On Violence and a Holy Tree

Holy Thorn, Glastonbury, England

Photo by Patricia Damery

On Violence and a Holy Tree

by Patricia Damery

In October 2010 my husband Donald and I visited Glastonbury, England, and the legendary Holy Thorn tree on Wearyall Hill. The thorn tree has always been sacred in the British Isles, the hawthorn associated with May and Beltane, its blossoms believed to be an aphrodisiac. The Holy Thorn, however, is a Levantine variety native to Palestine, a blackthorn. Legend has it that the tree is the direct descendent of the Holy Thorn that grew from Joseph of Arimethea’s staff when he landed, weary! on Wearyall Hill. It is growing on the strongest energy ley in those parts and has human remains and holy shit (gift of the local sheep) around its base. In contrast to the native hawthorn, blooming only in May, the Holy Thorn blooms twice: at Christmas and in May. In late October the descendent on the grounds by the Abbey ruins had a few blossoms already and at the same time, a lot of tiny red berries from the May bloom. 
How adored this tree is! Standing alone on Wearyall Hill, it is a place of pilgrimage. In recent years the old custom of tying ribbons to honor the spirit of a tree or to say a prayer, has been adopted, and this tree was bedecked with many prayer ribbons. People approached with reverence, alone and in small groups. Glastonbury is a spiritual hotspot in the British Isles, the legendary Avalon, used ceremonially even before the Celts and Druids. The Arthurian legend also places it as the birthplace of Christianity in the British Isles. One legend even includes Jesus as a boy visiting with his tin merchant great uncle. 
The Holy Thorn, as many of the sites in Glastonbury, is a portal into liveliness of divine physicality. The day we were there was overcast. One or two people arrived quietly every few minutes as a Dutch archeologist friend pointed out legendary sites in the surrounding landscape. We stood in awe. I mused, what if we each had a tree in our yards that we honored as the place the son of the Divine arrived, and lives? A place we honored with prayer ribbons and visited regularly? What would our world be like then?
On December 10 we received a shocking e-mail from our Dutch friend telling us that the tree had been vandalized, the entire top cut off. He included a link to an local paper article, Community in shock as Holy Thorn in Glastonbury desecrated. 
Who would do this? I immediately tried to contain my shock and sense of helplessness with thoughts of suspects, as we humans are so prone to doing. I considered the many diverse and too often warring groups who consider it a sacred site. Or maybe it was some of the individuals we saw so strung out on drugs they wouldn’t have known what they cut, as these holy sites are also attracting this bunch. A friend offered a deep, thoughtful possibility: perhaps it was a dark, unconscious groping toward a relationship with the Great Mystery of the Holy Thorn. I like to think, given that the act has happened, this is true.
Photos by Sig Lonegren www.geomancy.org

This January 2011, I received an e-mail update from Sig Lonegren, a Glastonbury geometer I studied with in October. He included pictures of the Holy Thorn, its severed branches bandaged in garden fleece and bubble wrap. The tree may well have vitality enough to sprout shoots in the spring. 
Sig stated, “there are some positive aspects to all of travesty. … it has brought our Glastonbury community together in ways that I haven’t seen for a long time. Groups who normally don’t speak to each other are working together to bring a positive resolution to this violation of our sacred space here in the Land of Avalon.” (Sig Lonegren <sig@geomancy.org>, Top o’ the Week #81)
This last e-mail came about the same time as the shooting tragedy in Arizona. We as a nation vacillate between pointing fingers and coming together to make sure this violence doesn’t happen again. Blame is a tar baby, gluing us to one perspective. At the same time, we know our political atmosphere is contagiously toxic. How can we address the latter without setting off that within and without us that polarizes? We need all of us for a solution, even those we would rather blame. As President Obama said in his memorial address in Tucson, “Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations [italics mine], to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.” (Obama’s Remarks in Tucson, New York Times, January 12, 2011)
I offer a prayer ribbon to this Tree of Life: May we work together to “expand our moral imaginations” by holding opposites within ourselves and without, uniting in Spirit.

Farming Soul, a courageous offering that will help to reconnect us to our deeper selves, the often untouched realities of soul, and at the same time ground us in our physical relationship to self and Mother Earth.

In addition to Farming Soul, Patricia Damery is the author of the soon to be published Snakes. She is an analyst member of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco and practices in Napa, CA. She grew up in the rural Midwest and witnessed the demise of the family farm through the aggressive practices of agribusiness. With her husband Donald, she has farmed biodynamically for ten years. Her chapter, “Shamanic States in Our Lives and in Analytic Practice” appeared in The Sacred Heritage: The Influence of Shamanism on Analytical Psychology, edited by Donald Sandner and Steven Wong, and her articles and poetry in the San Francisco Library Journal, Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, Psychological Perspectives, and Biodynamics: Working for Social Change Through Agriculture.