“Every hair on him was as sharp as a thorn of hawthorn, and a drop of blood on each hair. He would not recognise comrades or friends. He would strike alike before and behind. It is from this that the men of Connaught gave Cuchulainn the name Riastartha.” –Winifred Faraday (Cattle Raid of Cualnge, 1904)
1) The Roots: Background information
2) The Trunk: Celtic Mythology and Significance
3) The Foliage: Spells using the Plant
The sixth letter of the Ogham is Huathe, which is known as the Hawthorn within the Tree Ogham.
As previously stated, the Hawthorn makes up part of the fairy triad along with the Ash and the Oak tree.
In the Celtic Shaman, by John Mathews, the Word-Ogham of Morann Mac Main – “a pack of wolves” or terror- is interpreted as representing “challenge.”
Caitlin Mathews in Celtic Wisdom Sticks has a similar interpretation for Huathe’s meaning. Her divination system’s interpretations for the few navigates around those times when ‘facing fears’ is necessary. “Through terror, ancient heroes came again, unapprehending of the danger or the pain.”
In Ogham: Secret Language of the Druids Robert Ellison interprets Huathe as being related to counselling, protection, and cleansing. He reflects upon other writers’ interpretations as being connected with “horror” or “terror.” Unfortunately, he does not elaborate on his own unique interpretation.
Huathe, or Hawthorn, is a very magical and respected tree. Individuals gain great power through its blessings, or unveil a world of horror. Metaphorically, we can face our challenges, our fears, and unleash a greater part of ourselves than we had ever imagined existed.
The Welsh giant Yspaddaden Penkawr (Giant Hawthorn) is associated with the Hawthorn through his name[i]. His daughter, Olwen, is said to leave white flowering trefoils behind her in her footprints. This story is found in the Mabinogion.
In the 1911 book Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race by Thomas Rollesten we are given a connection between Merlin – Arthur’s Druid – and the Hawthorn. As various myths and legends often vary in their details, we are given different descriptions of Merlin’s home within the text. The abode of Merlin, we are told, can be described as either made of “glass, or a bush of whitethorn laden with bloom, or a sort of mist or smoke” or to have been composed of air.
This is not the first time that the Hawthorn has been associated with the Otherworld. It is a tree that is both respected and feared because of its power. This may be why there are comparisons between the tree and the wolf.
(Grey Wolf. Photo by Gunnar Reis Amphibol )
Fairy abduction is a common theme in Celtic myth and folklore. Oftentimes a person, like Anne Jefferies, returns with gifts of healing or mediumship. The Hawthorn having a direct connection to the fairy realm is often mentioned.
Thomas the Rhymer – who would later have seer-like gifts – would meet with the Fairy Queen “by the Hawthorn bush from which the cuckoo was calling[ii].” Likewise, Biddy Early, attributed at least one of her healing gifts to the sleeps she had beneath the Hawthorn tree. Her brother’s spirit had taught this to her.
Biddy Early was an Irish witch and folk healer. She is said to have lived until 1874. In 1920 Lady Augusta Gregory published the book Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland. In it, there was a whole section dedicated to Biddy Early. The accounts were from various witnesses who knew her or from those that had observed certain incidents in which she had used her power.
There is a story about Biddy Early in which a boy in Feakle “got the touch in three places.” This fairy touch had him going out and walking in the night. Predictably, the boy became very sick. In Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland the family asks for help and Biddy Early provides it. The ritual used is also explained as is its source.
“And they asked Biddy Early and she said, ‘Watch the hens when they come in to roost at night, and catch a hold of the last one that comes.’ So the mother caught it, and then she thought she’d like to see what would Biddy Early do with it. So she brought it up to her house and laid it on the floor, and it began to rustle its wings, and it lay over and died. It was from her brother Biddy Early got the cure. He was sick a long time, and there was a whitethorn tree out in the field, and he’d go and lie under it for shade from the sun. And after he died, every day for a year she’d go to the whitethorn tree, and it is there she’d cry her fill. And then he brought her under and gave her the cure. It was after that she was in service beyond Kinvara. She did her first cure on a boy, after the doctors giving him up.”
The hen having died in exchange for the boy’s health is a type of sympathetic magic similar to that found in many aboriginal or shamanic traditions. The concept of a life for a life dates back to the earliest recordings of human existence. The sacrifice is usually more overt, but the basic principle found in Biddy Early’s healing in this case is at its core the same.
The examples above illustrate how Hawthorn may act as a portal to the Otherworld. Once this portal is opened knowledge and power may be gained. This belief was not isolated but widespread. Thomas the Rhymer was from Scotland, the story of Merlin in Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race is from Wales, and Biddy Early lived in Western Ireland.
Clearly the Hawthorn, or Huathe, is a tree of great power.
The Celts were not the only ones that had uses for Hawthorn.
On the Lucky Mojo website we are given some Hoodoo uses for the Hawthorn. Hoodoo is an American form of folk magic which also has many shamanistic elements. It is separate from Voodoo, which is a religion.
Hoodoo has strong African, Christian, and European influences. It seems to have been created in the Americas when individuals of various cultures were introduced to one another and when their beliefs were sown together. Hoodoo is usually practiced by people of African descent, however, despite the various other cultural influences.
According to Hoodoo practitioner and author Catherine Yronwode, Hawthorn has many protective qualities[iii]. A tea made from Hawthorn berries can be sprinkled around the home “to shield the premises from evil.” Drinking the brew offers personal protection. The berries kept in the house will also prevent “evil” people from entering the home.
“HAWTHORN BERRIES are also used in an old-time spell to Keep a Woman From
Coming Around to See Your Man. It is said that if a woman-friend of yours is trying to steal your husband, HAWTHORN BERRIES sprinkled across her path will block her from entering your house for that purpose, although she may still come around as your friend.”
The information on the website does not say what a husband should do under similar circumstances. I can only imagine that a man might find a different way to deal with this particular problem.
“…he happened one night to be on the top of a tall ivy-clad hawthorn tree which was in the glen. It was hard for him to endure that bed, for at every twist and turn he would give, a shower of thorns off the hawthorn would stick in him, so that they were piercing and rending his side and wounding his skin.” – Mad Sweeney (Robert Ellison, Ogham: Secret Language of the Druids)
[i] J.M. Paterson. Tree Wisdom: the Definitive Guidebook.