Ynis Afallach Tuath


Avaloniana Path


The Wheel


Ynis Afallach Tuath




(© Argante – Arc’Hant Afallon Alarch)

A small tree grows on one of the hills in Glastonbury. It is neither nice nor imposing…it grows a little twisted,  slapped as it is everyday by the Somerset wind.

Every one of its branches is hung with colored ribbons…It grows there alone, protected by a low iron grate. Everyday man and women from all over the world come and pay homage to it. That small tree is a hawthorn. And it is sacred….it is the gate to the Realm of the Ancients.

Huath, the Thorn, means the Terrible, the Threatening.

But what does this mysterious and magical tree look like? It blooms beautifully and displays white petals….and yet, if you do not pay attention, you will get your fingers pierced by its long and sharp thorns. They are not black thorns as with the Prunus spinosa, but white thorns…hence the name whitethorn. Its shape is extremely gnarled, it shows mysterious tangles, it hides events and places of beauty, it harbors a priceless treasure, perhaps a spiraling Path to walk in the tangled intertwinings of its timber…..

Like the Elder, it is considered a fairy tree and because it falls under the fairies’ domain, country folks have always regarded it as a dangerous tree…..a tree under which it is not considered wise to fall asleep, especially in bordering moments such as dawn, dusk, or in those days when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, for example at Samhain and at Beltane. The risk is of being abducted by the fairies and end up in their world where it is easy to get lost and not being able to find the way back home, or, another unfortunate fate, of being enthralled…since in the fairy dimension time flows in a different and bizarre way: it may seem to the wretched chap that  he has just taken a short 10 minute nap and had an ‘uncanny’ dream, but after having woken up again he finds out that 50 years have elapsed…They also say that the thorn hedge growing solitary in an open field represents the border between reality and the Fairy Kingdom, or, more correctly, between our world and theirs. Should it be felled, it would bring on bad luck and troubles, as such an ill-considered action would mean dishonoring the Otherworld…..and, since no one ever found the courage to cut them down, in Irish beliefs, till nowadays, it is still possible to see how entire yards have been built around centenarian hawthorns.

On Wearyall Hill (Glastonbury) there is a magnificent Holy Huath, full of ribbons and prayers both by pilgrims and locals. The legend says that Wearyall Hill is the hilltop where Joseph of Arimathea came carrying the Holy Grail. The old wise man carried a staff made of hawthorn wood (a plant that grows profusely in the Holy Land). When he arrived he thrust the staff into the ground and the magnificent Holy Thorn  stemmed magically from it. This variety is unique in the British Isles and very similar to the variety growing in Palestine. The Glastonbury Holy Thorn blossoms twice a year: in Beltane and in Yule, and it is still customary today to send a budded branch to the Queen for display on her Christmas table. The thorn which is nowadays venerated on the Hill is no longer the original one but…a descendant. They say that, once the thorn has grown old, a cutting is taken and planted again in the same spot, so that the miracle of  Joseph of Arimathea’s blossoming stick is perpetrated.

Huath has sickly-sweet smelling white blossoms. In the past they said that this smell reminded that  of the female vulva and for this reason it was considered a preeminent symbol of the White Goddess, Flora, Cardea, Blodeuwedd. At the same time, this plant also has red berries, which recall the menstrual blood. Its symbolism is thus deeply linked to the sacred feminine, and contains in itself the two colours sacred to the Celts: white and red, the Otherwordly colours. Its name “haw-thorn” means “thorn of the enclosures”, and underlines a link with border zones. It is also called “May-thorn” or May-bush because it blossoms in May, the month primarily a symbol of rebirth and dedicated to the sacred feminine in every culture.

Its smell is also often associated, even in our modern times, to death. This leads us to reflect on how this twisted shrub hides contradictions; the extremes so to speak…. Beautiful flowers, white and soft, surrounded by very spiky thorns and unpleasant smell. It is a plant that contains the extremes: purity and danger. Its wood is very hard and resistant and develops a very hot fire. Is it not similar to Blodeuwedd’s youth? Very beautiful, but dangerous when she reaches the awareness of her being a free girl. Passionate, though hard, since she does not repent and is not afraid of what she has done to Llew (See the previous  Labrys issue).

From what we have said up to now, we can well affirm how Huath is a Guardian, a creature assigned to the protection of the Doors, the accesses, both of the Doors to the Fairy Realm or  the Otherworld, and of the doors of common dwellings (to this purpose, one of the many beliefs related to this plant  is of hanging its branches above the door entrance to protect the house from negative influences…) . Being a guardian, it is a symbol both of protection, as it stands guard on a threshold, and of ill omen. This is due to the extremely clear symbolism of its thorn, but also to the fact that it traditionally protects something unknown, and unknown things, such as the otherworld and fairy spirits, often frighten people!

It is necessary to be prepared to face what hides beyond the Thorn, it is necessary to be aware of ourselves, of our limits, of our desires, or we run the risk of getting lost….

From this point of view there could be some sort of analogy between the mists which protect Avalon and this tree, which protects the fairies’ world. The white of its blossoms and its thorns is a colour which in many cultures symbolizes death, but especially initiation. Moreover, the hawthorn represents the Goddess in her Maiden aspect. As Riccardo Taraglio writes, it represents the female half of universe, the Goddess who defends the natural order of things, primordial chaos, the wilderness, therefore it could be associated, as already stated, to the Maiden Huntress.. In time,  this aspect of the Goddess (as every other aspects, after all…) was demonized by patriarchal culture, and all the related symbolism with it. It seems therefore logic to think that the hawthorn has acquired in popular superstition a yet more frightening character than the original one. If in earlier times one had to pay attention to its immense ambivalent power, today this power has become mean, devious, demonic. Huath is one of the flowers from which Blodeuwedd was created. She is the Maiden Huntress, the May Bride, she is a wild, enchanted goddess who decides not to submit to what is imposed and eventually turns up to be an initiatoress for the husband who was forced upon her, and whom she betrayed to be true to herself, to her nature. A Free creature who, in times full of mysoginy as the ancient times were, must have aroused a great fear…

In addition to all of the above, the hawthorn is used as a heart balancer, eliminates arrhythmia, regulates tachycardia, improves blood supply, etc. These properties were already known in the past.

Now: what is more terrible than something which has control over the heart? The heart is the origin of life, it is the supreme sacred organ.

And yet, an  excessive use of its leaves can kill. Healing and death. The extremes, the bounds still in the hawthorn.


Nowadays they still say that taking this plant home or into a church brings bad luck, but actually truth lies elsewhere: Huath is the symbol of the sexual aspect of the goddess, a real insult for bigoted medieval mentality (in the Middle Ages many pagan traditions were demonized, for example getting married in May, the month of Beltane – pagan fertility festival – and of the hawthorn,  was considered unlucky and sexual abstinence was advised: quite the opposite of what happened in any wood or clearing on the Beltane night).

Eventually, in its double nature, Huath the terrible contains the mystery of the Otherworld, the same concept of the Pilgrim’s Travel towards Avalon. A fascinating quest towards an enchanting land, but at the same time a perilous trip full of pitfalls.

To go through the doors between the Worlds, towards rich and wonderful lands implies death. Whether it is real death, as in folklore, or more likely initiatic death is of very little concern. The hawthorn speaks of this. Of the renunciation we have to undertake in order to pass beyond…beyond the Gate leading to the Realm of the Ancients.


Photographs by Argante – Yat Pilgrimage September 2006
Notes: Article by Argante written on the basis of in-depth studies
within the Study Group ‘Sentieri di Avalon’ (The Paths to Avalon)


Traduzione a cura di Abigail_derwen


© Ynis Afallach Tuath, 2008/2009
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