Mistletoe, from the Old English misteltăn, is a parasitic plant that grows on various trees, particularly the apple tree, it is held in great veneration when found on Oak trees.
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Mistletoe - Mythology and Folklore - The White Goddess

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Thursday, 07 July 2022



Kissing under the Mistletoe

So just what is the story behind kissing under the mistletoe, is it a purely Pagan or Christian custom?


Mistletoe, from the Old English misteltăn, is a parasitic plant that grows on various trees, particularly the apple tree, it is held in great veneration when found on Oak trees.

Mistletoe and the Ancient Greeks.

According to Peter Haining in his book 'Superstitions', "The mistletoe, was revered by the ancient Greeks as sacred, yet superstition has it that the reason why it is so lucky to be kissed under it is that the plant once offended the old Gods, who thereafter condemned it to have to look on while pretty girls were being kissed!".

Mistletoe and The Druids

The ancient Druids believed mistletoe to be an indicator of great sacredness. The winter solstice, called 'Alban Arthan' by the Druids, was according to Bardic Tradition, the time when the Chief Druid would cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak. The mistletoe is cut using a golden sickle on the sixth night of the new moon after the winter solstice. A cloth held below the tree by other members of the order to catch the spigs of mistletoe as they fell, as it was believed that it would have profaned the mistletoe to fall upon the ground. He would then divide the branches into many sprigs and distributed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils.

The Druids are thought to have believed that the berries of the mistletoe represented the sperm of the Gods. When pressed, a semen like substance issues from the white berries. Mistletoe was considered a magickal aphrodisiac. Girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were asking for a bit more than a kiss, it seems.

The plant in old folklore is called Allheal, used in folk medicine to cure many ills, and indeed the Druids considered the mistletoe to be a sacred plant and believed it had miraculous properties which could cure illnesses, serve as an antidote against poisons, ensure fertility and protect against the ill effects of witchcraft. When taken as a form of diluted tea, it was thought as a curative for everything from infertility to epilepsy. (WARNING, this plant is highly toxic when ingested. You should seek expert advice before using Mistletoe in any form.)

Mistletoe and Norse Mythology

The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements--fire, water, air, and earth--that they would not harm her beloved Balder.

Leave it to Loki, a sly, evil spirit, to find the loophole. The loophole was mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood. To make the prank nastier, he took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead.

Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant--making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.

Mistletoe Folklore

Mistletoe was a plant of peace in antiquity. If enemies met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms and maintained a truce until the next day. This is thought to be the origin of the ancient custom of hanging a ball of mistletoe from the ceiling and exchanging kisses under it as a sign of friendship and goodwill.

According to the Anglo-Saxons, kissing under the mistletoe was connected to the legend of Freya, goddess of love, beauty and fertility. According to legend, a man had to kiss any young girl who, without realizing it, found herself accidentally under a sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling.

If a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life. In France, the custom linked to mistletoe was reserved for New Year's Day: "Au gui l'An neuf" (Mistletoe for the New Year).

It is often associated with thunder, and regarded as a protection against fire and lighting. Shakespeare, in Titus Andronicus II calls it 'the baleful mistletoe'. It is interesting to note that mistletoe was excluded from church decorations, probably due to its connection with the Druids and its pagan and magickal associations. This ancient ban on mistletoe is still widely observed even today.

Kissing-Bough (which was popular before the introduction of Xmas Trees).

A garland of greenery, shaped like a double hooped May-garland or crown, which was hung from the middle of the ceiling in the main room. It was adorned with candles, red apples rosettes of coloured paper and a bunch of mistletoe suspended from the centre.

The bough itself is called ' the mistletoe'. The candles were ceremoniously lit on Xmas Eve and then every evening throughout the 12 days of Xmas.

A Riddle

I lived my life between the worlds
Neither earth nor sky would call me child
The birds were my companions
The wind and rain my mentors
Daily I grew in power and strength
Till snatched out of time by the trickster

[Answer: Mistletoe]

The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer, Wordsworth Editions, 1993
Longmans Dictionary of the English Language, Peguin Book Ltd, 1991
A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Christina Hole, Helicon Publishing Ltd, 1995
Robert Graves, The White Goddess, Faber and Faber, 1997

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