Botanical name: Crataegus monogyna
Folk Names: May tree, Hagthorn, Whitethorn, Quickthorn, Thornapple
Ruling Planet: Mars
Associated Deities: Olwen, Blodeuwedd, Flora, Hymen, Cardea.
Magical Properties: Happiness, fertility, love, protection, forgiveness, faeries, hope.
The hawthorn tree has strong connections with the Month of May and for pagans, Beltane. There is a huge amount of myth and folklore surrounding it which I find fascinating, so I thought I'd do a bit of research. I'm sure I will miss out a few tales about this enchanting tree though, so if you know anymore I would love it if you could add them to the comments below.
Hawthorn is a common small tree that grows throughout Europe, North America and Asia, it is often used for hedging or as a shrub, although left alone, it will grow into a small tree of up to 45ft. They can live for over 400 years, but often appear older as the trunk becomes gnarled with age. There are about 1,000 species world-wide, but in Britain the two main species are the common and English hawthorn.
The flowers are usually white, but occasionally pink, they have five petals, and underneath each flower are five green sepals in the shape of a star. The berries, known as haws, bear a pentagram in the centre, opposite the stalk.
Hawthorn leaves, berries and flowers are used medicinally to treat a variety of heart and circulatory conditions. Magically, I think they would work well to ease a broken heart and to bring love into your life.
The flowers and leaves appear together in May and heralds the arrival of the festival of Beltane. Before the change to the Gregorian calendar in the 18th century, it is said that the hawthorn did blossom on May 1st and there were many traditions associating hawthorn with May day, however these days it rarely blossoms before mid-May in the UK.
Going 'a Maying' referred to the old practise of gathering flowering branches of hawthorn on May 1st to decorate homes with. It was considered unlucky to bring it indoors at any other time of the year, the belief is still held by many today.
In ancient Greece, hawthorn wood was used for the marriage torch and girls wore hawthorn crowns at weddings.
In medieval Europe, Witches were believed to turn themselves into hawthorn trees, not that I've tried it myself!
The ancient Celts considered the hawthorn a sacred tree, protected by the Fae. Cutting one down was punishable by death. Even nowadays it is still considered unlucky to cut one down in Ireland, some believe it will result in sickness, death and financial loss.
Hawthorn has strong associations with the Fae, it is said that if you sit under one on May Day, you will be spirited away by the Faeries, for it is one of their meeting places and stands at the threshold of the Otherworld. In 'The Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, the poet is taken away by the Queen of Elfland as he sat beneath an ancient hawthorn.
An old rhyme in the UK is thought by many to be about the hawthorn tree, also known as May, and not the month.
' Cast ne'er a clout
Till May is out'
A lone hawthorn tree is often found growing near to a sacred well or spring, the branches covered with strips of cloth or rags. These are known as clooties, they have usually been dipped into the sacred water before being tied to the tree for healing, the illness is supposed to leave the person as the rag rots away. The problem comes though when people tie things that are not biodegradable, I've seen a crisp packet tied to one and pieces of string tied so tight that they cut into the tree! I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone reading this how damaging that is to the poor tree.
In the Celtic Ogham alphabet, hawthorn is the sixth consonant - Huath, some keywords for this Ogham are: Love, The heart, Cleansing, Releasing blocked energy, Protection and Preparation for spiritual growth.
In the Celtic tree calendar, hawthorn runs from May 13th - June 9th.
Britain’s most famous hawthorn tree is the Glastonbury thorn. Legend tells that Joseph of Arimathea struck his hawthorn staff into the ground on Wearyall hill and it grew into a hawthorn. Unlike common hawthorns, the Glastonbury thorn flowers twice a year, once in May and again around Christmas. It is known botanically as Crataegus monogyna biflora. The original tree was destroyed by Cromwell's Puritan army during the English civil war as it was considered a relic of superstition. There have been ongoing plantings around the town since that time, despite repeated attacks of vandalism. A budding branch from a Glastonbury thorn is sent to the Queen every year at Christmas.
The Celtic Wisdom of Trees - Jane Gifford
A Kitchen Witches World of Magical plants and herbs - Rachel Patterson
Herbcraft - Anna Franklin and Susan Lavender
Image - Wikipedia