Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Scarlet berries - the mystical hawthorn

Hawthorn berries
Illustration taken from 'Wayside and Woodland Trees'
(by Edward Step FLS)

The hawthorn belongs to May and its blossom is named after that month. However I cannot let the autumn slip past without commenting of the fruit of the hawthorn - the prolific, shiny, deep red berries. The hawthorn can survive from between one and three centuries and is common throughout the countryside, also planted to form dense and sturdy hedges - in fact the name 'hawthorn' comes from the Anglo-Saxon haegthorn meaning hedge thorn. Also known as the whitethorn, maythorn, or quickthorn the hawthorn's berries are loved by birds such as fieldfares and hawfinches, and can be made into tasty jelly or country wine.

The hawthorn is regarded with respect by country people and folk-lore associates it with faeries and the entrance to their world. It was (and still is) considered unlucky to chop a hawthorn down or to bring cuttings from it into the house.
The hawthorn is associated with the feminine and fertility rights. In Greek mythology, hawthorn lighted the alter temples of Hymen the god of marriage and the flowers were used as bridal wreaths.
It is also associated with the Roman cult of Cardea, the goddess of health, thresholds and door hinges which was celebrated at Beltane (the hinge of the year) as it is still celebrated by many today: see
In fairness, I must not forget to mention the hawthorn in Christianity where it is considered a holy tree associated with the Virgin Mary and the legend of the Glastonbury Thorn. The story goes that Joseph of Arimathea came to England to preach the Gospel and, having landed at the sacred Isle of Avalon (now Glastonbury) he thrust his staff into the ground. When he awoke it had changed into a tree covered in snowy white blossom - where he later built a chapel (which evolved into the great Glastonbury Abbey.)
Astrologically hawthorn is assigned to Mars and bears the sentiment of contentment. It is symbolic of fertility, marriage, hope, self-denial and spring.