Thursday, December 10, 2009
Among the many decorations that we use during these holidays, the Mistletoe is the most popular. Many home owners will hang the mistletoe somewhere in their doorways hoping to catch some unsuspected victim.
The Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant which means it does grow attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub, but it can live on it's own. The word 'mistletoe' can be related to the German word mist meaning dung and tang for branch, since the Mistletoe is known to be spread in the feces of birds moving from tree to tree.
The most popular usage for the Mistletoe is when two people are caught underneath a branch or sprig of Mistletoe, hanging from above, has to kiss. This custom can be traced back to a Scandinavian origin.
In Norse mythology, Balder was a god of vegetation . His mother, who was Frigga, had a dream of the death of her son. Worried about her son, she made every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to ever harm Balder. Frigga accidentally overlooked the small Mistletoe plant. The mischievous god Loki who knew of this mistake took advantage of this for he didn't like Balder. He tricked the blind god, Hoor, into killing Balder with a spear which was made from the Mistletoe. Of course Balder died and then the world went into the season of winter until the gods restored him to life.
Frigga declared the Mistletoe sacred, ordering that from now on it should bring love rather than death into the world.
Many uses of the Mistletoe by the Druids were lost because the Druids did not believe their teachings should be written down. Then the Romans came along and kill a lot of the Druids therefore a lot of sacred knowledge was lost with their deaths. The Mistletoe is a poisonous plant especially the berries. The Druids were considered a pro when it came to handling the Mistletoe. The white berries some say were the seamen of the Gods. It was considered to bestow life and fertility, a protection against poison and an aphrodisiac. When Balder died it was said that when Frigga cried her tears landed on the mistletoe creating the white berries.
Mistletoe was regarded as a sexual symbol and the soul of the oak tree. It was gathered both midsummer and winter solstices. The use of decorating homes at Christmas is a tradition that was a survival of the Druids and other pre-Christian traditions.
During the Middle Ages, branches of Mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. Around Europe, they were hanged over doorways, windows and in the stables to prevent the entrance of evil. It was also believed that the Mistletoe from an oak tree could extinguish fire.
It was a tradition that if enemies were feuding or battling and they met underneath a tree with Mistletoe in it, they were required to lay down their weapons and declare a truce until the following day.
In Rome, the Mistletoe played an important role in the Saturnalia festivals which were held during the Yule season to celebrate the birth of Saturn.
Of course the Christians had to get their hands in the action. An old Christian tradition said that the Mistletoe was once a tree that furnished the wood from the cross that Jesus was hung on. After the Crucifixion, the tree shriveled and became a dwarfed parasitic plant. The Mistletoe was ashamed. Imagine that!