Celebrating Mistletoe on the 3rd Day of Winter Solstice
When we think of Mistletoe today, many recognize it from the kissing bough, a tradition that came to us from the Middle Ages. A berry would be picked from the Mistletoe and exchanged for a kiss. When all the berries were gone . . . well, you would need more Mistletoe if you wanted another kiss! These days the kissing bough has been replaced, in most cases, by a simple sprig of mistletoe (often artificial!).
And even that fairly recent tradition was rooted in earlier traditions: in the Middle Ages in England, Holy Boughs were created with a figure of the Christ Child and kept in the home. Visitors would be given a kiss of peace at the Holy Bough for forgiveness for any transgressions or ill will during the year. Eventually the Christian church banned Mistletoe from church decorations due to its pagan associations, but it has clearly made its way back into our modern festivities!
I love the idea of Mistletoe as a kiss of peace and would definitely like to revive that tradition!
The Solstice and Christmas traditions of Mistletoe are actually rooted in much earlier Pagan and Druidic traditions.
Mistletoe takes on a deadly aspect in Norse traditions: the trickster Loki fashions a spear from mistletoe and convinces the blind god Hodr to throw it towards Baldur, the shining joyous son of Frigg and Odin, piercing his heart. Click here for the full details of this tale. And in Greek mythology, as noted in Virgil’s “The Aeneid”, the hero Aeneas uses mistletoe (allegedly the Golden Bough) to enter the underworld.
Roman author Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79) in the first century CE wrote that the “Druids hold nothing more sacred than mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing.” And Ovid (43 BC – 17/18 AD) yet another Roman author, wrote “Ad viscum Druidae cantare solebant.” (This roughly translates as “The Druids are in the habit of singing to the Mistletoe.”)
Druids considered the Mistletoe — a parasitic plant that grows on willow, apple, and especially the Oak (seen as the most powerful mistletoe) and other species — to be both sacred (and definitely sacred to the Sun) and healing … and a magick plant, good for the heart (but beware, it is also poisonous!), a symbol of everlasting life through death, and for both sex and fertility (perhaps the source of all that Mistletoe kissing!). They celebrated Mistletoe during Alban Arthan, the Druidic Winter Solstice celebrations.
This third day of Solstice was referred to by some as Nameless Day and the Feast of Potentials (allegedly also known as the Secret of the Unhewn Stone). In some traditions, it was a stand-alone day, not associated with any lunar month. The Nameless Day was believed to have powers of change, and Mistletoe’s berries were believed to embody the essence of the Gods and Goddesses. It was also considered a powerful element in spells against darkness. And those born on this date were said to have strong intuitive senses and healing abilities.
According to a post in Magical Recipes Online the third day of Solstice “… was (and still is) a Holy day attributed only to Mistletoe, the Winter’s equivalent to Oak. Both were considered equally powerful like Yin and Yang, Light and Darkness. There was a powerful Druid ceremony called the Ritual of Oak and Mistletoe, in which Druids climbed a sacred oak and cut the mistletoe growing on it.” (Pliny the Elder wrote of this ritual in his “Natural History”).
This year, I honour these traditions with my sprig of mistletoe.