I love Blackthorn trees! They have a reputation for being dark sinister beings, probably because the spines are so sharp and covered in bacteria. A scratch form a blackthorn can quickly lead to a nasty infection. However, these shrubs have a long intertwined history with witches and witchcraft.
Commonly used in hedgerows they can grow to about 6 foot high. The blossoms in spring look very similar to the Hawthorn tree. In fact they are often called sisters. The Hawthorn represents spring and all things light, whereas Blackthorn holds dominion over winter and darkness. They are exceptionally useful during the cauldron time of year for protection and guidance as we proceed with shadow work. One of the few things available to forage in winter, the dark dusty sloes are well worth seeking.
Blackthorn and Witches
During the witch panic in Europe, it was believed that the devil himself pricked women with a blackthorn spine as a form of initiation and proof that a person was a witch. This was the origin of the ‘witches mark’ which later came to mean any mark, mole, scar or skin tag on the body which indicated you were guilty of being a witch. I’d be screwed, I’m covered in freckles and moles and of course; I am a witch! Because of this supposed relationship blackthorn was added to the execution pyre to add final insult.
This association is also found in folklore and fairy tales. In some versions of the story of sleeping beauty; the curse cast upon beauty was done by pricking her finger with a blackthorn spine, rather than a spinning wheel. The impenetrable barrier which grew around the kingdom is also made of Blackthorn (in other versions it is bramble).
To add to the sense of malevolence, there are legends which describe how Blackthorn Spines were used as a weapon. Placed under the saddle of horses, they could stab the horse and cause it to throw its rider. They could also be fashioned into ‘black rods’ and used to cause harm to an enemy and even assassination as the wounds become septic so quickly. These negative associations lead to the Blackthorn being known as the ‘increaser and keeper of dark secrets’.
In the Celtic Ogham alphabet, Blackthorn is the 14th letter ‘Straif’. Thought to be the origin of the word ‘strife’. Here we see the connection with Darkness and the underworld continued, along with the belief that journeying through the darkness leads to enlightenment. Blackthorn is sacred to the Celtic Goddess- The Morrigan another witch queen, who holds dominion over death, war and fate. The Morrigan’s coupling with the God Dagda at Samhain mirrors the coupling of the green man and great mother at Beltane.
I love this duality, The Hawthorn at spring; heralding the new life coming forth and the blackthorn at winter when all is harvested and sacrificed, leading is unto the journey of darkness and rebirth.
This duality is also seen in the blossoming of the Blackthorn Tree. It blossoms very early (before it even has leaves!), around February/March bringing with it some hope of returning warmth and life and an early meal for insects. A ‘Blackthorn winter’ is when we have cold weather right into early spring when the Blackthorn begins to bloom.
Blackthorn Berries are known as Sloe’s; they have some medicinal uses but are so unpalatable we don’t use them often. For there are other, far less astringent alternatives.
The green, unripe berries and blossoms were once used as a purgative (to induce vomiting) . Sloes are high in vitamin c but again, much tastier options are available to us. One use I have found interesting is in using the sloe berry juice as a mouthwash to help with loosening teeth. They are so bitter they cause the gum to tighten around the tooth. I imagine you’d have to use it regularly to save a loose tooth. 100% would recommend a dentist over sloe mouthwash any day. The most common use for Sloes is to make Sloe Gin (I will be following up with a whole post just on that soon with an interview with an Artisan Gin brewer and a recipe) and jam or combining the two and making boozy condiments and sweets from the Gin soaked sloes
The wood itself is strong and beautiful and was favoured in the making of Irish Shillelagh’s a walking stick which doubled as club or cudgel. These were popular perhaps due to the lack of other trees such as Oak. The roots were particularly favoured as they had bigger knots for the club end. There was even advanced forms of Shillelagh fighting to settle things in a gentlemanly fashion. Like a Duel.
The juice from the berries has been used to make inks (which I might try) and dyes and evidence of early man using them as a food source has been found with remains. I wonder if they were used more medicinally or food was so scarce this was all they could find in winter( poor buggers)
Blackthorn fruit is ruled by the element of Fire and Mars whereas the tree itself and blossoms are ruled by Saturn, Earth and Water. Blackthorn is a useful ally in any shadow work; supporting work which aims to cleanse and purify. Sloe Gin is popular at Yule because this is when it would be ready. It is also when we celebrate the return of the sun and rebirth of the Divine Male archetype: the light after the dark. Sloe gin itself can be used as a potion to support shadow work and celebrate its completion for the year. Cheers!
It aids in shedding negative attitudes, breaking through to dammed emotions, face negativity to see the positives and opens us up to natures energy. By mediating or working with Blackthorn we can embrace the darkness to see the power to be found there. This can be done by greeting a blackthorn and meditating with it, leaving offerings or even make a ‘touchwood’ (more on this to come) to support you in shadow work or seeking the positive from the negatives. Blackthorn offers protection for those who are taking action perhaps in battle (we all go through battles in life these days they are more emotional and figurative than ‘actual’ ones), or when we are taking control of our destiny.
It is commonly used in protection and banishing spells ( write up to follow) and is favoured by the fae, much like Hawthorn; She is to be respected and revered so be sure to take care if taking anything from a Blackthorn tree. Always leave offerings and libations and give thanks; lest you fall foul of her gifts and the beings whom she is sacred to.
So, to sum up: Blackthorn, Sister to Hawthorn, sacred to witches and the Fae; holds power for those on a journey through darkness. It makes bad gin taste amazing and is both one of the last and first things available to forage at each end of the year.
Do you have any good Sloe recipes or Stories? I’d love to hear them if you do. I will be making a visit to the Blackthorns near me in the coming weeks as I continue my own shadow work. I have a ritual planned and Blackthorn will play a a part in it. Yule is on it’s way, there is light and rebirth to come so keep going with whatever you’re working on.
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Be gentle with yourselves my darlings.
Peace out witches
Love Kate xxx