Several years ago, I found myself
lost in a state wildlife refuge east of Lansing.
The trails themselves were of the spilled spaghetti
variety, with no rhyme or reason to their courses, but
I had been well off the trail for some time.
Dusk had come and gone, and it was pretty damn dark
when I found myself thoroughly ensnared in a briar
I should say that I wasn't just
snagged; I'd gotten snagged, twisted, gotten snagged
in another place, pulled back and realized that I was
pretty well stuck and I'd best stop moving around
until I could get a grip on exactly where I was and
exactly how best to find my way out.
As soon as I became still, I
realized that this was thorn medicine: I'd gotten into
something uncomfortable, and my first reaction was to
pull away and get out. The thorns were telling
me that before I could do that, I needed to be
conscious of what I'd gotten into, and
conscious of how I stepped away from it. If
I were to just turn and run (as I had), I'd only find
myself more deeply entangled, and even if I forced my
way out, I'd likely be scratched up and down (and
we've all heard enough fairly tales to know what can
come of that). So to get out, I
needed to say, "OK, I'm hooked here, and this is the
branch that's got me coming from around back here...
I'll carefully unhook this branch, and then move onto
the next..." Repeat as necessary till
The practice of carefully
dislodging each of those brambles one at a time was
really rather intimate. I had to be in
relationship with each thorny cane, and gently remove
it in a way that not only didn't hurt me, but
also didn't hurt it.
I've thought lots about thorns
since that day, and their medicine. They are all
"awareness medicines", but each has their specifics and
subtleties. Here are my thoughts on a few of
The particular thorns that got me
in the story related above were raspberries; hooked
thorns that arch over and root at the tips. They
tend not to be so tall as Blackberries; and so catch
you more at the waist and legs, whereas Blackberries
more often grab your arms, torso, and hair. Rose
bushes run the gammet; they'll grab you all over, and
Rose thorns will often break off if you just try to
pull away from their grasp, stuck in a sleeve or a
pant leg or perhaps an arm (as if to say, "you can't
just pull away and pretend this never happened...").
Hooked thorns grab you and won't
let go until you address them, consciously. They have
something to show you, something you need to address.
Perhaps it's about the way you handle discomfort.
Perhaps you tend not to look where you're going; after
all, briar patches tend to be things we walk into, not
things that jump out to get us. So, when snared
by them, it makes sense to look at how we handle
ourselves. Do we free ourselves aggressively or
gently? With fear or with consciousness?
Do we acknowledge to ourselves that we weren't self
Thorns are, of course, also
protective. It's interesting to note that many
thorn-bearing plants yield an abundance of fruit;
raspberries, blackberries, rosehips... there are
Native American stories telling of how the animals
almost destroyed the rosebush, before the Creator
blessed her with thorns.
Perhaps the plant that I think best
exemplifies this protective energy is the Hawthorne.
Its thorns are like nails; inches long and strong;
tensile. And yet, a gentler, more nourishing
medicine plant is unlikely to be found.
Hawthorne's abundant blossoms and berries are noted as
strengthening tonics for the heart. I would add
that this not only applies to the physical heart, but
to the emotional heart as well. Far too often,
we find people who have suffered great hurts, and who
have responded by living with a guarded heart.
They feel a need to "close up" in protection, to shield
their tender wound. The Hawthorne shows itself as a
medicine that can bear a great abundance of healing, and
yet be protected in this offering by its abundance of
thorns. It allows us to live with an open heart
and feel protected in doing so.
Closely akin to thorns are spines,
and what could be spinier than the Bull Thistle?
One afternoon in midsummer, I was out collecting Ox
Eye Daisy flowers in field next to my house. The
field had been partially excavated when we were
building, and so numerous thistles had made their home
there in the disturbed earth. Often, I found
myself needing to lean between two tall thistles to
pluck a daisy, and if not ever so conscious I would
feel a thin, sharp spine slip through my shirt and
press against my skin; not piercing it, but certainly
making itself known. As I readjusted my reach,
it would slip as gently away from me as it had into
me. Unlike the brambles of hooked thorns which
grab and cling, the spines of the Thistle teach us
about our awareness of space. How conscious are
we of personal space? Of our own? Of
others? Do we find that we cannot maintain our
space in the presence of intruding energies? Do
we find that we ourselves intrude upon others?
Thistles teach us to be conscious of our personal
space, to respect boundaries; or perhaps they will
help us establish them. I suppose any species
will do, but the Bull Thistle originally taught me
this, and it is the spiniest of all the Thistles I
know I know of.
So Thorns are teachers, and the
medicine they offer is often of great import.
But how does one make use of it?
There are many avenues to explore.
Simply spending time in briar patches is a pretty good
way to begin. But you might also, for example,
tincture a formidable Bull Thistle and then take drop
doses, as one might do with a flower essence, or
perhaps just rub a few drops into the wrists or over
the temples. Maybe you could gather some
Hawthorne berries and place them in a medicine bag
around your neck, fixed closed with a thorn instead of
a button or lace.
The method is not so important as
our relationship with the medicine itself, and our
conscious intention in calling forth that aspect of
the plants medicine.
Thorns empower plants, and they