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The Hawthorn Tree - Magic and Ritual

The hawthorn is the most obvious plant to green up here in early spring.

Its leaves begin emerge from bare spiky branches in late March, a vibrant, shimmering haze along the farm road, but often don't leaf up completely until late April. The hawthorn is also where most of the small birds choose to built their nests; the thorny corridors keep out most predators, so the hedges are full of a constant noisy bustle and chirp.

The plants which are woven into people’s daily lives are the plants that attract the most myths and superstitions, that become infused with meaning and made and remade through stories. Hawthorns, which are native to many countries, have an incredibly rich and often contradictory folk history.

At the root of this is the contradictions within the plant - the frothy white flowers that appear in May and the sharp piercing thorns hidden amongst them, the sweet scent which attracts fly pollinators (the chemical triethylamine) which is related both to sexual arousal and decaying flesh.

Hope and fear, sex and death - the perfect mix for a wide range of mythological connections.

Fear and Death

As I live in a country with a Celtic folklore past, let’s start with fear and death.

Hawthorns in Celtic countries are connected with the fairies. Fall asleep under a hawthorn tree, it is said, and you are likely to be kidnapped and taken to the underworld. There may be many reasons for this. Maybe it is the commonness of the tree (oaks and ashes are similarly linked to fairies) and the idea that they live amongst us. Maybe it is that hawthorn leaves will quiver and dance when there is no breeze - a sure sign of the presence of fairies in stories. Maybe it is simply the memory of getting impaled on a hawthorn tree while walking home on a dark night.

Celtic fairies are not a benign force like the fairies of much modern day literature. They are rather quixotic spirits to be wary of, it is important to try and keep them happy. Crop failures, mystery illnesses, people disappearing and the death of livestock are all blamed on fairies seeking revenge and there is a long tradition of putting out food and bathing water outside a front door to appease them.

Traditionally it is unlucky and disrespectful to mention fairies by name - so in stories hawthorn trees are called ‘lonely trees’ and ‘gentle trees’ in many Celtic stories - both of which are euphemisms for ‘fairy tree’.

Cutting down a lone hawthorn tree was said to result in instant death - which is why many old hawthorns survived enclosure and the rationalising of fields. You often see hawthorns standing rugged and wind blown in the middle of fields (something that can only have helped their supernatural reputation). Sadly this wariness didn’t carry over to the thousands of miles of hawthorn hedge grubbed up in the past century.

Death also haunts the mythology of the hawthorn because of the chemical its flowers give off to attract its pollinators - triethylamine - which is also the first chemical given off by decaying flesh.

This sweet cloying smell of death would have been more recognised in the past - the laying out of bodies for several days, the lack of refrigeration. Now the nearest most of us get to it is the sniffing out of a dead mouse under a floorboard.

The great plague of 1665 - which killed off 20% English population - seems to have been important in associating hawthorn blooms with death. The number of plague deaths started to climb in May 1665 and by June they were high enough for the wealthy to flee London for their country homes. Driving through streets with bodies piled up, the stench of death coming through the carriage windows - you can imagine that it would have stuck in the sensory memory.

Significantly it is from this point that hawthorn blossoms are banished from homes in English folk traditions. At a time when scents - particularly herby/medicinal scents like rosemary - were regarded as a way of warding off the plague, hawthorn was seen as a possible transmitter.

Love and optimism

For anyone not sniffing the blossoms, hawthorns seem to have been associated more with optimism, fertility and love. They are associated with the Greek god of marriage Hymen - and altars dedicated to him from 5BCE were lit with spills made from hawthorn wood. England and much of Europe carried this idea through to medieval times - and the hawthorn was seen as a tree of love and romance, new starts and fertility.

Mayflower, with its connotations of optimism and fecundity, was a popular name for early C17th ships. There were 26 ships called Mayflower docked in London when the most famous one took Puritan pilgrims to America.

Branches of hawthorn blossom were traditionally hung above doorways to increase fertility and ward off evil spirits. Crowns of hawthorn flowers were worn by young women looking to attract a mate. The original maypoles were made from hawthorn wood, the setting for a fertility dance, the weaving the feminine ribbons and flowers around the masculine pole. The overt sexuality of the maypole led to the Puritan government banning May Day celebrations in 1644.

Originally May Day, also celebrated as the fire festival Beltane by neo-pagans, would have taken place several days later, at a more equal point between the Spring equinox and Summer solstice. In 1752, when the Gregorian calender was adopted in the UK, dates were changed to incorporate around 13 extra days. Obviously nobody told the plants, which is why pre C18th accounts have hawthorn flowering on May Day - where now that would be too early in most parts of the UK.

One thing that connects the fairies to May day and Neo Paganism is the hanging of fabric strips from the thorns of a hawthorn tree.

In traditional Celtic tales the strips are an offering to the fairies in return for the alleviation of pain. By the time the fabric decayed the ailment would have been cured, the circumstance changed. If you are going to do this, make sure your fabric is 100% natural fibres or it will not decay.

On May Day long ribbons of fabric are tied to the top of the Maypole. This would have originally been both shorter and more prickly than those used in celebrations today. The twirling round clockwise and anti-clockwise with the ribbons, the wrapping up of the pole, represent the feminine weaving round the masculine. It could have been seen as either as a nesting or an entrapment depending on your view!

In Neo paganism and Wiccan rites the colour coded ribbons have requests written on them - for increased powers over specific areas of life. They are then tied to trees and left blowing in the breeze.

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Andrea Thomas

Jane, this info on the Hawthorne is brilliant, thank you so much…… everyone should read it

Snapdragon social

Stillness is such a difficult skill to acquire.  I suspect that so much of the rushing about that we do is simply an attempt to avoid being still.
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For if we stopped, paid attention to ourselves, to the world around us, let everything sink in - well that might be very scary.
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But I do think it is the most important skill - a five minute pause, a checking in.  I'm not talking about meditation here - nothing as formal as that - just a stilling and listening and paying attention. Appreciation, recognition, renewal.
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It is something that I am very bad at by nature - but I have been taking lessons from Dixie. 

For if a spaniel can relax into stillness, nosing into a shaft of sunshine, then I'm sure I can.
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Teasel isn't quite there yet.

#aseasonalway #springerspaniel #springerspanielsofinstagram #slowlivingforlife #lessonsfromdogs #bringyourdogtowork #storiesoftheeveryday
One thing that gardening teaches you year on year is that so much is beyond your control. Some things will thrive, others won’t, and mostly it will be nothing to do with anything you’ve done. 
Some years will be great for one crop, terrible for another. This is a great year for garlic here, awful for beans. 

It’s the same with business - a lot of things happen that are due to the ‘weather’ of the world. We can pivot and turn, change our tactics, Google ‘how to make reels’ and so on - but we can also choose to embrace and lean into what is working well. 

My Friday letter today is about social media and all the ways I’ve used to connect with people over the past 21 years - if you fancy a read you can sign up in my profile. 

And in the meantime I’d love to know what’s growing well for you. Or indeed, what has been a disaster! 

#theartofslowliving #livethelittlethings #nothingisordinary #natureandnourish #embracingaslowerlife #aseasonalway #seekthesimplicity #scotlandsgardens #growyourownfood #cornersofmyworld #greenthumb #rusticgamesttong #cornersofmyworld #simpleandstill #vintagegreenhouse
Each year I have a personal project running.  Something just for me. Something that allows me to experiment and play. 
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The first year that I became obsessed with using the plants here to dye textiles - back in 2019 - it was twelve skeins of a raw slubby silk yarn that I  had been hoarding for decades. They became a patchwork cable blanket that now sits on the back of the sofa.
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In 2020 it was double knitting yarns, in dozens of colours, knitted into a stripy jumper to keep me cosy in the Studio.
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Last year I dyed linens and am gradually making them into patchworks and appliqués - many I am squirrelling away for a project that I may or may not ever begin.
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This year I am using mini skeins - in an attempt to keep it more manageable - and exploring the differences in colour caused by the pH of the original extraction. 
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There are four skeins for each plant, two for neutral extraction, two for alkali - with one of each pair being dipped in iron to 'sadden' the colour.
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If science had been like this at school I might have paid more attention . . . .

#botanicaldye #alchemy #growyourowncolour #gameoftones #plantdyed #naturallydyedwool #plantdyersofinstagram #craftwithconscience
#shadesofnature #extractedfromnature #inspiredbynaturesbeauty #plantdyedyarn #naturaldyedyarn #foragedcolour
This is a tomato salad that was inspired by one I ate a few years ago in a cafe in Mingun, Myanmar,
There it was mainly made with green tomatoes, sharp against the shrimp powder.
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In Myanmar the military junta have begun to execute activists arrested after the coup in February 2021. The brutality and violence continue, the quashing of democracy, the corruption. 

11,759 people, arrested after the coup, remain in detention, 78 people, including two children, have been sentenced to death.
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You won't usually find much out about Myanmar in the 'fed to you' media, but this week there has been reporting and a Dispatches programme about mass killings  was on Channel 4 on Monday.  The Guardian has consistently been the newspaper reporting most on the aftermath of the coup and you can also follow hashtags like #whatishappeninginmyamar here. 
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There may seem little we can actively do about the horrors in the world, but people involved always say that what matters is knowing that people care, bear witness and don’t simply forget when the news cycle moves on.
We always have a slight breeze here - a blessing as it stops the midges flying.
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It often gets up at night after a warm day, seeming to breathe its way round corners. 
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If you walk through the garden in the evening at the moment, the scent of Lilium regale drifts about you in eddies of spice.

#simpleandstill #capturequiet #beautyyouseek #calm_collected #aseasonalway #aseasonalshift #cornersofmyworld #slowlived #slowandsimpledays #quietchaotics #ofsimplethings #beautyinsimplicity #floralstories #allthingsbotanical #underthefloralspell #livethelittlethings #thehappynow #ihavethisthingwithflowers #moodforfloral #aseasonalway #slowlivingforlife #aflowerfilledlife
The more I travel down this road the more I realise that deciding how you live, which values you honour, what you will prioritise all have to be deliberately chosen. 
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You can’t just drift into a slower, more intentional life. 
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You can’t buy it. 
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You have to make a commitment to actually live it. 
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And that’s not always easy. 
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It is why I go to events like last weekend’s summer camp @thegoodlifesoc . 
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It is also why I surround myself with a supportive community where my choices don’t seem weird.

It is why my to do list today has sitting with a coffee taking in the swoony scent of the sweet peas on it. 

#howihueit #simpleandstill #capturequiet #beautyyouseek #calm_collected #aseasonalway #aseasonalshift #cornersofmyworld #slowlived #slowandsimpledays #quietchaotics #ofsimplethings #beautyinsimplicity #floralstories #allthingsbotanical #livethelittlethings #thehappynow #ihavethisthingwithflowers #moodforfloral #cornersofmyhome #aseasonalway #slowlivingforlife #aflowerfilledlife
This is the actual physical Studio.
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It is a little cabin between meadow and wood - a space for creativity and connection a space that I deliberately and intentionally worked towards for a number of years.  There is a sunny deck looking onto trees for the summer, a wood burning stove for the winter.
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The Studio is also another thing - it is a club of amazing people who are intentionally prioritising their creativity and connection to the natural world. 
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It is a community of great humour, support and inspiration - the best thing that I have ever had a hand in.
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The Studio Club is closed to new members at the moment and the doors will open to new members again on the Autumn Equinox. 

I'm currently working with @fbarrows, who is providing a gentle and encouraging outside eye, as I decide on what we will be doing in the club over the next six months.
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I've been surveying all the members to find out exactly what it is they enjoy most, what they feel I could do better. 

In this week’s Friday letter I've included a link to a short survey, because I  think it would also be useful to know what people who follow me, but are not members, feel about these things. 
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If you get it, it would help me so much if you could take a minute to fill it out - there are only five questions and there is also a bribe . . . .

#slowlivingforlife #simplelife #whereiwork #simpleandslow #creativelifehappylife
The more we actively take time to pause, to sit still and watch, the more we see. 
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My Friday Letter this week is all about taking advantage of some unwanted early wakening and starting to use the binoculars which have been hanging on the coat rail for eighteen months.
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Twenty minutes with a cup of tea, the binoculars and a lawn full of early birds and their worms.

#momentslikethese
#the_gentle_manifesto
#daysofsmallthings
#natureandnourish
#aseasonalway
#daysofsimpleandslow
#ournaturedays
#aquietmoment
#pocketsofslow
#thesweetlifeunscripted
#folkandstory
#pause
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About Snapdragon Life

In the Studio Club I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

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