Friday, 9 October 2015

Hawthorn plant spirit initiation - a transformative process

Last weekend I attended a three day retreat led by with Pam Montgomery, author of 'Plant Spirit Healing, A Guide to Working with Plant Consciousness', to make a deep connection with the plant spirit of Hawthorn, my chosen herbal ally for my first year as a herbwife apprentice.  I saw the retreat advertised the same week I published a post all about Hawthorn, so I really felt a calling to attend.  The retreat was organised by Archetype events who run courses and conferences on plant consciousness, shamanism and related subjects.  Pam and others such as Eliot Cowan, author of 'Plant spirit Medicine', have been inspired by indigenous healing traditions to work with plants on spiritual & energetic levels as well as the physical level of plants as medicinal substances.

In her book Pam writes about her realisation that practising as a herbalist using herbs purely as physical medicine was not addressing the energetic and spiritual blockages & imbalances which underlie the physical manifestation of illness.  She found that working with plants on an energetic and spiritual level can assist with healing in a very profound way and leads to personal transformation to a spirit and heart centred way of being in harmony with our environment.

A method of making a spiritual & energetic connection with plant spirits is to carry out a ceremonial plant diet.  Plant dieting is a traditional process which may involve a range of practices to make a profound relationship with a plant spirit for guidance and healing.  Author Carole Guyett who lives in Ireland has been inspired to carry out sacred plant diets with local native plants as detailed in her book 'Sacred Plant Initiations' which describes how to carry out a ceremonial plant diet and gives examples of plants worked with in this way for each of the 8 seasonal festivals of the wheel of the year.

The retreat involved a ceremonial plant diet of specially prepared Hawthorn elixir whilst fasting or eating only small amounts of foods such as apples, nuts, nut butter & rice cakes for the 2 1/2 day period of the retreat.   Participants were instructed to undertake a gentle liver cleanse for the three days prior to the retreat by taking 1-3 tablespoons of organic cold-pressed virgin olive oil mixed with 1-3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice followed by half a lemon in hot water an hour before breakfast and to avoid red meat, dairy, refined sugar and excessive amounts of salt, alcohol & coffee.

The retreat was held at Poulstone Court a retreat centre set in quiet countryside in Herefordshire close to the River Wye.  During the retreat we spent time in beautiful hedgerow rimmed meadows running along the far bank of the river, reached by a suspension bridge, which was just a few minutes walk from the centre.

The retreat started with gathering as a group for an introduction to the plant dieting process.   The elixir used for a plant diet usually includes every part of the plant, if they can be ingested, in water-based & alcohol-based extracts and flower essences.  Some plants may be used in other ways eg essential oils or infused oils of the plant may be used for anointing the skin and plants used for smudging or smoking could be used in that way.  There is often a support plant for the group and individual process of the plant initiation.  In this case Pam drew a card from the 'Messages from the Plant World', a deck of transformational plant spirit healing cards, for the group as a whole and we each drew a card for an individual support plant for the retreat.

The Hawthorn plant materials used for the plant diet had been gathered in Autumn last year and Spring this year.  The extracts used for the elixir made for the retreat were flower tincture, berry tincture with berries from Wales and from Vermont in the USA where Pam is from, flower essence, infusions of flowers, leaves & berries and distilled flower essence, with the addition of local cider as apples are a support plant for Hawthorn.  The distilled flower essence had been made using an alembic containing flowers and spring water heated over a low heat to create a very concentrated water extract.  The plants were harvested and extracts made with spiritual intent and ceremony.  The elixir contained about 1/3 alcohol and 2/3 water.   There was enough elixir for each participant to have 16 fluid ounces in total, 2 fluid ounces for each of the 8 servings of elixir during the retreat.  

The process began with all participants putting an object on the altar laid out in the centre of the space which would be empowered with the energy of Hawthorn for us to put on our altar on return home.  We also wrote our intentions on a piece of paper and put this under the edge of the altar cloth.  We were each smudged in turn with Mugwort, Agrimony & Sagebrush to begin the ceremonial process.  Pam then carried out a ceremonial honouring of the directions of East, South, West, North, Below, Above and Centre.  The Hawthorn extracts and cider were poured into a large pan, with a smaller pan with water-based extracts only for one participant who did not wish to consume alcohol.  The extracts were then ritually stirred by each participant in turn with prayers & good intentions being offered while the whole group drummed and chanted.  The stirring was done in a specific way to create a vortex in one direction then in the other direction, with the spoons being handed on to the next person while the liquid was still in motion.  After the stirring had been completed we had our first drink of the elixir, going up one at a time to receive our helping.

We then were lead on a short walk to the common by the river to each find a Hawthorn to spend time with.  We were invited to use all our senses to get a felt sensation of the vibratory resonance of Hawthorn, to 'put a handle' on this as a way to reconnect with the plant spirit later.  We were also invited to spend time daydreaming with Hawthorn, being aware of everything going on around us and thoughts and images arising in our minds.   I found a place in a ditch with Hawthorns on either side.  I felt a sense of calmness and peace but also a sense of vitality with a fiery quality.  I saw shimmering webs of spider's silk catching the light in the spaces between the trees, bringing a message of Hawthorn's energy of connection.   When walking back through a different corner of the field I found a beautiful Hawthorn covered in clumps of Mistletoe that I returned to several times during the retreat, it felt that this was a really special tree.

Hawthorn & Mistletoe

After spending time with Hawthorn out in nature we returned to the retreat centre for a guided shamanic journey to meet the spirit of Hawthorn on an inner level.  I found myself experiencing Hawthorn through the seasons, from the rising sap and growth of new leaves in the spring, the glorious profusion of flowers in May, the ripening fruit and abundance of Autumn, the wood as fuel for the fire in winter.  I had a experience of the purifying fire energy of Hawthorn and felt a real sense of blessing from this journey.  After the journey we had another drink of the elixir and were asked to notice what is different about the taste & feel of this drink compared to the first drink.  Following this we walked a spiral labyrinth laid out on the lawn with rope and were asked 3 questions at the entrance, the half-way point and centre of the labyrinth, to guide us in our process for the retreat.

After the labyrinth journey we were invited to go out alone to sing & play music to Hawthorn and maybe receive the medicine song of Hawthorn.  I went back to the Hawthorn covered in Mistletoe and spent time drumming & singing there until the sun set behind the hedge-line on the horizon.   That evening we had another drink of the elixir and we were asked to write a love letter or poem to ourselves.  This was a very self-affirming thing to do, I let the words just flow as they came naturally.  We were also invited to ask Hawthorn for a dream when we went to sleep and shared our dreams the next morning when we gathered for our next drink of the elixir.

On the Saturday morning we were guided through the Greenbreath process.  This involved breathing in a particular way accompanied by recorded music and verbal prompts to lead us through stages to break up stuck energy, release trauma and move through obstacles & blocks to the free flow of energy and connection to spirit, helped by the Hawthorn plant spirit.  The breath is a way to access spirit via plants as we take in their energy by breathing in the oxygen they give out and they take in our energy by absorbing the carbon dioxide we breathe out.  This process moved a lot of energy and assisted with releasing emotion, leading to a place of deep stillness and peace.  

On the Saturday afternoon we had another drink of elixir and were then invited to go out to our sit spot to find a twig and make prayers of what we want to invoke and be grateful for in our lives, winding coloured yarn round the twig for each prayer.  The intention of the process was to help us to honour the sacred, to invite spirit into our lives and focus our intention on putting the heart on the throne of our lives.  After this we were lead on another shamanic journey, to experience dismemberment and transformation into a new form, with the help of Hawthorn, followed by another drink of the elixir, absorbing it ever more deeply into our being.

For the Saturday evening fire ceremony we each made a mask for our embodiment of Hawthorn and dressed in ceremonial clothing to honour and feed spirit.  We held a Hawthorn council, each speaking for the spirit of Hawthorn, speaking words from the heart.  On the Sunday morning we had our final drink of the elixir then went as a group to gather round the Hawthorn tree covered in Mistletoe to each speak our thanks to Hawthorn and offer a handmade gift we had been asked to bring as an offering.  We concluded with a talking stick circle to each share our story of how Hawthorn is guiding us in living with heart.  We were given bottles of Hawthorn flower essence to keep taking up until Samhain, the next holy day in the wheel of the year, to help us to keep working with Hawthorn and integrating the Hawthorn energy in our daily lives in the world.

Hawthorn mask

This was a very special weekend which has opened a doorway to working with plants on a deeper level, as healing spirit beings as well as physical medicines.  I hope those reading this may be inspired to explore this way of working with plants in the future.  May this be of benefit to our fellow beings.


'Plant Spirit Healing' Pam Montgomery.
'Plant Spirit Medicine' Eliot Cowan.
'Sacred Plant Initiations' Carole Guyett.


  1. Hi Anne, thanks for posting this. Wonderful for me to read. I have felt a call by hawthorn when I came back from Lugh camp. Even though I'm a beginning bard and have never really worked with trees. It's a tree I had never even noticed before! I have a strong connection to one of them in particular but I see hawthorns everywhere now and experience them as friends. Something very gentle about them. I attempted on a jelly the other day but it turned into syrup :). Berries are drying now for making infusions. Since Lugh camp, willow has often called me also. Very different energy but a calm and reassuring friendship. Much love. Fabienne

  2. Thanks for your lovely comment. It sounds like you have definitely got a connection to Hawthorn yourself. One of the prompts that was spoken during the Greenbreath on the retreat was 'Hawthorn has chosen you as her ally', which really touched me. If we are open and let our intuition guide us we can develop these connections with plant spirits as part of our journey to greater wholeness.

  3. This is a beautiful and inspiring post, Anne. I felt a real, tangible boost of energy from the oak tree I sat with at the Sanctuary. I intend to taking working with trees further as I progress. See you soon, Annie x