The World of Dryads
As a child growing up in the mountains of Tennessee, Dryads were welcome companions. They often took the place of human companions who were scattered about on neighboring farms that dotted the area. Over the years I have always respected these woodland spirits as wise teachers. I realize that many neo pagans underutilize such wonderful spirits, but they are there willing and able to assist ones spiritual journey as we traverse the mysteries of life.
Dryads are often thought of as originating from the Greek. In fact the word Dryad comes from the Greek word “drus” (Tree) . In Greek mythology there are two types of Dryads. There were the nymphs who lived in the trees but could leave them to revel away the night.
And then there were the Hamadryads. These Dryads were said to have the upper body of a woman with the lower body being that of a tree trunk.
These particular Dryads were permanently attached to their trees and when the tree died, so did the Nymph attached to the tree. Within Greek society, it was believed that Deity would punish anyone who cut down a tree without first honoring the Dryad within.
Unfortunately, humans now mow down trees without any sign of respect or remorse. Perhaps this is why there is so much death and destruction amongst members of the human race, retribution by the Gods if you will. At any rate the “Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus” (The Banquet of the Learned) lists eight Hamadryads. They are the daughters of Oxylus and Hamadryas. And they are:
Karya (Walnut or Hazelnut)
Aigeiros (Black Poplar)
In addition, the Greek dryad of ash trees was called the Meliai. According to Hesiod (father of Greek didactic poetry) , Theogony 187, the Meliai appeared from the drops of blood spilled when Cronus castrated Uranus. Along with their association to ash trees they are also associated with fruit trees.
One of the Meliai, known as Amalthia, is thought to have tended Zeus when he was an infant. His mother, Rhea hid him in Idaion Andron to protect him from his father, Cronus, and she had Amaithia in attendance as his nurse.
And if one reads the myth of “Daphne”, you will discover that she was the nymph pursued by Apollo and that she became a dryad associated with the laurel bush. But the Dryads are not limited to the Greek pantheon, they are found all around the world.
For instance there is the Shamantin (Tall Ghost) . This African Dryad forest faery is thought to be the female form of the “Sasabonsum”. Her name comes from the word “srahman” (ghost) . She is said to be white and is very tall. Unlike her male aspect, she is benevolent to forest travelers. If you come across her she will teach you the lore of the forest. But the male aspect is known to be quite evil to though who pass by their trees.
Next are the Vanadevata, these Indian Dryads make their homes in the trees and are quick to punish those who cut down their trees. These female dryads are often portrayed embracing a nagakesara tree with their left arm and leg while her right hand grasps a branch above her. Throughout the European continent one can find Dryads who are associated with various trees and who have varying degrees of temperament.
In Romania for instance resides Zina Magdalina. She is a Romanian faery/dryad who resides in the World Tree, which is thought to support the earth. To the south in Albania one can find the “Aerico”. These Albanian Dryads can be found in old and barren Cherry trees. They are very mean spirited and do not like humans. It’s said that if one were to venture into the shade beneath their branches that one will come away with pain and swelling in both, the hands and feet.
If you travel to Scandinavia you may encounter the “Askafroa” (Wife of the Ash) . She is considered to be a very evil Dryad. At one point in history she was presented with a sacrifice every Ash Wednesday just to keep her appeased.
Also found in Scandinavia and Germany as well is the Wood Wives (Wish wives) . They are said to inhabit old forests and sacred groves. They are also said to be extremely emotional, as they will start crying and wailing without warning. They are said to be covered in moss and to have a shaggy like appearance. On occasion they will ask humans for assistance or for food and in return they leave a handful of wood chips that turn into gold. They are considered to be the prey of the Wild Huntsmen, though if they can reach a tree with a cross-etched in it they are safe from the frenzied Huntsmen.
There are also other Dryads to be found in Germany such as the “Barstukken”. This is a German or Prussian Dryad that lives in the roots of trees. In addition there is the “Baumesel” (Ass of the Trees) . This is a German Dryad that lives in the branches of the trees and is considered to be evil.
If you travel to Hungary you may encounter the “Vadleany” (Forest Girl) . This forest dryad is said to have long hair that drags the ground. She excels at seducing young men in order to drain their strength. When the forest trees rustle it is said that she is about in the area.
From here we look towards Poland, which is home to the “Boruta”. This Polish Dryad prefers to inhabit Fir trees. And not too far away In Lithuania resides the “Kirnis”. The Kirnis are Lithuanian dryads who guard the Cherry trees. Local folks once placed lit candles in the crowns of the cherry tree to honor the Kirnis. There are some interesting dryads in the Near East regions as well.
For instance in Indonesia there resides the Bela. These are Indonesian Dryads of course, live in the trees. If a forester wishes to cut down a Bela’s tree, they must first offer it food and politely coach it to move to another tree. Failure to do so will cause the Bela to inflict illness or cause nightmares to the offender.
The dryads of Burma are known as the “Nats ‘. They are divided into four different classifications. The “Akakasoh” are said to dwell in the top branches of a tree. The “Shekkasoh” dwell in the trunk of the tree. The “Boomasoh” dwell in the roots of the tree. And last, the “Hmin” range freely through the forest and are said to violently shake those unfortunate humans they encounter, thus causing them to come down with malaria. And you thought it was mosquitoes that were responsible for malaria!
The list of dryads goes on, but I would like to finish this article with the dryads from my favorite country of Ireland. In beloved Ireland resides the Bodach Na Croibhe Moire. This Irish tree faery lives in the branches of trees. He is often depicted as a small, strong old man and is sometimes mistaken for a goblin. And there is the Lunantishee (Moon Faeries) . These Irish dryads appear as old bald men with pointed ears. They have long arms and teeth. And they guard the Blackthorn bushes.
It is said that they will not allow a branch to be cut on May 11th or Nov 11th (these are the old dates for Beltain and Samhain) . To do so will result in bad luck. They are said to dance in the moonlight and to have a strong dislike for humans.
And last but certainly not least is the Elder Mother. She is said to be the guardian of the Elder tree. If one wishes to pick Elderberries, they must first obtain her permission. If one fails to do so, then their livestock will become afflicted with illness, so show some manners. As you wander about what is left of the woods in the area and you feel that someone is watching you, perhaps it’s a dryad. And just maybe they will offer a lesson of life to you.
Will you be willing to listen?