Video: Mistletoe Golden Bough
In Christmas floristry, mistletoe occupies an incredibly prominent place for such a nondescript plant, not distinguished by expressive flowering. Perhaps, not only its fresh appearance in winter against the background of bare silhouettes of trees played a role, not only the modest grace and tenderness of greenery, not only translucent winter berries similar to icy drops of water, but also the halo of mystery necessary for this holiday that has developed around the plant.
In Europe, branches of mistletoe with white berries are sold everywhere at Christmas, included in festive compositions and wreaths, hung from a chandelier or over a door. In the Middle Ages, instead of chandeliers, wooden frames were specially made, on which mistletoe branches were fixed interspersed with scraps of colored cloth, nuts and fruits. According to English custom, once under the mistletoe, the couple must kiss and pick a berry, and you can kiss a stranger. The berries will run out, and with them the reason for the kiss will disappear. This tradition is more than one hundred years old, although it became especially widespread at the beginning of the 19th century, as evidenced by at least the lines from the "Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club" by Charles Dickens, published in 1836-37:
Under the mistletoe. English postcard 1846 “Old Mr. Worll had just hoisted a hefty branch of mistletoe with his own hands, and this branch immediately became the scene of the most general and delightful battle and confusion, in the midst of which Mr. Pickwick … took the honorable lady by the hand, led her to the magic branch and greeted her with all the refinement of etiquette, as it should be on this occasion."
The mistletoe branches were left hanging dry until the next Christmas Eve to ward off evil, to protect the house from fires and lightning, and a year later they were solemnly burned, replacing them with new ones. And a bunch of mistletoe outside the house in the old days served as an indication that they were ready to provide shelter to the traveler.
It is believed that the origins of these beliefs lie in Old Norse mythology, where mistletoe is subordinated to the goddess of beauty and fertility Freya, and patronizes love, health and prosperity in the house. Or perhaps they refer to the times when the New Year's festivities were just emerging in the form of the ancient Roman Saturnalia (December 17-23), accompanied by numerous wedding ceremonies with mistletoe, which was then considered a symbol of innocence and chastity.
In the mythopoetic tradition, mistletoe acts as a symbol of life. In Virgil's Aeneid, the Trojan War hero Aeneas extracts the “golden branch” (mistletoe), sacrifices it to Proserpina and thanks to this penetrates the underworld to meet with his father, and then returns back.
In the famous Scandinavian myth "Dreams of Balder", a young and beautiful god, the beloved son of the goddess Frigga, sees in his dream an ominous omen of his own doom. Frigga, trying to protect him, takes an oath from all things and creatures that they will not harm Balder, without taking it only from the insignificant and inconspicuous shoot of the mistletoe. When the gods were amused by shooting at the invulnerable Balder, the jealous Loki took advantage of this, slipping a fatal mistletoe rod to the blind god Hödu. Balder dies from him, and the tears of the inconsolable Frigga turn into the white berries of mistletoe, which has since become a symbol of peace.
The mysterious mistletoe, attracting attention with its serene winter beauty, possessing both healing and poisonous properties, occupied an honorable place in ancient magic. Its berries were revered as the fertilizing dew of divine origin. According to magical treatises, it is the herb of salvation.
The ancient Celts attributed special miracles to it - because it could be found on the king-oak, the sacred tree of the druid priests. She was the most important of the seven sacred herbs, along with verbena, bleached, primrose, lumbago, clover and aconite. Druids with great ceremonies collected mistletoe on an oak at Christmas, at an hour precisely determined by astronomical calculations, cutting it off with golden sickles and not letting it fall to the ground, so that it does not lose its strength. Only from the juice of the mistletoe growing on the oak, and harvested in the designated short period of time, it was possible to obtain an elixir rich in magnetism that worked wonders.
According to various popular beliefs, mistletoe is able to reconcile enemies, heal from any ailments and scare away evil spirits and witches, help find a treasure or open a castle. And a mistletoe drink can make a person invulnerable. At the same time, sorcerers are not given to take advantage of the magical properties of the plant.
People often endowed mystical power with something not very understandable, falling out of the usual range of things. So it happened with the mistletoe, because there is so much unusual in this plant.
Mistletoe (Víscum) is a genus of evergreen shrubs of the Santalaceae family. It unites about 70 species that grow in Europe, subtropical and tropical Africa, tropical Asia, in the northern part of Australia. On the territory of our country, it is almost never found, only occasionally in the southwestern part of the forest and western forest-steppe zone of the European part of Russia, in the Crimea, in the Caucasus, in the Kaliningrad region.
Mistletoe is a semi-parasite - penetrating roots under the bark, reaches the very core and lives with plant juices, but at the same time it is not completely dependent on the host, as its green parts photosynthesize. Over time, the plant on which the mistletoe has settled begins to wither, showing dryness, and sometimes even dying completely.
White mistletoe on a tree The most common species in western and southern Europe is white mistletoe(Viscum alba). It grows on the branches of many woody plants - both forest and fruit, both deciduous and some conifers. There are several subspecies that are highly selective in relation to the host plant. Each specimen lives up to 10 years. Forms a spherical bush on the surface of the branches, on average 30-40 cm in diameter, but sometimes exceeding 1 m. Stems are woody, dichotomously branched, fragile in nodes. The leaves are elliptical, located oppositely only at the ends of the branches, are replaced in autumn after 2 years.
White mistletoe blooms in March-April. The plant is dioecious, male and female flowers are formed on different specimens. Yellowish green, four-petalled flowers clustered in 3 or more in the axils at the tops of the stems. Although they are inconspicuous, they have a scent and are supplied with nectar, pollinated by insects. In August-September, almost spherical, up to 1 cm in diameter, white, translucent false berries ripen, and remain on the branches until spring. There is little pulp in the juicy fruit, it is almost completely occupied by a large, grayish-white heart-shaped green seed without integuments, but surrounded by sticky mucus - viscin. The mucus allows the seeds to stick to the birds' beaks and spread to other trees. For this, the mistletoe was called Bird's Glue, although there is another, South African version of the origin of this name - having chewed the ripe fruits of the local mistletoe species,from the resulting mass, they allegedly rolled up sticky threads and wrapped them around small tree branches to catch small birds and animals. By the way, such trapping belts are also effective against insect pests; the sticky pulp of white mistletoe is still used for them.
Interestingly, the origin of the English-language name for the plant mistletoe, from the Old English mistiltan, presumably having German roots mist - manure, and tang - a branch, and implying that the plant spreads with bird droppings. It has now been established that passage through the intestines of birds is not at all necessary for seed germination.
Old French New Year's card According to the legends of the Druids, the mistletoe is sown by arrows of lightning that hit the oak. Now, in order to observe the ancient tradition and include an elegant twig in a Christmas wreath or composition, you do not need to go into the forest with a golden sickle. Mistletoe became the subject of ordinary industrial cultivation, people learned to sow it on tree trunks themselves. The industrial cultivation of mistletoe in apple orchards is established in several counties in the UK. For over 100 years, Tenbury Wells has hosted a wholesale mistletoe auction in early December and, in recent years, a festival featuring contemporary druids.
However, France was the most successful in cultivating mistletoe, even surpassing the local in the English market. In France, it is often referred to as Bonheur Porte - “a gift for good luck”, and is presented here on New Year's, not Christmas.
Meanwhile, in nature, white mistletoe poses a serious threat to European forests. It is estimated that it has already inhabited about 230 species of deciduous plants belonging to 100 genera, and their list and number continue to expand at a truly magical pace.
Surprisingly, this, in general, a negative character of the plant world, did not acquire any negative attitude from the side of man. On the contrary, this plant is historically a helper and healer. Mistletoe was considered a plant of John the Baptist and was considered an all-healing remedy.
According to Pliny, "mistletoe promotes conception if a woman carries it with her." In contrast, women used it the next morning after winter orgies so as not to get pregnant. There is an assumption that kisses under the mistletoe are echoes of this very application, which has a real basis - the presence of natural progesterone in mistletoe fruits has been scientifically established. Traditional medicine used it to heal dozens of various diseases, including epilepsy. In the Middle Ages, it was considered a universal antidote. Modern official medicine treats hypertension and angina pectoris with mistletoe, a drug is produced against neuralgia, and in Germany, mistletoe extracts are sold as antineoplastic agents. For medicinal purposes, young shoots with leaves are used, and in homeopathy - and fruits. Like many medicinal plants, mistletoe is a poisonous plant containing a mixture of toxic proteins,dangerous viscotoxins and lectins, which are more in greens than in fruits.
Since the days of the ancient Celts, the sacred halo of the mistletoe has certainly faded. Rationally speaking, they believe that it became a symbol of vitality due to the ability to survive the winter green on the host plant, and a symbol of fertility thanks to paired twigs and leaves, as well as berries, which suggest associations with the organs of procreation both in appearance and in content. …
As for the ancient beliefs of the Druids, little is known about them for certain, more and more from the works of Pliny, often prone to exaggeration, and philosophers of the relatively recent 19th century. So it is worth treating them more like fairy tales that are so easy to believe on Christmas Day!
Mistletoe is one of the favorite subjects of jewelry and art works of the Art-nouveau style (1890-1910)
A. Fly. Portrait of a girl with mistletoe
Mistletoe is one of the favorite subjects of jewelry and art works of the Art-nouveau style (1890-1910)
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