Hacked by vandals shortly before Yule and left for dead, the Glastonbury Holy Thorn unfurled two wee leaves for Ostara.
Best news I’ve heard in months. A tiny sprig of green on a tree whose origins could stretch back a couple thousand of years, that was hacked by vandals and feared dead just a few months ago—it’s as though the Green Man himself has sprung from the new grass, laughing.
The report came the day after the Sabbat on the Thorn’s official Facebook page. A local Thorn-watcher shot a photo of the leaves and posted them.
The Thorn is said to have stood in Glastonbury for 2,000 years. British legend holds that it flowered from the staff of St. Joseph of Arimethea, whom Christians believe is the uncle of Jesus Christ.
I have a weakness for trees, and things British, and legends with misty origins. I was a sucker for the Thorn saga.
A lot of the December news coverage from Britain speculated that the vandals may have had anti-Christian motives. Other, less sensationalist coverage noted that the land on which the Thorn stands was owned by Edward James, whose Crown Currency Exchange collapsed owing investors 16 million pounds, and that the vandalism could have been directed at him. The vandals have not been caught, nor issued any statements.
I noticed that quite a few of the Thorn’s Facebook friends seem to be Pagan. Goddess circles in California gathering at Yule to send energy to the Thorn along the Earth’s Ley Lines are unlikely to be affiliated with the local Episcopal Church.
Not once did I see anyone express anything but gratitude for any prayers said for the Thorn’s recovery, regardless of who said them or how energy was sent. All that mattered was that a everyone wanted a special tree to live.
For me, the tree was sacred because it’s a tree, first. And it had stood so long, and been cared for with such love. Each time it looked sickly, cuttings would be taken and new sprouts started. The tree that was vandalized was not the original 2,000-year-old one, but a cutting—or clone, if you prefer—of it. I think that whether the Christians who stewarded the Thorn realized it or not, they were acting as their Pagan ancestors would have in the service of holy groves and sacred trees.
Like Glastonbury Tor, the Thorn tree was a Pagan holy thing that was remade as a Christian icon. The Tor has the ruined tower of St. Michael on it. Before that tower rose, long, long before, the Tor stood like an island in misty fens. Was it Avalon, and are Arthur and Guenevere buried beneath it? Or was it the entrance to Annwn, home of Gwyn ap Nudd, Lord of the Underworld?
Perhaps it was all these things, and still is. I liked Marion Zimmer Bradley’s description in her book, The Mists of Avalon. That if one bent reality one way, one went to Avalon. If it shifted another, one ended up walking with Christian monks. And that as time passed, the number of people capable of seeing anything but the lines of black-robed friars walking their rounds grew ever smaller.
The Thorn tree itself has traditionally flowered twice a year. Once in the spring near Easter, and once in the winter, near Christmas. Or Ostara and Yule, if you prefer—and of course, I do. I don’t know which holiday the young Englishman who first noted the leaves celebrates; I did notice he used “blessed be” in his post about the leaves and was pleased by that.
I still feel a little teary thinking about it. I needed a hopeful sign. I’d just spent a day doing a Word Fast—a 24-hour vow of silence. The purpose of a Word Fast is to experience silence, one of the powers of the North. To let ourselves just be, instead of working to fill every moment of the day with some kind of distraction. I’d been thinking for a month or so about doing one. And Saturday, I realized I had distracted myself to the point of burnout with my trying to keep up with news of war, natural disaster and political uprising. I gave a few people an hour’s notice and pulled the plug on the world.
I’d like to say I spent most of the time meditating, praying, thinking deep thoughts, working on a sacred project, catching up on my spring cleaning. I did not. I estimate I spent about 16 of the 24 hours either sleeping or trying to sleep. I wasn’t just tired to the bone, I was tired to the core of my soul.
To come from that day of near-hibernation, to the news of two brave little leaves on a centuries-old, mutilated tree, members of two historically antagonistic faiths rejoicing together—it’s the most hopeful sign I’ve seen in months. Best Ostara ever.