Sunday, December 31, 2017

Cornish Adventure Part Two

After a very cold and rainy drive from Glastonbury, I finally arrived at the Penallick B&B in Tintagel (the boyhood home of King Arthur) last night around 1:30am.  Along the way, my sat nav (British for GPS) decided to take me along several semi-paved farmer's roads (in the pouring rain, in the pitch black), so that was fun. 

The B&B is lovely.  The proprietor, Paul, seems very nice.  I was given my choice of rooms, and chose the one with the bigger bed over the one with the sea view.  The view on this side is of farms, and is still quite pretty. 

I had the best English breakfast of all time (which is an amazing British thing combining everything I have ever wanted to eat for breakfast, and also some kind of usually baked beans?  This place had blackbeans in a vaguely Cuban style, which were great.), and then set off to do a little Sunday driving, while waiting for the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic to open at noon.  I'll write about the museum tonight, but I'm excited about it!

I didn't go down to Tintagel castle, because it's rather expensive, quite a hike, and I use a cane and only had 2 hours to kill until the museum opens.  I will go tomorrow.  Instead, I drove around and took some photos.  First, a few from "downtown" Tintagel, which looks fun, lots of cutesy touristy King Arthur themed and New Age stuff, but everything is closed Sunday morning.  Here is a photo of the lovely "Old Post Office", which is a medieval hall.  It's closed for the winter, but you can see some indoor photos at their website.

I drove around a bit, looking for a place where I could perhaps see Tintagal castle from above.  I found the most amazing place, called the Camelot Castle Hotel, which perches on a cliff overlooking the coast. 

Here are several photos from their "back yard".  Click to expand:

After taking photos, I went inside to their restaurant to have a hot cocoa and get out of the cold wind.  It was quite empty, although there were at least half a dozen waiters.  It's very lovely.  Like a Victorian castle (which I guess it basically is). 

AMAZING art, I think mostly from the same artist (ie, they all are similar in style a sort of slightly psychedelic impressionism similar to my grandmother's) . I got to speaking with the owner (who I'm like 60% convinced is actually Merlin).  Apparently, in the off seasons, they have an artist in residence program, and so they're letting me stay tonight for free!

I've now emptied my phone's memory, and am about to set off for the Witching Museum.  More this evening!  Love to you all!


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Cornish Adventure, Part One: Getting There is Half the Fun

Today I set off from my brother's home in Swindon, headed for Tintagal (the boyhood home of King Arthur) in Cornwall.  (you can see a map of my journey at the bottom of this post)  As I do most mornings, and every morning when I'm travelling, I pulled a tarot card asking "What should watch out for today?"  I find this an excellent practice.  It sometimes is a warning, but usually it's something amazing I would have missed had I not been watching for it.  It almost never makes sense in the morning, but by bedtime, it always does.

Now, Swindon, where my brother lives isn't terribly exciting.  It's an industrial/railroad town.  Reminds me a lot of Scranton.  Once you get out of town, it's rolling hills and green fields and sheep (so many sheep!  seriously, as near as I can tell there are more sheep than people in England-less-London)  For someone who grew up in the most beautiful place in the world, it's pretty, but nothing special. 

Getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road is actually pretty easy.  What's a little harder is getting used to the fact that the British just park wherever the hell they want, including in lanes of traffic.  Before this trip, I thought of Brits as an orderly and rule-abiding people.  Not when they're parking!   Except for large highways, basically every road I've been on here is one lane (even when it's two way) because everyone double parks like assholes.  (I understand it is not fair for me to project my cultural assumptions about appropriate pro-social behavior onto another people's cultures.  But, seriously, near as I can tell, no one in this whole country knows how to parallel park.)

Along the way there, my spidey-sense started tingling, and I kept seeing these signs for Cheddar Gorge and Caves.  "That sounds cool," I thought.  "I love me some caves!  I wonder if there will be anything cool I can see without having to hike?"  So, I turned off, and followed the signs.  My GPS was not best pleased, but I quieted her and followed my gut, and the entirely insufficient road signs.  I drove thru several little towns, including one that looked positively medieval, just like it was out of a King Arthur movie!  Eventually I got to Cheddar, and followed signs to the Gorge.

OMG, guys!  This is the most beautiful drive ever!  I duct taped my phone to the visor and shot you a video of it.  Watch below.  (now that I have invented this method, I'll try to get a chance to shoot you a video of the drive up Uffington White Horse Hill, also)

Sadly, it seems like the second video I tried to take failed when my phone ran out of memory.  :( Sorry!  To make up for it, here is a video someone else shot with a drone.  Warning: the music is super annoying.

So, after Cheddar Gorge, I got back on the highway, headed south to Cornwall.  I drove for a while, and then I started seeing signs for Glastonbury.  Now, I had planned to go to Glastonbury earlier in the week, but I got sick, and had to cancel that day trip.  I'm planning to go later in the week, but after my extremely successful outing at Cheddar Gorge, I figured I'd at least drive thru town, and shoot some photos of the Tor from afar. 

Having spoken with a friend who lives nearby, I was told that under no circumstances would my knees permit me to climb it in the winter.  England, I have discovered, is about 20% sheep and and 70% very slippery mud.  I don't know what their dirt is made of, but I suspect teflon.  In any case, for whatever reason, as I approached Glastonbury, I actually started to be really scared.  I almost turned around.  Then I saw a sign for an Aldi, which seemed VERY familiar and quotidian, so I stopped, got some snacks for the rest of the trip, including a dozen bottles of water, and collected myself.  "Don't be silly, Sara.  Just drive thru.  You don't even have to get out of the car if you don't want to."  Honestly, I was genuinely scared.  This is a thing that often happens to me before big initiatory experiences.  I think my ego thinks "No!  We're going to be big and scary after this!!  We like being small and weak and just like this!"

In any case, I followed signs for the Tor, and found myself at the Chalice Well Park, which is where the Red Spring of Glastonbury is.  That sounded great, but there was no parking (see aforementioned rant), so I turned up a tiny side street looking for a spot.  My magic sense went crazy!  Then I saw a bunch of sparkly magic hippies by the side of the road.  I know my people when I see them!!  I pulled over, and just blocked half the road, English style!  I was headed to a sacred well, so I dumped three of the water bottles, so I could fill them with spring water.  (good job, Aldi panic stop!)  The hippies went into an old pump house - a place I later learned is called the White Spring Sanctuary.

It was so beautiful.  It had a sort of neo-pagan hippy magic vibe, very much like the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.  But, it also had an older, deeper power.  As you know, I adore She of the Waters Below, whom I call by her Greek name, Tethys.  I had a profound experience the other day at Bath, and this was, in many ways, the twin of that.  Now...look... I'm not saying the National Trust (which is the non-profit that administers most of the British Sacred Sites I've been to) ... I'm not saying they actively attempt to profane everything they touch and turn the Holy Places into tourist attractions, but, well... honestly, I didn't really feel anything at Avebury or many of the other "well tended" sites I've been to.  I've seen a lot of "our ancestors were so foolish that they believed this nonsense" explanatory plaques. 

But this spring was the way I like my sacred sites.  Dirty.  Dangerous.  Powerful.  No cameras are allowed inside, but below I've put a video I found on youtube, which ends abruptly, when he's told it's not allowed.  Since it's already on youtube, I think it's ok.

I took my shoes off and rolled my pants up, and stood in the overflow of the spring, communing silently with Tethys.  But then, I saw him.  The Knight of Wands!  The Holy Horned One!  The Lord of the Green Wood!!  Or, I guess more likely, some hobo hippy with curly hair and shiny eyes.  Wearing all kelly green.  He stripped off his clothes, and went into the spring.  Now, soft ginger white boys are not generally my type, but I assure you, this was one of the sexiest creatures I have ever seen.

"Wait!  Is this allowed?!?  Can I get in?!?!"  I looked around.  It seems that it was ok, because nobody made any fuss at all.  Honestly, it seemed like nobody but me really even noticed.  Hard to say.  Brits aren't the most emotionally expressive of peoples (or, more likely, I don't know how to read their emotional expressions yet?).   Maybe Brits are just casual about public nudity, like other Europeans?  I don't know.   But here's the thing: it's fucking December.  It's warm here compared to home, (it was about 40'F today), but this spring house isn't heated.  It was cold as fuck just having my feet in an inch of water on the stones.  And I'm an ice princess who is rarely cold.

I think he caught me staring, wide eyed.  He motioned to me I should get in.  I stripped, put my clothes on a bench, and clamored over the rim into the fountains.  I closed my eyes for a moment, and made a bit of a thanksgiving prayer.  I must assume he got dressed and left while my eyes were closed because I didn't see him again.  But, in truth, it seems impossible he could have gotten out of the fountain, gotten dressed, and left the building in the few minutes my eyes were closed.  In truth, I believe he was never there, or...never an embodied human.  I think he really was the Holy Horned One.

It was extremely cold.  Seriously. Fucking. Cold.  Searingly cold, and then numb.   My friend M and I, when we were young, would sometimes enter the Atlantic in Delaware for our birthday in late February.  That is the only time I have ever felt cold like this.

And yet, only my outside got cold.  My blubber protects me; it takes a long time for cold to penetrate me.  This is not an adventure I think would be safe for skinny folk!!

I was in the main circular pool for a little while.  I got a lot of nasty stares and evil eyes.  Why, when the man in green got none?  Perhaps because I am fat.  There is a cost to being fat, happy, and naked in public.  People who spend a lot of time obsession over being not-fat get VERY angry about me being fat and not "appropriately" ashamed about it. After many unhappy years, I finally understood that is because my happiness obviates their own.  Perhaps all that suffering they put themselves through isn't worth it?  So, it's possible that's why.  Or, of course, it's possible they couldn't see the Green Man, and I was NOT supposed to be naked in the fountain.  It's possible they were just worried I'd get pneumonia; it was cold AF.  No way to know.

There, the water was up to about my knees.  Next, I moved to the back left, where there is a small altar of the Black Madonna, Our Lady Below.  I climbed up.  In the large pool at the back, behind the Black Madonna altar, there were stairs leading in (which I took as a sign that I was permitted to go there).  There, the water reached up to my breasts.  COOOOOLD!!!!!!  I ducked under the waterfall, and drank some of it.  I was weeping, I think.  An old lady was singing in what sounded to me like a non-Russian Slavic language.  Possibly Ukrainian?

I had a visitation experience which I will not share, save to say that it ended with an angel interrupting and commanding me to get out of the cold water NOW!  I looked down at my hands, and my nails were starting to turn blue.  Even blubber can't protect you forever.

The old lady gave me a hand getting out.  I do not think she spoke English.  I dried off as best I was able, and put my clothes back on.  It was very, very, very cold being in the wind.  I quickly walked back to the car, cold and wet, and jacked the heat up as high as it would go.  I sat for a while, collecting myself.  It was a very powerful experience.  Second to Eleusis, this is perhaps the most powerful magical place I have ever felt.  I wish it had been warmer, so I could have stayed longer.

I'm tired of writing, so I will tell you more later tonight or maybe tomorrow.  Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is slated for tomorrow, and Merlin-themed site-seeing.  :) . Excited.  Good night!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Tarot Tips

A few people have asked me to talk a little bit about how I read tarot, so I thought I'd do an example reading for you.  The deck I'm using is the Deviant Moon Tarot, which I strongly recommend.  It's also available as an app from Fool's Dog (full disclosure: the owners of Fool's Dog are friends).  I've tried below to narrate my thinking as I progress thru the reading, so you can see how I do it. 

The question was "What can I do to make my business more successful in 2018?"

Now the first thing I notice is that I got three trump cards, which is generally a sign that there's more powerful forces at play here than one would generally expect from such a straight forward and mundane-seeming question.  (although, to be fair, the Witch for Hire biz is not so mundane and straight-forward as all that).  I'll come back to this point when I do the actual reading.

The next thing I do is look at the generally "geometry" of how the cards line up together.  Here, you can see, the two figures on the ends are looking in at the central card.  That tells me that the real "meat" of the answer is that central card, and the other two are related to it.

Next, I look to see if any figures are repeated.  Here, I notice that the red devil of the last card is also present at the top of the Wheel of Fortune.  I also see that the emaciated figure of the Hermit has a fat (pregnant?) twin on the stool in the middle card.  Finally, I see the fish in the Hermit is repeated around the edge of the wheel itself.  One of the things I like about these cards is that they have a lot of those sorts of details.  These repetitions will help me divine a narrative connecting the individual cards.

Next, I think about each card individually, paying attention to whatever particular details that caught my eye this time I saw it (which are different in every different reading, and one reason I like art-dense decks):  

In the Past, The Hermit:  I've been avoiding networking and advertising, because I'm super shy, and I honestly hate that kind of hand-shaking small-talk schtick.  Sigh.  But, I know it has to be done.  In the background, I see an industrial city, which I understand to be Pittsburgh, where I live.  I should be networking more here.  The horns of the moon point backwards, which is another signal that the force of this card's effect is in the past.  At this point in my analysis, I'm not quite sure what the deal with the fish is.  Generally, I understand fish to be a sign of prosperity (I'm not sure why; I think it has something to do with a story I read on a plaque next to a koi pond in a Chinese restaurant when I was little).  They also relate to Pisces, which is my birth sign.  Perhaps it's that the fish is left on the ground to rot, I understand to mean that I am leaving my prosperity on the ground by not using my inborn talents (much as I hate it, I'm pretty good at small talk).  I don't worry about it, or try to puzzle it out at this stage.  I just stay open to inspiration and messages from my spirits, and have faith it will become clear as I continue to read the cards.  If it is still unclear at the end, I will do some more intellectual analysis.

In the Present, The Wheel of Fortune:  Generally, the Wheel of Fortune indicates that the situation is very fluid, and liable to be moved by the tides of destiny.  It also reminds us that the central lesson of the Wheel of Fortune is that good times come and go, around and around, and that only in the center is there stability.   Don't get sidetracked by the flash of fortune, but remain centered.  Ha!  Nice try, cards!  But I asked about finances and business.  None of your mystic woo!  Back to work!  At first I understood the woman in red to be reading for the person on the stool, but then I saw the microphone in her hand.  That made it seem, instead, that she was bidding the person on the stool to speak.  I think that the person on the stool is me.  Where I was the Hermit, now the spirits, for the woman in red suddenly puts me much in mind of the great Earth Goddesses who inspire oracles, and she bids me speak.  In this context, the Wheel of Fortune is a very clear signal that the part of my business I should focus on is the divination.  Perhaps I should start writing some blog posts about the kinds of tarot readings I do?  ;)   As the the fish along side the wheel, I am still unclear as to what they mean.  They have, however, multiplied, and multiplying fishes seems like a clear sign of prosperity.  They both face up, rather than facing around the wheel, as they would to indicate it's motion.  they seem to be paying homage to the red devil at the top, who plays the wheel of fortune like a drum.  I know the devil might seem all ookey spookey, but to me, he is my beloved Teacher, He of the Crossroad.  Once, long ago, Jason Miller gave me a piece of advice on tarot reading.  He said "read like the devil", a phrase I believe he picked up from Camelia Elias.  I understood him to mean that I should be penetrating and precise, holding nothing back and softening no edges, while still aiming for those precise spots most open to change.  In any case, there is no question that cartomancy is, indeed, "The Devil's Book", so this seems a clear sign.  Particularly given that the final card is...

In the Future, The Devil: 
I've already spoken about the Devil's role as patron of cartomancy, so that meaning seems clear enough.  For me, the Devil card almost always tells of the relationship to a spirit ally, although that is not necessarily how I read it when it appears for other people.  Notice how, in this particular card, the moon's horns point right?  That is a sign that the card's effects point to the future, even tho the "action" on the card is facing back.  The Devil of the future is informing the Wheel of Fortune in the present.  This is a very clear sign of magic, when causes come after their effects.  So, I must do some magic in the near future (I know it's the near future because of the slimness of the moon; a fatter moon would indicate more time).  I must dance with the devil, which, really, is one of my favorite things to do!

So, altogether, the reading is a clear indication that I need to focus on the divination aspect of my business, building it up with a combination of old-fashioned networking and sorcery.  One aspect of that is this "Tarot Tips" blog post.  I hope you've enjoyed seeing how my readings work, and I hope you picked up some inspirational tips you can integrate into your own readings.  To learn more:

Watch this space for more tarot tips in the future, and let me know what else you'd like to see!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A History of Penn's Woods

Every forest is different, and you’ll need to learn your own forest. However, as an example, I’ll tell you the story of my woods, Penn’s Sylvania, whose history roughly parallels, in perhaps exaggerated form, the fate of much of the Eastern Woodland.

The Forest Primeval
As the Land measures time, woodlands are new to Pennsylvania.  Eighteen thousand years ago, the northern portion of the state was covered with ice, and the rest was a mix of tundra and boreal forest. As the ice receded, species from the south moved in found a home here.

Native Forests

When Europeans arrived, what we now call Pennsylvanian was heavily forested, the woods broken by rivers, scattered wetlands, and small cleared areas housing villages. Popular telling would have it that Native Americans lived with the land in its primeval state, but that is not the case. Native American agriculture was complex, sophisticated, and involved carefully tending and cultivating the forest to their own ends. Fossil pollen and charcoal preserved in bogs and lakes all across the eastern woodlands tell us of the widespread use of forest fire by the Native Americans. With it, they managed vast acres of forest, creating open galleries of forest along river banks and cleared grasslands and fields for the cultivation of domesticated crops, such as beans, corn, and squash. What we think of as the “natural” landscape of Pennsylvania, oak and maple dominated forests are a product of that tradition of large-scale burning, which encouraged prized species, like oak and maple, and discouraged others.

Cutting Down the Trees
As European settlement moved west, they cut down the trees, and killed off much of the forest wildlife, especially large predators like wolves, in order to make room for farms, towns, and villages. Wood that wasn’t used as building material was often burned cavalierly, just to get it out of the way. The first trees to fall were those that made for the best lumber. Eastern white pines, with their tall, straight trunks were an early target. In the mid 1700s, white pine logs 120 feet long and 4 feet in diameter were routinely cut in the hills of northeastern Pennsylvania, lashed into huge rafts, and floated down the Delaware river to make masts for British ships. Next fell the Hemlocks, whose bark was used to tan leather. Oak and chestnut were felled to be burned into charcoal. An iron furnace required about 30,000 acres of forest to sustain it. Finally, there came the final phase, the so-called “Great Clearcut”. The railroad allowed loggers access to the interior of the state, far from the rivers that used to be needed to transport timber. Small railways criss-crossed the entire state; today those old rail beds for the basis of our network of hiking trails. By 1900, less than 32% of Pennsylvania was old-growth forest, down from 90-95% before colonization.

Clearcutting often led to fire, set by sparks from the railroad, flames spread quickly through the brush and slash left after logging. This devastation began the spark of conservatism that saved our remaining woods, and cares for them today. In 1895, Dr Joseph Rothrock became the Commissioner of the newly formed State Division of Forestry, and began to develop the system of forest reserves (now called state forests). Begun in 1897, by 1904, the system held about half a million acres. But forest recovery is slow work. Trees had to be planted by hand, and take decades to mature. And then came new threats.

In the early 1900s, the American Chestnut comprised almost 30% of Pennsylvania hardwoods. In addition to the tastiness of it’s nuts, American Chestnut is an important medicine plant, and spirit ally. In 1904, Philadelphia land owners noticed their chestnuts growing ill. In less than 20 years, the illness spread across the Eastern Woodlands, leaving American Chestnut almost extinct. Today, there are still very few large chestnuts; they’ve been nearly wiped out by a fungal infection called Chestnut Blight. The American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation, who works to breed blight-resistant trees, can provide more details on how you can help restore this beloved tree to our Eastern Woodlands. Gypsy moths, an invasive predator from Eurasia, reached our shores in the 1920s, and began eating our woodlands bare. Ironically, it was the Great Depression that did the most to conserve our woods. In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration paid thousands of men to replant our forests, and to build trails, shelters, and other conservation work.

Our Modern Penn’s Sylvania

Only a few fragments of old growth forest remain, the largest is a Tionesta Scenic and Natural Area in Allegheny National Forest. And yet, the forest has returned, albeit in a new form. New-growth forest today covers about 59% of Pennsylvania, about 30% of it on public land. The people of our Commonwealth own more than four million acres of woods; 2.1 million acres of state forest, 270,000 acres in our state parks, and 1.4 million acres of State game lands. Additionally, the Allegheny National Forest, at about 500,000 acres, is the largest federal forest in the eastern woodlands. But, our woods are still under attack. In the 1990s, Pennsylvania had the most acidic rain in the country, causing widespread forest damage.

Invasive plants dispace our native ones, particularly Norway maple, Japanese knotweed, and autumn olive. Foreign pests and diseases, particularly wooly adelgid, which kills hemlocks, and Asian long-horned beetles, damage a wide variety of our native trees. Sadly, however, it is a native species which causes the most damage. White-tail deer, themselves a valued and beloved native of our woodlands, are one of the gravest threats to our woods. The clear-cutting of the late 1800s left our forests a deer’s paradise of brush and seedlings. Populations exploded. With their natural predators eliminated and hunting severely restricted, Pennsylvania’s forests now host historically unprecedented populations of up to sixty deer per square mile, more than 6 times as densely populated as when Europeans arrived in Pennsylvania.  Deer are now the “lynchpin” species of our forests, dictating the composition of the ecosystem. They eat many species of shrubs, wildflowers, and other low-lying plants, after which the denuded forest floor is invaded by non-native species deer don’t like to eat.  It is for this reason that I advocate a dramatic increase in deer hunting in PA.  It would return the forest to a more natural state; with natural predators nearly gone, it falls to humans to pick up that task.  It would bring more people into our beloved woods where they too will doubtless fall in love, bringing a large number of traditionally Republican voters into the environmentalist cause.  Finally, it would decrease consumption of factory farmed meat; venison is delicious and healthy.  

Saturday, December 23, 2017

She of Fruit and Thorn

Left: Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata      and      Right: Blackthorn, Prunus spinoza
From Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé’s Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany

Hawthorn and blackthorn are well known tree allies, and they play starring roles in much European folklore. Less known is the American-native, Blackhaw. When taken as a triumvirate, the three form a powerful spirit coterie. All three trees share a spiritual kinship with the Queen of Elfheim; Hawthorn the May Queen, Blackhaw the Mother of the Wood, and Blackthorn the Crone of the Forest. While it has become only a name for their fruit, “haw” began as an old English word for “hedge”, both in the literal sense of a bush planted at the edge of the property, and also as the liminal space between our world and the Other Place, and all three Mother Trees partake of this boundary place in different ways. She of Fruit and Thorn is a powerful tripartite ally for witches.

The three trees look very similar, although they are not as genetically related as once thought. All three are bushy shrubs or small trees with small berry-like fruits (called “haws”) and thorny branches. Their bark is smooth and gray (blackthorn’s is darker) when they are young, but becomes wrinkled with cracks as they age. They have small white flowers that bloom in profuse clusters early in the summer. These flowers attract clouds of bees, moths, butterflies, and other pollinators. Their fruits are bright red on hawthorn, and blue-black on blackhaw and blackthorn. These fruits are an important food source for wildlife, especially birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. They overwinter on the tree, getting sweeter as they repeatedly freeze and thaw. Humans also eat the fruits, which taste a bit like cranberries and crabapples, often in the form of jellies and sauces. I have included some recipes at the end of the article.

Perhaps the most famous of the three, the hawthorn, is also called also the mayflower (after which the ship was named). Hawthorn is actually a wide variety of trees, all of the genus Crataegus. There are varieties native to Europe, Asia, and North America. Here, where I live in western Pennsylvania, the most common native varieties are the Pennsylvania hawthorn (which does not have thorns), the white hawthorn (the Missouri state flower), and the downy hawthorn (which blooms very early), although many other varieties, including the British-native common hawthorn are also widespread. Magically and spiritually, all varieties of hawthorn are more or less interchangeable, although, of course, not only does each individual species have its own totem, but every individual tree has its own personality.

Hawthorn’s abundant flowering branches are gathered by the handful across Britain, and used to decorate a variety of goddess-themed locales in early summer, including sacred wells and statues of Mary the Virgin. The famed Glastonbury Thorn, which blossoms in both summer and at Christmas time, is a variety of hawthorn, said to have sprung from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, although the current tree is not that ancient one. The oldest tree in France, a hawthorn at Saint Mars sur la Futaie, was legendarily planted by St. Julien in the 3rd century. In his book The White Goddess, Robert Graves teaches that the Hawthorn was the great Goddess tree of pre-Christian Europe, although the scholarly bonafides of that theory leave something to be desired. What is, however, unquestionable, is Hawthorn’s association with the Other World across the continent. In the West of Europe it is said that the Hawthorn marks the entrance to Faerie, and it is considered extremely unlucky to cut the tree when it is not in bloom, or to bring hawthorn blooms into your home. They are of the wild, and inhabited by powerful spirits who do not abide being imprisoned within walls. In Eastern European myth, hawthorn is considered the best wood for vampire-slaying stakes. In the lore of the Chippewa people, hawthorn’s protective qualities are extolled. Once, Porcupine was being hunted by Bear. The clever Porcupine tied hawthorn branches to his back, and Bear was pricked all over by its thorns when he tried to take a bite. Nanabozho, a trickster god, is so impressed by Porcupine’s cleverness that he grants him thorns of his own, and that is how Porcupine came to have his quills.

Like the May Queen herself, Hawthorn is a powerful spirit ally, but one with whom all proper forms must be followed. Never cut a hawthorn which is not in bloom, and ask before taking flowers or fruit. Respect Hawthorn, and She will respect you. Hawthorn hedges planted around a home ensure that no malicious spirits can take up residence there, and encourage the favor of hobs and other helpful spirits. If you are lucky enough to have a hawthorn near your home, give it offerings of milk, honey,and fresh bread at regular intervals. This kindness will be repaid many-fold. The small thorns are excellent to use in love spells, where they can prick the hearts of lovers, as Cupid’s arrows might. The haws have long been used medicinally to treat high blood pressure and other ailments of the circulatory system, and they are just as good for magical healing of brokenheartedness. For this use, make a tincture of the haws, and anoint your heart with it daily. Hawthorn is an excellent wood for wands, and is a favored choice for hedge-riding brooms, although, personally, I prefer blackhaw for this.

Blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium
From Duhamel du Monceau’s Traite des Arbres et Arbustes que l’on Cultive en France en Pleine Terre, 1801

Blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium, is an amazing witch-plant native to the eastern United States, as far west as Illinois. Here in Pittsburgh, it grows as a bush, but further south it can grow into a small tree. Unlike hawthorn flowers, which can smell unpleasant, blackhaw flowers are sweetly fragrant, similar to honeysuckle (a distant cousin). In addition to being so pretty, blackhaw is an important healing plant, especially for women. It was traditionally used by First Nations healers for all sorts of women's health issues, including calming menstrual cramps, preventing miscarriage, speeding recovery from childbirth, and easing menopausal symptoms. Vance Randolph, in Ozark Magic and Folklore, says of it: “Blackhaw bark, according to the old folks, makes a tea that is useful in all sorts of ‘female complaints.’ It is good for scanty, irregular, or painful menstruation. Women going through the change of life consume large quantities of blackhaw bark, and this use of the stuff is so well known that there is a whole cycle of allegedly funny stories about it.” So powerful a preventer of miscarriage is blackhaw that is was often force-fed to enslaved women to prevent them from aborting (for which the women used the root and bark of the cotton plant). It is a powerful antispasmodic of the uterus, primarily due to the presence of scopoletin, which is a coumarin glycoside. HOWEVER, blackhaw also contains salicin (the same as aspirin is made of), which can sometimes cause birth defects. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should only take blackhaw after consulting with a medical professional competent in phytochemistry (such as a properly trained herbalist or naturopath).

Blackhaw is related to elderberry, and its spiritual nature bespeaks that kinship. Like Elder, Blackhaw is Mother of the Woods, and the spirits of the plants almost always appear in the form of a woman. Like the other Haw plants, blackhaw it is a hedge-plant. In the garden, Blackhaw is best used at the edges of your property, where its liminal character and sharp thorns provide a wall of protection. It is extremely easy to grow in its native East; tending to hedge-like thickets in the north and small trees in warmer climes. However, Blackhaw can be invasive in the west, and caution should be taken when planting it there. Mother Blackhaw is an excellent ally for hedge-riding and other forms of spirit journeying; ask her to teach you. In some parts, Blackhaw is sometimes referred to as “Wayfaring tree” although that name more properly belongs to the closely related European Viburnum lantana. I suspect it derives this name not only from its propensity to grow in roadside ditches, but also in acknowledgement that Mother Viburnum can help you find your way in the Other Places.

In the South, the dried roots of Blackhaw are sometimes called “Devil’s Shoestring”, but most often that name refers to Mother Blackhaw's cousin Viburnum alnifolium. The roots are most often used for protection spells. One way to use them in this way is to take nine roots, and bind them around with red or white string, making nine knots as you do. Bury the bundle near your front door, or hang it on the wall above a door. This use is strikingly similar to the European use of Blackthorn which, like Blackhaw, is called Mother of the Wood. You can also take that same bundle and soak it in whiskey or rum to make a cologne that brings luck to gamblers. The thorns of Mother Blackhaw can be used as pins to pierce poppets of your enemies, or as protective swords to keep trouble at bay. However, they are not as strong, large, or poisoned as those of Blackthorn (see below), and so I prefer those for such work.

The European cousin of blackhaw, Viburnum opulus, is called “guelder-rose” or “May Rose” in English and “Kalyna” in Ukrainian. The two plants are similar, but kalyna’s leaves are deeply lobed and the drupes are red instead of blue-black. Viburnum opulus is occasionally sold in America as an ornamental plant; please do not plant it, it is highly invasive, and displaced native species like blackhaw and highbush cranberry. Plant blackhaw, American highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) or a native hawthorn instead. Complicating this is the fact that highbush cranberry is sometimes labeled as guelder rose, and sometimes even labeled Viburnum opulus. Ask a knowledgeable local gardener to identify the plant if you cannot.

In Ukraine, the bright red drupes of Kalyna are a symbol of blood-ties, and so the kalyna tree is a symbol not only of the shared ancestry, but also the solidarity, of the Ukrainian people. Kalyna plays a very important role in Slavic paganism, and in modern Ukrainian culture. In myth, Kalyna, whose name comes from the old Slavic name for the Sun, are immortal world-trees, connecting our world to the Other Place, and birds that eat the berries can carry news to and from the beloved dead. In modern Ukrainian, the phrase “walking down the kalyna bridge” means to fall in love.  Kalyna bushes are thought to grow on the graves of fallen heroes, whose spirit moves into the plant. However, it is also the virgin’s blood which is symbolized by the kalyna, which plays a prominent place is folk traditions surrounding weddings.. In Chervona Kalyna: and Ethnobotanical Study, it is theorized that kalyna thickets were gathering places during the summer solstice (Kupalo) festival. There, the young women wore wreaths of fresh kalyna flowers, and the young people spent the nights cavorting and pairing up. There are many Ukrainian folk tales about kalyna. Hers is one:

Once upon a time, there was a girl, who was in love with the blacksmith. However, the blacksmith did not even notice her. The girl grew desperate. She followed him, and discovered that each morning, he went into the forest, and gathered wood to feed his forge. The girl, in her madness, decided to burn down the forest, to capture the spirit of the blacksmith. And so she did. The next day, the blacksmith set forth, but found his favorite grove reduced to ashes, save for a single kalyna tree, beneath which sat the girl, weeping desolate tears. Seeing her amidst the white flowers, the blacksmith too fell in love, but it was too late. The spirits of the woods had hold of the girl, and there before his eyes her youth and beauty withered like the forest reduced to ash. Saturated with her bitterness, the kalyna berries were never sweet again.

Magically, Mother Blackhaw is a great ally, whose character is somewhat between Hawthorn and Blackthorn. She is a fierce protector of women and children, and an excellent intercessor in all types of necromantic work, but especially those with beloved ancestors.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) has no variant native to the Americas, although it is naturalized in parts of the United States and Canada. It has bright red blood-like sap, large blue-black fruits called “sloes”, and long savage thorns. Wounds made by blackthorns are given to sepsis (blood poisoning), so be careful when you work with this plant! In Northwestern Europe, blackthorn is a quintessential hedge plant; it’s vicious thorns will even hold back stampeding cattle. In fact, if you imagine a fairytale hedge of thorns, like that in Sleeping Beauty, I assure you that the plant you are picturing is blackthorn. Blackthorn is an excellent protective ally, and is equally good for offensive work. The famed Irish fighting sticks called shillelaghs are made from blackthorn, as are many traditional blasting rods. Blackthorn are the traditional home of the Luantishees. Blackthorn are a winter plant; a cold snap in early spring is called, in traditional British English, “blackthorn winter”, and in Irish myth, winter begins when the Cailleach strikes the ground with her blackthorn staff.

Blackthorn is a witch ally par excellance; blackthorn walking staves are an important traditional tool in traditional witchcraft, and the blackthorn stang is the tool of choice for many curses. Perhaps the most classical magical use of blackthorn is using the thorns to pierce poppets of enemies, or even pieces of paper upon which the enemy's name is written. Like blackhaw, blackthorn bundles are tied with red thread and hung above doorways as protective amulets. At Mastros & Zealot: Witches for Hire, one of our best sellers is protective witch bottles made with blackthorns. To make one yourself, start with a small, tightly sealing bottle, into which you should place three blackthorn thorns, some ground dragon’s blood resin, several dried blackhaw drupes or elderberries, chips of golden rutilated quartz (whose long golden “hairs” ensnare curses), small mirror shards, a few small blue glass “evil eye” beads, some sloe gin, and whatever else feels right to you. Top the bottle off with your own urine. If desired, you can also include a small figurine of a dragon (which can be found in the toy section of many dollar stores). As you add each item, speak to it, awakening the spirit within and charging it to protect your home. It is best to do this work on a Saturday when the moon is waxing. Give your bottle a name. Place the bottle near your gate or door, and whisper hello and goodbye to it by name as you go past, and thank it for keeping you safe.

Heartwarming Tea
1 Tbsp hawthorn haws
1 Tbsp rosehips
2 inches cinnamon stick

Simmer about 15 minutes in clean water, and then strain. Add honey to taste.

Blackhaw Sauce 
2 oranges, sliced thin and de-seeded
4 cups blackhaw drupes, cleaned and de-stemmed
3 Tbsp lemon juice
3 cups sugar
Garam masala spice mix to taste (if unavailable, use pumpkin pie spice and add some black pepper)

Simmer orange slices until soft. Crush berries with a fork or potato masher (NOT a blender), and strain to remove seeds. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Simmer over very low heat until thick. Excellent with poultry, beef, or venison, or anywhere cranberry sauce would be used. Will keep refrigerated for about 2 weeks. You can also make this recipe with hawthorn berries or blackthorn sloes.

Sloe Gin
1 lb fresh blackthorn sloes.
1 cup superfine sugar (or put regular sugar through a coffee grinder)
1 liter gin in a glass bottle
another clean 1 liter glass bottle
Not traditional: I like to add cloves, cinnamon, and orange peel as well.

If your sloes are dried, soak them until they’ve plumped up. Put the sloes in the freezer until they are frozen hard, and then let them defrost at room temperature. This will sweeten them, and also crack the skin, making it easier for the gin to penetrate. Pour approximately half the gin into the other bottle. Add the sugar, half to each bottle, and shake well to dissolve. Add the sloes, until the bottles are as full as can be. Store somewhere dark and cool, shaking the bottle every few days for the first week, and then once a week (on Saturdays is magically ideal) for several months. If made at the time of the Autumn Equinox (as is traditional) the gin will be ready at Christmas, but the longer it soaks, the better, and redder, it will be.