Magic and sorcery have long been associated with Blackthorn. This link probably first arose from the aforementioned role of it having been used as an instrument of torture against Jesus. The Blackthorn's incredibly sharp spines were believed to have been used as pins to stab voodoo dolls in sympathetic magic. Christians believed that the Devil initiated his disciples by pricking the fingers of his disciples with Blackthorn spines. The evil reputation of the this tree's thorns was also fuelled by the fact that scratches inflicted by the tree often turn septic.
In olden times, people carrying a walking stick made from Blackthorn could be suspected of Witchcraft and people unfortunate enough to be convicted of being a witch were often burned on Blackthorn pyres. Another negative association linked to Blackthorn was the belief that to bring any part of the tree into the home was to invite death into the house.
Blackthorn also has some positive pagan associations. These include:
- It has been used for protection charms against evil
- Blackthorn wands are believed to be very accurate and sensitive divination tools
- Also known as 'Wishing Thorn,' the Blackthorn is thought to grant earnest made wishes asked of it.
- In Ireland, it was believed that that fairies made their homes in Blackthorn thickets.
- It was also said that the tree offers protection from ghosts.
- Burning a small blackthorn fire atop a fairy mound in Ireland could also make fairies return human babies they had swapped with changelings.
The Latin name for the Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, translates literally as spiny plum (to whose family the tree actually belongs). It's fruit, the Sloe Berry, are harvested for jam and also for the making of sloe gin. Blackthorn is believed to possess many medicinal properties. Many health claims have been made of this tree - its curative properties being sited as being of use to the treatment of indigestion, eczema, allergies, maladies of the bladder and prostrate and mental stress.
A wide variety of wildlife species also make use of Blackthorn. Bees and butterflies make use of the early supply of nectar provided by the Blackthorn's blossom, and the tree provides food for innumerable varieties of moths. In fact, it ha been recorded that over 150 wildlife species benefit from this most remarkable of trees.
Blackthorn is quite a common tree in Gower and can often be seen along Gower's southern coastal walk. These Blackthorn in Oxwich, however, are the finest specimens I have yet to come across on the peninsula.