Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Pagan cult of the Sacred Sycamore


IN A further step down our apparent descent into paganism, two Cumbrian men have been brought to court charged with damaging property of the National Trust, without lawful excuse, namely a wall and a sycamore tree, the first valued at £1,144, the second at £622,191.

This was not any old tree. It was the so-called Sacred Sycamore which grew in what has come to be called Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. It featured in a Hollywood fantasy film about Robin Hood and was ‘instantly recognisable’ to millions. Its felling in the dead of a stormy night last September unleashed an outpouring of national, even international lamentation. The National Trust, which owns Hadrian’s Wall, conducted lavish funeral obsequies. The trunk was reverently removed to a ‘secret location’. The stump is being protected from further damage. Seedlings and cuttings were taken by ‘experts’ to the NT’s ‘top-secret plant conservation centre’ in Devon, and there are plans to plant hundreds of scions of the Sacred Tree all over the country.

The whole saga is detached from reality. The sycamore is not a rare or endangered tree. It is a vigorous non-native which spreads its seeds profusely and colonises land rapidly, often to the detriment of native species. Introduced from Europe, probably in the 1500s, it will thrive almost anywhere and can be a nuisance in gardens where it will self-sow and grow rapidly, often achieving up to six feet of growth in its fourth year, and will quickly regenerate from a stump. It tends to prevent anything growing underneath, partly because of the dense shade it casts and partly because of the large quantities of sticky honeydew excreted by the sycamore aphid which sucks the sap from its leaves and contaminates everything it falls on.

Since the felling, the police, urged on by the NT, have made great efforts to track down and charge the person or persons who carried out this sacrilegious act. Last month, the case was deemed ‘too serious’ for a magistrates’ court, and transferred to Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court where a preliminary hearing took place on Wednesday. The prosecutor said the case is ‘complex’ and involves ‘cell site analysis’ (whatever that is) ‘number-plate recognition technology, botany, evaluation of the tree and image enhancement’. The trial, set for December, is expected to last ten days, with the prosecution being undertaken by King’s Counsel.

Last month when the accused men arrived at the magistrates’ court in Newcastle, one was disguised with a ski mask and the other a balaclava and reflective glasses. These precautions may not be excessive considering the frenzied revenge sought by the more extreme eco-fanatics who have a large section of the public behind them.

The astonishing claim for the value of the tree was calculated using the Capital Asset Value for Amenity Trees (CAVAT) Method. This is a deliberately complicated scheme devised by ‘experts’, supported by the London Tree Officers Association and used by local authorities to calculate the compensation they would claim to replace a tree in an urban setting. It’s a fair bet that whoever felled it had no idea about this way of assessing the value of a tree, let alone that an isolated sycamore (more like 70-80 years old than the 200-300 years bandied about in the media) in rural Northumberland would be valued at well over half a million pounds. The sum is of course fanciful. A large part of it includes the loss of the tree’s value as a ‘public asset’, as ‘natural capital’ and for causing the public ‘serious distress’ and ‘social damage’ by its felling, based on ‘amenity as the sum of public benefits – primarily, but not exclusively, visual benefits’.

It’s hard to discern much balance or sense in this valuation, which bears no relation to financial or any other reality. But I suggest that the motive for the deification of a sycamore tree is an example of pagan nature-worship which seems to have become the guiding faith not only of the National Trust, but more widely, permeating our post-Christian society.

The hue and cry over the Sacred Sycamore is based on what is essentially a pagan belief in the sacredness of the god Nature, before which humanity must abase itself. Thus, whether we admit it or not, the prosecution of the alleged vandals has little to do with reason or objective principles of justice; rather it is punishment of those who sin against this god. It’s not going too far to say that this case lies at the intersection of the old objective truth and the new subjective moral relativism which is rapidly gaining power across the western world.

A flavour of this can be had from the reactions of a couple of people I spoke to at the court this week. One young man was almost shaking with rage when I remarked: ‘It’s just a tree. It’s being blown out of all proportion.’

‘It’s not!’ he shouted. ‘I’ve been really badly affected by the destruction of that tree. I’ve come to see justice done!’

A woman said: ‘My daughter went there when her grandfather died. It’s a place of peace. It gave her some comfort after her loss. Whoever did this deserves serious punishment.’

The fact that the calculation of the damage makes no sense to the few who are not in the grip of this madness is the very point of it. It is a mystery known only to an elite priesthood who impose it on the mass of the rest of us by the exercise of the power they have assumed. This is of the essence of paganism: a powerful elite require the mass of those beneath to do obeisance to a deity – or a series of deities – which if revered and appeased will ensure their wellbeing and safety. Whether or not the elite believe it is beside the point. It is about the exercise of their power; any infringement must meet with the harshest punishment that the law can inflict.

In the eighth century St Boniface, the Apostle to the Germans, was having difficulty converting the heathen Frisians who resolutely clung to their pagan practices. They particularly revered an oak tree of extraordinary size, which they held sacred to Jupiter. Boniface determined to fell it before a multitude of these pagans. Hardly had his axe cut the first notch when a great wind blew from above and the vast tree crashed to the earth where it split into four equal parts. At this demonstration of the power of Boniface’s God, the pagans were converted.

Had St Boniface tried the same trick with the Sacred Sycamore before this host of modern-day pagans he would have found himself arraigned before the Recorder of Newcastle facing condign punishment.

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Philip Walling
Philip Walling
Philip Walling has written the Sunday Times bestseller Counting Sheep and Till the Cows Come Home.

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