Friday, May 15, 2015

Hawthorn,Whitethorn, May thorn - Crataegus monogyna

By the craggy hill-side,
Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn trees
For pleasure here and there.
Is any man so daring
As dig them up in spite?
He shall find the thornies set
In his bed at night.

Taken from The Fairies by William Allingham

It blazes across the country, elegant panicles drip their blossom to the ground. As English as yorkshire pudding, or perhaps I should say as British for it is everywhere, promiscuous like an overdressed lady of the night, with its faint sweet scent.  The turning of spring into summer this is what May thorn is all about, when children danced round the maypole, and young lovers left bouquets of flowers outside the house of their darlings.

Grigson has a hundred names for it at least, it fills the countryside in a riot of white. OE for it is haegthorn or hagathorn, which is usually taken to mean the haw or the fruit.  Children from the past would eat the fresh young shoots, nutty and fresh.

The puritans hated it, it represented vice and sin, though it crept into the churches adorning columns and pews.  It is a supernatural tree, made for fairies, and its power is only equalled by the magical rowan.  Grigson states that Lady Raglan* (The Green man in Church Architecture), that these carvings of the 'green man' are the May Lord or May King.

In Ireland its mythology is strong, you did not spread your washing out on a sacred lone hawthorn, you may be interfering with the washing of the fairies.  Of course it wove its way into Christian stories, none so famous as the Glastonbury Thorn according to the legend of Joseph of Arimathea, which is supposed to flower on Christmas day; it puts its flowers out in winter and then again in May (Crataegus monogyna var. praecox), if a more practical explanation is to be offered.  Grigson says that this story came into print in 1722, presumably a story by the medieval monks of Glastonbury to elicit donations from the people, three thorn trees were to be found on Wearyall Hill.

Thre hawthornes also, that groweth in Werale,
Do burg here grene leaves at Christmas
As freshe as other in May.

 When in the bleak days of winter I look back on this blog, Wednesday's beautiful weather and the flowering hawthorn will be something to remember and be thankful for ;)

Green Men in Wiltshire

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