Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Holly Tree

As we celebrate the holidays rather we call it Christmas or Yule, most of our decorations consist of Holly. The Holly was used back in the ol' country during these holidays, as well. What was so special about the Holly?
     The Holly was known by different names. In Norfolk it was called Hulver. Devon, Holme and in Dartmoor, it was called Holme Chase. It was also known by Christ's Thorn, Hulver bush, Bat's Wings, Tinne and Holy Tree. There are over 400 species of the holly tree.
     The early Romans would send boughs of Holly along with other gifts to their friends and family when they celebrated the holiday of Saturnalia. It was the Roman festival of Saturn held around the 17th of Dec.
     Through the advice of the ancient druids, our Eastern European ancestors would bring Holly into the homes not only to protect the home from malevolent spirits but also to give the faeries of the home a place to be sheltered so there wouldn't be friction between them and the humans., but please make sure you remove all Holly out of the house before the eve of Imbolc because one leaf left in the home could cause misfortune. Also, whichever of the prickly-leaved or smooth leaved Holly was brought into the house first, dictated whether the husband or the wife respectively were to rule the household for the coming year.
     The Holly tree deities were: Lugh, Tannus, Taranis, Thor, Tailiu, Habondea and Tina Etruscan. The planetary ruler of the Holly is Mars. The Holly was thought to be a male plant and also associated with the element fire. The charcoal from burning the wood of the Holly was favored by the smiths. The charcoal would burn strong and for a long time. Charcoal from the Holly was used mostly for forging the swords, knives and tools that were necessary for survival and protection.
     Like many other beliefs, the Druids also favored the Holly tree. There were strong taboos about cutting down a whole tree. Even the Duke of Argyll had a road rerouted to avoid cutting down a distinctive old Holly  in 1861.
     The Holly tree was known for many ritualistic purposes and symbolic meanings: life, death, re-birth, holiness, consecration, material gain, physical revenge, beauty, immortality, peace, goodwill and health. The tree was thought to be very magickal since during the winter months when most of the trees had lost their leaves and looked so bare, the Holly tree kept it's greenery and it's red berries were very noticeable against the snow covered ground.
     Druids would take Holly water ( not holy water, but I'm sure there is a connection somewhere.. lol ) and sprinkle it on newborn babies to protect them. Sounds familiar.... hmmmmm  something else stolen by the Christian religion from our pagan ancestors.
      If anyone had a problem with coping with depression and loss of sleep, the Holly was used to help the victim. The Holly could be used to enhance dreams. If Holly was gathered on a Friday after midnight, wrapped in a clean cloth then tied up using 9 knots and then placed under a pillow, then the dream would come true. The juice from fresh Holly leaves could be sniffed to stop a runny nose. Soaking some Holly in vinegar and left for a day and a night was used for corns. Now some folks would carry a piece of Holly in their pockets to promote good luck, especially a man.
      In the Black Forest area, the leaves of the Holly tree were sometimes used as a substitute for tea, but I wouldn't suggest it. Any parts of the Holly tree esp. the berries can be deadly.... the berries are poisonous to us humans. If you're think of using any remedies like this, I would suggest seek out the advise of a Herbalist who knows what they are doing.
      Animals could eat the berries and nothing would happen to them. Folklore suggested that the wood had a power to tame animals. Horse carts or coaches were made from the wood of the Holly tree. Sometimes when the food for the cattle was running low during the winter, people would gather up young stems of the Holly tree and use it as cattle feed.
     Looms in the 1800s used Holly for the spinning rod because Holly wood is dense and can be sanded down real smooth. The threads wouldn't get snagged on the spinning rod. The white chess pieces were also made out of wood for the Holly tree.
     As I said, the Druids consider the Holly tree to be sacred. In the Celtic tree calendar the Holly represents the 8th month of the year ( July 8t through Aug. 4th) which includes the Celtic festival of Lughnassadh or Lammas. In Celtic mythology, the Holly King was said to rule over the half of the year from Summer to Winter Solstice then him and his brother, the Oak King, would battle. The Oak King would win and rule until the Summer Solstice.
     Pliny the Elder thought the Holly was a good plant for protection. He suggested that it should be revered and planted near homes or farms. He advised that it was good for protection against poison and defend from lightning and witchcraft. He also suggested that it's flowers could cause water to freeze and if you threw a Holly twig towards an animal, even without touching, it had the power to compel the animals to return and lie down. I bet the prisoners in the arenas wish they had some Holly. LOL
     So when you use the Holly, rather it be real or plastic, for decorations this holiday season, you will have a great conversation piece for when you and your family have that moment of awkwardness. LOL

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