Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wednesday What Herb Is This - Holly


The berries, though eaten by birds, are injurious to human beings, and children should be warned against them.

Also called Aquifolius, Bat's Wings, Christ's Thorn, Holy Tree, Holm Chaste, Hulm, Hulver Bush, and Tinne. Holly is associated with Saturn, and the element of Fire and rules the waning half of the year, from Summer Solstice to Yule. It is especially used in celebrations of Saturnalia, from the 17th through the 23rd of December, and is a symbol at this time of happiness and health. Holly as an herb of the Yuletide season, as Grieve informs us, dates to the Druids, "who decorated their huts with evergreens during Winter as an abode for sylvan spirits. Holly was also given as a desired gift during the Roman version of Yule, called Saturnalia. In some contemporary Neo-Pagan customs, Holly which has been used to decorate the Temple at Yule is kept sacred until the fires are lit at Imbolc and then it is burned in the cauldron. Indeed, 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. Many Traditions work with a Holly King, a variation of the Green Man or male fertility figure - even the Green Knight in the story of Gawain, carrying a holly club whose bi-annual contest was to vanquish the "Oak King."

It is possible that it's name came about as a variation of "holy tree", and is said to have sprung up from the blood of the Christ. 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”. Indeed the red berries may represent blood and sacrifice, or perhaps the blood and light of the Sun God, believed to be reborn at the Midwinter Solstice.

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. In confirmation of this opinion, a subsequent edict of the Church of Bracara has been quoted, forbidding Christians to decorate their houses at Christmas with green boughs at the same time as the pagans, the Saturnalia commencing about a week before Christmas. The origin has also been traced to the Druids, who decorated their huts with evergreens during winter as an abode for the sylvan spirits. In old church calendars we find Christmas Eve marked templa exornantur (churches are decked), and the custom is as deeply rooted in modern times as in either pagan or early Christian days.

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 through to the mid-winter solstice. 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 nature's 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.

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. Sterile holly was dangerous to man and beast, and on a year when holly had no berries, it was wise to add ivy or box to a wreath or ball for good luck, for the lack of berries was a portent of infertility or death. 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 and witchcraft. It was also said that the flowers cause water to freeze, and that the wood, if thrown at any animal, even without touching it, had the property of compelling the animal to return and lie down by it. During the winter the country folk would gather up young stems of Holly and use it as a cattle-feed to sustain them during the privations of the winter. The stems when dried and bruised were often given to cows, who seemed to thrive on it producing good milk, the butter from which was said to be excellent.

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 today’s rituals, Holly is used for magic associated with the element of fire and Holly incense is used to consecrate the magical knife (athame).

Holly leaves were formerly used as a diaphoretic and an infusion of them was given in catarrh, pleurisy and smallpox. They have also been used in intermittent fevers and rheumatism for their tonic properties, and powdered, or taken in infusion or decoction, have been employed with success where Cinchona has failed. The juice of the fresh leaves has been employed with advantage in jaundice. The berries possess totally different qualities to the leaves, being violently emetic and purgative, a very few occasioning excessive vomiting soon after they are swallowed, though thrushes and blackbirds eat them with impunity. They have been employed in dropsy; also, in powder, as an astringent to check bleeding. Culpepper says 'the bark and leaves are good used as fomentations for broken bones and such members as are out of joint.' He considered the berries to be curative of colic. From the bark, stripped from the young shoots and suffered to ferment, birdlime is made. The bark is stripped off about midsummer and steeped in clean water; then boiled till it separates into layers, when the inner green portion is laid up in small heaps till fermentation ensues. After about a fortnight has elapsed, it becomes converted into a sticky, mucilaginous substance, and is pounded into a paste, washed and laid by again to ferment. It is then mixed with some oily matter, goose fat being preferred, and is ready for use. Very little, however, is now made in this country. In the north of England, Holly was formerly so abundant in the Lake District, that birdlime was made from it in large quantities and shipped to the East Indies for destroying insects. The leaves of Holly have been employed in the Black Forest as a substitute for tea. Paraguay Tea, so extensively used in Brazil, is made from the dried leaves and young shoots of another species of Holly

Holly was once held sacred by the peoples of ancient Europe; known as one of the Seven Chieftain Trees of the Druids, its very name means "holy." So important was Holly that its pagan connotations were not scorned by the Christians of long ago, but rather adopted by them. Planted around the home for protection against evil. The leaves and berries can be carried by a man to heighten his masculinity, virility and to attract a lover. Holly trees can be planted outside your house and their blossoms are excellent for hanging over the doorways to ward off bad vibes, lightning, and unwelcome energies of all sorts. Holly is a powerful Bach Flower Remedy that can help to ease jealousies, suspicions, and generally negative or aggressive feelings towards others. in magical terms, holly is generally treated as a masculine magical energy. However, in some parts of England and Germany, hollies are referred to as "he" and "she." Those with prickly-edged leaves are thought to be male, while the smooth-leafed variety signified a female tree. Holly was often paired with ivy, whose black berries symbolized night and darkness. In some regions, holly played the King and ivy his Queen. In many places in the British Isles, the burning of the holly was a big celebration to observe the death of winter. At springtime in Scotland, the Cailleach, the Death Goddess who presides over the winter months, throws Her magic rod or hammer under a holly, admitting defeat in the race of the growing light. This explains why no grass grows under holly trees. Thus the evergreen red-berried Holly and its companion the Ivy, which together symbolized the male and female elements of the mid-winter Scandinavian Yule and Roman Saturnalia, became emblems of Christmas. Some folks burn holly leaves with incense; this protects the home and draws good luck. Others tell us that they place holly above the door lintel for protection and to invite helpful spirits.


Owl's WIngs




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