As the season winds its way to a final close here in the northeast, the days grow too short to support plant growth. The fields are full of brown rattling seeds and the woolen skies are slowly carded by the bony trees. The crops have been brought in and according to old Irish tradition it is considered bad luck to harvest from the dormant land after November 1st because the crops have likely been spit or peed on by the Pooka/Puk- a wild demon goat (among other manifestations) with fiery eyes. Some farmers still leave a small portion of their crops unharvested, saved as the "Pooka crop".
Samhain, a word derived from Old Irish meaning "end of summer" is one of the most important times in the Celtic year. Beginning on the eve of Samhain, October 31st, feasts and celebrations are held to mark the end of the year past, and the beginning of a new year and cycle. Samhain is the third and final harvest festival and an important threshold between the past growing season, and the one yet to come. At this liminal time of ending and beginning the veil between the worlds is thin. Ancestors come back to visit their homes and loved ones, to bring messages, or simply to check up on things and see that everything is being taken care of. It is a common tradition to make an extra place at the table, and to leave out offerings for those ancestors and Good Folk (the Faery's) who may be passing through on this night.
The fairy tree
"Hawthorn, Hagthorn, quickset, maythorn, white thorn, thorn tree,
pixie pears, ladies' meat".
The Hawthorn, (Crataegus spp.) is a thorny tree in the Rosacea family. It looks similar to an apple tree, except it is often more bent and twisted, and covered in thorns. The hawthorn tree is native to Europe and can grow to be extremely old. It is often found growing along the edges of fields and around old homesteads, and in Ireland there is a hawthorn tree found at nearly every sacred well and stone circle. Tales abound of disasters and ill health falling upon those who dared to disturb a thorn tree growing on its own. Farmers will plough around a tree in their field, even roads have been re-routed to avoid cutting down a lone thorn tree. Any thorn tree that grows of its own accord is known as a "thin place" and considered to be guarded by the Good People. It is often marking an entrance to the Otherworld. Along with providing shelter and a passageway for the Good People, some hawthorn are also believed to be the Cailleach (the hag) in disguise. It is extremely unlucky to disturb these trees.
The hawthorn is mostly associated with Beltaine, and there is a good deal of lore surrounding the tree during this springtime festival. But as I have been out collecting hawthorn berries over the past several weeks it has seemed to me that Samhain is also an important time of the hawthorn. Samhain and Beltaine are opposite each other on the wheel of the year, and are the two cross-quarter days when the veil between the worlds is thinnest so the Good People may come and go more readily. At Beltaine the hawthorn is flowering and is involved in rituals or fertility and abundance. But here at Samhain the hawthorn is barren, with only a few red berries still clinging to her branches, and the rich medicinal berries scattering the ground beneath this bent old hag.
Samhain is the time of the hag, the crone, the reaper, the Morrigan. Yet she is seldom recognized or celebrated. There is an obsession in American culture with youth and reproductive sexuality. There is no place for the hag. She is invisible, and when she asserts herself she is reviled. She is accused of being shrill, cold, bossy, meddlesome, frigid, unseemly.
She is the one who is past child bearing age; whose sexuality is her own. She is the one who is done with cultural expectations and pleasantries. She says what she means. She takes no shit. She comes to your house with a pot of soup and folds your laundry and holds your baby. She takes care of grandchildren and volunteers at the hospital holding heroin addicted babies. She cooks for the homeless. She sorts used clothing to bring to migrants at the border. She still works full time because she doesn't have another option. She finds new love. She sees the bigger picture. she is the raging granny. She is the wisdom keeper and the healer. She is the midwife and hospice worker. She holds the memories. She stands at the bedside of the laboring mother and whispers "you've got this" and she stands at the bedside of the dying and whispers "you've got this". Gathering up hawthorn berries I am filled with gratitude for the fruit of the hawthorn, the unappreciated role of the hag, crone, grandmother.
Hawthorn berries (leaves and flowers are used as well) are associated with the heart, and have historically been used for all sorts of heart conditions. The berries contain rutin and quercitin, both flavonoids that are anti-inflammatory. Hawthorn is known to be high in antioxidants and is specifically anti-inflammatory for the heart and cardiovascular system. Hawthorn supports normal blood pressure and improved circulation to the heart. It also aids the heart in using oxygen more efficiently, and normalizes beat-tachycardia and arrhythmia. Hawthorn helps to move stagnant blood and is also used to support varicose veins and decrease LDL cholesterol. Hawthorn is used during the recuperation from stroke or heart attack. Hawthorn is a great daily tonic for people who know there is cardiovascular disease in their family, as it acts as a preventative as well as an aid in recuperation.
Hawthorn is also wonderful for easing anxiety, especially stress that is related to matters of the heart. It helps with restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, and heart palpitations related to stress. It can soften the swings of depression and mood changes and is a balm for all feelings of being unseen or unloved. Hawthorn is a strong remedy for a broken heart, and it helps us heal from emotional wounds, as it is both a heart opener and strong boundary holder. Hawthorn can be taken as an acute remedy following a medical or emotional trauma, and it can also be taken as a long term tonic to help strengthen the physical and emotional heart.
Hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries can be taken as a tincture or tea. The berries can be made into a syrup or jam! My favorite herbal potion with hawthorn is the oxymel-
I grind up the berries and cover them with a mixture of half honey and half apple cider vinegar. I let this steep for a month or two, just as I would with a tincture, and then I strain it and take it as a tonic any time of the year.
May you find ways to honor your own inner hag, and may we all take time in this season to appreciate the hags, the crones, the grandmothers and elders in our lives.
We see you!
Take a moment to share your gratitude with someone. Light a candle, or a bonfire, leave a plate of food out, or just a bit of honey for those journeying through tonight.
May you enter this new year with a strong heart, feeling the steady beat of connection to life and wild power. Happy New Year, Witches!