Hawthorn

Submitted by Owen McCafferty on Thu, 2009-11-26

Hawthorn is one of the most powerful of trees; it was once known simply as “May” and also White Thorn.

Grown in hedges, they protect holy ground; they are often found at holy wells where they are festooned with ribbons, votive offerings, and rags by pilgrims; they are also found on barrows and at crossroads, other holy places.

Wands made of this wood carry great power.

Their blossoms (supposedly highly erotic to men) traditionally decorated Maypoles, and the trees were decked with ribbons and flowers and danced around on Midsummer.

The Hawthorn symbolizes fertility, thus it is often found in weddings.

Where oak, ash, and hawthorn grow together, one may see fairies.

The hawthorn stands at the threshold of the Otherworld.

In Ireland, respected as fairy trees, they were often referred to as “gentle bushes” in the custom of not naming fairies directly, out of respect.

Solitary hawthorns were known as the fairies’ Trysting Trees dire consequences befall those who disturb a fairy tree, and the tree was thought to bleed and scream.

In northern religions, funeral pyres were built of hawthorn so the souls of the dead could escape through the burning thorns and ascend to the heavens; this custom may come, in part, from the fact that the hawthorn creates the hottest fire.

Placed in a child’s cradle, it protects from evil spells.

On May Day, folk rode out “a-maying,” gathering hawthorn boughs to decorate the halls; this and similar customs welcomed in the summer; young girls traditionally rose at dawn to bathe their faces in the dew gathered from hawthorn flowers to assure their everlasting beauty.

But while it was a celebrated tree in May, at other times of the year it was considered unlucky.

Some of this fear came from its association with fairies.

The thorn at Glastonbury that grows amid the ruins of the abbey there is said, according to legend, to have been brought from the Holy Land by Joseph of Arimathea when he brought the Grail to England; it blooms each year at Christmas; it is more likely, however, that the monks attached a Christian legend to the tree to dispel its fairy powers and the sexual attachments the tree has.

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