Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mystic Mistletoe...

Mistletoe is an interesting parasitic plant. It grows on the branches or trunk of a tree and sends out roots that penetrate into the tree and steal nutrients. 

There are two types of mistletoe. The mistletoe that is commonly used as a Christmas decoration (Phoradendron flavescens) is native to North America and grows as a parasite on trees from New Jersey to Florida. The other type of mistletoe, Viscum album, is of European origin. The European mistletoe is a green shrub with small, yellow flowers and white, sticky berries which are poisonous. 

It commonly seen on apple trees, and only rarely on oak trees despite it's association with Oaks. It was considered to bestow life and fertility; a protection against poison; and to be an aphrodisiac. The mistletoe of the oak was especially sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids. On the sixth night of the moon white-robed Druid priests would cut the oak mistletoe with a golden sickle. Two white bulls would be sacrificed amid prayers that the recipients of the mistletoe would prosper. Later, the ritual of cutting the mistletoe from the oak came to symbolize the emasculation of the old King by his successor.

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Roman festival of the Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites. They probably originates from the belief that it has power to bestow fertility. In the eighteenth-century the English created the tradition of the kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance, or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she could not expect not to marry in the coming year.

In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up. In Norse mythology it is associated with the Goddess Frigga. Frigga was goddess of love and the mother of Balder, the god of the summer sun. Balder had a dream of death which greatly alarmed his mother, for should he die, all life on earth would end. In an attempt to keep this from happening, Frigga went at once to air, fire, water, earth, and every animal and plant seeking a promise that no harm would come to her son. Balder now could not be hurt by anything on earth or under the earth. But Balder had one enemy, Loki, god of evil and he knew of one plant that Frigga had overlooked in her quest to keep her son safe. It grew neither on the earth nor under the earth, but on apple and oak trees. It was lowly mistletoe. So Loki made an arrow tip of the mistletoe, gave to the blind god of winter, Hoder, who shot it , striking Balder dead. The sky paled and all things in earth and heaven wept for the sun god. For three days each element tried to bring Balder back to life. He was finally restored by Frigga. It is said the tears she shed for her son turned into the pearly white berries on the mistletoe plant and in her joy Frigga kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which it grew. The story ends with a decree that whoever should stand under the humble mistletoe, no harm should befall them, only a kiss, a token of love.

Above: Mistletoe strangling an apple tree.

However, the mistletoe is under threat, as The Guardian reports...

The future supply of traditional English mistletoe is under threat, conservationists have warned. Mistletoe thrives in established apple orchards but such habitats have seen a big decline over the past 60 years. The National Trust is urging people to buy home-grown mistletoe in the run-up to Christmas in a bid to ensure revelers can go on kissing under it. Trust ecologist Peter Brash said it would be a "sad loss" if mistletoe disappeared from its traditional areas.

At least 60% of old orchards in the "cider country" of Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire have disappeared since the 1950s. The decline has been even more dramatic in Devon and Kent, where the figure is as much as 90%. Mr Brash said: "Mistletoe is part of our Christmas heritage and has a special place in a wonderful winter landscape. "It would be a sad loss if mistletoe disappeared altogether from its heartland. We could end up relying on imports of mistletoe from mainland Europe for those festive kisses." The trust also wants people to ask where the mistletoe they are buying is sourced from. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that favours the domestic apple tree, but can also be  found on lime, poplar and hawthorn trees across the UK.

The market town of Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire holds an annual mistletoe festival with a procession led by druids. One of the druids, Suzanne Thomas, said of the plant: "It's magic. It's just amazing stuff. It's got this lovely energy about it." Mistletoe expert Jonathan Briggs said the plant benefited from a managed environment. "Unchecked, it will swamp its host tree and ultimately cause it to die," he said. "Regular, managed cropping will ensure that the host tree remains productive while ensuring that a healthy population of mistletoe will persist." Agriculture minister Jim Paice said there was more to mistletoe than its "traditional amorous role". "Buying mistletoe helps traditional British cider apple orchards thrive by removing mistletoe from apple trees," he said. "By buying mistletoe at Christmas, you're continuing a tradition that helps apple trees to flourish."

1 comment:

  1. I think the men in your pictures are just trying to get a free grope, and have built up a whole mythology to back up their improper behaviour. There was even a not so veiled threat - if she did not agree to the man's advances, no other man would marry her in the next year.



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