Mistletoe and Christmas After Celtic Pagans were converted to
Christianity, Catholic bishops, with one exception, didn’t allow the mistletoe to be used in churches because it was one of the major symbols of Paganism. Before the Reformation, a priest at the Cathedral of York brought a bundle of mistletoe into the sanctuary each year during Christmastide and put it on the altar as symbolic of Jesus being the Divine Healer of nations.
‘Mistletoe, one of the most magickal and sacred plants of Paganism, symbolizes life and fertility and protects against poison. It was considered an aphrodisiac. ‘
The English used mistletoe as a Christmas decoration for their homes. In Medieval times, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings and put over houses and barn doors to repel evil spirits. People believed the plant could extinguish flames. Although much of the Pagan symbolism was forgotten, the plant represented good will, happiness, good fortune and friendship.
‘The sacred mistletoe is a hemiparasite, partial parasite that grows on branches or trunks of trees and has roots that penetrate into the tree for food. The American plant grows on trees while the European mistletoe can also be a green shrub with small yellow flowers and white berries. The plant contains toxins that can cause physical reactions including gastrointestinal disturbances and a slowed heartbeat.’
Mistletoe Sacred to Celtic Druids
The plant has qualities including the power of healing, rendering poisons harmless, good luck, great blessings, bestowing fertility on humans and animals, protection from witchcraft and banishing evil spirits. Enemies who met Druids under the forest mistletoe laid down their weapons, exchanged friendly greetings and kept a truce until the next day. The Celts suspended mistletoe over doorways or in rooms as a symbol of good will and peace to all who visited.
‘Mistletoe was revered by the ancient Druids both magically and medicinally. It’s possible that modern mistletoe traditions have their roots in ancient beliefs.’
Druid Mistletoe Ceremony
The plant is a fertility symbol and the soul of the oak tree. Belief was that the mistletoe could come to the oak tree during a lightning flash. Mistletoe was gathered at mid-summer and winter solstices. The plant, when it grew on the venerated oak tree, was especially sacred to the Celts. On the sixth night of the full moon after Yule, white-robed Druid priests gathered oak mistletoe by cutting the plant with golden sickles. Two white bulls were sacrificed with prayers that the recipients of mistletoe would prosper.
Mistletoe and the Ancient Druids
Pliny the Elder, a Roman historian interested primarily in natural history, recorded valuable information about the Druids and their religious and healing practices. These ancient priests of Celtic lands revered mistletoe as sacred. Pliny stated in Natural History, XVI, 95 that, “The Druids — that is what they call their magicians — hold nothing more sacred than mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing…Mistletoe is rare, and when found, it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon.”
In the scene quoted above, the Druids are preparing for a ritual sacrifice which involves a white-robed priest carrying a golden scythe while climbing an oak tree to ritually cut the mistletoe. According to Pliny, it was the Valonia oak the Druid’s believed was the most sacred tree to gather mistletoe from and that it would heal poison and encourage fertility.
Mistletoe in Celtic Art
Celtic art is resplendent with what are believed to be mistletoe motifs. Some artifacts have been found that resemble human male heads adorned with a crown of comma-shaped leaves that resemble mistletoe. Historians believe these finds may be representations of crowned Druid priests.
http://www.mistletoe.org.uk/ A survey of Mistletoe use in Britain
http://www.mistletoes-r-us.co.uk/ Mistletoe matters
http://www.archaeology.co.uk/books/blood-and-mistletoe-the-history-of-the-druids-in-britain.htm The History of Druids – Blood and Mistletoe
Next blog will be about -‘Yule’
Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website