Sunday, 28 May 2017

Whitethorn ~ on the threshold of the Otherworld.

The month of May sees a procession of whitethorn stretching their long white fingers across the green land. 

They stand in the liminal places, between land and water,

beside sacred wells.

They guard ancient sites,

Oweynagat, “Cave of the Cats”, Co. Roscommon, home of the Morrigan.

Grange Stone Circle, Co. Limerick.

And gathering points where the Good People meet.

Distant whitethorn on the local Fairy Path where the Daoine Sídhe are said to gather. 

They trail across forgotten pathways

The path to Sheean. Link to read more: SHEEAN

and carry healing spells.

The Rag Tree at Killeigh, Co. Offaly. Link to read more: RAG TREE 

Standing between this world and the Otherworld the whitethorn, An Sceach Gheal, ‘bright, shining thorn’, is steeped in folklore and regarded with respect for fear of supernatural retribution. 

Felling a lone thorn brings bad luck and today many farmers continue to work around them.

Injury or even death could also befall anyone who damaged or cut down a lone bush. 
The close relationship between tree and Good People was acknowledged across the island. 

Some thorns were believed to have almost human attributes. 

In Co. Cork it was understood that a stick of whitethorn would have a temper of its’ own if used in anger and elsewhere blood was believed to flow from a lone bush if felled.

The kinship between thorn and Daoine Sídhe was occasionally utilised by people.
In Co. Laois it was once customary to sprinkle sprigs of whitethorn with holy water before planting them in fields in the belief that banishing the connection to the Otherworld would discourage the Good People from taking the crops.

Within old church yards thorns are left in place although they are often pruned 
to reflect Christian symbolism.

This bond was understood to be of service to cattle too.
Farmers would hang the afterbirth of a premature calf on a whitethorn believing that the bush would help it to survive and in some areas a sprig from a fairy thorn was hung in the milk parlour to encourage cows to produce creamier milk. 

The May Bush decorated skeletal remains of whitethorn and ivy.
Link to read more: MAY BUSH 

On May Eve when the bush was decorated there were differing views on the use of whitethorn for this purpose. 

In some areas it was acceptable and in others, using a branch of thorn was considered unlucky.

Throughout the country however, it was believed that bringing blossom into the house would shortly be followed by illness and death.

Whitethorn blossom exudes a scent that many find unpleasant and it has been found that the chemical trimethylamine, which is formed when animal tissues decay, is also present in the blossom. 

Unbaptised infants who had died and were denied internment in consecrated ground, were buried in the ‘sacred space’ beneath lone thorns, especially if they stood within fairy forts.

Lone thorn on Rath Coffey used as an infants' grave.
Link to read more: Cillín

Others mark age-old stopping places from hearth to grave.

Whitethorn standing between farm yard and road. 
It was customary for bearers to rest the coffin at the foot of this bush and local lore states 
that the thorn must not be removed. 

By the end of Lughnasadh the Whitethorn has become the Hawthorn,
limbs laden with red haws. 

And as the year progresses the tree reveals her true nature.

Thorn on the Burren - image © eyeem.

Living an average of 400 years, with some reaching 700, they become twisted and gnarled, claws sharp and fingers bent with age.

Thorns on the Burren coast.

A procession of bent forms reminiscent of hags, ridden by the wind.

'Wind-blown Trees' by Paul Henry.

At Samhain, standing starkly on the threshold of the Otherworld, they guard supernatural paths awaiting transformation.


  1. A lovely post, Jane! I always think the whitethorn is one of the prettiest signs of spring, but you show us how symbolic it is too. Thank you!

  2. Thank you Vallypee - yes, it's beautiful and I do love symbolism & folklore! x

  3. beautiful. they were out in all their glory in the Dungiven to Portrush rd . really a lovley sight against the green.

  4. Yes, Margaret there seem to be more this year here and so heavy with blossom. Stunning.


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