Symbols - What does heaven look like
Mistletoe is an extraordinary potent symbol, with a rich interwoven tapestry of associated meanings.
Much of its symbolism derives from the Celts and the Norse mystic systems, as such the symbolism, strictly speaking, only applies to the European Mistletoe (Viscum Album, Santalaceae) rather than its many cousins in other parts of the world. Mistletoe is the common name for a number of plants in the order Santalales.
So attractive is the symbolism, however, that it has spread to Australasia and to the Americas.
The Sacred Mushroom – Andrija Puharich
In western Europe there was, long before the Romans recorded it, the practice of reaping certain "magical" plants with special knives or sickles. For example, the Druids of western Europe believed that a golden plant which grew upon the oak was sacred. This plant, which is believed to be the mistletoe, appeared very rarely in the form desired by the Druid priests. When such a plant was found, the priests made a great ceremony out of harvesting it. They did this, so Caesar records it, with a golden sickle and a white cloth placed on the ground under the plant. One of the priests climbed the tree and cut off the plant so that it fell upon the white cloth.
Mistetoe is a 'hemi-parasitic plant'. These plants grow attached to and penetrating within the branches of a tree or shrub by a structure called the haustorium, through which they absorb nutrients from the host plant. Their roots thus never touch the ground.
So from this first attribute of the plant we can see some of its most powerful symbolic meaning.
As it never touches the Earth it is pure spirit, and can be representative of some of the highest Intelligences in the Intelligence hierarchy. Many of the trees to which the Mistletoe clings are themselves deeply symbolic - the Birch and the Oak both being symbolic of the Tree of Life. The Apple tree is also a favourite for the Mistletoe, another enormously important tree to the Celts and Nordic peoples. A golden apple is symbolic of both wisdom, as well as immortality.
Expressing this in a more simple way, the Mistletoe is thus a symbol of a very powerful Intelligence/Angel, one which has never become human or had any material existence and which 'resides' on the Tree of Life - is a part of the tree. Where the mistletoe has grown on an apple tree, this Angel is a also a bringer of wisdom. In this context a golden apple is symbolically similar to Treasure.
Wings and immortality
Viscum album (European Mistletoe, Santalaceae) is the only species native in Great Britain and much of Europe and is 'readily recognized' by its smooth-edged oval evergreen leaves borne in pairs along the woody stem, and waxy white berries in dense clusters of 2 to 6. So now we have some more symbolism.
It is evergreen, thus it never appears to die in Winter, meaning it is a symbol of immortality - spirit and not soul or form. By extension it can be a bringer of immortality, a donater of immortality to others.
The white berries have a very complex symbolism which has multiple facets.
Most mistletoe seeds are spread by birds, such as the Mistle Thrush. In effect the seeds also never reach the ground, they are the food of birds. You will need to read the page on birds to understand the full symbolism here, but a bird is symbolically a spiritually gifted person. Thus the Mistletoe [high ranking angel] provides the food for the spiritually gifted. As seeds can mean the soul, the seeds of mistletoe are thus symbolically the souls of the spiritually gifted.
Mistletoe is, in many materialistic and ignorant cultures, considered a pest that kills trees and devalues natural habitats, but in former times, when the people were more in tune with Nature and of a wiser disposition, there was a recognition - only now beginning to be recognised as correct - that mistletoe is an 'ecological keystone species'. A broad array of animals depend on mistletoe for food, consuming the leaves and young shoots, transferring pollen between plants, and dispersing the sticky seeds.
A study of mistletoe in junipers concluded that more juniper berries sprout in stands where mistletoe is present, as the mistletoe attracts berry-eating birds which also eat juniper berries. Such interactions lead to dramatic influences on diversity, as areas with greater mistletoe densities support higher diversities of animals. Thus, rather than being a pest, mistletoe can have a positive effect on biodiversity, providing high quality food and habitat for a broad range of animals in forests and woodlands worldwide.
It is thus an absolutely key food for birds and animals in Winter. Symbolically therefore this Intelligence provides key spiritual sustenance to all life. It is a life giver to numerous species, both literally and figuratively, but in symbolic terms a provider of sustaining and edifying spiritual input.
Everyone's gone to the Moon
So, if we summarise so far. Mistletoe is symbolic of a major spiritual Intelligence or Deity, one which resides on the Tree of Life and which is a provider of life giving nourishment and spiritual input to all, but more particularly to the spiritually gifted. It is a provider of souls to the spiritually gifted as well as the ability to 'fly' [have spiritual experiences]. It is by its nature, not in any way material and never has been and is immortal, has existed for all time. It also provides a 'home' for souls during Winter - which may mean during the time we are dead, or on the latter stages of the spiritual path.
And what is that Deity? The Moon! The Creator [as a role] is represented by the Sun and the Created ‘software’ [as a role] as the Moon. The Sun is a creative force, the Moon is the Created master copy – a reflection of the Sun. This is why the shape of the plant was important for Druids. It may be the full moon or a half Moon or a crescent Moon, but it was cut with a sickle shaped knife - again a symbol of the crescent Moon.
The shamanic influence
In all society there is the Dark side and the Light. So far the symbolism applies to the Light side, but Misteltoe also had dark symbolism.
Viscum album is a poisonous plant that causes acute gastrointestinal problems including stomach pain, and diarrhoea along with low pulse. At lowish doses it causes hypotension and hypotension can induce actual spiritual experience - usually out of body experiences.
As the Mistletoe plants mature, they grow into masses of branching stems and they have been given the popular name "witches’ brooms". Why? Because Mistletoe was added to so called Witch's ointment as one of the ingredients to help them 'fly'. They did not ingest it, they rubbed it on themselves in various 'sensitive places' so that it was absorbed, thus avoiding the gastrointestinal effects.
Most witch's ointments contain mandrake, datura etc, but mistletoe was not unknown. The effect is largely induced by shock from the poisoning!
European mistletoe, Viscum album, was not only a key part of Celtic and Norse mythology, it figured prominently in Greek mythology, and is believed to be The Golden Bough of Aeneas.
The Golden Bough which the Grecian Sybil instructed Aeneas to discover enabled him 'to enter the world of the dead'. This implies that mistletoe was used in the first part of the Mysteries to provoke rebirth experiences, probably in similar ways to that used by witches - poisoning!
In the 13th century Prose Edda, due to the scheming of Loki, the god Baldr is killed by his brother, the blind god Höðr, by way of a mistletoe projectile, despite the attempts of Baldr's mother, the goddess Frigg, to have all living things and inanimate objects swear an oath not to hurt Baldr after Baldr had troubling dreams of his death.
Here is a suitably coy quote from Wikipedia:
In cultures across pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality), possibly due to a resemblance between the berries and semen.
The juice from the berries is exceptionally sticky [so that it adheres to the bough] and as such the symbolism is quite apt. White and sticky. Given that both the Celts and the Norse races, as well as the Greeks practised sexually based methods of initiation - Sexual stimulation and Sex magick - as part of their Mystery religions, it is not suprising that this added symbolism was important.
Kiss, kiss kiss
When a person kisses another person they form a Bridge. A bridge is a substance of any sort which can act as a bridge between our composer and the composer of the substance concerned. Saliva can act as a bridge, for example, as can other ‘body fluids’ – I will leave this to your imagination. In effect, by kissing someone, you have made it easier to communicate with that person without words. You have an intuitive feel for what they feel and are thinking.
If you kiss under the misteltoe, you are symbolically kissing under the Moon and thus obtaining spiritual input very easily. In effect, to kiss under the mistletoe is symbolically [and actually] enhancing your chances of being able to communicate wordlessly with those you love. Kiss your dog under the mistletoe and you will no longer have to shout at him, he will intuitively know what you want. This could be very useful in sheepdog trials [sorry - a bit of humour here].
When Christianity became widespread in Europe after the 3rd century AD, the religious or mystical respect for the mistletoe plant was integrated to an extent into the new religion.
"In some way that is not presently understood, this may have led to the widespread custom of kissing under the mistletoe plant during the Christmas season". The earliest documented case of kissing under the mistletoe dates from 16th century England, a custom that was apparently "very popular at that time".
In fact we can understand the preservation of this ritual, if we know the symbolism. By preserving the symbolism in a very pleasant pastime - kissing all and sundry under a pretty bush - it is not lost at a time of heavy persecution of anything 'pagan'.
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 is replaced the following Christmas Eve. The tradition has spread throughout the English-speaking world but is largely unknown in the rest of Europe.
In effect, a great deal of the symbolic value of mistletoe was preserved by including it as part of the Christmas celebrations. Christmas, as we should all know, is itself a pagan feast adapted for use by the early Christian fathers.
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Culpepper's Complete Herbal on Mistletoe
- Dickinson, Emily - The only ghost I ever saw
- Eleanor C Merry - The Flaming Door - Mistletoe
- John Michell - The View over Atlantis – Choosing sites and shifting sites
- Mrs Grieve on Mistletoe
- Pliny – On the sacred role of mistletoe to Druids
- Sir James Fraser – The Golden Bough - Mistletoe in Italy
- Sir James Fraser – The Golden Bough - The mistletoe
- Sir James Fraser – The Golden Bough - The mistletoe
- Virgil - The Aeneid - Mistletoe
- W.Y. Evans-Wentz - The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries - Mistletoe and the Silver bough