The Thirteen Trees
Ogham Moon Calendar
The Five Trees
The Half Year
The Sacred One
Original artwork © Ruby Clark 2011
Gathering Haws for the Autumn Harvest
Illustration: Jill Barklem - Brambley Hedge series
”The fair maid, who on the first of May,
Goes to the fields at the break of day,
And bathes in the dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever strong and handsome be”.
(Old English Nursery Rhyme)
Hawthorn in full spring bloom
Hurst Lane, Charing
Hawthorn, Huath – Queen of the May or The Faery Tree- wild and enchanted - wound about with powerful fairy magic from its slender thorns to its deepest roots. And yet, it’s one of the commonest shrubs or small trees in the British Isles.
Biological names - Crataegus monogyna - or the Woodland Hawthorn which is Crataegus laevigata - and with a list of common names and folk names as long as your arm ....
Here are just a few:
May Tree, Quickthorn, Whitethorn, Quickset, Thorn-apple Tree,
Arzy-garzies , Gaxels, Hagthorn, Ske, Azzy Tree, Holy Innocents' May, Thorn-bush, Bread & Cheese Tree, Awes, Asogs, Aglets,
Agags and Boojuns!
The dense shrub, with its gnarled and twisted trunk, was employed to enclose fields when the common folk were no longer allowed to graze their animals and cultivate crops on any available piece of land. Wooden fences were often too expensive, and stones for walls unavailable and so hedgerows were planted – and what better than the common but thorny and impenetrable Hawthorn?
The hawthorn tree is very hardy and will tolerate poor soils. It rarely grows tall as it is often enclosed with other species in woodland and hedgerow – but it can reach 18 metres – about 60 feet when it has room. The trunk usually bends and twists as it gets older, so that it lacks height – and the Hawthorn can be very long lived and twisted indeed.
It has dark green, highly lobed, deciduous leaves of about 6cm in length, which break in mid April. These are arranged alternately along the twigs on short stems. Amongst the leaves you will find its weapon – thin, sharp thorns a couple of centimetres long.
Hawthorn has great seasonal beauty – in spring it’s smothered in clusters of tiny white, starry blossoms, making long, flowered boughs for picking for the Beltane or May Day celebrations.
As the flowers drop, fruits ‘Haws’ begin to form, green at first, but ripening in late August to a deep, shiny red, which last through autumn whilst the leaves begin to turn yellow. These are beloved by a huge variety of birds, blackbirds, thrushes, feildfares and many smaller finches and yellowhammers among them.
The tree supports lots of other wildlife, its gnarled crevices being home to many insects including the enormous cockchafers ‘May Bugs’ (probably nicknames after the month rather than the bush) - as well as bird nesting places, and among the roots may be toads, wood mice and slow worms.
Mainly used in hedging, as its old names suggest – Haegthorn (origin of Hagthorn) – Anglo-saxon for hedge thorn, and Quickthorn, referring to its living hedge property - Hawthorn timber doesn’t get to any great size, but is very hard, and both tree and root wood is useful for making small things – pretty, polished boxes, carved handles for tools and sticks.
It burns very hot, so was used for fuel and can make good charcoal.
Young leaves were eaten raw, with a nutty flavour – hence its name ‘Bread and Cheese Tree’ and both flowers and Haws have found uses in hedgerow jellies, wines and herbal medicines.
Hawthorn – in folklore and magic opens the Heart – as it does in medicine!
Leaves, flowers and fruits all have their place in herbal cures – infusions being used as a tonic to help with heart problems, angina, irregular or slow heart beat, poor circulation and high blood pressure. The berries contain Vitamins C and B complex.
Preparations of fruits and leaves have been proved to gradually improve and stabilize the movement of the heart muscle and to dilate small the blood vessels so enhancing the circulation.
In Chinese medicine the berries are considered beneficial as a diuretic, to help with kidney stones, bladder problems as well as indigestion.
Hawthorn was one of the Ogham trees used as a remedy by the Druids – it’s thought that they gave it as a strengthening tonic in weakness and old age.
It is safe to make your own infusions and herbal teas with hawthorn – as the benefits are gentle and gradual, these should be drunk two or three times a day over at least three months for best effect.
A simple herbal tea .....
can be made by pouring boiling water into a cup with two teaspoons of crushed, dried berries, leaving it for 20 minutes or so to infuse, stirring occasionally, then straining before drinking.
Sweeten with honey if liked.
Dried leaves or dried or fresh blossom can also be used.
*NB* not recommended if taking any other medicine for hypertension / high blood pressure
If you have no access to wild berries to dry, you can buy a ready-made tea online from UK at 'Goodness Direct'.
|May trees in full blossom, scenting the air with their strange, musky perfume. Most commonly white, they can also range through blush-pink to a deep rose-red.|
Hawthorn Religion, Spirituality and Folklore
Element: Fire Ruling Planet: Mars Gender: Masculine
Part of the ancient and sacred triad of ‘Oak, Ash and Thorn’ the Hawthorn is a tree of magic and enchantment, though throughout the ages it has given very mixed messages of fertility and chastity.
Ancient Hawthorn in January - Hothfield Common
In the past, a real fear of faerie folk was common, and the scraps of ragged cloth and other little trinkets tied on the branches were gifts to appease them.
Often planted to mark and protect holy wells, the thorn trees are still decorated, petitioned and venerated as ‘Cloutie Trees’ to this day.
('Cloutie' meaning 'rags or ragged cloth')
All hawthorn is associated with the Roman Goddess Flora – and the less well known Cardea (Cardia). She was said to have used a hawthorn wand for her enchantments and hawthorn branches hung at windows as a protection of a baby whose blood had been sucked by some creature of the night
Also dedicated to the greek Goddess Persphone as a symbol of hope, and Celtic Goddesses Aine and Brigid with the Manx – Celtic God Manannàn Mac Leirr
The excavation of pre-historic burial sites near to cave dwellings, has shown that hawthorn bunches were tied to the bodies of the dead although the purpose of this is unknown.
A lone hawthorn tree, growing on a hill is a portal to the world of faery, and tales of kidnapping and re-emergence of mortals after a statutory seven years abound. They will be angered if damage is done or one is felled – take heed!
Dancing round the May Pole
16th century engraving
Much of the folklore attached to it seems to come from the fact that the tree is smothered in long branches of early, white blossom around the time of Beltane – the First of May.
If this seems early and the blossom is not ready – remember that the British calendar was changed and went forward 12 / 13 days in 1752 – trees have long memories and so work to the ancient dates! This is evident too in Hawthorn’s place in the Ogham Tree Calendar – beginning now on 13th May – it would once have started on May 1st.
At Beltane – ‘The Greening’ - the symbolism of the hawthorn or May Tree as being able to ‘open the heart’ is not lost in the celebrations where fertility as seen in the old Maypole dances was key. Fertility for the people and for the land. The pole itself, in older pagan times was a symbol of male potency, and new ones were cut and brought into the villages each year, ready to be decked with long ribbons and garlands of hawthorn as the centre of festivities.
Illustration -'Hawthorn' by Margaret Tarrant
Branches of may blossom were gathered early in the day (it was important to catch the dew and bathe your face for beauty's sake) with great reverence and ceremony, with the proceedings were often blessed by the presence of a ‘Green man’ or ‘Jack in the Green’ .
The sprays were taken to decorate the outside of houses, barns and May Queens! They were carried in procession from house to house so that each would be given a share of the Thorn Spirit’s blessing.
'The Glastonbury Thorn' on Wearyall Hill (before vandalism)
Picture - from The Daily Mail - Getty Images
The best beloved hawthorn tree in Britain is the ‘Glastonbury Thorn’ or ‘Holy Thorn’, said to have originated when the staff of the visiting Joseph of Arimathea was struck into the ground and sprouted.
The biggest descendant of this legendary tree stands on Wearyall Hill, but was badly vandalised in 2000.
There are other big trees, seedlings from generations of Glastonbury Thorns in the area. Each year a sprig from one of the oldest trees is sent to Her Majesty the Queen to join her Christmas decorations.
Evidently Her Majesty isn’t superstitious since Hawthorn or May blossom is one of the many flowers which have a reputation for being unlucky, perhaps foretelling an illness or even death if brought into the house as a decoration.
'Hawthorn bloom and elder flower
Fill the house with evil power'
(Source - 'The Folklore of Plants' Margaret Baker 1996)
It has been recorded by Francis Bacon in his ‘Sylva Sylvarum of 1627 as smelling of the plague. This superstition probably has a strong foundation, given that the little white flowers contain quite a high proportion of trimethylamine, which gives off the slightly fishy, decaying smell of death.
‘Hawthorn was never brought into the house during the month of May. Indeed, it was never taken into our rooms. There was a strong feeling against it in every cottage and farmhouse, for it was a portent of death in that year.’
From ‘Country Things’ by Alison Uttley 1946
The great Abbey of Westminster in London stands of the site of a group of ancient hawthorn trees, evidence once more of Christianity sensibly using pagan sites of worship in order that the people could simply continue in their place whilst being taught different values.In Roman and Greek lore, rather than being a symbol of fertility, the hawthorn was a sign of chastity and purification and marrying during the month of May was thought very unlucky – in some European countries it is still avoided. Parts of the plant were used as talismen or charms to protect virginity.
Bright berries in the November rain - food for winter birds
'Ariel' by John Anster Fitzgerald
* In Spring, make up a wash by soaking a quantity of fresh leaves and flowers in half a bucket of hot water.
Leave overnight – and next day sprinkle drops about the rooms of your home, along edges and into corners for protection from the negative energies brought by bad spirits.
* At New Year, make a Hawthorn ball and hang it in the house for the entire year for good luck and for protection against witch-craft.. Make a new one the following year, burning the old and using its ash to protect the boundaries of the garden. (The ball needs to be quite large, as even after soaking, the hawthorn twigs crack easily during shaping).
* For help with a difficult situation, take seven (a faery number) or some say ten – strong, sharp thorns found at the tip of hawthorn twigs. Whisper to each one the problem that needs solving. Wrap them in a leaf and bury them under the hawthorn bush.
Collecting pins from the hawthorn bush - illustration by Margaret Tempest
* A hawthorn wand is especially effective against malevolent spirits. The wand is best cut ‘green’ in order that the bark will peel easily, so, when choosing your wood, ensure a suitable gift for the faery defender of the tree.
'The Hawthorn Fairy'
* At Beltane, or May-day, weave a small crown of Hawthorn blossom and leave it for the faeries before festivities begin. If a faery should find and wear it, the giver will be granted untold blessings.
* Protect a newborn baby from any pernicious spirit with leaves of hawthorn in the cradle.
* Hawthorn is known as a psychic shield that can lift the spirits, and a little charm of the wood is a thoughtful gift for a friend going through a time of particular vulnerability or depression.
Dried flowers, berries or leaves can be burned in incense at a ritual working for the same purpose.
Make a Faery Token from Hawthorn -
here on my
'Eco enchantments Spells and Charms' page.