Like so many other “Christmas” traditions, the tradition of the Mistletoe is known by many, but the depth of the roots known by few. The Druid & Norse mythological roots, when explored, reveal a cultural tradition interwoven with sensual reflections of a people long passed…
We see mistletoe hanging in doorways around the winter holidays, a symbol of love & friendship, a tradition of kissing loved ones and romantic partners. But what is the Mistletoe in it’s origins?
Known as Semen of the Gods, the Golden Bough, said to be the Spirit Keeper of the Oak while it lay dormant in Winter, Protector from Witchcraft, Lightening & Thunder; the tears of the Goddess Freya (sometimes known as Frigga: goddess of love, fertility, & beauty), the Spirit of the plant Virgil’s Ained, aphrodisiac to the Druids, and known as Allheal in Folklore Medicine (NOTE: modern medicine advises against taking Mistletoe internally). This plant was revered throughout Norse, Druid, and Pagan culture as a highly shamanic and sensual Spirit Plant.
For more detailed mythology of the Mistletoe see: http://www.goddessgift.com/Pandora’s_Box/mistletoe.htm & http://www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/articles/mythology_folklore/mistletoe.asp
Last night, I sat with elders in their 60’s & 80’s who still ritually harvest Mistletoe around the Winter Solstice, and sit around making bundles, telling the stories of Mistletoe that their elders passed to them. Among them was a grandmother named Isabella. Isabella told me, in addition to what I’d read online, that the Mistress of Mistletoe was the plant Holly. “Holly sits upon her throne, dressed in green with long red locks, always pregnant. She is the Goddess Plant of Fertility & Creation. Mistletoe is the Masculine & Holly is the Feminine”.
Albert, another Elder, spoke “The Mistletoe is said to be the Golden Bough. When hung in door frames, it protects people from witchcraft of all kinds. This is because the Mistletoe grows in the Oak Tree, and Witches cannot touch it. In April, the Mistletoe looses it’s green and radiates a brilliant Golden Hue. It is a sign that we have passed through winter, untouched by witchcraft, sickness, Lightening & Thunder, and no harm has come to our horses”.
Around April, according to Albert, the picked Mistletoe turns a “Golden Hue”, which represents that the household and land has passed through the hard times of winter untouched by the plagues of the old days (sickness, disease, thunder & lightening, witchcraft, etc.).
These legends are precious to our culture. As westerners, we are primarily Celtic, Druid, and Anglo-Saxon descended peoples. The Oaks, Rosemary, Mistletoe, and so many other plants were once shamanic to our ancestors. I find that through uncovering their mythology, meditating on their archetypes as Gods & Goddesses, and remembering & practicing ways of working with them, I come into deeper resonance with them as parts of my own spirit.
So what’s with the kissing?
Well, there’s 2 stories about the kissing. One is that the plant Virgil’s Ained was scorned by the gods and forced to thereafter look upon young maidens as they kissed. Another story suggests that young maidens could always count upon a kiss by the Divine Spirit of Balder (see mythology).
The Druids were the one’s who coined the term “Semen of the Gods” (when pressed, the berries exude a white, milky substance), and thought the plant to be a prized aphrodisiac. Representing the Sperm of the Sun God, Taranis, taking the Mistletoe berries internally was believed to give the person semen with the power of the sun.
Used for infertility, as a sexual enhancing herb, and tribute to Fertility Elements of Culture, Mistletoe is indeed a representation of the emphasis on Sexuality that our ancestors had when regarding Nature, Spirit & Reality.
Ancient people, like the Druids, knew that Creation was a sexual act, that the seasons reflected different states of that sexual expression, and their tradition of linking archetypes and representations of these Nature forces in Gods, Goddesses & Plants shows us this. Goddess praised for their sexual energy, their fertility, and their nature as temptresses mark a time when Feminine Sexuality was a revered and holy aspect of Creation, not a shamed and aversive byproduct of our humanity.
In the Druid tradition, the Chief Druid (Medicine Man), guided the community into the Oak forests, where he cut the Mistletoe with a golden sickle to be caught below by the community, all who wore white as part of the ritual. This ritual was traditionally done 4-6 days after the New Moon of the Winter Solstice. Isabella, Albert, and several Elders here in Ashland, OR have honored this specific ritual for many years.
On this Winter Solstice, I meditate upon the God & Goddess archetypes of Druid & Norse tradition. I visit the remembrance of the Goddess Holly and her love, Mistletoe. Contemplating these elements of tradition, I sit with my elders & commune in the ancient tradition of wrapping mistletoe. I have hung the shamanic plant in my home and feel a deeper, more ancestral connection to the holiday seasons. Extending beyond the commercialized approach to such sacred times in Nature’s Cycles, uncovering my own peoples roots, their connection to fertility and Godly Archetypes, I feel a deeper sense of connection to my own heritage.