An old friend of mine came to visit me here some years ago. He has always lived inland near his beloved woods. His idea of paradise is a walk through the green and dappled light, wild garlic and primroses speckling the roots of ivy twined trees, the rich stench of last years leaves rising from the softly crackling ground giving way beneath his booted feet, the soft twitter of birds encircling his hippy head. He claims he will retire to a hole in the ground in the woods. But when he turned around at my door to take in the panoramic view I didn’t expect him to declare…
“Yuck. I hate it here.”
“All the trees are bent, small and twisted.”
He has never returned. I didn’t think it was the trees he actually hated but what the strong prevailing south westerlies have done to them. They are twisted and gnarled and allleannorth-east but for some reason I love them. They are the wind made solid, visual proof of something that is always with us but can never be grasped, a metaphor for the hunt for the soul or inner meaning that occupies my time. The small gnarled trees represent the hope that I do have a soul though it may be small and twisted and leaning north-east too.
The trees are the Hawthorn trees which dot the hedges and ditches of Ireland. In the North of Ireland the ditches are clean and neat and even, ‘Protestant Hedges’ as a friend calls them. You will know when you have crossed the border into the Republic when you see the brambly Catholic untidyness of the roadsides and the Hawthorn rising up like the claws of creatures of the underworld.
To many of us, even in the 21st century, they still represent that “otherworld” which is why the cutting of hawthorn trees is avoided, why they spring alone from our ditches. They are fairy trees, sacred trees. If you cut one or damage one, the fairies will come and get you.
I don’t believe in fairies myself though as the fella said just because I don’t believe in them doesn’t mean they aren’t there and any time I walk the roads around here after the ditches have been cut and see that the Hawthorn have been trimmed I shudder and cross the road in case I might somehow get the blame.
Hawthorn doesn’t just conjure images of revenge and fear though for instance hey say that in a year when the Hawthorn blossom is plentiful it signifies good weather and to wear it is to ward off depression. Below are some of the legends attached to the Hawthorn…
- The leaves are also used to enforce or maintain chastity or celibacy. The leaves are placed beneath the mattress or around the bedroom for this purpose.
- Worn or carried it promotes happiness in the troubled, depressed, or sad. Call on the Goddess Grian to bring some sunshine and happiness into your life.
- Hawthorn protects against lightning, and in the house in which it resides, no evil ghosts may enter. It is also powerful for protecting against damage to the house from storms.
- In the past most Witch’s gardens contained at least one Hawthorn hedge.Care must be taken to propitiate the tree itself before removing any branches.
- Hawthorn trees standing alone should be avoided. Take parts only from trees that are part of boundary hedges.
- The Hawthorn is sacred to the fairies, and is part of the fairy-tree triad of Ireland and Britain: ‘Oak, Ash and Thorn’ and where all three trees grow together it is said that one may see fairies.