The Hawthorn (Crataegus mongyna), Whitethorn, Haegthorn, Quickthorn or May Tree, is one of the most wild, enchanted and sacred of our native trees. Known as the 'Faerie Tree' and the 'Queen of the May', this beautiful, often ancient and gnarled, thorny little tree can live to 700 years old, and can be found growing on ancient sites, marking old boundaries and growing in the wildest and harshest of spots. It grows all over Europe, Greece, North Africa and Western Asia and is rich in folklore and legend.
Even when it is found growing in a town, the Hawthorn retains the spirit of the wild, and some Hawthorn town hedges have probably been there for hundreds of years - long before the town build up around them. The beauty of this tree in the Springtime, when it is in full blossom, touches all our hearts and it holds a special place in our affections. In the Autumn, the red berries feed the birds and provide colour and beauty after the colourful Autumn leaves have gone.
Hawthorn has long been used as a herbal remedy that is beneficial to the heart. The etheric signature of the Hawthorn is said to have a pulsation that is similar to that of the human heartbeat. Before taking Hawthorn as a herb or as a flower essence, it is a good idea to tune into your heartbeat for a few minutes, to help you consciously align with the energy of the Hawthorn.
The Hawthorn will help release blocked energy, not only releasing stress, but creating an ability to trust and let go of fear. As fear is released, great psychic energy of Love is opened up. For this reason, the Hawthorn is particularly potent as a tool for healing affairs of the heart and has long been given as a token of friendship and Love.
This link to the heart and Love is reflected in its symbolism and its place in folklore and legend. It is linked to the Beltane festival of the Old Religion, which celebrated the fertility of the Earth and humankind. Later, when the Church tried to eradicate the Old Religion and replace it with Christianity, the Hawthorn became associated with misfortune, chastity and sexual abstinence. This later overlay is now being transformed again, as the Hawthorn is recognised as a positive symbol of the heart through its ability on a subtle level to open the heart to spiritual growth and Love.
Hawthorn has long been prized as a heart tonic and the leaves, the flowers and the berries can all be used medicinally. The berries especially are the most effective. They act in a normalising way upon the heart by either stimulating or depressing its activity, depending on the need, gently moving the heart to normal function. Hawthorn berries may be used safely as a long-term treatment for heart weakness, palpitations, high blood pressure and angina. It is perfectly safe for children and the elderly and for drinking daily over long periods. The Druids used the Hawthorn to strengthen the body in the frailty of old age. Drink an infusion of the berries three times a day during old age, during periods of stress, to ease pressure of work, or for any nervous condition. It improves the blood supply to all tissues and is good for improving circulation. Relieving stress and anxiety, it will bring a calm sleep if drunk at night.
Collect the berries in the Autumn before the frosts. Dry them in brown paper bags in the airing cupboard and store them in brown paper bags of dark jars. Their potency will last for two years. The dried berries are made into a decoction. Allow two teaspoons of the berries for each drink and soak in cold water over night. The next day, strain off the berries and drink the liquid cold or boil the liquid and the berries gently for 15-20 minutes and drink as a tea.
The blossom can be drunk as a tonic tea, which also has a beneficial effect on the heart and circulation. It is both necessary and safe to take it over long periods, as its action is very gradual. To make an infusion, pour a cup of boiling water onto two teaspoons of the dried flowers. Cover and leave to infuse for 20 minutes. If you collect the flowers, they need to be dried quickly in brown paper bags hung in an airy place and then sealed in an airtight container, as their potency tends to deteriorate quickly. Gather them fresh every year.
The Hawthorn's many names reflect its uses and properties; Haegthorn is Anglo-Saxon and refers to its use as a hedging plant, and Quickthorn also reflects its use as a quick growing hedge or boundary hedge. Whitethorn refers to the lightness of its bark, which contrasts with the Blackthorns black bark. In many olden tales it is simply referred to as the Thorn, as in the ballad 'Oak, Ash and Thorn'. This is a particularly potent combination of trees if found growing together. The Hawthorns thorns are long, straight and extremely hard. They were used as a kind of pin or brooch - for holding material together.
The most common folk name we have for the Hawthorn is the May tree. The May blossom appears on the tree at the beginning of May in the south of England, at the time of the Beltane or May Day celebrations, when people and houses were decked with May blossom. This was referred to as 'bringing home the May'. The popular rhyme "Here we go gathering nuts in May" may have originally been 'knots of May', blossoms from the Hawthorn for the May Day Celebrations (as nuts do not grow in May). These celebrations included a May Queen, representing the Goddess, and the spirit of the new vegetation, the Green Man.
May was known as the "Merry Month" and folk went about 'wearing green', decking themselves in greenery and May blossom. Everywhere at this time is bursting with life and fertility, and the old festival of Beltane is a celebration of this fertile force of Nature. The cutting of the May blossom had great significance and symbolised the beginning of new life, the onset of the growing season and potential of unions.
The ceremony of the maypole and maypole dancing is symbolic of renewed life and sexual union. The pole itself is a phallic symbol and the disc at the top, from which the ribbons are tied, represents the female opening. The maypole dance itself represents the union of the male and female and fertility. In some parts of the British Isles, it was the custom to plant a May tree outside every house, or for young men to plant a May tree outside the home of their sweetheart.
It was said to be common practice to fetch a living Hawthorn tree into the village from the woods every year. This living tree would still have a resident tree spirit or Dryad within the tree, and it would have been the tree-spirit itself who was central to the ceremony. The villagers would welcome it into the village and ask for its help and blessing, to bring fertility to the land and good luck to the harvest. This later became symbolised by a person dressed as the Green Man, or tree spirit, who would dance around the outside of the maypole dancers.
Another old folklore custom is that of tying of ribbons or shreds of clothing or rags onto May trees at this time, especially when they grew near wells. The rags were dipped in the spring water and tied on the tree with wishes for the future. As this is the fertile time, then this is the perfect time for this form of magic. The rags were also said to be gifts for the Faeries or Elementals that were thought to dwell near Hawthorn trees.
A twig of Oak, and Ash and Thorn, bound together with a red thread, was used as a protective charm, as was the use of bells (on the legs of the dancing Morris men).
In later folklore, the Hawthorn becomes a tree of misfortunes and bad luck. The power and potency of the old customs was defused by the Church, which tried in every way to make the people fear the old ways and reverse their own power symbols. In Rome, Greece and Britain, the Hawthorn became a tree of enforced chastity. What had been a time of revelry and celebration of sexual potency became a time of purification ceremonies. No marriages were allowed during the month of May and up to the Ides of June (mid June) as it was considered unlucky to marry in the Hawthorn month. The people were encouraged to abstain from sexual intercourse during the month of May, which is why it was considered not a good month to marry. People went about in old clothes, didn't wash or do anything to make themselves beautiful. "Ne're cast a clout till May be out" is not necessarily referring to the unpredictable British Climate, but meant instead "do not change you old clothes until the unlucky month is over". (I wonder here if the odd rough and tumble in the woods would then go unnoticed, and there was therefore an advantage in staying in ones old clothes!). There is a similar proverb in northern Spain, referring to his custom of wearing old clothes in May, which cannot be a reference to the weather, which is very settled there by then.
The Hawthorn then became a symbol of chastity, purity and cleansing. The May Queen became white, virginal, pure and untouchable. The May Eve night of the Green wood revelries of Beltain Eve that had previously lasted all night and included washing your face in the morning dew, became the May Day village event, where all were seen, and respectability was demanded by the puritanical expectations of the Church. This made it hard for the villagers to stay up all night for Beltain and, at the same time, be bright eyed and respectable for the daytime celebrations. And so the month of the May blossom became transformed from a celebration of the sexual and the fertile life-force, to its opposite - a period of restraint, waiting, and keeping oneself pure and respectable.
Another name for the Hawthorn is the 'Bread and Cheese Tree'. This refers to the young leaves and leaf buds which country folk and children would eat straight from the tree. They have a sweet nutty flavour and can be added to salads along with the flowers. A liqueur can be made from Hawthorn buds and brandy, and from Hawthorn berries and brandy.
Haw wine is made by pouring 1 gallon (four and a half litres) of boiling water over 4 pounds (2kg) of berries. Cover and leave this to stand for a week, stirring daily. Strain off the berries and add the juice and thinly peeled rind of 1 lemon and 2 oranges, and 2 pounds of sugar (1kg), melted in a little water. When the mixture is cool, add the yeast and leave in a covered bucket for 24 hours. Strain off the rind and transfer to a fermentation jar. When fermentation has finished, bottle and keep for a year. Hawthorn berries make a thick sherry type wine.
Formerly the timber, when of sufficient size, was used for making small articles, such as handles, and because of its hardness, it was used for engravers' blocks. The root wood was used for making boxes and combs. The wood has a fine grain and polishes up beautifully. It is a most desirable fuel wood as it burns very hot, but it was protected by folklore from being cut wantonly because of its association with Faerie.
The Holy Thorn of Glastonbury, a Hawthorn tree that flowers at Christmas time as well as in May, has been used as a talisman since if first appeared on the Isle of Avalon. It was said to have grown from the staff (magician’s tool) of Joseph of Arimathea when he thrust it into the ground of Wearyall Hill at Glastonbury. Since then, many people have claimed that just touching this tree has helped them in their quest for deeper spiritual understanding, and the leaves are used as a talisman.
Talismans are a form of contagious magic, carried on the person. A talisman made from Hawthorn wood will enhance you ability to release Love, open the heart and align yourself to your spiritual development. The Ogham letter for the Hawthorn is H. Huath. Representing good fortune, spiritual growth and psychic protection. When you you’re your self a talisman, state a phrase that expresses the purpose for which the talisman is made, as this will help focus its use. Wear your talisman round your neck, or as a brooch, or simply carry it in your pocket, to touch and gain strength from when needed ( the origins of 'touchwoods').
If you wish to cut yourself a piece from a living tree, be sure to do it with reverence and thanks to the tree. I always manage to find plenty of cut Hawthorn in the lanes rounds about, but I do keep my eyes open for it, as I don't like cutting it. It is a warm golden coloured wood that polishes up well and has such a lovely feel to it.
Carve off the bark while it is still fresh if you want to reveal the wood, as it comes of easily before it dries hard onto the wood. Keep the cut wood outside until you are ready to start working on it, as that will stop it from drying out too quickly. Hawthorn is an especially hard wood and carving is more easily done on green wood, although green wood is likely to split
Wands can be made in the same way, large wands for ceremonies and smaller ones for healing tools, which can be carried in a small pouch or pocket. Hawthorn is traditionally used for psychic shields, particularly for the innocent and vulnerable. It can be given to help protect a child from any harsh energies in the environment, and particularly at puberty when a child is particularly sensitive and vulnerable, and in need of psychic protection. This aspect is also reflection in its use as a hedging plant, not only as a thick impenetrable growth but also as a psychic shield.
A Hawthorn globe or charm ball can be made from twigs. Traditionally made at first light on New Year's Day (Samhain) from last year's foliage, and tied with white ribbon. Traditionally the old charm ball from the previous year was burnt on a bonfire of straw, Ash twigs and acorns. Ritually this is to represent your old self being transformed in the Fire. Your new self is forged anew in the new Hawthorn globe, which is kept until the next New Year's Day.
Whatever you make from Hawthorn be sure to state your intent, and treat the tree with great respect if you cut the wood. The traditions of it being under the protection of the Faeries, and the subtle wild energy of this little tree should leave you in no doubt of its power. It you wish you learn from the wisdom of the Hawthorn, choose an old tree of great maturity and make time to sit with the tree, opening yourself to it's wisdom. The many traditions associated with the Hawthorn, especially around spring and early summer suggests that its energy is strongest at this time.
I believe that the Hawthorn is a very much involved in humankind's evolution into the Aquarian age to evolve a more open-hearted and humanitarian attitude to life, Love and spirituality. I sense a willingness within the Hawthorn's energy to help us and be part of this transformation.