Hawthorn (also known as Whitethorn, May Tree, Haw-tree, Thorn-apple, Red Haw or Hog-apple) is a large genus of the Rose Family which flowers at this time with white (in some species, red or pink) blossom called “may;” its fruit, a small dark-red berry, is called “the haw.” The tree is generally considered the best plant for hedges. Turks use a branch of Hawthorn-blossom as an erotic symbol because its scent carries for many men a strong connection with female sexuality, a fact celebrated in medieval England by the May custom of plucking flowered Hawthorn-boughs and dancing around the maypole.
Long before this orgiastic celebration of the tree, however, it had an opposite, ascetic use: the Latin Goddess Cardea’s main prophylactic token was the Hawthorn, which she also used to cast spells. In Greece and Rome, this was the time when temples and sacred images of the gods were cleaned and washed. Romans did not marry in May—according to Plutarch, because at this time “they perform the greatest purification ceremonies.” This was also true in ancient Greece and the British Isles, where people during this month wore old clothes and abstained from sexual intercourse. In Ovid’s Fasti, he recounts the oracle given him concerning his daughter’s marriage: until the middle of June “there is no luck for brides and their husbands.”
The corresponding Hebrew tree was the WILD ACACIA, the Sant, a genus of the Mimosa tribe found in warm regions of the Old World; with sharp thorns and golden flowers, it is known to Bible-readers as “shittim-wood,” meaning from Cyprus. The Arks of Noah, Osiris, Armenian Xisuthros, and the Ark of the Covenant were all built of the Acacia’s waterproof timber. Acacia is the host-tree of the Loranthus—one of the Hebrew equivalents of Mistletoe—known as Jehovah’s oracular “burning bush.” A self-sufficient tree, the Acacia requires little water and, like the Ash, will strangle the roots of other trees. It was during the month of the Acacia that the Hebron Fair took place, at which time self-beautification and all carnal pleasures were forbidden.
In Ireland, destroying an ancient Hawthorn is believed to cause the loss of one’s money, cattle, and children. At weddings, the ancient Greeks propitiated the harsh Hawthorn-goddess (also called Cranaea) with Hawthorn-blossom and five torches of Hawthorn-wood. Although in English poetry the Greek Goddess Maia is portrayed as a maiden, her name in fact means “grandmother” and she was originally the Hawthorn-goddess Cardea, a goddess of wisdom and of the winds. In 1876 the poet MacKay wrote the line: “O, thou snow-white Hawthorn tree...,” perhaps aware that the original meaning of the mock-death in the month of chastity. This taboo may be partially founded on the fact that children conceived in Hawthorn will be born in Ash (see Chart 2)—when the Sun is in the deceptively watery sign of Pisces—which, astrologically speaking, can result in profoundly sensitive, painfully empathetic individuals.
From The Song of Amergin: “I am a wonder: among flowers,” and, as Graves explains, “this is the season of flowers and the Hawthorn, or may-tree, rules it.” The mythic Giant Hawthorn’s daughter Olwen—meaning “She of the White Track,” because white trefoil sprang from her footprints—was actually the Summer aspect of the ancient Triple Goddess. The chastity was self-enforced because of terror, associated with the Night-crow (Hadaig); even its color is Terrible—Huath in Irish, which also means Hawthorn. The Biblical jewel is the Lapis Lazuli representing this first month of Summer’s dark blue sky, and sacred to the tribe of Levi—”set apart”—because the time is one of “peculiar holiness.”