Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday What Herb is This - Mistletoe


* The Magic of Mistletoe *
by M.L. Benton, © 2002, Echoed Voices: December

Blessed be this mistletoe,
    With all the charms it may bestow.
    Cut the stem with the gold boline,
    As energies rise, its magic is thine.
    Never let it hit the ground,
    Or evil shall within abound.
    Herb of Apollo, Freya and more,
    Their will be done as we implore.
    With all thy healing properties,
    Grant your Blessings; hear our pleas.
    Legends and lore of old exist,
    Under the mistletoe we still kiss.
    Harvest at the Solstice and on time,
    During the festival the bells will chime.
    Bring us blessings from under the Sun,
    As this is our Will, So shall it be done.

With all the mystical legends and lore of the herb mistletoe, unfortunately the origin of its name is not so magical. The common name of this herb is derived from the belief that mistletoe comes from dung or bird droppings. The principle of this ancient belief stems from the appearance of mistletoe on branches where bird droppings had been splashed. "Mistel" is the Anglo-Saxon word for dung and "tan" is the word for twig, so in translation, mistletoe means "dung on a twig."

Botanically, mistletoe is considered a parasitic plant, It grows on branches or the trunk of trees and will bore and root into the tree for its nutrients. Mistletoe is however very capable of living and growing prosperously of its own accord and providing its own food and nutrients through photo-synthesis. As the plant spreads however it seems to be perfectly content growing as a parasitic plant.

There are two types of mistletoe. The first is found in North America, (Phoradendron Flavescens) this type is better known as the parasitic plant and is most common for harvesting for the Christmas and Yule celebrations. These can be found on the East Coast regions from Florida to New Jersey. The second type is found in Europe, {Viscum Album} This version of mistletoe is grown as a green shrub with tiny yellow and white flowers, and sticky berries which are considered poisonous. It is known to grow on the apple tree but believed not to grow on an oak tree.

The virtues of mistletoe come from the earliest of times and are just as mystical and mysterious, as they are magical. The Greeks believed that mistletoe had mystical powers and through the centuries it became associated with many folklore customs. In European history, mistletoe is one of the most sacred plants. With the many properties of this sacred herb, it was believed to bestow life and fertility would be prosperous. It was considered a protector against poisons and a passionate aphrodisiac. The ancient Druids considered the mistletoe their most sacred herb. They believed that mistletoe growing on oak trees possessed magical properties and considered it an all-heal, which would protect against all forms of evil. In Celtic traditions, on the sixth night of the moon white-robed Druid priests would cut the oak mistletoe with a golden sickle or boline. They would then sacrifice two white bulls while reciting prayers that the recipients of the mistletoe would prosper. As time went by, the ritual of cutting the mistletoe from the oak came to symbolize the emasculation of the old King by his successor. Mistletoe symbolized both a sexual emblem and the "soul" of the oak. Because of this sacred belief, the herb was gathered at both mid-summer and winter solstices.

The custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a survival of the Druid and other pre-Christian traditions. In the Middle Ages and later, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. In Europe they were placed over the 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 would come to the tree during a flash of lightning. The traditions, which began with the European mistletoe, were rationalized with the North American plant with the process of immigration and migrating. Today the belief is, in order for the mistletoe to be effective in magical spells, the herb must be cut with a single stroke of a golden sickle or boline on the Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice or the sixth day after a new moon. However you must take care not to let the herb touch the earth or the herb will lose its magical potency.

Mistletoe is known to have several names including, "all heal, devil'sfuge, golden bough, and Witch's broom. This magical herb also is believed to be sacred to the gods and goddesses, Apollo, Freya, Frigga, Odin and Venus. The mystical powers of mistletoe have long been at the center of much folklore. One is associated with the Goddess Frigga. The story is told that Mistletoe is 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 that greatly alarmed his mother, for if he died, all of life on earth would end. In an attempt to keep this from happening, Frigga went at once to the four elements 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 harmed by any deed from this world or below it. Balder did however have one enemy. Loki, the god of trickery and confusion. Loki knew of one plant that Frigga had overlooked in her excursion to keep her son safe. It grew neither on the earth nor under the earth, but on apple and oak trees. It was the beloved mistletoe. Loki made an arrow tip of the mistletoe, he then gave it to Hoder, the blind God of winter, who shot the arrow 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. Frigga, the goddess and his mother finally restored him. 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. It is believed that this was the core for the translation of the old myth into a Christianized way of thinking and acceptance of the mistletoe as the emblem of that Love which conquers Death.

Its medicinal properties, whether real or imaginary, make it a just emblem of that Tree of Life, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations and draws parallels to the Virgin birth of Christ. Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites. They probably originated from the belief that it has power to bestow fertility. It was also believed that the dung from which the mistletoe grew possessed "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 a device called a kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, could not refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she could not expect 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. 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.

Holiday Spot
Herbal Magick by Gerina Dunwich, New Page Books

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