Mistletoe has always been a bit of an enigma, and although it is a plant that parasitises some of our native deciduous trees, it holds such a serene beauty that it has captured the imagination of European cultures throughout the ages.

Today mistletoe is strongly related to the Christmas celebration, notably used by men as an acceptable excuse to kiss any woman they can by encouraging, persuading or tricking them to stand underneath it.

The traditions that surround the parasitic mistletoe are steeped in European myth, many of which have been passed on generation to generation through centuries of our history. The earliest stories we know of about date back to the Druids, Celts and the Norse who believed that mistletoe possessed strange and magical powers.

It was down to the mystery of the mistletoe's method of reproduction, along with its ability to remain evergreen while over-wintering on dormant,and leafless hosts, that led many cultures to link this plant to spontaneous generation, fertility and aphrodisiacs.

The druids in particular venerated it, especially when found it attached to oak trees. It's believed that they would cut the mistletoe ceremonially from these 'sacred' oaks with a golden knife. After which it would then be used to create medicines which they thought would cure sterility and counteract poisons.
A popular practise in medieval England involved women wishing to conceive. They would wrap mistletoe around their waists and wrists to increase fertility. However in Brittany, Northern France, the plant is known as Herbe de la Croix because it's thought that Christ's cross was made from mistletoe wood. The story goes that mistletoe once used to be a tree in its own right, and it was wood from this tree that was used to make Christ's crucifixion cross. As a punishment for its role in the death of Christ, the mistletoe was cursed, no longer welcome to a place on God's earth. This led the mistletoe to return as it's seen today, as a parasite dependent on other trees for its life.

In ancient Scandinavian, Norsemen saw the mistletoe as a plant of peace. They revered it so much that if they happened to engage in battle beneath it they would laid down their weapons and maintain a truce until the following day.

It's believed that the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe arose from these Northern European legends which went hand-in-hand with another notable Norse story, the myth of Baldur.

Baldur's death and resurrection is one of the most fascinating of all the old Norse myths and is believed to be at the conception of mistletoe being regarded as a "kissing" plant. Baldur's mother was the Norse goddess Frigga, and when he was born she made every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm him.

For some unknown reason she overlooked the fated mistletoe plant and the mischievous Norse god of the Norse Loki decided to take advantage of this. In a tale of treachery the malevolent trickster Loki discovered her oversight and fashioned a dart made from the plant. Then, in a cruel trick, placed it in the hand of Balder's brother Hodor - the God of Darkness - and offered to guide his hand while teaching him to shoot darts. As he did so, he guided the dart directly into Baldur's heart. Frigga's tears of mourning were so wretched that the hapless mistletoe took pity on her. From that time on it bore milky white berries that were formed from her tears. This was the demise of Baldur- a vegetation deity in the Norse myths - and it was the sadness of his death that brought winter into the world. Eventually other Norse gods took pity on her and restored Baldur life back to him. Overjoyed, Frigga pronounced the mistletoe sacred and ordered that it should be used to bring love into the world instead of death. Complying with Frigga's wishes, any two people passing under the mistletoe would now celebrate Baldur's resurrection by kissing underneath it.

Over time these myths transposed themselves into eighteenth-century England when at Christmas time a young lady standing under some mistletoe could not refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship, but if the girl remained unkissed then she could not expect to marry until after the following year. In some parts of England the tradition is slightly different believing that anyone who kissed underneath mistletoe would be cursed never to marry. Here the tradition is to burn the mistletoe on the twelfth night as this will break the curse.

Elsewhere in England the mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens around Christmas time, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it. For every kiss they pluck a berry from the bush, but once the berries are gone the privilege ceases.

For related articles click onto the following links:
CALLICARPA BODINIERI var. giraldii 'Profusion'
How Does Mistletoe grow
How to Propagate and Grow Mistletoe

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