The folkloric and mythological traditions of Ireland inspire me.
I’ve got a yearning to collect and sink into the old stories.
They connect us deeply to our history.
And so, when I travelled to Ireland I looked for these old traditions wherever we went. They weren’t hard to find. They are deeply ingrained in the people, the land, and the historical sites.
The old beliefs of the Celtic tradition thrive right along with modern life and Christian spirituality. It is a part of life here to accept faerie trees or matter-of-factly recite personal experiences of hearing the banshee. I call that absolutely delicious.
I decided on our trip to Ireland that I would have to come back. So much more to discover.
For this trip though, I was absolutely thrilled that I met my first Hawthorn tree in Ireland.
Celtic Tradition: Three Sacred Trees…Oak, Ash, and Thorn
I met my first Hawthorn (Sceach Gheal) in Ireland at a megalithic tomb. There it was! Yes, I did say I was thrilled. Why? Because, you see, it was just where it was supposed to be.
A lone Hawthorn. A faerie tree. Marking the threshold between the Otherworld and the Underworld.
But let me back up a little…
Several years ago, I decided to study herbs and their healing powers. What does that have to do with anything? I’m getting there.
When I use the term herbal medicine, I am speaking of any plant that can be used in healing, not just what we would normally consider herbs.
I am progressing with my studies in my own way, which would be at a glacial pace. Besides studying the practicalities of herbal healing, I follow the stories…the folklore. Finding the story often leads to a greater understanding of the plant, its spiritual significance, and the ways that it was used for healing in the past. Maybe this emphasis on story and folklore all comes down to my general love of story. I don’t know. But I do know that the old stories lend a richness and depth to the study.
My Particular Interest in Hawthorn
Last winter solstice I took part in a full day of guided work, culminating in a Shamanic Journey. The details of that final journey are very personal, but suffice it to say, Hawthorn came to my notice during that day. Hawthorn became my touchstone to guide me back from my spiritual journey. Because of that, Hawthorn, and the possibility that I should use it for my own health, has been on my mind ever since. I have since made myself a tincture of Hawthorn.
Hawthorn is considered the herb supreme for the heart. The berries, leaves, and flowers are rich in bioflavonoids, antioxidants, and procyanidins, which feed and tone the heart. [Rosemary Gladstar: Medicinal Herbs. A Beginner’s Guide.]
Rosemary goes on to say, “The herb of the heart, hawthorn, is also one of my favorite remedies for grief and deep sadness.” In her book, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, Rosemary has a wonderful recipe for what she calls Heart Ease Tea.
I have not yet made Rosemary’s tea, but I do make a tea for myself with dried Hawthorn berries, Elderberries, Hibiscus, and Rose Hips. Add a little honey and it is a soothing, yet invigorating, combination. And the colour is absolutely beautiful…plush burgundy velvet.
In Celtic lore, the Hawthorn is said to have the ability to heal a broken heart.
Back in Ireland…
Once I saw one Hawthorn, and knew what I was looking at, I saw many more.
Immediately some of the things I’d learned about the tree from one of my mentors came flooding back.
- The Hawthorn is a tree sacred to the faerie and stands at the threshold of the Otherworld.
- The Hawthorn is often found in crossing places from this world to the next. It guards wells and springs and is often found near ancient burial and other archaeological sites.
- A lone Hawthorn will often stand as sentinel in farmer’s fields because to cut it down is to court the displeasure of the faerie folk.
- It is also often found in hedges…one of those boundary places.
The stories surrounding the Hawthorn tree are rich and plentiful and differ from country to country. It is fascinating to read all the stories because they do demonstrate the push/pull nature of the Hawthorn.
The two prominent trees that I met up close and personal were both leaning over a fence (one at Poulnabrone portal tomb c. 4200 bce as pictured above in this post, and one at a cemetery). Both are good examples of the tree occupying that liminal space between this world and the next.
I found the needle-like thorns of the Hawthorn fascinating. These thorns contrast beautifully with the come-hither red of the abundant berries. Stay away. Come closer. This seems to be the message of the tree and all the folklore surrounding it, which indicates both fear and respect.
Hawthorn embodies the flux of creation and destruction more than any other plant. She represents the circulation between activity and rest, between systole and diastole, between love and anger, life and death. Sitting at the bookends of the time of growth, she guards the seasonal shifts – but rooted at the edge of the field, she also guards the border between the wild and the hearth. (Guido Masé)
It is not my intention with this post to provide a scholarly treatise on the merits of Hawthorn as medicine. Nor is it my intention to outline all the folklore surrounding it. There is so much that you can easily get lost in the weeds. I am still gathering information on all of that for my own personal Materia Medica.
Instead, it is about my personal journey with this tree and the messages that I can gather from it both medicinally and spiritually. Perhaps it is fitting that I was introduced to Hawthorn as I undertook my own journey between two worlds last December. It is, after all, the gateway tree…the tree that stands on the threshold…