It’s Kissing Time! Mistletoe Time!
Why have I used the word intriguing? When it comes to this plant, often called “the kissing plant”, few of you happen to know more about it than just the kissing part. Yet, there are more interesting facts to be discovered about it. Even though I tend to believe that the part with the kiss is in fact the one arousing most of the interest, there is as well a whole other plethora of fascinating mistletoe facts that should be discovered. It is precisely these facts that may influence you or perhaps give you more ideas, some of them pretty extravagant, when finding yourself under the mistletoe.
“Sweet emblem of returning peace, the heart’s full gush and love’s release, / Spirits in human fondness flow and greet the pearly mistletoe. / Oh! Happy tricksome time of mirth, giv’n to the stars of sky and earth! / May all the best of feeling know, the custom of the mistletoe. / Married and single, proud and free, yield to the season, trim with glee: / Time will not stay…he cheats us so…A kiss? … ’tis gone…the mistletoe.” I came across this poem while looking deeply into the matter of mistletoe and as I happened to find it extremely beautiful I needed to share it with you. The Mistletoe has been given a pretty wide variety of names along the times, some of them clearly certifying the multitude of stories and myths wrapping this plant, some of them poetic enough to trigger more and more curiosity. I shall share part of these names with you too; whenever you hear someone talking about the so called “golden bough” you should know that those persons are in fact referring to the mistletoe. It all goes back to the Druids who are said to have used golden sickles to cut this plant. But did you know that the mistletoe is also known under the name of vampire plant? Now, there is no reason for you to worry because it won’t jump to your neck and suck all your blood but as evidences prove it, it would simply latch onto other plants and imbibe all their succulence or juice as some may say, and all this just to get the appropriate nourishment. It has been often compared to a leech sucking the blood of its victims, in this case the victim being the tree onto which the mistletoe sticks to. How does it get there? A possible, romantic explanation that crossed my mind right now is the one stating that in fact the mistletoe seed effectively sticks its ‘lips’ onto the branches of the host tree, in what turns out to be a kiss into being, its being. In the real, non-poetic existence the things are somehow different and the seed gets there after being carried by birds. Amazingly enough these birds bring the mistletoe seeds and simply place them onto the branches of the trees. How do they do this? Well, this part is not romantic at all as it implies some bird droppings. In fact, if you ever wondered about the origins of their name then you are just about to receive an answer. It is said that it all goes down to the words ‘mistol’ meaning “dung” and ‘tan’ meaning “twig”. As such the translation would be “dung on a twig”. No poetry in there, is it?
Even so, you should not be disappointed because there are much more things to be discovered when it comes to the so called weed mistletoe. Some specialists deem it to be a quite ferocious weed too and this mainly because of the way it chooses to work into tree branches and get all the needed substances from within. What needed substances? Mainly water and minerals, but even so the mistletoe contains chlorophyll and this permits it to produce some nutrients which he needs by himself. And if it is such a parasite, then how come it has made its place in the holiday period? It all probably lies in the fact that in the quite white and at times placid winter, the mistletoe comes to be considered some sort of a splash of green. And as especially during the cold season we tend to appreciate the green in nature even more, this green spot on the branches of the barren trees comes to be considered all the more magical. I’d also add that its uniqueness comes as well from the fact that it simply looks as if it came out of nowhere, growing from inside the tree. And as you all probably know that Christmas happens to be considered one magical period, so is the mistletoe plant. Amazingly enough the leaves of this plant stay green throughout winter. When hearing the word mistletoe being uttered most people think about a green bundle of leaves and white berries that we usually hang in the house at Christmas or simply picture the kiss because admit it or not this plant makes just about everyone kissable, no matter if we are talking about a stranger, a friend, a relative or perhaps a husband or wife. It can be interpreted as an occasion to be playful and play what I would call the game of kisses.
But did you know that there are two types of mistletoe? First, there is the so called European mistletoe which most surely you happened to come cross: a green shrub with small, yellow flowers and white sticky berries. Most often you would see it sticking onto such trees as apples and oaks. Then there is the so called Phoradendron flavescens which grows mainly in North America. In fact this is the plant we use to adorn our houses during Christmas. So, are there a fake and a veridical mistletoe? Some say that indeed one can speak about such a division. No matter the case, each one of you who tended to think that mistletoe was nothing but a bunch of stolen or willingly applied kisses, should stay close and discover all the rest of its unwrapping mystical nature.
Now would you like to hear more stories about the all magical mistletoe? I would let you decide if parasites can really stir so many myths and magical beliefs around them. You may wonder how people got to that kissing part and where did it all start. Did you know that at some point the mistletoe was believed to be endowed with such powers as that of resurrecting people from the dead? The Vikings living in the eight century were the ones who believed this. It all started with a god of sun, Balder who returned from the death and the mistletoe had its role in all this resurrection. As in almost any story, there has to be a good character and a bad, evil one as well. In this story, the god of sun, Balder was the good one, whereas the bad one happened to be Loki, who took his time to manufacture a poisoned dart with mistletoe. Of course a god needs to have a goddess mother, in this case Frigga, impersonating the goddess of love and beauty. Amazingly enough the tears of this goddess managed to change the color of the mistletoe berries from red into white and return Balder from the dead. Some of you may say now…end it up with that bla bla bla and let us find out something about the kissing custom. And as I do not want to leave you waiting for a longer period of time…I shall now reveal the mystery. It is said that even though used to commit an evil act in the beginning, the mistletoe then managed to be charged with positive qualities mainly because Frigga, expressing her joy started sharing kisses to all the persons surrounding her son.
So…meet me under the mistletoe phrase goes deeper than just a simple romantic mixture of words. But why hanging these mistletoe plants over doorways? It looks like a pretty fair question to me. Rumors say that this tradition can be traced back to at least two hundred years before the birth of Christ. It all started with the Druid priests who used to cut mistletoe plants from oak tress making use of golden sickles. The tradition according to which these mistletoe plants should not be lying on the land goes back to that times as well since these druid priests did all this cutting job without letting the branches touch the ground. At that time people used these mistletoe branches to protect themselves against such natural phenomena as lightning and thunder but as well to make sure that they will have a good start to the year that was about to come.
But even so did you know that at some point mistletoe too was associated with the concepts of peace and joy? I guess most of you did not know this and probably tended to associate only olive branches with such things. If you did think this then you should perhaps find out that in Scandinavian antiquity, the enemies that had the chance to go one into another under a mistletoe placed in a forest had to come to peace, at least until the next day. Amazing how a mere parasite plant could do all these things, don’t you think so?
At first the plant was considered to be pagan and as such its use during Christmas period was forbidden. But, as time went by, the plant was no more deemed as pagan and it reached new and new meanings and uses and as such turned out to be deemed like some sort of a symbol for Christmas. The northern American Indians considered it to be sacred and so did Celtic Druids and Norse. Did you know that North American Indians used mistletoe as a curing plant, in treating such diseases as measles, dog bites and even toothache?
I happen to find the stories woven around this plant very interesting. What I find interesting is also the fact that when using the word magical in relation to mistletoe we are perhaps unaware that apart from the magic touch of lips, being carried on nowadays, there was a time when this plant used to be bestowed with numerous other magical powers. I shall try to mention some of these magical powers as follows: first there was the almost undeniable healing power which made this plant just the proper antidote for such affections as infertility and poisoning, but it also had the gift, the rather miraculous gift I’d say to guard persons against the evil, malefic effects of witchcraft. In case these things were unknown to you then they must probably come as a surprise. Even so, at that time it was a pretty usual thing to place a spring of mistletoe in the baby’s cradle just to try and protect him or her from anything that might have been connected to the evil side.
Strangely enough this craziness over a spring of mistletoes (as most of you have probably labeled all this thing) went further on and reached such proportions that at some point it was even believed that if one gave a spring of mistletoe to the first cow calving after New Year then, this clearly meant that the entire herd was placed under some sort of divine protection.
Despite all this craziness labeling, some of you (those who enjoy spicy details) would probably enjoy finding out that unmarried girls could somehow envisage their future marriage (if there was going to be one, of course) only by standing under a mistletoe. How could such a thing be possible? The tricky thing was that the plant apparently sent some flames and if these ones happened to be steady then this was a clear indicator of a happy marriage, whereas if those flames were rather splitting then this was just enough to predict that the future husband would give her some headache pains.
You probably know the tradition which says that all one girl needs to do in order to dream the future husband is to place some sweet basil under the pillow. I guess you did not know that there was a time when it was believed that a spring of mistletoe could do just about the same thing.
And as there happen to be some persons out there who simply refuse to kiss or surrender to a kiss whenever finding themselves under the mistletoe then the following fact is just about meant to ‘hit’ them and why not even enlighten them. How can this be made possible? Well, perhaps when finding out that there was a time when it was said that simply surrendering to a kiss under the mistletoe could bring luck to one. Yet, if one did not want to accept the kiss, that person somehow lost the protection and was no longer favored by Gods. Later on, in the 18th century, things got even deeper and more profound if you ask me. As such, rumors say that whenever a young woman found herself under
a mistletoe she could not refuse a kiss. And all this mainly because if she did refuse it, she risked becoming an old spinster. Or at least not get married the following year!
Isn’t this just a nice way of manipulating young women? Especially when considering the fact that at that time marriage was a pretty important matter for those young ladies. The saying according to which women rush towards marriage must have been born in that period. It is nothing but a supposition and as such you should not be accusing me of telling stupid things.
How about the habit of placing mistletoes on the beehives? Why do you think British bee farmers did this? The answer may come as a surprise to many of you. It was believed that the bees kept on humming just to welcome Christ into this world.
I find it amazing how a simple evergreen spring can give birth to so many myths and stories and even more, so many superstitions and habits.
Now do not rush to tell me that in fact this plant is not a usual one. I know it very well. In fact this is what made me write about it in the first place. It was considered to be sacred because not having been introduced to such terms or notions as parasite; the pretty weird, unexplainable appearance of this plant onto the braches of the trees looked sacred to many of those watching them. Things went further and at some point druids even believed that this plant had been planted there by the gods.
Being worn around the neck in order to get protection against diseases or around the waist as it was believed that it could bring fertility to the woman wearing the mistletoe garland, or just having a spring of mistletoe adorning ones clothes, no matter the case, this plant was clearly envisaged as a good omen. There was a time when mistletoe bracelets, amulets and even rings were used to protect the wearer against witchcraft.
And since at some point I mentioned farming and cattles I have to go on and state the fact that the superstitions evolved to such an extent that it is said that European Farmers believed that a simple mistletoe spring placed in the vicinity of milk would make this one sour later and that butter churned more easily. Isn’t this amazing how rumors and various beliefs keep on spreading and how people needing to believe in something and somehow needing to bring color and story or consistence into their lives rapidly adopt them? You may contradict me, yet I tend to think that after all, all these stories and beliefs (even though envisaged by many as unreal and crazy) manage to just bring more color into our lives. It looks like we are badly needing it at times, don’t we?
Take for example the following information! Stories say that in the past, in times immemorial as some may rush to say (and they happen to be right), Mistletoe springs with berries used to be hung just to somehow illustrate that all past grieves and troubles and hatreds as well were to be forgiven. Wasn’t this just a wonderful customary belief? I tend to think that we should perhaps revive this custom. Many problems and hatreds could be solved this way.
And if you think you’ve had just enough legends involving the mistletoe plant then it looks like in this case the word enough receives newer meanings. This is just another awkward way of telling you that I will go on sharing some legends with you. Not any kind of legends but rather legends related in some way to the mistletoes plant. Have you ever heard about the legend which says that if a couple in love chooses to share a kiss under the mistletoe then this can be interpreted as some sort of marriage promise? So, you guys out there trying to steal kisses from your loved ones, yet having no intention whatsoever to marry her, you should perhaps let her know your intentions as well. However if you may be spared of all these efforts if you happen to live in a country where such a kiss is interpreted as a foretelling of such things as longevity and happiness.
Do I hear any sighs coming out of relief?
Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the custom requires a kiss for each berry. So, in conclusion for each stolen or willingly awarded kiss, you would have to pick one berry out of the mistletoe. No, the custom does not require you to eat them as they are poisonous, yet there is a much romantic side of this custom as when the berries end so does the kissing part. This is claimed to be a must when sitting under the mistletoe and as such you should perhaps obey it.
I mentioned at some point that the mistletoe’s berries happen to be poisonous. Indeed they are, yet only when it comes to humans as it was observed that porcupines, squirrels, chipmunks, as well as several birds such as robins, mourning doves, grouse and bluebirds usually include them in their menu. In fact this is how the seeds of this plant manage to spread across the trees and start drinking their energy, as it is said that these plants do.
And as I probably disfavored the Romans when talking about the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe I should perhaps not omit mentioning them too. They seem to have joined the ancient Celtic druids in their beliefs and as such they made wide use of this plant just to spice up their lives and make their women more fertile and as such increase the kissing rate. Do you happen to see any connection between kissing and fertility? After all it may all start with a kiss, isn’t it so?
“The mistletoe hung in the castle hall, / The holy branch shone on the old oak wall.” – I decide to quote these two lines written by Thomas Haynes Bayly just to make you see how old this custom of hanging mistletoes can be. It goes back to castles. And here again comes the so called legendary factor.
Did you happen to know that mistletoe is connected to thievery? Well, evidences prove it that mistletoe is a thief. Its scientific name comes to enlighten you as in Greek Phoradendron means “thief of the tree”. It looks to me like this plant likes to be a thief; first of all it steals ‘food’, meaning nutrients from its host tree, then when being hanged over the doorways it keeps on stealing kisses this time. So, is there any policeman to stop him? Of course such nice traditions should not be banned as they make people smile and forget about the problems life may bring to one.
Even so, the stealing part may go to such an extent that the poor host tree may end up dead, being left with no nourishment for itself. This clearly proves it that mistletoes have no mercy at all and do not respect their host, do they? Or can it be said that they happen to be selfish? Some of you may say that I am crazy using such words when talking about a mere plant. My answer would be: Is it the same mere plant under which you have kissed your loved one? Or, perhaps I should put it like this: Is it just a mere plant?
I think that there is much more to it than just mere. With all those legends and stories being spread around it, the mere part simply vanishes in time.
I say this having in mind the fact that at some point it was believed that the mistletoe plant could even keep under control such diseases as palsy, tuberculosis, apoplexy, epilepsy, nervous system disorders and strokes as well. We may be talking about legends only, as it hasn’t been clearly proven that the plant had any beneficial effect when it came to treating these diseases, yet in recent years medical evidences demonstrate that this plant has been used in the homeopathic treatment of asthma as well as some affections related to the heart. And if you think that medicine and mistletoe interweaved just in these cases, then be ready to find out that cancer researchers have extended their researches on the mistletoe plant too. It is amazing what a parasitic plant can do, don’t you think so?
The question is: Can the mistletoe cure a broken heart, can it soothe it in some way, bringing relief to the owner of that heart? My answer to this question would be the following one: I think that it all comes down to one’s power to believe in something, whether we are talking about a legend, a story, a weird immemorial habit. After all the mistletoe plant did not get to be known as the “kissing plant” over the night. There were millions of years that passed over it and each of these years brought its own belief, or if not its own beliefs at least managed to strengthen the older ones. What if I woke up one morning and pretended that something glows and in fact you know that that very thing has no glowing whatsoever? Wouldn’t you think I am crazy? Unless there are more like me, I would most probably be stuck with an etiquette.
But since etiquettes should be forgiven in this case and should make way to poetry I shall end this subject by quoting a very nice poem written by Walter de la mare, a very long time, to be more precise in 1913. The poem is entitled “Mistletoe”: “Sitting under the mistletoe / (pale-green, fairy mistletoe), / One last candle burning low, / All the sleepy dancers gone, / Just one candle burning on, / Shadows lurking everywhere: / Someone came and kissed me there. / Tired I was; my head would go / Nodding under the mistletoe / (pale-green, fairy mistletoe), / No footsteps came, no voice, but only, / Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely, / Stopped in the still and shadowy air / Lips unseen – and kisses me there.”11