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The Sacred Plants of Midwinter

By a Contemporary Druid

There are three plants that bear fruit at the Winter Solstice and have a long history with this day: the mistletoe with its white berries, the holly with its scarlet fruit, and the ivy with its green and white leaves.

The mistletoe is poisonous, but was often diluted and used to cure a plethors of illnesses, which may be one of the reasons the Druids prized the plan so highly. The mistletoe is also known as the “Golden Bough” because its leaves and berries turn yellow and may have led to the myth that the Druids cut down mistletoe with a golden sickle. The mistletoe figures into mythology as well – it was the plant that Loki used to kill the God Baldur. Among the Celts, the plant was often referred to as the “Silver Branch,” being cut from the sacred apple tree and used both as a means of announcing the arrival of a bard into the hall of the king and as a token of admittance to the Otherworld, much like to coin required to cross the river Styx. The mistletoe was also the primary constituent of the “kissing bunch,” which was a corn-doll effigy of a man and a woman bound together and wrapped in garlands of holly, ivy, and mistletoe. This was a representation of the fertility rites and echoed may be found all over the world. In Austria, a masked figure named Sylvester would be decorated with wreaths of mistletoe and would leap out of hiding to plant kisses on the cheek of a maiden. In Australia, the Aboriginees believed that the spirits of children awaiting birth lived in the mistletoe and in Britain it was common to give a kiss each time someone took a berry from the kissing bunch. These practices have led to the modern association of the mistletoe with fertility in which two people kiss when finding themselves underneath it.

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