The Thirteen Trees
Ogham Moon Calendar
The Five Trees
The Half Year
The Sacred One
See also - buying mistletoe links on my Dairyblog page - entry Dec 13th 2010
The Golden Bough, worshipped and revered by the Druids - Mistletoe (botanical name Viscum album) has to be the most mystical and magical of all the plants in the Ogham tree Calendar.
It rules a day all to itself – the day of 'A year and a day' - December 23rd, a day that is between the thirteen lunar months and two days after the Winter Solstice. As suits its character - betwixt and between.
The name ‘Mistletoe’ is derived from ‘Misteltan’ which was an Anglo Saxon word meaning ‘different twigs’.
Its common names give clues to its character – among them are All-heal, Birdlime Mistletoe, Golden Bough, Devil's Fuge and Mistel.
Two names were given to the plant after the introduction of Christianity into Europe, when the use of misteltoe as decoration was banned from the churches - Herbe de la Croix and Lignum Crucis.
No wonder the mistletoe was so venerated, an evergreen semi-parasite, growing on a deciduous host tree – poplar, apple, birch and oak being four of its favourites - it forms a large ball, only clearly seen in winter when the host trees are bare – apparently appearing from nowhere like a magical sun.
The globe of evergreen mistletoe was hope of life amongst death and decay – and so it became the magic portal – the means to opening a gateway between the realms of the living and the dead.
This superb picture of the
The seed is attached to branches by birds and slowly - very slowly at first - grows into a hanging bush which can be as large as one-and-a-half metres in diameter. The leathery textured leaves grow in pairs, oval in shape, and very rounded at the tips.
The flowers of spring are quite insignificant – but they develop into the familiar translucent, sticky white berries that will stay on the plant all winter if they’re not eaten first by the few birds who make them part of their diet.
One of these birds is of course the Mistle Thrush. – aptly named ‘Turdus Viscivorus’ from its sticky berry mistletoe eating habits!
Read more about him, and listen to him singing on this RSPB web page.
Mistletoe growing in an apple orchard in Worcestershire, every tree festooned.
Mistletoe Healing and Medicine
All Heal – Omnia Sanantem– once considered a cure and panacea for every ill. Used by the Druids for everything from reversing poisons to aphrodisiacs.
Mistletoe has largely been used as a mild cardiac sedative in the treatment for symptoms of heart disease, including headaches and loss of balance. It's still thought that it may also lower blood pressure, having been used by some North American Indian tribes as a treatment.
The famous 16th century herbalist Thomas Culpeper was sure that it could relieve the symptoms of epilepsy - “falling sickness” - by being drunk as an infusion or put into a bag as a talisman and hung round the neck Both the leaves and the berries, fresh and dried, have been used as tinctures, hot infusions for poultices, and powdered to be dissolved in alcohol or water.
These days it is used extensively in parts of Europe – particularly in Germany – with special reference to its ability to reduce tumours in an extract called Iscador. Under medical supervision, it can be injected straight into the site of the tumour. Its properties are still the subject of much serious medical study.
It’s so easy to make your own –
Rows of fresh mistletoe for sale at the annual Tenbury Holly and Mistletoe auctions. My photo taken Dec 2011.
Element: Air Ruling Planet: Sun Gender: Masculine
A prime symbol of masculinity owing to the white sticky fluid which exudes from the berries, the mistletoe was thought to either fall from heaven onto the oak tree where it grew, or came there as the result of a lightning strike. As it has no roots in the earth, it is a ‘between places’ plant – a plant of magic, of thinning veils between the worlds, a plant of dawn and dusk.
It became an emblem much prized by the craftsmen and artists of the Art Nouveau period:
Tiffany globe lamp c1921
Lachenal carafe c1926
Silver napking ring c1895
Mistletoe is allied with two Sun Gods – one from the south - Apollo, who was a master of healing, and who passed his knowledge and skill on to his son Asclepus. Greek tales tell of his ability to cure all manner of ills with sacred mistletoe, which grew abundantly on his associated trees – the apple and the poplar.
The other from Norse mythology, where mistletoe is intertwined with the legend of the much loved Sun God Balder. He was killed by a spear or arrow carved from mistletoe after his mother Frigg had travelled through the nine worlds and made the gods promise that nothing on eath could cause his death. As we’ve already mentioned – mistletoe grows between earth and sky, and so didn’t count, or was overloked in the promise.
It was because of the manner of Balder's death that Shakespeare referred to it as ‘baleful mistletoe’ when describing a mournful place -
‘The trees, though summer, yet forlorn and lean,
Overcome with moss and baleful mistletoe.’
'Druids Cutting the Sacred Mistletoe'
In more northerly parts of Europe, it was the mistletoe growing on the Oak that was considered sacred. Because its roots don’t grow in the earth it is a plant of the heavens, of life in darkness.
In fine Druid tradition (still continued in parts of England, and being revived in others) the mistletoe is cut to celebrate Winter Solstice or Yule (Dec 21st – 22nd).
Legend has it that the bunches were cut from the tree by a Druid priest, amongst much ceremony, on the sixth night of the new moon before the solstice.
He must cut using a sickle made of gold, and the plant mustn't touch the earth, so should be caught below the tree in a white cloth.
On Yule night, it is paraded and blessed, and distributed to all the sun worshippers at dusk or dawn on 21st, when the sun rises.
From that moment the days lengthen and warmth gradually comes back to the earth to germinate seeds and stir the sap in the trees.
A strangely modern seeming interpretation of the Druid legend - with figures looking more like Aztecs, but it does show the white bulls in great detail.
In an early tradition that is NOT being revived, the Druids would parade two fine white bulls, decorated with mistletoe. They would then sacrifice them to the Gods and Goddesses in the hope that light would indeed come again to the earth and prayers would be received.
Richard Folkard, in his splendid 'Plant-Lore, Legends and Lyrics' 1884, wrote that the Druids believed that ......
'The mistletoe, in addition to its miraculous medicinal virtues, possesses the power of opening all locks; and a similar property is by some ascribed to Artemisia, the Mandrake, and the Vervain.'
Probably because of its pagan associations, it’s believed to be unlucky to bring mistletoe into the Christian church along with the fir, holly and ivy for December decorations.
In some places mistletoe was also picked on Mid Summer’s Night, and in France it forms part of the New Year’s Day traditions. "Au gui l'An neuf" (Mistletoe for the New Year).
These days, literally tons of mistletoe is picked at Christmas, in fact there are worries that as the old apple orchards are grubbed out to make way for small trees, trained for easy picking, mistletoe will soon be scarce. Find more in this article of Dec 11th 2010 from the Independent.
Exquisite Christmas card design by Thomas Crane (brother of Walter) 1887
Hanging a sprig of mistletoe in our houses for Christmas, comes down to us from the old Druid tradition. You may steal a kiss under the branch (remember, mistletoe is the symbol of masculinity and fertility), but in times past, only if the man could pluck a white berry from the sprig to give to the girl. Berries all gone? No more kisses.
As to taking down your Yuletime mistletoe - well there are two traditions for this and you must take your choice! One insists that the mistloetoe must be burned on Twelth Night. No burrning - then no luck for the kisses stolen under it.
The other is just as sure that you must leave your mistletoe hanging all year, preferably near the hearth, until the following Mistletoe Day (23rd Dec) when you bring in the new.
Is the Mistletoe your
favourite magical Ogham symbol?
Here are two beautiful mistletoe leaf pendants, hand-crafted in solid silver from the
Click link for more details
* Hang a branch of mistletoe from the ceiling near the entrance of your house to ward off evil spirits, to prevent fires and to stop any witch from entering. Keep it even when bare, and renew at Yule the following year.
* A small piece, hung at the head of the bed will bring peaceful sleep.
* Take thirteen leathery leaves, sew them in a line with your needle charged with red thread and wear them about your forehead when you make spells for immortality or invisibility!
* For a love that lasts, kiss under the mistletoe, indoors or out. The man must take a berry from the bunch as a symbol of fertility and give it to the girl. She must keep that berry safe.
* Should you happen to be a farmer, and rear a fine herd of cows, you can bring them all luck and strength for the coming year by hanging the mistletoe bunch that was in the house over the Yuletide celebrations in the stall of the first cow to calve in the New Year.
* If you have a treasure chest or drawer that won't unlock, or whose key is lost, push a twig of mistletoe impaling three ripe berries into the keyhole. Speak an appropriate spell over it and do this one of the three nights of a full moon. The lock will release.
* Carve a ring from mistletoe wood and wear it to banish sickness.
* A sprig hung from the baby’s cradle will prevent her being stolen away by the fare-folk and made ‘Changeling’. Does this still go on with 21st century fairies you may ask?
Why of course it does!
This funny little postcard from my collection was posted in January 1911
If you're a mistletoe lover and want to find out as much as possible about the plant and growing it - I recommend
"A Little Book about Mistletoe"
by the expert Jonathan Briggs.
He also has plenty to see on the web -
read his blog and buy the book here.