Saturday, December 3, 2011
Mistletoe has a long and colorful history including myth and medicinal remedies most originating in Northern Europe, the birth place of this extraordinary plant... it is amazing!
All Mistletoe plants are parasitic, meaning they attach to a host and thus take from it nutrients and water necessary to live. Over time this process may weaken or even kill the host, giving Mistletoe a rather bad reputation. In the plant kingdom, parasitism has evolved only nine times and Mistletoe has independently evolved five, making it one extraordinary species. It is a large family with over nine hundred species located in Europe, North America and Australia. Without becoming too scientific, it is safe to say that most Mistletoe is completely self-sufficient and adaptive to changes in climate.
The enigma of Mistletoe easily lends itself to lore. It hangs air born between heaven and earth, has no roots yet bears fruit, and remains green and vibrant during the winter months. It was said to have been revered by the Druids as most holy, especially if it appeared on an Oak which was their most sacred tree. The golden berries of the plant were considered a key linking the heavens and underworld. Cut with a golden sickle on December 23rd (the day of the marriage of the solar and lunar forces), it was not allowed to touch the ground but was caught with a white cloth. Two white bulls were sacrificed for the ritual which ensured fertility, protection from evil, abundance, and harmony. The ritual of kissing under the Mistletoe has its origin in these pagan beliefs.
Shakespeare calls Mistletoe 'the baleful Mistletoe,' an allusion to the legend of Balder. Norse mythology has Baldur, the solar hero child of Frigg and Odin, killed by an arrow made of Mistletoe. As Baldur descended to the Underworld, it was said that he would not return until after doomsday. Then, as the solar god, the light of the heavens, he would usher in an era of peace and light to mankind. His story is long, full of conspiracy and jealousy as the gods and goddesses of old were prone to petty emotions, however the historical power of the plant has remained.
Never to be outdone, the Greeks too have a story with Mistletoe as the centerpiece. Aeneas, a young hero, used the power of a golden bough of Mistletoe as the key which allowed for the safe entrance and return of a mortal to the Underworld. He went below and sought his father for advice and counsel and returned unharmed yet transformed and spiritually reborn.
Among Christians, it is said that Mistletoe was once a vibrant tree which was used as the wood for the cross of the crucifixion of Christ. Afterwards the disgraced tree shriveled and was reduced to a parasitic vine as punishment.
Medicinally, although the berries are poisonous, it has been used as a remedy for epilepsy with wood amulets said to ward off attacks. It has been used to reduce stress related heart palpations, relieve headaches and dizziness caused by high blood pressure, and since ancient times to treat tumors. Recent medical research has promising results with Mistletoe as a cure for cancer.
Whatever the reason to include this marvelous plant... a kiss below it, a wish for good luck, or simply a spot of bright green color... it is truly a magical addition to any Christmas decor.
*Thanks to Malcolm Brown for contributing to this article!