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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas the Great Inclusion; PART SIX

Christmas; The Great Inclusin
Part six - Viscum Album

Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens or Viscum Album) is a parasitic plant that grows hardwood trees for the most part. As mistletoe grows on a tree, it sends out its roots right into the tree's bark and takes nutrients from the tree. Mistletoe does not kill the tree but it is known to cause deformities in the branches. Mistletoe stays green all year long and is easily spotted in the winter time when the trees lose their leaves.

Image of Mistletoe

Ingesting mistletoe can cause severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, and in some cases can be fatal. In Europe, mistletoe is used for medicinal purposes. Here in the United States, we haven’t figured it out yet since we can’t legally grant a patent to Pfizer for a plant.

The name for mistletoe comes down to us from second century Anglo-Saxons (yes, the white people) Mistel is the word for dung. Tan is the word for twig. They called it mistletan. In the good old days they saw the birds crap on the tree limbs and then this parasitic plant would grow. Of course, the birds were leaving seeds from the berries they had eaten, but it truly did appear that this plant was the direct result of birds crapping on the tree.

In the first century, British Druids believed that this plant could perform miracles. It was used as an aphrodisiac (believe me, the human race always checks out this use first for any drug), medicinal uses, and to protect people from witchcraft. They would harvest mistletoe five days after the new moon following winter solstice. Fearing contamination if it touched the ground, it was carefully caught in a special white cloth. They would then sacrifice two white bulls while prayers were offered. Sprigs were then passed to the people who would then be protected from evil spirits and storms. Because of the consistency and color of its berry juice, it has long been recognized as a sexual symbol. Now I looked this one up. What this means leads my mind to wander.

Correct etiquette for kissing under the plant was for the man to remove one berry when he kissed a woman. When all the berries were gone, there could be no more kissing under that plant. (Yea…just try buying some mistletoe with actual berries on it.) If an unmarried woman was not kissed under the mistletoe, she would remain single for the coming year.

So, why in the world was this gnarly plant drawn into the great inclusion? For the best recurring reasons of all. It helped celebrate the very creation of life. And besides there were lots of Druids in that neck of the woods to convert. Since bulls have been hard to come by, that part of the tradition has been relegated to the hamburger chains for year round processing.

Anyone for some mistletoe berry mash?

Copyright 2006 by Cindi Jones RSS feeds allowed

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