Posted by Editor in General
on May 23, 2013 | No Comments
“And therefore hath the white thorn many virtues!
For he that bearest on hym thereof, non manner of
Tempest may dere him: be in the hows
that yt is ynne may none evil ghost entre.”
1350 John Mandeville
The common name for hawthorne comes from haw, which is an old English word for ‘hedge.’ The tree’s name simply means ‘thorny hedge.’ After the British General Enclosures Act of 1845 hawthorn was used extensively as hedgerow because of its thorny nature and quick growth, angering peasants who no longer could enter the lands they previously roamed at will. Its Latin name, Crataegus, means ‘hardness’, referring to the quality of the wood. In medieval Europe hawthorne was considered both holy and unlucky, as well as a favorite of witches and faeries. Maybe hawthorne’s great beginnings were because it blossoms so beautifully and at just the right time of the year for many pagan rituals of spring, the union of nature and fertility. I think the unlucky part was mostly propagated by the growing Catholic Church influence of the time; attempting obliteration of pagan beliefs about the hawthorne and it’s sacred, magical and mystical powers.
Throughout early English literature, the hawthorne tree is known as ‘May Tree’. From ancient times hawthorne associated with the month of May because that is when it bloomed, but when the European community adopted a new calendar developed by Pope Gregory XIII in the middle ages; time shifted. The Gregorian calendar is still in use today. It replaced the Julian calendar, which was introduced in 46 BC by Julius Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. The hawthorne and its associations with May became displaced, as it no longer bloomed in May.
In Lancashire, a hawthorne spray hung over a door indicates scorn. But then again, fasten hawthorne to a cowshed and be assured of an enormous milk supply or place a globe made of hawthorne in the kitchen for fire protection. Put hawthorne in the rafters of your home for protection against spirits, ghosts and storms. In ancient Britain, destruction of a hawthorne tree might bring on tragedies such as the death of one’s cattle or children and a total loss of well-being.
Faeries abound in both British and Celtic antiquity, when the powerful ‘three’, oak, ash and thorn, grow together. Solitary hawthorne trees growing on hills or near sacred wells serve as markers to the faery realm. Never cut a blooming hawthorne, as the faeries become angry and definitely don’t sit under a hawthorne tree in the month of May or you will be lost forever to the unknown, mystic faery world. Even today, in parts of Ireland and Wales, a springtime custom, to bring blessings upon yourself and your family, is to plait crowns of hawthorne blossoms and leave them for the angels and faeries, who come at night and dance around them.
Witches were said to have the ability to turn themselves into hawthorne trees at will. On Beltane (May Day) morning, many witches wash their faces at sunrise in the morning dew of the hawthorne tree for beauty throughout the coming year. This little quote from the original ‘Mother Goose’ story bears this tradition out, as the story really was about witches and not nearly as innocent as at first glance appears.
“The First Of May
The fair maid who, the first of May,
Goes to the fields at break of day,
And washes in dew from the hawthorne tree
Will ever after handsome be.”
From the 1916 edition of Mother Goose
In ancient Greece, hawthorne was a symbol of hope and happiness, while in Rome it was considered a potent charm. According to the Romans you should place the leaves of hawthorne in your newborn’s crib to ward off evil spirits. Want happiness and hope for your upcoming wedding? In Greece bridesmaids wear hawthorne blossoms. The bride carries an entire bough and don’t forget the wedding procession; they carry torches made of hawthorne. Hawthorne leaves placed under the bed or around the bedroom preserves chastity. What a horrid joke to play on a newlywed couple or just the thing for a Daddy wanting to preserve his daughter’s virtue.
The Hawthorne Tree
Of every kind of tree–
Of every kind of tree–
The hawthorn blooms sweetest
Of every kind of tree.
My lover she shall be–
My lover she shall be–
The fairest of women,
My lover she shall be.
Old English Rhyme
This quote by Rudyard Kipling sums up the resistance to change prompted by the Catholic Church’s unsuccessful attempts to eliminate pagan practices associated with the hawthorne tree.
“O do not tell the priest of our Art,
For he would call it a sin,
For we’ll be out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring summer in.”
‘A Tree Song’ from Puck of Pook’s Hill
There is a Judaeo-Christian legend that specifies that a species of hawthorne, Crataegus pyracantha, was the ‘burning bush’ through which Moses spoke to God on Mount Horeb. According to Christian legend, the ‘Crown of Thorns’ was made of hawthorne (Crataegus albiespyne). Therefore, the herb was thought to possess miraculous health properties. Both ancient and modern herbalists have successfully used hawthorne for its food and health benefits.
Saint Joseph of Arimathea made his way, after the Resurrection and Ascension, to Britain, and established a church in Glastonbury, Somerset, England. For over sixteen hundred and fifty years it was said that Joseph’s own staff, which he had planted at Glastonbury, had become the large hawthorne tree that flowered there, miraculously, every Christmas Eve. This was the sort of ‘nonsense’ the Puritans hated, and just to be safe; they cut the tree down. This is the location of the Glastonbury Abbey and has been a venerated spot since long before Christianity. In 1750 a marker replaced the famous stump.
The hawthorne tree is considered a holy tree, once thought to be a trysting place for the Earth spirits. It was often planted at crossroads, since such spirits were thought to gather there. Weary travelers often would tear off and leave bits of clothing hanging in the trees as a prayer flag or ‘wish-rag’ offering for health, luck, love and success. This tradition continues today.
Use a piece of thorn as an amulet to ward off depression and restore happiness. This practice may have started when travelers picked the hawthorne leaf and chewed it for nourishment, a feeling of well-being and replenishment of energy. Thus, the hawthorne became known as the ‘bread and cheese’ tree, giving as much sustenance as a plate of bread and cheese.
The hawthorne tree seems to have had some unlucky places in history and folklore but still given it’s due, standing on its own merits. If you are a fisherwoman like me, you will recognize the hawthorne’s power and carry your ‘thorn’ in a pouch while fishing and your fishing will be bountiful. I never forget my lucky fishing cap either.