The Hawthorne Tree
FOLKLORE & PRACTICAL USES: HAWTHORN
by Muirghein ó Dhún Aonghasa (Linda Kerr)
Crataegus oxyacantha– English Hawthorn. Found in England and continental Europe.
The hawthorn is easily recognized by its branches, covered with long, sharp thorns. Its small, usually white flowers bloom in May, earning it the additional name of May or Mayblossom, although in the southern U.S. it usually blooms in April (the ship Mayflower was named after the hawthorn). Its generic name, Crataegus oxyacantha, is derived from the Greek work kratos, meaning hardness (of the wood), oxus , meaning sharp, and akantha , meaning thorn. The old German name for the tree, Hagedorn , means Hedgethorn; the word haw is also an old word for hedge (1).
The red fruit, or haw, which appears in late summer, resembles a miniature stony apple. The wood makes an excellent fuel, making the hottest wood fire known, and in the past was more desirable than oak for oven-heating (2).
To the ancient Greeks and Romans, the hawthorn was a symbol of hope and happiness, and was linked with marriage and babies. Hawthorn was dedicated to Hymen, god of marriages. The torches carried in the wedding procession were made of hawthorn. People would put a sprig of hawthorn in their corsages, while the bride carried an entire bough (3). This also helped to appease the goddess Cardea, who did not like weddings, especially in May. In England, May was considered a lucky month for engagements, though not for marriages.
Later, in Medieval Europe, it was thought to be an evil and unlucky tree, and foretold a death in the house if brought inside. The hawthorn was considered one of the witches’ favorite trees, and on Walpurgis (Beltane) night, witches turned themselves into hawthorns. “With a little superstitious imagination, the hawthorn’s writhing, thorny branches at night probably do look enough like a witch to have instilled fear in medieval folk (4).”
In Ireland lone hawthorns belong to fairies, who meet at and live inside them. Many dire things are predicted if a lone thorn were disturbed in any way, among them illness and death. The Irish believed the fairies spread their washing across the thorn to dry. Ireland also has sacred hawthorns at holy wells, on which rag offerings are left (5). According to Geoffrey Grigson, the haws are also called ‘hags, (6)’ and might be a connection with the old Irish Hag-Mother, whom it was said that the rags and clothes were meant for.
The most famous hawthorn of all is the Glastonbury Thorn. It is Crataegus monogyna var. praecox , putting out leaves and flowers in winter and again in May. According to the Glastonbury legend, the Crown of Thorns was made of hawthorn. Later, it was added that Joseph of Arimathea stuck his dry hawthorn stick into the hill, where it at once grew, and ever after bloomed on Christmas Day (7).
The hawthorn is associated with May Day more than any other plant. On most May Days the hawthorn was already in full bloom, before the British at last changed the calendar in 1752 and adopted the New Style. May Day now comes thirteen days earlier (8).
Hawthorn was gathered on May Day morning, interwoven, and placed on doors or windows. The interweaving was important, since the power of magical plants was always increased by weaving them into various shapes. The magic of the hawthorn had already been increased during the night by the dew, which the country people always considered a magic fluid, especially on May Day morn (9).
On May Day, fairies and witches were abroad, and just as excited as humans by the beginning of summer. Milk and butter were likely to be stolen or bewitched. In Ireland, the rowan was the surest protector against this, while in England and France, the protective plant was the hawthorn (10).
Sex and fertility were very much a part of the old May Day celebrations, and were symbolized by the hawthorn. The stale, sweet scent of the flowers makes them suggestive of sex. This same smell led to the belief that hawthorn flowers had preserved the stench of the plague. The flowers contain trimethylamine, which is an ingredient of the smell of putrefaction (11).
Today hawthorn may be the source of an important cardiac medicine. Scientific research has shown that hawthorn dilates blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely, lowering blood pressure. It also regulates heart action, acting directly on the heart muscle to help a damaged heart work more efficiently. It works slowly and seems to be toxic only in large doses, making it a relatively safe, mild tonic (12). When administered properly, hawthorn is good for a heart muscle weakened by age, for inflammation of the heart muscle, for arteriosclerosis, and nervous heart problems.
At home, the hawthorn flowers and berries can be decocted (boiled) and drunk for a sore throat. They are also helpful in kidney trouble, acting as a diuretic. The berries can be made into a tea, which is good for nervous conditions and insomnia (13).
An excellent liqueur can be made from the berries or flowers. This recipe using the flowers dates back to about 1775. May Blossom Liqueur: Try to gather the may blossom on a dry, calm day when there is no dust flying about. Pick as much as a preserving (quart) jar will hold. Fill it up with brandy or vodka. Close the jar and shake it 3 times a week for 3 months. Filter and if necessary add sugar to taste. The resulting liqueur is excellent in custards and sauces (14).Sources:
1 Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal (2 volumes). 1931. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY, pg. 385
2 Ibid, pg. 385.
3 Lust, John. The Herb Book. 1973. Bantam Books, New York, NY.
5 Grigson, Geoffrey. The Englishman’s Flora. 1955. Phoenix House LTD, London, England, pg. 169.
6 Ibid, pg. 166.
7 Ibid, pg. 170.
8 Ibid, pg. 168.
9 Ibid, pg. 168.
10 Ibid, pg. 167.
11 Ibid, pg. 168.
12 Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Edited by Claire Kowalchik and William H. Hylton. 1987. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA, pg. 275.
13 J. Lust.
14 van Doorn, Joyce. Making Your Own Liqeuers. 1980. Prism Press, San Leandro, CA, pg. 72.
LUNAR ENERGIES & ESOTERICA
As Dictated by Epona to Imré
Huath – Hawthorn – is the sixth lunar tree/month of the year. The Yin or female energies have subsided and the yang or male energies are on the up- swing. This is the perfect time of the year for people to begin to utilize and collect the Yang that is needed, because the energy is not yet strong enough to blow us out of the water, but is just strong enough to begin using. Women will find that the men around them have become irritable and testosterone-ridden – be warned, ladies, that this is the last chance that you are going to get, before the cycle of Yin returns, to establish the balance in the home.
This is also a good time to practice abstinence; for Hawthorn is the moon of purification and creative (as opposed to fertility-oriented) uses of sexual energies. We have found that women who indulge in the increase in their sexual appetites will feel the repercussions of their actions during the summer (around the Summer Solstice in particular) as “female problems.” Use this increased sexual energy to form a stronger bond with Nature. You will find it easier to contact spiritual guides, or ‘the Masters.’ Just as your energies are easily released at this time, so are Nature’s.
Folklore tells us that at this time of the year priests would go out into their church- yards and beat the surrounding stones in order to form a boundry and to keep evil spirits away. However, according to myths that originated in times when standing stones commonly created the physical boundaries around magickal circles, that the stones were struck so as to “wake them” or charge them (see Needles of Stone Revisted, Tom Graves). This would create the astral boundries. What does this mean? Well, it is now the time to begin understanding who you are and how you are developing. This will begin to happen as you go to Nature, yet, along with your pilgrimage comes the need to realize your basic physical limitations brought about by this incarnation. You must transcend them by imploding, or going within your being and discovering how unlimited you are within. Discover the mysteries of You. This is that time of year.
For further research, look up these points:
(This is what we have come to know and understand. We would like to hear from those who have experienced it differently or would like to add to what we have. You never stop learning! – Epona, High Priestess of Faerie Faith)