The Magick of Thorns
I’ve been talking a lot about thorn magick this summer within the Lunar Apothecary, in my readings, and within community conversations. The summer of 2016 has been rough. In the United States we are wrestling with ourselves, searching for our center, and coming undone. The work of repairing the world is hard stuff and it takes more than a little bit of vulnerability and grit. There are those who are learning about privilege for the first time and grappling with that heavy knowledge. There are folks who are realizing that they have too long normalized or denied or hidden the pain of the violence they face on the daily. There is a lot of opening up and difficult realizations occurring and there are a million hearts breaking in the process.
To do this work of unraveling, we need to be able to feel vulnerable in ways that allow us to still feel supported.
Thorn magick can play a powerful role during times like these when we are opening up, whether for the first time or all over again for the hundredth. So, what is thorn magick? It is herbal remedies that open us up while establishing a steady and protective boundary so that we can do the work that needs doing. Thorn magick allows for vulnerability and support to exist simultaneously instead of feeling vulnerable and too far exposed. I recommend thorn magick to those who are doing the hard work of creating change in their communities and in their lives; who are recovering from a difficult breakup and looking to be vulnerable in love again; to those who are experiencing difficult emotions that they have long denied but are now finally coming to the surface.
Working with herbs that possess strong thorn energy, such as Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Rose (Rosa spp.), can be as easy as preparing and ingesting a tea or tincture or the plant. Especially if that tea or tincture is made, in part, from the thorns of the plant. Adding a single thorn to your Rose tincture can powerfully shift the brew to being not only a heart-opener but a heart-protector. Sitting and communing with living thorny plants can be another way of working with thorn magick. If neither or those two options are available, even meditating on an image of a thorny plant (such as placing a picture of a sacred Hawthorn tree on your altar) can do a lot of good.
However, you work with the plant, I encourage you to visualize two things occurring at once. First, see a beautiful and protective shield of thorns encompassing your whole body. The thorns are turned outward from you allowing only that which of benefit to you to get to you. Second, within this protective space, visualize your heart blossoming open like a flower, knowing that it is supported and guarded within the sanctity of your thorn space. I encourage you to move slow with the second part of the meditation - don’t force movement, but allow the unfolding of your heart to occur at an easy and kind pace. It can take time for our hearts to feel safe enough to open up again. That’s ok. Give yourself time. The plants are patient and wise and will stick with you.
While there are many thorny plants in the world, I have profiled Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Rose (Rosa spp.) below which are two common and well-loved plants within Traditional Western Herbalism. I’ve listed some of the more prominent medicinal uses of each plant, but have primarily focused on their emotional and magickal gifts. Other thorny plants you might consider working with include Agave (Agave americana), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Raspberry (Rubus idaeus), Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp.), a great variety of cacti, and many other plants.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Hawthorn is one of the first herbs many Traditional Western Herbalists turn to for supporting cardiovascular health. The herb nourishes and feeds the heart working best as a long-term tonic (i.e. multiple months of use if not longer). In other words, Hawthorn is a cardiac tophorestorative which is a restorative tonic for the heart, bringing the hard working muscle back into balance whether from an illness, stress, or the affects of aging. Hawthorn is a powerful but gentle herb meaning that children, seniors, and all between can benefit from its use. Part of Hawthorn’s heart healing gifts is its possession of antioxidants which prevent and reverse damage caused by free radicals as well as reducing oxidative stress on the capillary walls and improving circulatory tone (whether by relaxing or strengthening). The herb should be considered when there is a case of congestive heart failure, angina, irregular heartbeat, hardening of the arteries, enlargement of the heart from excessive exercise or overwork, hypertension, both low and high blood pressure, and too much cholesterol.
Hawthorn shares a common characteristic found in many TWH heart herbs - it possesses beautiful flowers and protective thorns. Hawthorn helps the heart to open to new possibilities, especially after a period of heartbreak and distress such as after the loss of a loved one whether through death or a break-up. The herb protects our emotional vulnerability with its thorns. In fact, we are able to feel more vulnerable in a way that is healing and restorative when we feel protected by plant allies such as Hawthorn. Add a thorn from the plant to your tincture or glycerite preparations for extra protective energies. I have used Hawthorn many times in my practice for those recovering from heartbreak and have seen beautiful transformations occur with this plant’s amazing healing gifts. I love the language used by Judith Berger to describe Hawthorn: “As guardian of the hinge, hawthorn wisely discerns the right timing for the wounded heart to open” (Herbal Rituals, 134). Combine with Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) to help the Wounded Warrior, Wounded Healer type recover after a long period of giving and overwork where they has exhausted their mental, physical, and emotional resources. Hawthorn is also a good herb for those who feel wild and overstimulated in their grief and heartbreak. It calms, it soothes, and it protects, which is what we need more than ever when we feel raw. My favorite way to use Hawthorn as a daily tonic is as a glycerite that combines the leaf, flower, and berry.
Within an astroherbology context, Hawthorn is most often connected with the planet Mars due to its thorns. Other planetary correspondences include the Sun, because of Hawthorn's affect on the heart and overall vitality of the body, and Saturn since Hawthorn is hedgeherb and boundary-marker with strong connections to the otherworld.
The brokenhearted and grieving have a special place in the Hawthorn circle, for Hawthorn opens the heart after a period of despair. It is an ally for those who feel the grief of the world most readily, even if a personal tragedy is not currently present in their life. They recognize the tragedy of living on a planet that we pollute without regard to our shared sacredness and amongst endless wars and conflicts. Feeling wild in grief is a sign that Hawthorn may be needed and for some their journey with Hawthorn will be significant but relatively brief as they are able to move on with their lives with a newly opened heart. Those who need Hawthorn in the long-run tend towardsrestlessness and irritability, they are easily overstimulated and can sometimes lean (or fully reside) in the domain of the Type A personality. Often they are categorized as having attention disorders as children, whether or not this is warranted. They are children who appear to be more like changelings than a fully humyn child. Sometimes they are punished for the everyday acts of being an energetic child and disdained for their enthusiasm - they close up their heart to protect it from the hostility of a world that would prefer they sit quietly at a desk for hours following directions. Hawthorn re-opens the heart and helps folks connect with their resiliency, their capacity to forgive those who have harmed them, and to remain protected as they begin to express themselves and all their energy with pride and focus. The herb will bring calm to what has felt like a tumultuous existence, helping folks to find the tools they need to express themselves honestly and beautifully.
Rose (Rosa spp.)
Rose is an ancient plant with fossils have been found across Europe, North America, and Asia dating back from as early as the Miocene period (7 - 26 million years ago). The flower has been used medicinally for thousand of years, with Dioscorides recording Rose as a cooling and contracting medicine. The three varieties of Rose most often used for medicine-making is Rosa gallica (also known as as Provins or Apothecaries rose), Rosa damascena (or Rosa x damascena to denote its hybridity, also known as damask rose), and Rosa centifolia (also known as Provence Rose). More modern uses within TWH includes Rosa canina and Rosa rugosa.
Roses strengthen the heart. 18th century herbalist J. Quincy wrote that Rose “raises the spirits and gives sudden strength and cheerfulness” and categorized Rose as primarily a cardiac and cephalic (relating to the head). The herb assists with memory and promotes clarity of mind, heart, and spirit by connecting all three. Rose nourishes the body and is sweet medicine which calms the nervous system. Within Ayurveda, Rose is considered a rasayana (rejuvenative tonic) and medhya (brain tonic and nervine) for all of the doshas or body types.
As a plant of Venus, Rose is a classic aphrodisiac. Rose is an opener - it opens the heart and body to sensual experience. Like many aphrodisiacs, Rose has nervine and nourishing qualities which help to relax and soothe the body so that it may become ready and desirous of intimacy. Venusian magick, though, reveals desire on more than the physical level. It reveals the desire to engage mystery where there has only been the acknowledgement of the mundane.
Rose is especially useful for those who have lost their spark of desire. They might have trouble sleeping, restless and exhausted, but not enough energy to go out into the world. The desire to create and experience is low along with their vitality. What they think they should be doing dominates their thoughts more than what they want to be doing. Sometimes they are not even sure they know what they want to be doing. There can be a disconnect in relationships and not necessarily a feeling of isolation, but of distance. Rose folks often experience sudden overwhelming feelings of despair and being lost without a light in the murk. Sometimes, unresolved anger simmers deep below the surface - Rose teaches us how to use both our thorns and petals to set up boundaries and supportive spaces to express how we really feel. Rose reconnects to wildness, fierceness, and determined desire. To dream and want and feel and growl and move and connect with each other. One thing that I have seen again and again that is particularly powerful about Rose, is its ability connects us back to the secret excitement of mystery. So much of our unresolved and stagnant pain arises from a false notion that we know it all or at least know that our pain is permanent, what caused it is unchanging, and that this is all that will ever be. Rose reminds us that we, in fact, know very little, acceptance of which opens the path of possibility faster than a heart that has forgotten the importance of mystery will ever achieve.
Whether or not you use thorn magick and medicine in your practice, I hope that you have a space that you feel protected and held so that you are able to be vulnerable, soft, and open to the wisdom of your heart.
Do you use thorn magick in your practice? What is your favorite thorny plant to work with? Share your stories in the comments below!