Introduction; This magical parasitic plant has many references in magic and folklore. Long associated with Yule, this evergreen is native to Europe, North America and Central and Western Asia and grows roughly 1.5m in diameter. Mistletoe has long leathery leaves and its small spring flowers leave behind white, sticky autumn berries. Mistletoe can be found growing mostly in Apples, Sycamores, Ash and Hawthorn but it does grow on Oak occasionally (the significance of which is explained below) in certain locations.
Ancient Druids; It is impossible to talk about Mistletoe and not include the druids. Accounts of ancient druids and Mistletoe are drawn from Pliny and it is this that underlines many of the magical associations with Mistletoe. Oak was the most sacred tree to the Ancient Druids and the most sacred plant was Mistletoe found growing in Oak – which we know happens rarely. When those ancients druids did find Mistletoe growing within the Oak it was gathered according to a rite that took place on the 6th day following a new moon – this coincided with the druids months, years and larger 30 year cycles being organised according to the moon. The priests and those taking part in the ceremony would wear white robes and be accompanied by two white bulls, they would pray to the moon and then the priest would climb the oak and harvest the mistletoe with a golden sickle so it fell on a white cloth. The ‘victims’ (some assume the bulls – others human sacrifice) are then sacrificed with a prayer to the relevant god to ensure the plants effectiveness. Mistletoe was known as ‘All-Heal’ and was thought to ensure fertility and act as a proof against all poisons. Mistletoe pollen was also found in the stomach of ‘Lindow Man’ discovered in 1984 – possibly linking him to the druids – Ronald Huttons – Blood & Mistletoe is an excellent book to read if you want the facts on the ancient druids.
Herbal Usage; Mistletoe can be dried thoroughly and then you can use the dried leaves and the dried berries. The berries are very potent and must not be used for anything other than magical purposes as they can be toxic. The leaves however can be used for a mild infusion (tea usually!). Nervine, antispasmodic, tonic and narcotic. Has a reputation for curing the ‘falling sickness’ epilepsy – and other convulsive nervous disorders. It has also been employed in checking internal haemorrhage. The physiological effect of the plant is to lessen nervous responses. In this way the spasms of epilepsy and of other convulsive distempers are allayed. Large doses of the plant, or of its berries, would, on the contrary, aggravate these convulsive disorders.
Culpeper – ‘Misseltoe is a cephalic and nervine medicine, useful for convulsive fits, palsy and vertigo’
Ritual and Magic; Mistletoe is a positive plant associated with the Sun and Jupiter. It can be adopted as part of any ritual/spell/magic that is worked for protection, healing, love, fertility, sleep/rest, luck and also visionary purposes. Most accessible and widely adopted is to tie fresh mistletoe with a red ribbon and hang in your house at Yule, stick to the traditional ‘kiss under the mistletoe’ but keep your mistletoe all year round and then burn in the following years Yule fire. If you keep dried mistletoe berries (or you can use fresh ones) throw them into your Yule fire to symbolise something personal to you, you would like to see grow as the Sun grows stronger. If you do want to use Mistletoe for Magic it is best gathered at Litha (Summer Solstice) this also creates a good symmetry to your Yule (Winter Solstice) celebrations. In the druid ceremony of Alban Arthan (Winter Solstice) all the lights are extinguished as part of the rite to symbolise the longest night. Then a candle is lit and everyone lights their own candle from this one flame. This is a wonderful way to symbolise the rebirth of the sun, with Mistletoe berries then being distributed to all to symbolise this moment. All indeed is being healed – except perhaps if you happen to be a white bull.
The beautiful image is from the Druid Plant Oracle – illustration Will Worthington and shows the Mistletoe growing on the Oak at Yule. The Moon is in its 6th day of waning and the golden druids sickle lies on the stone ready for harvesting.
Reference Points; Druid Plant Oracle – Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm; Ronald Hutton – Blood and Mistletoe; Paul Beyerl – Master Book of Herbalism: Culpeper and Grieve