thoughts on thorns...


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 patch.


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 extricated.


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 them...


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 aware?


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 empower us.


2012 jim mcdonald

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