Wednesday, 6th June 2012
The number of superstitions, legends and traditions attached to the Hawthorn Tree are legion. It features in Arabic literature as the flowers of hawthorn were regarded as an aphrodisiac. It was also sacred to the Greeks who symbolised their god of love and marriage as Hymen or Hymenaeus (who was the son of Aphrodite and Dionysius). The Greeks usually represented him in art as a winged youth carrying a torch made from branches of the hawthorn tree leading a procession to the marriage bed. However, as many a war had its beginning in rivalries over objects of love or marriages gone awry, Hymenaeus was also the god of wars that started over matters of desire such as the Trojan War. In this case, weapons with shafts made from the wood of the hawthorn tree were thought to be more lethal than those crafted from other woods.
Hawthorn was additionally sacred to the Greek goddess Maia (May). For this reason boughs were long used for luck and protection in Greek and later, Roman households and remained symbolic of Hope well into the Christian era. In Teutonic ritual, it was used for funeral pyres because smoke from burning hawthorn was thought to bear souls to the afterlife.
The hawthorn's association with death gave rise to many of the frightful superstitions about this tree.
The origins of many of the Irish customs associated with hawthorn probably began when the first settlers arrived here seven to eight thousand years ago. These are said to have come from the eastern Mediterranean
where hawthorn lore was well established. Practices that were probably alive and well in stone-age times and fostered and cherished by the Druids of the day are still to be found in Ireland today. Along with other Celtic countries, Fairy Trees and Bushes abound and ancient traditions are still carried out, notably the decoration of hawthorns with coloured ribbons or other objects during the month of May and when the trees are in flower. This is for good luck and the granting of wishes. Pink ribbon for love, blue ribbon for protection, green ribbon for wealth or purple ribbon for greater knowledge. However, the trees will accept offerings of any kind at any time of year as was the case at Cloghernagh up to very recent times.
The Druidish Holiday of Beltane (May Day) was when witches were said to turn themselves into hawthorn trees. The present word in Irish for May is 'Bealtaine'. The Hawthorn Tree also has a close association with the elemental inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom – Fairies. It serves as a conduit to allow fairies to travel to and from the Earth. Therefore, to destroy a hawthorn is to reduce access to and from the Earth, and so is to imprison them! The result will be severe bad luck or even a death within the family. On the other hand, anyone who protects and reveres hawthorn will be blessed with good fortune. Practices still alive in Ireland include the placement of a sprig of hawthorn in milking parlours to increase milk yield and a sprig in the rafters of your house will keep it free of ghosts, evil spirits and plain bad luck of any kind.
Trees that most impacted on human communities are the ones that acquired the most legends over time and are a wonder to behold. The hawthorn is steeped in legend, in magic, in folklore. Berries from the most active in elemental qualities in Ireland have now been gathered and are now available to those that wish to bring good luck and Irish fairies to your garden and land. Contact http://www.irishfairytrees.com for details. In the meantime, slow down in the car or even stop and have a close look at the blossom of the wondrous hawthorn, the Mayflower.
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