Trees of Glastonbury #2 – The Outcrop of Hawthorn, Elder and their Friends
Following Well House Lane out past the Tor, we veer left onto Stone Down Lane, dropping over the hill and out of sight of St Michael’s tower. Here, in a sloping green field, stands a lone oak leaning with purpose into the hill, past the oak stands an old hawthorn, accompanied by some friends.
She grows with two main trunks, as old as you’ll see a hawthorn. A third trunk reaches upward, straighter than the hawthorn and without its bark, except for a small strip on the inner side pressed up against the hawthorn’s trunk. This elder trunk appears to be dead, its bark probably removed by the sheep, but on closer inspection it does live, a single root disappearing into the heart of the hawthorn’s fluted base, clasping each other like the fists of lover’s. In the higher branches the elder becomes more apparent, long straight stems of new growth reaching up with large green pinnate leaves, and the appearance of developing elder berries.
The hawthorn’s berries, at this time of the year, are green and hang like little peas among the lobed leaves, pointed out by the haw’s thorns and soon to turn bright red. Hawthorn is good for the heart, I have been carrying berries in my pocket for a couple of weeks, perhaps the hawthorn is to be thanked for this outpouring of creativity.
Other species exist here, lichen encrust the upper branches of the hawthorn, like an airborne coral reef. The elder’s bare dead branches are growing ears, wood ear fungi hang from her deadwood. The hawthorn is also accompanied by a white berried stowaway. Mistletoe represents fertility and was said to be the semen of the Celtic God, Taranis. Its latin name is Viscus Alba, which literally means sticky white, referring to the sticky white goo within the berries. I wonder about the link between mistletoe and lightning, if mistletoe was the semen, perhaps the storm was Taranis’ orgasm.
Ceremonies were held around the harvesting of mistletoe. It was known as a cure for all poisons and would be used to increase fertility. When mistletoe was harvested, preferably from oak as this was considered most sacred, two white ox would be sacrificed for the harvest and when the mistletoe was cut, to retain its power, it was not to touch the ground,
The appearance of hawthorn and elder together here is interesting. Both are considered to be linked the fairy realm, hawthorn being a gateway and tree held sacred to the fairies and elder, being inhabited by the elder mother, from whom one must ask permission before taking elder wood.
Elder is associated with the goddess in her wise woman, crone phase, it’s a tree of Samhain. In contrast Hawthorn is linked with Beltane, Brighid and the goddess in her fertile phase. These two, with the addition of the fertile energy of mistletoe, create an interesting fusion of folklore.
Matt Witt 01/07/20
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