THE THUNDER OAK
A SCANDINAVIAN LEGEND
WILLIAM S. WALSH AND OTHER SOURCES
WHEN the heathen raged through the forests of the ancient
Northland there grew a giant tree branching with huge limbs
toward the clouds. It was the Thunder Oak of the war-god
Thither, under cover of night, heathen priests were wont to
bring their victims—both men and beasts—and slay them
upon the altar of the thunder-god. There in the darkness was
wrought many an evil deed, while human blood was poured
forth and watered the roots of that gloomy tree, from whose
branches depended the mistletoe, the fateful plant that
sprang from the blood-fed veins of the oak. So gloomy and
terror-ridden was the spot on which grew the tree that no
beasts of field or forest would lodge beneath its dark
branches, nor would birds nest or perch among its gnarled
 Long, long ago, on a white Christmas Eve, Thor's priests
held their winter rites beneath the Thunder Oak. Through the
deep snow of the dense forest hastened throngs of heathen
folk, all intent on keeping the mystic feast of the mighty
Thor. In the hush of the night the folk gathered in the
glade where stood the tree. Closely they pressed around the
great altar-stone under the overhanging boughs where stood
the white-robed priests. Clearly shone the moonlight on
Then from the altar flashed upward the sacrificial flames,
casting their lurid glow on the straining faces of the human
victims awaiting the blow of the priest's knife.
But the knife never fell, for from the silent avenues of the
dark forest came the good Saint Winfred and his people.
Swiftly the saint drew from his girdle a shining axe.
Fiercely he smote the Thunder Oak, hewing a deep gash in its
trunk. And while the heathen folk gazed in horror and
wonder, the bright blade of the axe circled faster and
faster around Saint Winfred's head, and the flakes of wood
flew far and wide from the deepening cut in the body of the
Suddenly there was heard overhead the sound of a mighty,
rushing wind. A whirling blast struck the tree. It gripped
the oak from its foundations. Backward it fell like a tower,
groaning as it split into four pieces.
 But just behind it, unharmed by the ruin, stood a young fir
tree, pointing its green spire to heaven.
Saint Winfred dropped his axe, and turned to speak to the
people. Joyously his voice rang out through the crisp,
"This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be
your holy tree to-night. It is the tree of peace, for your
houses are built of fir. It is the sign of endless life, for
its leaves are forever green. See how it points upward to
heaven! Let this be called the tree of the Christ Child.
Gather about it, not in the wildwood, but in your own homes.
There it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts
and rites of kindness. So shall the peace of the White
Christ reign in your hearts!"
And with songs of joy the multitude of heathen folk took up
the little fir tree and bore it to the house of their chief,
and there with good will and peace they kept the holy