violence.  More ownership and warfare tend to bring more laws.  And it is salient to note that gods of kingship, law and justice always seem to be weather and sky gods.

Web Photo, HostPapa Web photo
Web photo of farm country

Harvestide is not just about the plant harvest, but also encompasses the animals we eat. While it was traditional to slaughter animals closer to Samhain, or Hallowe’en, this process usually began at the start of autumn.  Animals not set aside for dairy or mating purposes were fattened in the spring and ready for slaughter in the fall.  Recall too, that the word “tan” comes from tannin – the tannic acid used for preserving hides. When we remember that red oak acorns have a higher tannin content than those of white, and that acorns were used for tanning, we can thus envision white oaks as representing the solar aspect of the god – presiding over the plant world, agriculture and animal husbandry. The red oaks, with their spikey leaves and more meagre acorns, suggest the Horned God of the Hunt and the more feral creatures of the wilderness. It is also salient to note that red oaks are much more common in the “new world” of the Americas than in Eurasia. And hunter-gatherer societies were more prevalent here than in the Europe of the last thousand years. 

Oak (Quercus)

The Oak rune is the last of four compound runes in the Talking Forest system.  The rune is created from the left side of the dedicated White Oak rune and the right side of the Red Oak rune.  (These two are included among various auxiliary Talking Forest runes that are not part of the main 42-rune set.)

Talking Forest White Oak Rune© 2009, Kay Broome
 White Oak Rune
Talking Forest White Oak Rune© 2009, Kay Broome
Red Oak Rune

The left branch of Oak (below) displays curving horns indicating the round lobes of white oaks; the right branch has pointed horns illustrating the points characteristic of red oak leaves.  Note also that the canonical Oak rune has a lightly shaded “acorn” whereas White Oak’s acorn is unshaded, and Red Oak’s is solid fill.

 There are two kennings for the Talking Forest Oak.  One, the Scales, speaks to the karmic character of oak; the other, Door, also depicts the power of change – a door opens to allow more opportunities, but it can also close and cut off egress.  The Talking Forest Oak deals with power, leadership and sovereignty.  This rune in a reading often indicates issues of legality. Upright Oak suggests success in the public sphere and using one’s power for good in the community.  An inverted rune may recommend careful judgement or an injustice being overturned. Toppled to the left with the red branch up, suggests harshness, an injudicious decision. To the right, with the white branch up, the Oak rune illustrates judicial laxity or corruption. Oak’s day is Thursday – Thor’s day. The tree is at its apex in late August and in September, when the acorns appear.

Talking Forest Oak Rune

Talking Forest White Oak Rune© 2009, Kay Broome

You can learn more about Oak and the other Talking Forest runes by purchasing my book, available internationally in print or ebook on Amazon.

Prior Plantings