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Mistletoe Myths & Culture
Throughout the centuries mistletoe has flourished in folklore and legend
Think you know it all about Mistletoe?
Druids believed mistletoe growing on oak trees was the most sacred form
of the plant and that it offered protection from all evil, as well as
being the source of much magic. The early Christian church banned the
use of mistletoe because of its association with Druids.
The mystery of the mistletoe's method of reproduction led many people
to link the plant with spontaneous generation, fertility and
aphrodisiacs. In medieval times, women wishing to conceive would wrap
mistletoe around their waists and wrists to increase fertility.
Traditionally in Scandinavia, if enemies met under mistletoe they would
lay down their weapons and not fight until the following day.
According to Scandinavian legend, the god Balder the Beautiful was
killed by a spear of mistletoe and his grieving mother Frigg, the
goddess of love and beauty, banished the plant to the top of trees.
When Balder came back to life, Frigg made mistletoe a symbol of love.
In Brittany the plant is known as 'Herbe de la Croix' because it is
thought that Christ's cross was made of mistletoe wood. An old
Christian tradition said that mistletoe was once a tree and furnished
the wood of the Cross. After the Crucifixion, the plant shriveled and
became dwarfed to a parasitic vine.
According to a custom of Christmas cheer, any male and female who meet
under a hanging of mistletoe are obliged to kiss. The custom is of
Scandinavian origin. It was the plant of peace in Scandinavian
antiquity. If enemies met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid
down their arms and maintained a truce until the next day. This ancient
Scandinavian custom led to the tradition of kissing under the
Mistletoe bears fruit at the time of the Winter Solstice, the birth of
the new year, and may have been used in solstitial rites in Druidic
Britain as a symbol of immortality. In Celtic mythology and in druid
rituals, it was considered a remedy for barrenness in animals and an
antidote to poison, although the fruits of many mistletoes are actually
poisonous if ingested as they contain viscotoxins.
In Romanian traditions, mistletoe (vâsc in Romanian) is
considered a source of good fortune. The medical and the supposed
magical properties of the plant are still used, especially in rural
A popular myth says that the Mistletoe was cut with a gold sickle and it
lost its power if it fell and touched the ground. This is a confusion
with the Holly 'holy' Tree, the most sacred tree of the druids (after
the Oak) due to both plants being green all year, having colorful fruits
and sharing similar history of winter months. Getafix, the druid in the
Asterix comics, was often seen up trees collecting Mistletoe, and it was
alluded to be an ingredient in his magic potion.
Mistletoe has sometimes been nicknamed the vampire plant
because it can probe beneath the tree bark to drain water and minerals,
enabling it to survive during a drought. William Shakespeare gives it an
unflattering reference in Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scene I:
"Overcome with moss and baleful mistletoe".
Mistletoe is commonly used as a Christmas decoration, though such use
was rarely alluded to into the 18th century.Viscum album is
used in Europe whereas Phoradendron serotinum is used in North
America. According to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground
between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at
Candlemas; it may remain hanging through the year, often to preserve the
house from lightning or fire, until it was replaced the following
Christmas Eve. The tradition has spread throughout the English-speaking
world but is largely unknown in the rest of Europe. The appearance and
nature of the fruit's content (viscin) is very similar to or suggestive
of human semen and this has strengthened its pagan connections.
Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens) is the state floral emblem
for the state of Oklahoma. The state did not have an official flower,
leaving the Mistletoe as the assumed state flower until the Oklahoma
Rose was designated as such in 2004.