The Blackthorn, which is widespread and abundant in woods and hedgerows throughout the British Isles, has the most sinister reputation within Celtic folklore, in ancient Ireland it was known as Straif, thought to be the origin of the word strife.
Although associated with trouble and bad luck, it is also associated with the overcoming of these negative aspects and the transformation that this struggle can bring.
Cailleach the Celtic goddess of winter is depicted as a blue veiled old woman with a raven on one shoulder and a blackthorn staff which she uses to summon storms. She emerges at Samain and takes over the year from the summer goddess Brigid.
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Thomas, of Erceldoune, in Lauderdale, called the Rhymer, on account of his producing a poetical romance on the subject of Tristrem and Yseult, which is curious as the earliest specimen of English verse known to exist, flourished in the reign of Alexander III. of Scotland. Like other men of talent of the period, Thomas was suspected of magic. He was also said to have the gift of prophecy, which was accounted for in the following peculiar manner, referring entirely to the Elfin superstition.
Thomas meets the Queen of Elfland
As Thomas lay on Huntly Bank, he saw a beautiful lady riding by the Eildon Tree. Her skirts were of green silk like the leaves of spring and she wore a cloak of fine velvet. Thirty-nine silver bells hung from her horse’s mane, which were music to the wind as she paced along. Her saddle was of ivory, inlaid with fine jewels and gold thread. The fair huntress had her bow in hand, and her arrows at her belt. She led three greyhounds in a leash, and three raches, or hounds of scent, followed her closely.
Thomas pulled off his cap and dropped to his knee exclaiming “You must be Mary, Queen of Heaven! For thy peer on earth I never did see.”
“No Thomas,” she said, “That name does not belong to me, I am but the Queen of Elfland come to visit you. Should you dare to kiss my lips you will belong to me.”
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