With Beltane only a few days away, I thought it fitting to do a post on the Hawthorn tree aka the May tree, Mayblossom, Quickthorn, Hagthorn, Haw, Bread and Cheese tree.
Hawthorn is more common in British hedgerows these days. However, it can grow to an impressive 30 feet when it stands alone. One of our most ancient and beloved trees, steeped in legend, and wound in our traditions; the Hawthorn has been found in megalithic tombs and stands as protector to many sacred wells and springs.
It does look similar to blackthorn before the fruits appear. The best way to tell them apart is that Blackthorn blossoms before the leaves appear whereas Hawthorn blossoms appear at the same time as the leaves in late spring.
Hawthorn and Beltane
The association with Beltane/May Day celebrations and Hawthorn run deep in our ancestral memory. The divine white blossoms appearing at the same time and heralding the start of the growing season. It is believed to be bad luck to bring Hawthorn into the home at any time other than Beltane, so great ceremony surrounds the gathering and use of it.
The song “here we go gathering nuts in May” is actually meant to be “here we go gathering knots in May” as trees do not bear nuts in spring but the knotted branches of Hawthorn (when they are allowed to grow into tress, they grow little knots rather than big thorns that grow in its hedge form) were gathered by communities to use as decorations around villages, homes, marital beds, handfasting ceremonies and young lovers. The top of the May Pole is decorated with a crown of Hawthorn blossom as is the crown of May Queens and brides to this day.
This was done to bring in and utilise the potent fertility energy of Beltane. Remember, fertility is not just about babies and crops but fertility in endevours, whatever that may be to you.
Hawthorn Trees (particularly guardians at well and spring sites) were often dressed at Beltane with clouties; small scraps of fabric and ribbon tied to the boughs. A person would tie a cloutie when asking for a wish or blessing to be granted, or a message to be given to a parted loved one. This is still done today with offerings of spring water and makes a beautiful sight (if your planning to do this please consider what materials you use, modern ribbons are often plastic).
Hawthorn is present in many legends and tales that involve the spring Maiden (for obvious reasons) and all she represents including marriage and conception:
- In Italy she is Cardea goddess of the hinges. Hinges being in doors and in connecting energy.
- In Greek mythology, Hera conceived the twin gods Ares and Eris when she touched a Hawthorn Blossom.
- In celtic mythology: The princess Olwen ‘she of the white track’ was associated with Hawthorn blossoms as it trails through hedges.
- The Maiden goddess Blodeuwedd who was created out of 9 flowers (including Hawthorn) by men for a man.
- Also, Hymen the Greek God (not goddess) of marriage carried the marriage torch of Hawthorn.
In Christian mythology, (perhaps in a way of meshing together the two faiths in Christianity’s early days) the Hawthorn comes up also: the burning bush is said to be Hawthorn. As is the crown of thorns placed upon Jesus’ head.
The famous ‘Glastonbury Thorn’ (sadly it was vandalised in 2010) grew when Joseph of Araimathea lent against his hawthorn staff to rest. It rooted and grew into a tree. This is Possibly the most famous Hawthorn it was ‘biflora’ meaning it flowered twice a year at Christmas and Beltane. A sprig of it was sent to the Queen every Christmas (or so I’ve read, I mean, I don’t know her nor care to sooooo…).
Despite this, Christians went through a phase of spreading superstition about Hawthorns in an effort to discourage folk from engaging in their ‘sinful’ mayday celebrations. Lots of Feasting and fucking from our pagan ancestors got them all flustered but paganism was kept alive in rural villages. Rudyard Kipling even referred to the continued celebrations in ‘a tree song’
O’ do not tell the priest of our Art,
For he would call it a sin,
For we’ll be out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring summer in.Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pooks Hill
To this day, chopping down a Hawthorn tree needlessly is said to bring bad luck.
Henry the VII took a Hawthorn as a royal badge. The story goes that the crown of England was stolen from Richard III, hidden in a Hawthorn bush during the battle of Bosworth only be found by Lord Stanley and placed in Henry’s head.
As you can see there is a lot of history and lore around Hawthorn they are also associated with travellers, meeting/resting spots. It is said that the leaves contain memories, which can be accessed by nibbling on them. Memories from other travellers that could help if you were lost.
It is a Fae Tree meaning that it is sacred to them. Offerings should be left for the Fae folk if you take some or face being troubled by their mischief. If inclined you can use Hawthorn to summon them too. Although ,remember that they are not sweet little fairies. They can be malevolent and dangerous.
*word of warning* if you have a known heart condition speak to your GP. I am not a doctor. Hawthorn is known as a heart tonic but may interfere with other medication.
Hawthorn is most commonly used in matters of the heart. It increases circulation, relieves palpitations, reduced risk of hardening arteries and angina by increasing the amount of blood pumped with each contraction. It is also know to lower cholesterol and is diuretic so a good tonic.
It is a mild sedative giving it a relaxing effect. I use to help with my anxiety and insomnia. Applied to skin it has powerful drawing powers: a poultice of the leaves is great for stings and splinters.
How to Use
The leaves and berries are most commonly used. The young leaves can be eaten raw added to salads and brewed in a tisane (tea) which has similar effects as green tea. The name ‘bread and cheese’ refers to how filling the leaves are. Munching a few on a walk for energy or even adding to your sandwich gives a healthy and interesting snack.
The berries (which are ready in early autumn) can be dried and added to teas, oils and healing balms. They do contain small stones however these are easily removed by pouring boiling water over them and pushing them through a sieve. The resulting paste can be made into chutneys and jams and even dryed to fruit leathers. One old recipe involves adding them to brandy and leaving to steep for a delicious tincture or you know, just for the sake of it.
I’ve mentioned it’s uses during Beltane celebrations. However Hawthorn is a very giving tree. It’s association’s with heart health also work in magical and spiritual ways. It is a heart opener; helping to give and recieve love, ease a broken heart and bring strength. The dried berries can be used as beads in talismans and charms when working with love and fetility magic and to bring luck.
Hawthorn is also associated with protection, the petals on the blossoms make a pentagram and the thorns can be used in binding and some of the more malevolent intentions (if that’s what you’re into). An old folk magic involves making a globe out of Hawthorn branches to protect homes and businesses, these would be burnt each year and a new one made. The ashes spread on the earth. Sprigs of Hawthorn were also tied to cots and hung in nursery’s to protect babies and children.
Hawthorn increases psychic powers particularly when used in love magic for example, to divine who a lover will/should be. The connection to the Fae allows it to be used to communicate with them, perhaps they know the answers you seek or have some knowledge for you. As ever with the Fae be cautious, word yourself well, do not give them your whole name, be polite and leave appropriate offerings (milk sweetened with honey is a favourite).
So, Hawthorn: a bountiful, ancient Fae tree tree, entwined with our history, much loved and revered. How do you use it?
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I wish you blessings this Beltane. May your endevours be fruitful.
Peace out witches ✌️
Love Kate xxx