Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn

A Victorian nationalist wrote the lyrics. The king of British folksingers wrote the tune. The father of modern witchcraft made it part of the Book of Shadows. And across the English-speaking world, pagans sing and dance to it every Midsummer's Day.

How good is that?

Poet Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) first published the poem A Tree Song in his childrens' novel Puck of Pook's Hill in 1906. Folk-singer Peter Bellamy (1944-1991) wrote a musical setting for the poem (you can hear it here), retitled Oak and Ash and Thorn; it was released on the album of the same name in 1970.

Meanwhile, some time in the 1950s, Gerald Gardner (1886-1964) had written the last verse of the song into the liturgy for Beltane. How did a Midsummer's song (“Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, me love/all of a Midsummer's morn”) end up at Beltane? Well, the cross-quarters were the original sabbats of Gardner's revived “witch-cult,” as in Murray, and the quarter-days (solstices and equinoxes) didn't come in until later. That explains the truncation of the lyrics in the BoS version as well.

Below are the lyrics as we sing them every year on Midsummer's Eve, dancing the carol on the highest hill in Paganistan. (You can read about—and learn— the dance here.) I invite you to grab some friends and do the same, wherever you live.

For now is the Sun come up from the South, with Oak and Ash and Thorn!


Oak and Ash and Thorn


Of all the trees that grow so fair,

old England to adorn,

greater are none beneath the Sun

than Oak and Ash and Thorn.


Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, me love,

all of a Midsummer's morn:

surely we sing of no little thing

in Oak and Ash and Thorn!


Oak of the clay lived many a day

ere ever Aeneas began;

Ash of the loam was a lady at home

when Brute was an outlaw man.

Thorn of the down saw New Troy-town

from which was London born;

witness hereby the ancientry

of Oak and Ash and Thorn.




Yew that is old in churchyard mold,

he breedeth a mighty bow;

alder for shoes do wise folk choose,

and beech for cups also;

but when you have killed,

and your bowl, it is spilled,

and your shoes are clean outworn,

back you must speed for all that you need

to Oak and Ash and Thorn.




Ellum she hates mankind and waits

till every gust be laid

to drop a limb on the head of him

that any way trusts her shade.

But whether a lad be sober and sad

or mellow with ale from the horn,

he'll come to no wrong that lieth along

'neath Oak and Ash and Thorn.




O do not tell the priest of our rite,

for he would call it a sin:

but we've been out in the woods all night,

a-conjuring Summer in!

And we bring you good news by word of mouth,

good news for Cattle and Corn:

now is the Sun come up from the South

with Oak and Ash and Thorn!








Last modified on
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


Additional information