by Katie Gordon
For a good while now, I've been considering how to work with plants just as some people work with animals. As spirit totems. Teaching how to work with plants not to only heal us physically, but also spiritually, emotionally, and energetically. Understanding what they have to teach us in terms of our relationships, career, life circumstances, money, and most importantly, how to form better connections with ourselves, other people, and with the earth.
Lots of herbalists out there write beautiful and well-researched pieces on the materia medica of western herbalism, plant identification, herbal energetics, and the medicinal and therapeutic actions of herbs. However, I think deep healing also occurs when we form our own relationship with the plant and learn to work with the medicine it has for us individually. This is the story of my own journey with Hawthorn, one of my foundational plant totems.
Traditionally viewed as a heart tonic, Hawthorn reminds us to be patient with ourselves, slow down, and give our heart space to breathe, be still, and speak his or her truth. Though its prickly thorns protect the heart from outside assault, that very protection is what allows it to be such a nurturing and calming spirit. It provides sacred boundaries and a soft space to rest in times of heartbreak, grief, or when the energetic heart needs a rest.
For the past few years, I've been learning to listen closely to the whispers (or sometimes shouts) from my heart. Establishing boundaries, softening, opening, protecting, clearing, and filling up my heart with the things she desires, yearns for, and guides me toward. It's the hardest thing I've done (so far). So often the voice of some wounded inner part of me wants to take over with the should’s, the have-to's. Feelings of anger, guilt, and fear show up, asking to be heard. Shadow aspects that I’d just as soon let alone, but which I know are rearing their dark and ugly heads in order to be healed.
Hawthorn came to me soon after my heart got cracked wide open during a part of my Visionary Craniosacral training where we learn to work with the four-chambered heart (a shamanic concept in which the energetic heart is made up of four chambers: Full, Open, Clear, and Strong). In the months following the class, the messages from Hawthorn helped me to integrate the wisdom of my heart and of love itself, sometimes gracefully and sometimes not so much.
Hawthorn is known for its associations with magic, witches, and fairies. As Darcey Blue writes, Hawthorn's "rank smelling flowers and thorns and association with spirit worlds make Hawthorn a tree of 'death' and transformation, and also of protection and caution."[i] To me, death here doesn't mean literal death, but rather a shedding, releasing, letting die that which no longer serves who we are now as well as our higher Selves. The spirit of Hawthorn is a purveyor of the archetypal theme of life/death/rebirth.
A key element of transformation, of alchemy of the soul, is in the surrender of what needs to die in order to rebirth parts of our Self. It's the Death card of the Tarot: learning how to detach and release, cutting through old patterns that bind us so that we can give birth to new forms and previously unexpressed parts of ourselves. Death is a necessary step to wholeness. And remember those shadows I was talking about? Hawthorn is a wonderful ally for us in witnessing those disowned pieces of ourselves, giving our shadows the space to be seen, heard, felt, and processed.
One of my favorite things about Hawthorn is the magical obstacles it presents to us at just the right moment. It reflects to us the exact lesson we need at the exact moment in life that we need it. Synchronicity at its finest. Somehow this plant spirit knows what we're ready for, what our next lesson needs to be on our path in order for us to meet our purpose. Hawthorn will "guard you as it teaches you - sometimes strongly, sometimes gently - but always with love."[i]
Hawthorn + Rose Spiced Syrup
1 c. Dried Hawthorn Berries (if using fresh, 2 c. of berries)
½ c. Rosehips
4 c. Water
1 tsp. Sweet Cinnamon powder
A few cardamom pods
¼ c. Rose Petals
1 ½ c. Raw Honey or Sugar
1 c. Spiced Rum
Juice of 1 lemon
Put everything except the rose petals, honey/sugar, rum, and lemon in a saucepan and bring it to a low simmer. Simmer for about an hour, then turn off the heat, add the rose petals, cover, and leave it to stand for another hour or two. Strain out all the plant material and add the honey and lemon. Depending on the consistency of the honey (or if you’re using sugar), you may need to turn the heat on very low to get it to dissolve. Stir in the rum, bottle, and label. Try adding this syrup to sparkling water, over ice cream, and in tea or various cocktails.
Makes about a quart.
[i] Darcey Blue, Shamana Flora – Hawthorn: Faery Guardian of the Heart.
[ii] Ted Andrews, Animal Speak.