Blackthorn - Straif (Ogham) Prunus spinosa ( Latin)
Hedge of a stream is Blackthorn
Careful effort, strongest of red, Sloe which gives strong red dye on metal.
An arrows mist, smoking drifting from the fire.
Increasing of secrets.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Blackthorn is represented by two letters in the Celtic Tree Ogham. The first letter is S which represents willow and the second is D or T which are interchangeable as oak or holly.
Blackthorn in the legends therefore is used to represent the warriors death ( meaning of W for willow) in service to others. Ultimately this sacrifice is for the King or Queen of the land ( meaning of D or T for oak or holly). The warrior welcomed death seeing it as a transition to another world rather than as an ending. However to truly conquer the fear of death one has to prepare spiritually and emotionally by forgiving both themselves and others.
Blackthorn invites us to contemplate our death and what it means to explore and understand the mysteries. Warriors were said to have trained with thorns and the hedge of blackthorn ( mentioned above in the kennings) represents the barrier of raised spears in the shield war. However it was not just the men who fought in that shield war but the women too and often the warrior’s training was conducted by famous women warriors such as Scathach, Aillill and Bodhnall.
The mysteries were thought to be guarded by powerful women such as the baleful Cailleach or death crone who is a hag with only one arm, one leg and an upper tooth long enough to use as a crutch. She is the keeper of the cauldron of rebirth and re-members the corpse to bring it back to life in the bright Other-world. The power of the mysteries is also reflected in the Wyrd Sisters of Anglo Saxon lore who spin the fate of us all.
Blackthorn is known therefore as the ‘increaser and keeper of dark secrets’ and due to misunderstanding can be given a sinister reputation connected to witches. Witches are said to use the Blackthorn to create malevolent wands and carved sticks called ‘black rods’ which were said to induce miscarriages and harm others. Further associations include blackthorn wood for burning witches, its thorns for discovering the devil’s mark on witches and its use as a crown of thorns on Jesus’s head.
Thorn trees take centre stage in stories such as sleeping beauty and in a Scottish tale a thicket is created to protect King Eirinn’s daughter from her father when eloping with her lover. The thicket therefore is a form of protection and in other stories an escape from giants!
This role as a dense thicket and its connection to giants gives Blackthorn a deep connection with the guardians of nature. It is the thicket that is the nesting place for birds, a home for the insects and a valuable habitat for the essential building blocks of nature. For in nature its the bottom of the food chain, the dark places, the insects and reptiles which are of paramount importance and are too readily overlooked in modern times. Blackthorn invites us into the mysteries and to explore the dark areas of our psyche without judgement. One of its main lessons is to accept fate just as it is and not to fight against the inevitable.
Hawthorn and Blackthorn are seen as sisters often called May and Black having similar roles with their thorns and delicate blossom. In late March to early April when blackthorn blossoms it is often known as the blackthorn hatch, a mild period before the onset of colder and wetter weather. Blackthorn has also been known as the mother of the woods representing fertility and therefore used as part of wassailing celebrations for apple trees.
In the New Year it has been burnt as a fire charm as its ash is believed to create a fertile field.
Medicinally Blackthorn berries have been used for ‘fluxes in the belly’ as they are a strong purgative and therefore should be used with extreme caution. The berries can be safely used for the making of sloe gin and added to drinks and jam as ‘bitters’. The juice of the berry can also be used as a marking ink.
Blackthorn wood is dark and hard and can be used for the teeth of rakes, fighting and walking sticks (Merlin’s staff is said to have been blackthorn) and clubs, cudgels or the Shillelagh the name the Irish give to the traditional cudgel wielded by giants.
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Poetry of flowers
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