The Ent

Photograph by Emma Stoner from Chris and Elly's wedding.
Stood tall in a hawthorn hedgerow, not far from our ceremonial stone circle, is a great oak figure. He has witnessed every wedding, handfasting and celebration that has taken place at Splotts Moor, and every day and night in between. At 28 feet tall, he has the finest view of Glastonbury Tor for miles around. He is 'The Ent' - named after JRR Tolkien's race of tree creatures in The Lord of the Rings. But what does he represent, and how did he come to be there?

Tolkien's name for the Ents seems to have been derived from an Old English word meaning 'Giant'. Although he said that the idea of the Ents arose spontaneously during the writing of that part of his seminal fantasy trilogy, Tolkien also wrote to WH Auden about his 'disappointment and disgust' in his schooldays with what he called Shakespeare's "shabby use of the coming of 'Great Birnam wood'" in Macbeth, suggesting that he responded by creating a tale in which trees really came to life to save the day. Separately, in a letter to Mrs LM Cutts, he wrote: "the Ents of my world are I suppose an entirely original 'creation', so far as that can be said of any human work. If you like, they are a 'mythological' form taken by my lifelong love of trees, with perhaps some remote influence from George MacDonald's 'Phantastes'" - he goes on to cite his disappointment with Shakespeare's tale there, too.

Symbolically, trees can be found celebrated in folklore and myth dating back to the oldest stories from all around the world. Often they were depicted as female spirits, such as the dryads and meliae of Greek mythology, and Lithuanian laumÄ—s. Even more frequently, trees themselves have been revered, such as the Norse 'World Tree', Yggdrassill, and the Hindu sacred fig.

But our Ent is manifestly male, and male tree spirits are less common in these kinds of legends. He is perhaps a closer kin to the Green Man, whose vine-infused face can be found in all sorts of places from pub signs to church pews. We also shouldn't ignore the prominent horns that sprout from his head, which link him to the Celtic Cernunnos, and in turn to fertility.

The Ent is surely not a very distant cousin of the Metsavana, the Estonian old man of the woods, who can be found amongst trees in that Eastern European land. Like Cernunnos, Metsavana might be sensed rather than seen, in the sounds, smell and feel of the forest. But like our own Ent, he stands in physical form in wood carvings, too.

The oak carving itself is the work of AD TreePirate aka Captain Chainsaw, a member of the Tree Pirates crew. Some of his brethren can be seen on this link. Like many of the Tree Pirates' sculptures, the Ent first stood at the world-famous Glastonbury Festival, made from not just one but two windfall oaks. He is said to have buried a car at the festival in 2002, and is known to have planted an oak tree himself - according to AD, it still grows on the main drag at Worthy Farm. The story that, due to his great height, the Ent was the only being able to scale the brand new superfence that year and so got without a ticket, is mere rumour.

The Ent in his prime, guarding the Tiny Tea Tent at Glastonbury Festival 2002.
Photograph by Mike B.
(We have made a donation to WaterAid at the request of the photographer.)
After residing on the Glastonbury site for some years - a picture from 2003 shows him bearded with ivy - the festival's founder Michael Eavis decided it was time for a new sculpture on Worthy Farm, and a new home was found for the Ent at Splotts Moor. It took no fewer than three trailers to transport him! He now stands, avuncular, over all our human festivities at the farm, and seems to get cheerier with every passing year. Sometimes we suspect he thinks all the celebrations are for him...

Photograph by Emma Stoner from Janey and Adam's wedding.
Photograph by Emma Stoner from Hollie and Pete's wedding.

All photographs used with permission. Additional thanks to AD TreePirate, Scott Williams, Tuuli Semevsky.

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