Acornology: The Story Of The Acorn

AcornYou know I love stories. Well, here’s one that was told to me and a small group some time ago, around a camp fire, late one evening when on a retreat at Penmaenmawr in Wales. Like all good stories, you have to use your imagination and put yourself in it.

Once upon a time, in a not-so-faraway land, there was a kingdom of acorns – a myriad of acorns nestled at the foot of a grand old oak tree.

Since the citizens of this kingdom were modern, and fully Westernised acorns, they went about their business with purposeful energy; and since they were midlife, babyboomer acorns, they engaged in a lot of self-help courses. There were seminars called “Getting All You Can out of Your Shell.” There were woundedness and recovery groups for acorns who had been bruised in their original fall from the tree. There were retreats and spas for oiling and polishing those shells and various acornopathic therapies to enhance longevity and well-being.

One day in the midst of this kingdom there suddenly appeared a knotty little stranger, who apparently dropped “out of the blue” by a passing bird. He was odd: capless and dirty, making an immediate negative impression on his fellow acorns. And crouched beneath the oak tree, he stammered out a strange and wild tale. Pointing upward at the tree, he spoke to all that would listen to him, and said, “We…are…that!”

Delusional thinking, obviously, the other acorns concluded.

But, one or two of them continued to engage him in conversation: “So tell us, how would we become that tree?” “Well,” said he, pointing downward, “it has something to do with going into the ground…and cracking open the shell.” “Insane,” they responded. “Totally morbid! Why, then we wouldn’t be acorns anymore!”

In an age when we’re encouraged to grow and mature, and then maybe consider the next stage of enlightenment, and then, after that, to aim for transformation (or achieve however many stages there are), this story is poignant.

I’m sure we all identified with the cynics in the story. Ofcourse, we could read that story, put ourselves ‘in it’, and breathe a sigh of relief that we were cynics at one point in time, but have got past that stage alluded to in the story – we’re now oak trees – and look back, smiling.

The challenge here, is that the story always applies to us.

Regardless of the stage of development we’re at, there is always more. The transformation of acorn to oak tree, as a metaphor, speaks of the need to change, and not just once!

Once, we’re at a mature stage (however we define that), if we really are at that stage, we’ll realise that there’s still more growing and change to be done, whilst we’re in this form.

If at any stage we think we’ve ‘achieved it’, if at any stage we look down on others or look askew at them because of their understanding, if at any stage we think our ‘maturing’ or ‘change’was a ‘one off’ growth-spurt and we can rest on our laurels, then we’ve missed the point (of the story, and are still at the stage of the cynics in the story). There is always more.

It’s continual. I believe the sacred text word for this is hagiasmos (saints), but the ‘mos’ signifies an ongoing process, rather like we would tack ‘ing’ on the end of a word to show that it’s continual. That word hagiasmos shows that we are ‘saints-and-being-made-into-saints. In that sense, maybe we are encouraged to be born again, and again, and again? Having a beginners mind?

Good story, eh?

I’m informed that this story originated with Maurice Nicoll in the 1950s, and Jacob Needleman popularised this metaphor in Lost Christianity and named it “acornology”, and it was retold by Cynthia Bourgeault in her book, The Wisdom Way of Knowing.

6 thoughts on “Acornology: The Story Of The Acorn

  1. I can SO relate to the message of this story! When I retired 3 years ago, I struggled to find my place; my purpose, now that I was no longer in the work force. Slowly, it’s dawned on me that my “new” job is being an Elder: to my grown children .. my grandchildren …to anyone dreading the autumn/winter stage of life. By showing that life doesn’t end when you cross the “65 line” … that there’s still more life to live, more gifts to share, more things to learn (and quality time in which to do it!!) – perhaps I can be one more voice that encourages us to treasure the blessing that we’ve made it this far, changing the minds of many (especially here in the USA) that glorifying “youth” is an exercise in futility. Guess that’s my own “Acornology” story.


    • Thankyou for sharing that – a journey of discovery, and adaptation, and blessing to many. Wonderful.

      Your account reminds me of one of Hafez’s poems:

      The small man
      Builds cages for everyone
      He knows.
      While the sage,
      Who has to duck his head
      When the moon is low,
      Keeps dropping keys all night long
      For the

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story – “sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t.” Reminds me of something Jesus said – that “Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Jn 12:24,25. Makes sense to me. I think of that every time I go for a walk. We live in amazing area near Lake Michigan with rows of oak trees along the street that goes to the lake. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


    • Thankyou for sharing that. I really do like those seemingly paradoxical phrases, and what they mean to us. Designed to make us sit up and think as we apply them to our lives. Thanks for sharing. GBY.


  3. My husband passed away 2 months ago. On the last day he told us you get 3 acorns in your life. They are good omens. My daughter found necklace s that we’re acorns , with 3 little metal acorns inside, I have wore it all the time , but the acorns fell out. today I found one after a month, and that is my sign from him.


    • Hi Marlene. Many apologies for the delay in replying. I’m still finding my way around the comments section of Word Press and discovering new functions that I never knew existed. I am sad at your loss and hold your husband, you and your family in my prayers and Caim time. I am absolutely sure that acorns are good omens, and finding the acorn necklace and re-discovering the individual acorns was a good omen and, indeed, a sign. I’m pleased you read this article. I do believe you were meant to read it, and that is was especially for you. Sending light and love to you and your family at this time,Tadhg


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