Alle that take hede to dysmal dayes,
or use nyce observaunces in the newe moone,
or in the new yere, as setting of mete or drynke,
by nighte on the benehe,
to fede Alholde or Gobelyn.
-Dives and Pauper, 1493 CE
New Year’s night was once considered dangerous, where assemblies of masked men roamed the village carrying stangs and baskets. Any inhabitant caught unawares would be forced to jump the stang and wear a basket upon their head, labeled a ‘prisoner’, and taken to where other ‘suspects’ were held. There, the masked men and their ‘prisoners’, would stand in a circle about a slightly charred blackthorn globe. All would then chant, what has been rendered as ‘Old Cider’, but is perhaps more accurately recalled as Aois Síle, or ‘Old Hag’. The construction, burning, and preservation of the blackthorn globe is the mystery to this riddle.
Blackthorn is found in Ogham (Straif), and is also called the ‘Dark Crone of the Woods’, or the ‘Mother of the Woods’. Both are a reference to crone aspect of the Triple Goddess. Contrary to Christian influenced interpretations, the blackthorn is a beneficial plant. It is the primary wood used in making the shillelagh, an Irish walking/fighting stick. The Irish hero tales – the Acallam na Senórach – relate how a warrior could simply cast a sprig of blackthorn before him, and an impenetrable hedge would emerge to protect him. But, perhaps more familiar is the blackthorn barrier that protected Dornröschen, or ‘Sleeping Beauty’, where only a hero of the highest caliber would be able to break through. Finally, solidifying its beneficial aspects, it had medicinal qualities, primarily to clean/purify the blood, help with indigestion, to ease allergies, as a mouthwash, to sooth a sore throat, and to assist nutrient absorption (being a rich source of vitamin C). As with most pre-Christian healing plants, it found its way into an alcoholic drink: sloe gin. In all, the blackthorn has a long relationship with humans, having been found in archaeological sites from the Mesolithic and Iron Age (8000-2700 BCE), across all of Old Europe.
Back to the blackthorn globe: this protective sphere perhaps represents the Dark Goddess of Winter. Its charred remains were brought into every home and hung in the kitchen to bring about good luck – making it, perhaps the forerunner to the ‘kitchen witch’. (Reference the Эleventh Ŋight ~ Ұule ℒog, here.)
What is Burnt in Fire is Found in Ash!