Mistletoe and Holly


The Mistletoe Magic

From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore. It was considered to bestow life and fertility; a protection against poison; and an aphrodisiac. The mistletoe of the sacred oak was especially sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids. On the sixth night of the moon white-robed Druid priests would cut the oak mistletoe with a golden sickle. Two white bulls would be sacrificed amid prayers that the recipients of the mistletoe would prosper. Later, the ritual of cutting the mistletoe from the oak came to symbolize the emasculation of the old King by his successor. Mistletoe was long regarded as both a sexual symbol and the "soul" of the oak. It was gathered at both mid-summer and winter solstices, and the custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a survival of the Druid and other pre-Christian traditions. The Greeks also thought that it had mystical powers and down through the centuries it became associated with many folklore customs. In the Middle Ages and later, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. In Europe they were placed over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches. It was also believed that the oak mistletoe could extinguish fire. This was associated with an earlier belief that the mistletoe itself could come to the tree during a flash of lightning. The traditions which began with the European mistletoe were transferred to the similar American plant with the process of immigration and settlement.

 Kissing under the Mistletoe

Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites. They probably originated from two beliefs. One belief was that it has power to bestow fertility. It was also believed that the dung from which the mistletoe would also possess "life-giving" power. In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up. Later, the eighteenth-century English credited with a certain magical appeal called a kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she cannot expect not to marry the following year. In some parts of England the Christmas mistletoe is burned on the twelfth night lest all the boys and girls who have kissed under it never marry. Whether we believe it or not, it always makes for fun and frolic at Christmas celebrations. Even if the pagan significance has been long forgotten, the custom of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe can still be found in many European countries as well as in Canada. Thus if a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life. In France, the custom linked to mistletoe was reserved for New Year's Day: "Au gui l'An neuf" (Mistletoe for the New Year). Today, kisses can be exchanged under the mistletoe any time during the holiday season.

 The Legend

For its supposedly mystical power mistletoe has long been at the centre of many folklore. One is associated with the Goddess Frigga. The story goes that Mistletoe was the sacred plant of Frigga, goddess of love and the mother of Balder, the god of the summer sun. Balder had a dream of death which greatly alarmed his mother, for should he die, all life on earth would end. In an attempt to keep this from happening, Frigga went at once to air, fire, water, earth, and every animal and plant seeking a promise that no harm would come to her son. Balder now could not be hurt by anything on earth or under the earth. But Balder had one enemy, Loki, god of evil and he knew of one plant that Frigga had overlooked in her quest to keep her son safe. It grew neither on the earth nor under the earth, but on apple and oak trees. It was lowly mistletoe. So Loki made an arrow tip of the mistletoe, gave to the blind god of winter, Hoder, who shot it , striking Balder dead. The sky paled and all things in earth and heaven wept for the sun god. For three days each element tried to bring Balder back to life. He was finally restored by Frigga, the goddess and his mother. It is said the tears she shed for her son turned into the pearly white berries on the mistletoe plant and in her joy Frigga kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which it grew. The story ends with a decree that who should ever stand under the humble mistletoe, no harm should befall them, only a kiss, a token of love. What could be more natural than to translate the spirit of this old myth into a Christian way of thinking and accept the mistletoe as the emblem of that Love which conquers Death? Its medicinal properties, whether real or imaginary, make it a just emblematic of that Tree of Life, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations thus paralleling it to the Virgin Birth of Christ.


Holly

 Folklore and Myths
Holly is commonly used all over the world as a Christmas decoration, a custom derived from the early Romans who sent boughs of Holly and other gifts to their friends during Saturnalia, the Roman festival of Saturn held around the 17th of December to celebration of the Winter Solstice.  In an old Christian legend the Holly is said to have sprung up under the footsteps of Christ as he trod the earth, the spines of the leaves became symbolic of  'Crown of Thorns', the red berries representing the drops of blood associated with his suffering.  From this symbology the Holly tree became known as 'Christ's Thorn' or the 'Holy Tree'.

 In pagan folklore the Holly tree is associated with the spirit of vegetation and the waning forces of nature, to which he is personified as a mythical figure called the Holly King.  The Holly King rules nature during its decline from the mid-summer solstice (Litha - Jun 21st) through to the mid-winter solstice (Yule Dec 21st).  At each of the solstice Sabbats, the Holly King and his brother the Oak King engage in ritual combat for the attentions of the Goddess, from whence the victor presides over nature through the following half of the year.

 In his personification as the Holly King, he is often depicted as an old man dressed in winter clothing wearing a wreath of Holly on his head and walking with the aid of a staff made from a Holly branch.  This is symbolic of the fertile interaction of the Goddess and God during natures decline and the darkest time of the year.  At Yule after his battle with the Oak King, the new light of the sun-God re-emerges to encourage fresh growth during the coming new year.  After the advent of Christianity, and during their Christmas and New Year celebrations, a man would be dressed up and covered in Holly branches and leaves, while a woman was likewise dressed in Ivy (the female counterpart of Holly) and together paraded through the streets leading the old year into the new.

 Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) a Roman naturalist in his classic 'Historia Naturalis', an old world encyclopaedic study of plants and animal life, tells us that if Holly is planted near a house or farm, it would repelled poison and defended it from lightning and witchcraft.  Also that its flowers cause water to freeze and that its wood when thrown at an animal, even without touching it, had the power to compel the animal to return and lie down.

Magical Uses
As with most other trees the Holly was revered for its protective qualities. When planted around the home it protects the inhabitants and guards against lightening, poisoning and mischievous spirits.  When confronted by wild animals throwing a stick of Holly at them would make them lie down and leave you alone.  A piece of Holly carried on your person is said to promote good luck, particularly in men for the Holly is a male plant (the Ivy its opposite female).  As a charm to enhance dreams, nine Holly leaves gathered on a Friday after midnight, wrapped in a clean cloth to protect against its needles, and tied up using nine knots was placed under a pillow to make dreams come true.

 Some old stories tell us that when winter came the old druids advised the people to take Holly into their homes to shelter the elves and fairies who could join mortals at this time without causing them harm, but these stories also tell of a warning, to make sure and remove the Holly entirely before the eve of Imbolc, for to leave just one leaf in the house would cause misfortune.  An old Scottish traditions says that no branch should be cut from a Holly tree, but rather it should be pulled free in a method considered fit for sacred tree.  It was also considered unlucky to fell a Holly tree or burn its green skinned branches.  Yet luck was increased if a small branch was kept and hung outside of the house, there it would continue to protect against lightening.

 In ritual uses, Holly is associated with the life, death and re-birth symbolism of Lughnassadh/Lammas, the first harvest of the year.  Holly also symbolizes holiness, consecration, material gain, physical revenge, beauty, immortality, peace, goodwill and health.  Holly water (infused or distilled) was sprinkled on newborn babies to protect them.  It can be used ritually to aid and help with a person's ability to cope with death, and to ease their sleep with peaceful dreams.  The Holly has always been associated with mid winter festivals and was used in old Celtic traditions for celebrating the Sun Gods re-birth at the Winter Solstice.

 The wood of the Holly tree burns very hot and its charcoal was used to forge the swords, knives and tools necessary for survival and protection.  The old smithies and weapon-makers were considered to be great magicians for their ability to use the elements of fire and earth to create these tools.  For this reason the druids associated Holly with the element of fire.  In the ogham alphabet they called the Holly 'Tinne', which is thought to mean 'fire' derived from the word 'tinder', in association with the Holly's timber used in the fires of the old smithies.  In todays rituals, Holly is used for magic associated with the element of fire and Holly incense is used to consecrate the magical knife (athame).

 The Holly tree deity associations are with:  Lugh, Tannus, Taranis and Thor, as well as Tailtiu, Habondia and Tina Etruscan.  Its gender type is Masculine.  Its planetary ruler is Mars and its associated element is Fire.  The bird associated with the month of the Holly is the starling.  Holly is used to attract the powers needed for:  Protection, Consecration, Healing, Peace, Goodwill, Luck and anything to do with the element Fire.

 Astrologically Holly people (i.e. those people born in the month of July) come alive at winter and delight in the cold that most people dislike.  They are very balanced in a fight, provided the cause is a just one.  They are bearers of truth and demand truth from their friends and associates.  They are honest, hard-working and very tolerant of changing situations.  They tend to see both sides in an argument but will choose a side if they have to.  They also tend to be spiritually advanced but may be clueless to being that way.  They can also be showy at times and seek attention.

 


Samhain   Yule   Imbolc   Ostara  Beltaine   Litha   Lammas   Mabon
Site Index