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Connecting with Blackthorn

Connecting with Blackthorn

make your own incense

Blackthorn – Prunus Spinosa – Sloe

By – Deborah Lewis

Deborah joined our Sensory Herbalism Apprenticeship and as part of the course each apprentice pulls one of our herbal oracle cards, and a plant or tree chooses them.  They then spend the next four seasons connecting and deepening their relationship with the particular plant. Here is her experience with Blackthorn from September 2023 to May 2024

Prunus’ from the Greek word for plum tree and ‘spinosa’ from the Latin for thorn-like spurs.

My Journey with Blackthorn

This is the story of my time with Blackthorn. It is naive because I knew none of the history before now.

On the first Seed Sista’s weekend, we all took our cards to align with a plant for our final presentation. I hoped for positivity – new beginnings, new growth, inspiration – something magical.

I picked – Sloe, Blackthorn, Adversity. I was gutted. A hard card, I felt too old for a difficult card, I was back to square one, I had made no progress on my herbal journey, I was slapped back to the beginning with the stab of a card labelled ‘adversity’.

I went back to my room late that night, berating myself till exhausted, then ate a family bar of chocolate… and felt the rebel rising.

Why would any plant be labelled adversity? Was Blackthorn being judged? Was there injustice here?

However ignorant and naive, I now wanted to know everything and to defend this plant. But something made me not want to look things up. Instead, come late January, I went to look at old common land nearby.

I found black bushes. Entangled and thicket like, webbed and woven tight with last year’s ghostly bracken. An air of neglect, of stripped-down decay, and a warning – ‘stay away’.

I found myself hanging back, feeling an air of malevolence. Was real fear here, as if I entered, what might become of me? What witchery? What trickery?

And so I left, unsettled, returning a week or so later.

The thickets still held a caution.

But now on every twig and branch I found perfectly round, clinging and clustered buds. The faintest pinkish hue changing to white as the green sepals parted.

Here and there, in the early sunshine, the flowers were beginning to open; the whiteness of purity, an effervescence of lightness,

a multitude of gold-tipped pollen-dusted anthers, radiating outwards,

capturing the light, luring the bees.

A thought went deep – this was a plant-being of immense contrasts.

Dense enclosures, thorns darting sharply, ready to scratch, ready to catch?

I felt Darkness. Entrapment. Hidden daggers drawn. A sudden image of the cold deceit of the Ice Queen came to me.

And then now, these flowers. A simplicity and beauty, innocents, gracing the branches as early as February.

I wonder at my own judgement.

And I continue to gaze.

Transformation with Blackthorn

Now I find myself captivated by the plumpness of the ovaries so prominent at the heart of the flower. I see an eager virgin, breaking out of winter’s cloak, daring to be bare, to glow in the dark, calling to the bees ‘come ripen me, come join me in my cold embrace’.

Come March, I drift out into the wildness of the Quadrangle. Here, the Blackthorn are no longer wizened and bitten; instead I find them lusty and strong, buxom under the weight of their blooms, barely a stitch of dark stem in sight.

Dusk falls and the moon rises, and I see a circle of fledgling bushes, their arms reaching out to one another, like a string of stars, and for a moment I cannot tell if they are fairies dancing or trees.

I walk back to meet the Blackthorn I met in May, and here too the branches reach up as if to capture the moon. And although Blackthorn is not a plant of the moon, there is an affinity for me here. The darkness of the stems, the whiteness of the flowers, all phases of the moon in this character, from darkness to light.

Asleep in the day.

Aglow by night.

A ghostly presence.

A crosser of boundaries, a shape shifter.

Light to dark.

Day to night.

Moon to Moon.

My guard is lifting. An invitation? To know better?

Blackthorn: Dark Mother of the Wood

I look too at the sloe berries, like jewels fallen from a night sky, kissed with the moon’s bloom. Just as the young buds had clustered on the stems so do the fruits – an abundance of berries one upon the other, bunching like grapes.

Coming to the end of my musings, I sense strongly now a Maiden in the flowers, a Mother in the berries, a Crone in the barren of winter.

I see the dark and the light aligned.

The thorns, the thickets, the wariness, the warding off.

The threat of danger.

The trickery.

The misery.

The fairies.

The dance beneath the moon.

The innocence of the buds.

The lustiness of spring.

The abundance of autumn.

Only now do I reach for my book, to see where my time with Sloe has taken me.

And I read of the use of Blackthorn for good. For wands and walking sticks and herbal remedies. I read of firecharms being made to scatter ashes for better crops and garlands to wassail the apple trees.

I find the 14th Tree of the Ogham alphabet, ‘Straif’, Blackthorn has a long association with magic. I read of the Triple Goddess, the Dark Mother of the Woods, The Goddess of Winter, the fairies of the Blackthorn glades and together with sister tree Hawthorn, I read of the decoration of the maypole, of bridal couples and their bedchambers. I read of the association with Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane. I even read of a moon fairy.

But I also read of misuse, of thorns used to unsaddle a rider, of thorns touched with poison to cause death and seize power, of secret plots and dark secrets kept, of black rods topped with thorns.

Once the witch paranoia spread across Europe, the dark nature of this misuse coupled with the mysticism and magic surrounding Blackthorn brought about its downfall alongside the so-called witches and heretics.

Rumours began that the devil himself marked the fingers of his own with thorns – and soon suspects found with any mark on their body could be given the death sentence at a stroke. The Blackthorn became as cursed as the persecuted and as a final insult to victim and to tree, the wood was used to build the fires on which the damned were to be burned.

What I read made me realise this was what I had felt around the Blackthorn thickets on the common – the heavy shadow of the curse, the hollow judgement, the persecution. Maybe ghosts do linger here.

I don’t feel it here at the Quadrangle, the trees are young and vibrant, this is life anew for Blackthorn, a place free of ancient persecution, but I am glad I was guided to meet the Sloe on the Common.

“As an Ogham tree, Straif the Blackthorn reminds us that magic is the nature of the universe and that wonders are the normal reality of the world.

Accepting the darkness is the first step to enlightenment, giving balance and clarity to see and acknowledge our pains and difficulties, paradoxically leading us back into the light.

Through challenges we are born anew.” – Danu Forest, Celtic Tree Magic: Ogham Lore and Druid Mysteries

Blackthorn References

connecting with blackthornThe research that followed my experiences included finding a book by Jacqueline Memory Paterson – ‘Tree Wisdom: The definitive guidebook to the myth, folklore, and healing power of Trees’. An unexpected find, waiting on my mother’s book shelf where it must have lain for years, a gift to her from my brother and his wife – unseen till the day I needed it. A magic there too.

I also found this informative:



Don’t stop readying yet…!

If you want to know the more about The Sensory Herb Apprenticeship and connect with the medicinal power of your local plants, then SECURE YOUR PLACE TODAY.

The Sensory Herb Apprenticeship is a seasonal journey into discovery of your local plant medicines held at a beautiful countryside venue in Dorset where you can:

🌿 Support your own health-care and that of your family and friends

🌿 Gems of wisdom and buckets of passion from the Seed SistAs’ 40 years of collective experience treating patients with herbs

🌿 Recognition of over 45 medicinal plants in the wild and knowledge of practical use of them.

🌿 You will graduate with practical tools to creatively blend ritual, art and medicine to develop your own healing practice that you can share with others.

🌿 Our 1 year foundation course can stand alone or can lead onto further years of practitioner training.


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