The lay that is no lay calls for a tree
That is no tree, of low yet lofty growth.
When the pale green of autumn casts her leaves
My leaves are freshly tufted on her boughs.
When the wild apple drops her goodly fruit
My All-Heal fruit hangs ripening on her boughs.
Look, the twin temple-posts of green and gold,
The overshadowing lintel stone of white.
For here with white and green and gold I shine –
Graft me upon the King when his sap rises
That I may bloom with him at the years prime,
That I may bind him in his hour of joy.
The fae of frost and ice have arrived here at last; the hedgerows are white with frost, the trees sparkle in the winter sun and Mistletoe hangs in glistening bunches of gold and silver.
We have been very privileged to be gifted a huge amount of Mistletoe this week from a good friend of Wytchenwood. He has custodianship of an ancient apple orchard that nestles at the base of our local iron-age hillfort and it was necessary to remove some of the Mistletoe from the trees; this will be shared between us and the local Mistletoe Society (more of that later). When dried, the wood of the Mistletoe looks like old bones because of the “knuckles” at each end and so Mistletoe is also know as Druids Bones by us.
There are many types of Mistletoe around the world but Europe’s Viscum Album is the original from which most traditions are based upon. It is the only Mistletoe that has very distinctive forked branches with paired symmetrical evergreen leaves, the white berries and the beautiful golden colour it assumes with age.
Mistletoe is very sacred and Pliny wrote about how the Druids of these isles revered it, especially that which grows in an Oak tree. According to Pliny, the Druids would go out in search of the Mistletoe when one of the Elders dreamt of it; if no dream came, it was a very bad omen indeed. Once they found it, they would return on the sixth day of the Moon, then the chief Druid would set about cutting it from the host tree using a golden sickle or knife because to touch it with iron would be to profane it. Beneath the tree, the other Druids held a piece of white cloth or a white cloak to catch the Mistletoe as it fell; if it touched the ground it would be worthless as all the sacredness and magical virtues would be defiled and lost.
Once it had been caught, they would take it back to their groves where rituals and rites were performed for the gift of the Mistletoe and then with great ceremony, sprigs of it would be handed out to the people who would hang it over their doorways and animal dwellings.
It was believed that by doing this, the home and animals would be protected form all evils; sickness, witchcraft, fire, thunder and lightening and it would even ensure fertility. No wonder it became known as All Heal, one of the folk-names for Mistletoe.
Mistletoe is very much revered if it grows in an apple tree or a Rowan tree around here and so did the local Druids; there are quite a few local legends about the Druids and as we are in the heart of “Apple Country”, the legends of the Druids associate them with the apple trees.
In Norse mythology, the Goddess Frigga had a son named Baldr who was the best loved of all the gods. Frigga loved him so much that she wanted to ensure that no harm could ever come to him and so she set off through the world securing promises, that they would never harm her beloved son, from everything that sprang from the four elements; fire, earth, air and water. But Loki hated Baldr and so he devised a way of killing him. Loki realised that there was something that was not of fire, earth, air or water; it was the Mistletoe. It has no roots in the earth yet grows, it is not in the air because it is anchored to it’s host tree and it is not of fire or water; it is between the elements, so he made an arrow from the Mistletoe and gave it to Holder, Baldr’s brother who was a keen hunter but blind. Loki guided Holder’s hand and directed the arrow at Baldr’s heart where it hit and Baldr fell dead.
Frigga’s tears became the white berries of the Mistletoe but Baldr was restored to life by the gods and they dedicated the Mistletoe to Frigga and gave her control of it as long as it never touched the ground which was the domain of Loki. Frigga, in return, made the Mistletoe a symbol of love, friendship and goodwill and promised to bestow a kiss upon anyone passing beneath it.
This is believed to be the origin of the tradition of hanging Mistletoe from the ceiling and kissing beneath a sprig of Mistletoe. In Scandinavia, if enemies met beneath Mistletoe, they had to lay down their arms and hold a truce for twenty four hours, again reinforcing the Mistletoe as a plant of peace.
In Greek mythology, heroes were granted passage to the underworld so long as they carried the Golden Bough.
Today Mistletoe is still revered and is a necessity of the Yule and Christmas evergreen decorations, although still not welcome in churches; only Holly and Ivy are allowed in them – still far too pagan for the likes of the clergy!
It is hung up in our homes and the traditional kisses still take place beneath it; for every kiss claimed, a berry is removed and the kisses can either strengthen the existing bonds of love or instigate and bless a new relationship. Also it has been used for centuries as a formidable love-witching ingredient in magical powders.
It is considered by many to be very bad luck to bring the Mistletoe into the house before Christmas eve and when it is brought in, it must be hung up immediately. When the festive season is over, a sprig of Mistletoe has to remain in the house until the next Christmas eve, when a new sprig replaces the old one; this sprig that remains in the house for a year is believed to ensure good luck, good health and protection.
Burnt Mistletoe is added to charm bags for good luck and in France, a bag of burnt Mistletoe is carried when conducting business or handling money for a good outcome. Also in France, the Mistletoe is called the “Spectre’s Wand” as it was believed that with a bough of Mistletoe, it was possible to see spirits and to command them.
In England, Mistletoe is still sometimes burnt in the fields at New Year to ensure a good harvest.
When worn, it is believed to ward off sickness and is hung on bedposts for a good night’s sleep and for pleasant and magical dreams and preventing the “Night Mare”; on the beds of children, it is believed to stop the Little People taking the child and leaving an Elf-Child in it’s place. It protects the wearer from baneful witchcraft and averts evil, while women often carry it for aid in conceiving.
For centuries it was hung in the dairy to protect the cattle and the milk from witchcraft and the malicious “Little People” or from witches spoiling the milk and the butter.
The Mistletoe was not supposed to be cut from the tree; it is supposed to be blown out by the wind, knocked out using sticks or stones or better still, it was advised at one time to climb a tree where a Magpie had it’s nest. Once near the nest, you were supposed to annoy the Magpie so much that it would fly around in such anger that it would knock the Mistletoe out of the tree.
Mistletoe is still so special to us in our locality, that there is a special National Mistletoe Day. This day is held on the first Saturday in December and a huge Mistletoe fair is held. Mistletoe is brought to the fair and an auction is held for it; buyers come from hundreds of miles around to buy it. The town is decorated with mistletoe sprigs and all it’s variations; photographs, drawings and paintings of mistletoe and mistletoe embroidery.
There will a crowning of the Mistletoe Queen and the Holly Prince who will reign for twelve months.
Some of our Mistletoe will be used for the Solstice decorations and the rest will be carefully air dried and then used in powders, incenses, charms and oils. I think we will have enough to last a while!