Tuesday, 8 December 2009

On The Mysterious Matter of Mistletoe..

According to the Ancient Druid traditions, Mistletoe was the most sacred of all plants.

Allegedly from the Anglo-Saxon word 'Misteltan' (Tan = twig) & the German Mistel (Mist = dung). This is not so awful as at first may seem, because to the Ancient Nature based traditions, excretion & birth were considered almost synonymous in the cycle of life.
Alternately the name Mistletoe may have derived from the Celtic 'Mil'ioc', meaning 'All-Heal'.

As Mistletoe grew from the Sky on the limbs of the Holy Oak tree (the Oak tree was believed to be a doorway between the worlds), its leaves green throughout winter representing the fertility of the Earth Goddess, its white berries the seed of the Forest God, the Celts believed that Mistletoe held the soul of the Holy Oak & therefore embodied its Sacred fertility.

Because Mistletoe is botanically unique
in the Northern Hemisphere
(the only highly-evolved flowering plant that is parasitic/roots into trees), it was considered to have miraculous properties that could cure illnesses, antidote poisons, ensure fertility and protect against witchcraft.
{{Modern Herbalists today use European Mistletoe to strengthen the heart and reduce blood pressure, & to relieve pain from headaches caused by high blood pressure. The powdered leaves have also been used in careful treatment of epilepsy.}}

Mistletoe was used by the Druids in a ceremony held five days after the New Moon following the Winter Solstice;
The Druids would cut Mistletoe from the Sacred Oak tree with a magical golden sickle or Bolline representing the life giving Sun.
The branches had to be caught by maidens, on white cloaks, before they touched the ground, otherwise they would discharge their magical energies into the earth.
The Druids then divided the branches into bunches and gave them to the people, calling it All-Heal, and the people hung them over their doorways as a protection, and as a sign of peace and goodwill.
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The Norse Traditions explain the meaning of Mistletoe
through the story of
Balder, son of Frigga, Goddess of love & life.
Balder, called the well-beloved & Holy one, is the 'God of Goodness' and represents the spring Sun in Norse tradition (& hence the Sun God).

Frigga, worried on hearing Balder's prophetic dream that he would be killed, had the four elements, Fire, Water, Air, & Earth, promise that they would not harm her son.
However, Loki (the mischievous God of Fire, who was jealous of Balder), found the only thing that could break
this promise, Mistletoe, because as it grows 'from the sky' it was not bound to any of the four realms.
He made an arrow from its wood & gave it to Hoder (the blind god of darkness & ignorance) while the other gods were playfully hurling their weapons against the invulnerable Sun God Balder.
Hoder shot his arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead, thus Hoder fulfilled Loki's jealous plan, the mind darkened by ignorance accomplished what nothing else could, the death of the God of light.

Balder then traveled to Hel, The Queen of the realm of the Dead.
Whilst Odin, father of the Gods, pleaded with Hel for Balder's return
(Hel agreed on condition that all living things weep for Balder's return)
Frigga implored all beings to mourn the Sun God's death & her tears of grief became the mistletoe's white berries.

This account may be the origin of Kissing under the Mistletoe,..
As Balder is restored to life, Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the poisonous reputation of the Mistletoe,
making it a symbol of love and promising a kiss to all who pass under it as a pledge of friendship and goodwill.

Symbolically, the Nordic Story of Balder & the Mistletoe, portrays the cycle of life, death & rebirth of nature.
As The Sun God dies with every nightfall, & rises again each New Morning;
Also, He dies With every Winter Solstice, to return Each New Year bringing Light & Life.

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Mistletoe is still forbidden in most Christian churches
because of its Pagan associations; Although the holiday at Christmas time has always predated Christianity with it's traditions of Nordic paganism, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman Mithraism, many such earlier Gods ( including Theseus, Perseus, Dionysus, Apollo ) present a mythologic account of the divinities birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably close to the story of Jesus..
Both Martin Luther and John Calvin abhorred Mistletoe for these reasons, & the Puritans refused to acknowledge it.

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Evidence of Mistletoe's use in Ancient Britain

has been recorded in the following extract from the Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder's accounts of his reconnaissance of Britain, on the subject of a Druidic ritual:
The Druids...hold nothing more sacred than the Mistletoe and the tree that bears it, as long as that tree be an Oak....
Mistletoe is very rarely encountered; but when they do find some, they gather it in a solemn ritual....
After preparing for a sacrifice and a feast under the Oak, they hail the Mistletoe as a Cure-All and bring two white bulls there, whose horns have never been bound before.
A priest dressed in a white robe climbs the oak and with a golden sickle cuts the Mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak....
They believe that a potion prepared from Mistletoe will make sterile animals fertile, and that the plant is an antidote for any poison. " (Natural History, XVI, 249-251).

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Holding an influential role across cultures and over time, the enduring fascination with the magical properties of Misteltoe are further evidenced in two significant books of the Western Literary canon...

In Virgil's 'Aeneid'
(the most famous book in classical Latin & one of the most famous poems of all time),
The Roman hero, Aeneas, finds the 'Golden Bough' on a sacred tree in the grove dedicated to the Goddess Diana,
The prophetess Sibyl instructed Aeneas to pick this Magical Bough 'from which shone a flickering gleam of gold.
As in the woods in the cold winter the mistletoe ... which puts out seed foreign to its tree ... stays green with fresh leaves and twines its yellow fruit about the boles...' before his descent into the Underworld.
Sibyl knew that, with the aid of such magic, Aeneas would be able to undertake his perilous adventure safely. ('Aeneid' VI, 204-209).

Much later in the 20th C, the very Title of Sir James G. Frazer's comparative study of mythology and religion,
'The Golden Bough' (1922), derives from this scene in Virgil's Aeneid.
According to Frazer, Mistletoe could become a "Golden Bough" because when they die and wither, Mistletoe plants acquire a golden hue.
Naturally enough, as his subject matter explored the roots and meanings behind Religion & Magic, the apparently Alchemical and Transformative powers of the Mistletoe directly referenced the cathartic insights that his study would make available to his readership, & was therefore a good choice.

The 'Goldenness' of the Mistletoe was further influenced by the European folklore that Mistletoe plants were thought to have come to earth as lightning strikes a tree in a blaze of Gold and as the agent of life thus linked to the divine creative force, which is a suitably portentous birth for a plant whose home is half way between the heavens and the earth.

By The Magic Of The Mistletoe
Blessed Be ~

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this post!! Merry Yuletide. Blessed Be )O(