Friday, December 10, 2010

365 Days, Day 186

Mistletoe Meaning and Definition 1. (n.) A parasitic evergreen plant of Europe (Viscum album), bearing a glutinous fruit. When found upon the oak, where it is rare, it was an object of superstitious regard among the Druids. A bird lime is prepared from its fruit.

'Mistletoe,' said Luna dreamily, pointing at a large clump of white berries placed almost over Harry's head. He jumped out from under it. 'Good thinking,' said Luna seriously. 'It's often infested with nargles.'" (J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

To us South Africans - who have only seen plastic, artificial mistletoe – the real thing is rather thrilling. We came across some sprigs for sale at Tulley’s Farm, and bought a bunch. Rather extravagant, but deliciously exciting! This resulted in me looking up meanings and history of mistletoe.

O! Mistletoe!

Held sacred by both the Celtic Druids and the Norseman.

Once called Allheal, used in folk medicine to cure many ills. North American Indians used it for toothache, measles and dog bites. Today the plant is still used medicinally, though only in skilled's a powerful plant.

It was also the plant of peace in Scandinavian antiquity. If enemies met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms and maintained a truce until the next day.

Mistletoe was used by the Druid priesthood in a very special ceremony held around this time...five days after the New Moon following winter solstice. The Druid priests would cut mistletoe from a holy oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground.

Celts believed this parasitic plant held the soul of the host tree. The priest then divided the branches into many sprigs and distributed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils.

Now for the kissing part.

Although many sources say that kissing under the mistletoe is a purely English custom, there's another, more charming explanation for its origin that extends back into Norse mythology. It's the story of a loving, if overprotective, mother.

The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements--fire, water, air, and earth--that they would not harm her beloved Balder.

Leave it to Loki, a sly, evil spirit, to find the loophole. The loophole was mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood. To make the prank even nastier, he took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead.

Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant - making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.


Mistletoe is a controversial and misunderstood herb. A common decoration during the holiday season, mistletoe has a long spiritual and medicinal history.

Mistletoe caught the attention of early shamans and druids because of its ability to suddenly appear growing on the branches of sacred oak trees. It is a plant that never touches the ground and stays green all year. These seemingly magical qualities, have earned this parasitic plant a special status in pagan and Norse folklore. Like many "magical" plants, it was hung over doors to ward off demons. Its ability to seemingly grow without the aid of the ground and to spontaneously appear in high branches (seeds of the berries are spread by birds) made it an important symbol for fertility both for Europeans and Native Americans.

From a medicinal point of view, mistletoe has a "moving, dispersing" quality that made well known as a treatment for cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis and other "blockage type" disorders.

We shall use our mistletoe for a little bit of childhood fairytale magic in our home at Christmas.

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