Thursday, December 24, 2015

Mistletoe


Mistletoe is one of the classic plants we use to decorate our homes during Christmastime. It's also one of the oldest and perhaps the most "pagan" of the lot. In fact, mistletoe is considered "too pagan" so it is either not allowed in Churches or it must be blessed before being allowed inside.

Mistletoe was sacred to both the Celts and the Germanic peoples. The Celts would gather it in complicated rituals that involved a specific moon phase and the use of pure white bulls, Druid priests dressed in white cloth, a golden sickle, and a white cloth used to catch the mistletoe before it hit the ground. After it was gathered the white bulls would be sacrificed to the gods. The Celts believed that mistletoe had the power to heal all diseases and could ward off evil.

The Germanic peoples likewise believed that Mistletoe was sacred. The plant was used to kill their god of light, Balder. According to myth, Balder had dream omens that indicated he would soon die. He went to his mother, Frigga, the Queen of the Gods, and told her about his dreams. As all good mothers do, Frigga went nuts out of fear of losing her soon. So she traveled the earth and asked every single thing in existence to swear an oath that it would not harm her son. Every rock, tree, every grain of sand, every creature, and everything in existence, swore that they would do nothing to harm Balder and thus upset Frigga, whose name means "beloved". Unfortunately, an exhausted Frigga forgot to ask one single thing, the little mistletoe, to swear the oath. She assumed it was harmless. Thus, it was used to kill her son. The Germanic people believed the white berries of the mistletoe were the tears of Frigga, who constantly mourns the death of her son and will never forgive herself for failing to ask the little mistletoe plant to swear the oath. Mistletoe was viewed as the plant of peace and it was said that if two warriors met under a tree bearing mistletoe that they were forbidden to fight and must declare peace.

The modern notion of "kissing underneath the mistletoe" likely stems from the belief that the plant could increase fertility in both man and beast. It's been said that the white, sticky berries of the parasitic plant resemble semen and so this function or belief thereof, is quite understandable. The fact that mistletoe is an evergreen, retaining it's green coloring all year round only furthered the belief in the magical abilities of this odd plant.

Additionally, mistletoe was hung in doorways to repel witches and witchcraft and to protect against lightning. Mistletoe was also an ingredient in various love potions and remedies to restore fertility and especially, the male nature. The most powerful mistletoe is that which is found to be growing on oak trees. This belief likely arose because mistletoe growing on oak trees is a rare occurrence. Mistletoe can grow on oak trees but the thick bark is often too difficult for the mistletoe to penetrate. However, recently I did stumble upon a downed oak tree while out for a nature walk. The poor tree fell during our last ice storm some weeks prior. I went up to investigate the tree and to my surprise I saw tiny mistletoe leaves sprouting from the crooks of branches. These were baby plants and mistletoe takes a long time to mature. In fact, the bough that is shown in the picture above is perhaps 5 years old, if not older. One shouldn't feel bad about harvesting mistletoe despite this. In my state, mistletoe is everywhere. In fact, and believe it or not, mistletoe is the state flower of Oklahoma.

It all started during pioneer times. A young bride of only a year or so died during mid-Winter. Without having any flowers to decorate her grave, her poor husband climbed a nearby tree and plucked as many mistletoe as he could carry and used them instead. From that time onward, Oklahoma has honored the couple by viewing mistletoe as a flower.

If you would like to incorporate mistletoe into your conjure work now is the right time to gather it. In Winter, when the trees have dropped their leaves, mistletoe becomes more identifiable. Leave an offering for the plant and then harvest a bough, preferably one containing white berries. (Mistletoe has two distinct sexes so only the female plants will bear berries.) Decorate the bough with red ribbon and perhaps some jingle bells, which are also used to ward off evil, and then hang above your doorway to protect your home from evil and lightning.

A simple healing rite can be done by placing some mistletoe in a glass of water and then praying over the glass so that your breath falls upon the water. Make the sign of the cross three times and then drink the entire glass of water. Be careful not to consume the mistletoe or it's berries as it is considered toxic. The healing power of mistletoe is currently being explored. It's already said to be effective when used to treat lung cancer.

If you want to explore the love and fertility aspects of the plant, simply grind up some mistletoe and add it to your love powders. A very old recipe for a love powder that allegedly dates from medieval times includes mistletoe, elecampane and verbena or vervain, which have been powdered. This mixture, in olden times, would have been sprinkled in the food or drink of the person one wished to make love one. However, due to the toxic nature of mistletoe is perhaps best to use such powder in the tradition conjure way, in various rites, included in mojo bags, to dress candles, etc. Whole mistletoe can also be added to mojo bags and bottles used in works directly.

Don't have mistletoe growing in your area? If you live in North America, preferable the U.S., then get a hold of a bough of mistletoe that contains berries. You can then "plant" the berries on a local tree. Simply squeeze the berries until the seed pops out. It will be covered in a mucous-like, sticky goo. Next, cram this into a crook of a tree. If the bark is too thick you can use a knife to make a slight wound that penetrates the bark and then cram the seed into the wound. The wound will heal and if you are lucky within a few months you should notice the first stages of growth. One can sometimes find European mistletoe for sale here in the states. It's important that you don't attempt this method with this plant and vice verse, don't attempt to grow North American mistletoe in Europe. Let's try to stop invasive species. The good news is that most growers know this and purposefully remove all berries from their plants for sale so that they can not grow and become a problem. Growers will often put fake berries on their mistletoe for sale to try to compensate for such loss.

If you do decide to hang a bough of mistletoe in your home for protection then it should be removed and replaced each year.

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