Sylvan spirits: trees as makers and shapers of strange places

Jones, O (2011) Sylvan spirits: trees as makers and shapers of strange places. In: Strange Naturalisms: Reflections On Occult Geographies, 22 February 2011, Royal Holloway, London.

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In the ESRC funded research I conducted into ‘tree places’ with Professor Paul Cloke we studied intersecting social and cultural constructions of trees (and woods/forests) in a variety of settings and how these were entangled in larger national and even global ‘arboreal discourses’, while also considering the trees in the places as living, active agents which were bringing an unruly, powerful living materiality to the formation of the places over time, which interacts with people, other flora and fauna, economy, history etc. Within this work, both in the study of the tree discourses of the case study sites, and particularly in the study of many trees discourses which we have collected from literature, scientific studies, local topographical and landscape writings, ecological psychology, and beyond, we have come across accounts of trees and or woods/forests where very specific and strange arboreal spiritual presences are invoked. In this paper I summarise some of these ‘tree spirits’ and speculate on their typologies and anatomies. I avoid the more fantastic realms of Tolkien and C S Lewis but rather work within the fringe of more ‘common place’ but never the less remarkable, strange nature of trees and woods in society. I focus on Robert Graves’s accounts of the arboreal nature of the ancient poetic muse (The Battle of the Trees, The Tree-Alphabets) in which trees are symbolically central to pre-roman north west European culture (and how vestiges of remain) and how these are in part embedded in the ecology and materiality of particular tree types (thus continuing the theme of interweaving cultural constructions with the agency and materiality of the trees themselves).

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

This presentation was also seen at the Scala Film Festival event, curated by Passenger Films in London on 22 August 2011.

Divisions: School of Sciences
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Date Deposited: 26 May 2015 10:21
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2021 09:40
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