Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Wood May’s Journey – Finsbury Park

Tuesday May 13, 2008:

A small tree of the rose family, Hawthorn, also known as May, likes to grow near people and is more often encountered in hedgerows where it’s many shoots and spikes provide a determinedly impenetrable thicket with which to confine or repel livestock. Sweet leaved and scented, hawthorn is a Beltane bush, flowering from mid April through May, it’s white or sometimes pink or red blossoms (depending on the type of hawthorn) froths amongst the hedgerows as the country wakes, stretches and greens.

Strongly associated with the fae and the gateway to the other world, hawthorn is a prime symbol of fertility, and is used at partnership rites. A guardian plant, it is fiercely protective, is associated with fire, cleansing and happiness. At Beltane, its flowers and leaves bedeck both may Queen and Jack.

Olwen, a hawthorn goddess, daughter of Yspaddaden Pencawr, a fierce wild man called Giant Hawthorn was known as she of the white track, for wherever she lay her foot, white blossoms wood spring up and it was possible to track her movement as she danced across the land. Blodeuwedd was created from nine flowers and it is she the May queen symbolises when she wears hawthorn blossom. The Italian goddess Cardea presided over childbirth and protected maidens. Hawthorns are associated with miraculous birth and the healing of sick children.

Known as valerrium of the heart, hawthorn has sedative, antispasmodic and diuretic qualities, making it an excellent regulator of arterial blood pressure and treatment for heart conditions such as Angina. The country name for it, “bred and cheese tree” celebrates its tasty and nutritious leaves, which have sustained many a traveller when other food can’t be found.

More than a week into Hawthorn, I was getting fretful about needing to greet her. So much of my time since before the new moon had been taken up with worrying about the future and generally sulking. By Friday, my body had executed a great big harrumph and I’d come down with a nasty cough and sore throat, which escalated over the weekend into a streaming cold and a damp and snotty debilitation.

And then I remembered the hawthorn tree in my garden! Actually, there was quite a bit of hawthorn dotted about, as I had planted a lot of native hedgerow in an effort to keep unwanted visitors out of the back garden.

But this hawthorn tree was tall and mature. Years ago, my little London garden had boasted two deep green brooding and shaggy specimens of pine tree which had grown vigorously and dominated the skyline for streets around. But they starved the soil of water and the plants of light and they just had to go. By the time I’d allowed myself to cut down the second one, I noticed a tall think telegraph pole of a tree standing, bare but for a froth of leaves at it’s very summit, some thirty or forty feet high. The tree surgeons suggested the tree be halved in height to see if it would thrive with the light and water it could now have and indeed it did. Three years on, it was thick and bushy, squeezed between the garden shed and the fence, a shower of soft green leaves and frothy blossoms.

I sat down under it full in the noonday sun, and cast my circle. The garden was alive with birds chattering amongst themselves. A sharp wind blew in the ash trees beyond the fence. The sounds of quiet luncheon preparation from houses to the right and left, mingled with the gentle bubbling of my newly working solar fountain. Bees buzzed nearby. I breathed the sweet softness of the perfumed garden.

I could see right down the garden. I looked beyond the great big unruly Bear’s Breeches, past the elegant Rowan tree, through the willow arch flanked by the olive trees to a space beyond, a space between the houses which was dark and green. I got up easily and loped forward, ducking carefully to get through the arches, my robe flapping around my legs, my head held high as I strode.

The wood was tangled and dark. Briers snatched at my robe, branches tangled with my antlers as I pushed through great thickets of hawthorn, oak, holly and rowan. Yet I paced fast, driving deeper and deeper into the forest.

A blackbird called high in a tree. I turned to follow his song and pushed through into a green sunny glade bright and warm amongst the dark trees. White rocks gleamed in the sunshine. The bird alighted on the edge of the pool into which a spring was bubbling. I bent to drink and saw in the shining pool my own reflection.

I saw a face, neither male nor female, strong yet fae, dark eyes watching. Long dark hair tangled about my shoulders and on top a great branch of shiny soft brown antlers. I gazed transfixed at the face and then at the torso, draped in some green soft stuff, delicate as leaves, the shoulders beneath, wide and strong, the breasts full and maternal. Carefully I examined myself further. There were my strong and muscular thighs, slim hips either side of the softly curving belly and at its base the surprising phallus! Who was I? Who was I?

A flourish of sweet silver notes almost shimmered in the air as the blackbird flew into a great curving oak tree, its branches spread out in a star shape, strong and stout amongst its fluttering leaves. Moving closer, I saw that its tangled branches were the round strong limbs, the curved belly and breasts, the thrown back head on an arched neck of a naked woman. She lay, abandoned in sleep, cradled in the tree, half concealed by the new green leaves abundantly uncurling. Goddess shaped, she displayed herself unconsciously as she slept, the sun dappling her smooth honey coloured limbs, her short red hair glinting gold and orange fire.

High up in the tree, the blackbird arpeggioed his joy. The sleeper stirred, wrinkling up her nose against the persistence of a softly flapping leaf born on the teasing breeze. Quietly, I turned and walked on soft hooves back through the tangled wood.

As I ducked under the first willow arch, I caught a glimpse of a woman dressed in black, sitting still and quiet, half hidden under a bobbing bough of hawthorn. She lifted a hand and plucked a leaf, thoughtfully putting it in her mouth, she began to chew slowly. The sun lit her red short hair with gold and orange and touched her honey coloured skin with a deeper blush.

My left leg had gone to sleep. Oh but it was so peaceful here, even if it was not comfortable. I stretched and uncurling my legs, slowly climbed to my knees. I turned and faced the softly dancing hawthorn, reaching up to stroke the cool sticky leaves. Drawing the bough to my mouth, I softly nuzzled a leaf with my soft warm lips, and then licked it gently, whispering my thanks.

What this tree needed was honouring, I thought, as I climbed stiffly to my feet. I would make her a shrine. There were still pieces of the cut up trunk of the first pine tree I had felled, that would do for a start. Next I collected up a feather and gold ribbon, a small water smoothed flat stone, a curved shell, a shiny red plate, a candle and incense, a necklace of gaudy Mardi Gras beads and a piece of green wool. Carefully I decorated the tree, scattered some dried rose buds and other flower petals by way of thanks, bowed and left the garden.


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