A while back I researched Mistletoe for an article and have recently put my findings to use in a WIP. So here are some things I learned:
1. Mistletoe does not root in soil but grows in the branches of trees. It relies on the support of a host tree to gather nutrients and water. Until the plant has its own leaves and can make food through photosynthesis. It bears its berries during winter solstice.
2. In the first century, the Druids believed that mistletoe could perform miracles, from providing fertility to humans and animals to healing diseases and protecting people from witchcraft. The Druids would cut mistletoe off oak trees in a special ceremony five days after the new moon following the winter solstice. The Druids believed that the mistletoe would become contaminated if it touched the ground, so they used a special white cloth to catch it. The Druids then sacrificed two white bulls while prayers were said, and priests gave out the mistletoe sprigs to the people, who believed they would then be kept safe from evil spirits and storms.
3. No one loves a party like the ancient Romans, and their festival of Saturnalia is one of the most documented celebrations of the Winter Solstice. This week-long bacchanal included exchanging of gifts, lots of food and wine, dancing and music. Slaves got the week off work, courts were closed, and all kinds of debauchery took place. This festival honored Saturn, of course, and he was an agricultural god. To keep him happy, fertility rituals took place under the mistletoe. Today, we don't quite go that far under our mistletoe (at least not usually) but it does explain where the kissing tradition comes from.
4. In Norse mythology, (rambling explanation) Baldr, son of Frigga and a mortal, was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe. Frigga goddess of love had said if anything of the earth or elements killed her son she would destroy all living things. They took an oath not to kill him. Because Mistletoe grows on trees and not in the earth it wasn’t part of the oath. The Norse gods and Baldr played war games because nothing could kill him. Loki made the arrow of mistletoe and tricked Hoder to use it. It killed Baldr. Frigga’s tears turned the berries from red to white. When the god of the underworld heard of Loki’s deceit he returned Baldr’s soul. Frigga took mistletoe into her keeping; making it an instrument of Love. It could no longer kill Baldr. She kissed all who passed beneath it in thanks for Baldr coming back to life. (Starting the symbolism of kissing beneath the mistletoe as a sign of love,)
5. The correct mistletoe etiquette stemming from Victorian times is the woman should be cought unawares under the mistletoe. The man approaches and requests a kiss if granted he removes one berry when he kisses a woman. When all the berries are gone, there's no more kissing permitted underneath that plant.
6. One legend states that a couple who kisses underneath mistletoe will have good luck, but a couple neglecting to perform the ritual will have bad luck. Specifically, it is believed that a couple kissing under the mistletoe ensure themselves of marriage and a long, happy life, while an unmarried woman not kissed under the mistletoe will remain single for another year.
7. Maidens placed a sprig of mistletoe under her pillow to dream of the man she would marry.
8.. Burning a sprig of mistletoe foretold the type of marriage. A steady flame a happy marriage would follow. Flickle sputtering flames indicated an unhappy marriage.
9. Mistletoe is also a symbol of peace. Enemies that meet under it are sworn to lay down their arms embrace and call a truce til the next day. This probably links mistletoe to the Christmas season too.
10. Leaves and young twigs are used by herbalists, and it is popular in Europe, especially in Germany, for treating circulatory and respiratory system problems.
11. The sticky juice of mistletoe berries was used as adhesive to trap small animals or birds. In South Africa it is called "Bird lime" in English and voelent in Afrikaans. A handful of ripe fruits are chewed until sticky, and the mass is then rubbed between the palms of the hands to form long extremely sticky strands which are then coiled around small thin tree branches where birds perch. When a bird lands on this it gets stuck to the branch and is then easy to catch by hand.
12. The herb was used historically in Old Europe for treatment of epilepsy and other convulsive nervous disorders, and was used extensively in the 16th and 17th centuries. Mistletoe is a nervine, and a narcotic, that is, it has a profound effect on the nervous system. Eating the berries can cause convulsions in children. Herbalists use Mistletoe Phoradendron flavescens teas slow the pulse and lower blood pressure, treat arthritic pain and snoring. There are valuable medicinal uses for this herb, but there are many safer, less toxic choices to treat the same conditions available to the home herbalist. It may be best to enjoy mistletoe's tradition of decorating our homes in the winter season, and reflecting on it's legendary promise of the return of new life in the spring.
13. Un-tweaked peek at scene using mistletoe:
Grace fiddled with her dance card and tried to stand nonchalantly beneath the mistletoe, as if she had no clue it was there. She blew away a wisp of unruly hair broken free from her coif and noted one white berry remained…one kiss to be had.
She glanced around the room. Samuel Howards made his way towards her. She should be happy he was perfect husband material. He was a choice that would please her father. Still she could not help but be disappointed. And as he moved closer and smiled, she could not help wish the kiss would be given to…
“You seem to be standing beneath the Mistletoe, Grace.”
She looked up into brown eyes flecked with gold…Daniel. Excitement skittered through her. “Am I?”
Labels: Friday Fun Fact, Mistletoe