Tree Medicine, Magic, and Lore: Hawthorn

By Ellen Evert Hopman
Illustration by Will Hobbs

“Beware of an oak,
It draws the stroke,
Avoid an ash,
It courts the flash,
Creep under the thorn,
It will save you from harm”

“The fair maid who the first of May
Goes to the field at break of day,
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree
Will ever after handsome be”

–Ancient British Rhymes

Tradition holds that where Oak and Ash and Thorn are seen to grow together one will be likely to see Fairies. All of these trees are valuable medicinals besides being edible and making excellent firewood, (and building materials and wood for tools with the exception of Hawthorn which must never be felled). The Fairies, being highly intelligent, would certainly frequent these trees.

Another tradition holds that a solitary Hawthorn on a hill, and especially if there is a spring or a well nearby, indicates that a doorway to the land of Faery is close at hand. For this reason Hawthorns are sacred to the Goddess Carnea, wife and mother of Janus, God of entrances and exits. People will deliberately avoid or seek out such a place, according to their predispositions.

One of the duties of a Druid, in the days before television, radio, and newspapers, was to keep an eye on the local Hawthorn tree. The day it first blossomed was reckoned as the official start of summer, the festival of Beltaine, or May Day. Hawthorn blossoms were used to decorate the house and May Pole but it was considered very unlucky to bring them in the home, probably because of their attraction to the Fey Folk.

Hawthorn is woven into the crown of leaves worn by the Green Man, a figure dressed in green leaves and ribbons who symbolizes the return of summer’s verdure. He can often seen dancing through the town in a traditional May Day celebration.

Hawthorns are often chosen as sacred trees near Holy Wells. People leave small bits of cloth tied to such a tree to personify their prayers and needs.

At marriage ceremonies on the Greek isle of Delos, singers and dancers were crowned with Oak, Myrtle, and Hawthorn. Hawthorn blossoms, symbols of chastity, were included in the marriage wreath. Athenian brides once wore Hawthorn blossoms and used them to decorate altars sacred to Hymen, the Goddess of marriage. In Ireland and Celtic Britain newly married couples danced around a Hawthorn tree, to receive its blessing.

Hawthorn is a valuable medicinal whose fall-picked berries and spring-gathered new leaves and flowers are tinctured to make an all-purpose cardiac tonic that benefits virtually all heart conditions.

It is said that to cut down a Thorn tree is so unlucky that the offender is bound to lose his house, his children, or a limb.

about the author:

Ellen Evert Hopman is a Druid Priestess, herbalist and author of “Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey”, “A Druids Herbal – Of Sacred Tree Medicine”, “Walking the World in Wonder – A Children’s Herbal” and other volumes. Visit her website for more!

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