Kiss the maiden but do not taste the mistletoe.
Mistletoe hanging over a head was a sure sign that a kiss was in order. However, mistletoe was misused back in the Nordic day to upset the cosmic harmony.
The following is my version of the tale from my ancient homeland at least 25% of my DNA.
Baldr or Baldur, son of Odin and Frigg or Frigga, was the beloved Norse god. Frigga secured promises from the four elements air, earth, fire and water that they would not contribute in any way to the harm of Baldr.
Leave it to the mischievous and conniving Loki to find a way to bring misery to Asgard. He discovered that mistletoe had no regard to the security obtained by Frigga since she never obtained a promise from the clinging plant between earth and heaven.
He made an arrow and had Hodr or Hoder or Hodur, Baldr’s brother—who was blind shoot the arrow. Unknown to poor Hoder, he thought Loki was helping him to shoot a stag, but it was Baldr’s heart which received his arrow.
The gods were shocked, and realized that Baldr’s death was the first portent of the dreaded Ragnarok. The end of their world was at hand.
Frigga wept and her tears, aided by Odin, fused with mistletoe and became the niveous berries which are still part of the plant to this day. Death of a god is not always permanent, and so it was with Baldr.
Frigga was so overjoyed that she forgave the baleful mistletoe and bestowed on it the romantic symbol that whoever passed underneath would receive a kiss. However, she never changed its virulent properties.
The mistletoe’s legendary kissing power is its berries. These aphrodisiac berries convey beauty, but beauty is just a cover for their poisonous nature if consumed.
However, the tradition of the Yule time still takes precedent over the true nature of mistletoe. Sometime tradition is more enthralling then history and truth.
The following is a passage from Washington Irving’s Christmas Eve circa 1850. This is perhaps, the first mention of the kissing tradition under the mistletoe on this side of the pond.
“As we approached the house, we heard the sound of music, and now and then a burst of laughter from one end of the building. This, Bracebridge said, must proceed from the servants’ hall, where a great deal of revelry was permitted, and even encouraged, by the Squire throughout the twelve days of Christmas, provided everything was done comformably to ancient usage. Here were kept up the old games of hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, bob apple and snapdragon: the Yule log and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe, with its white berries, hung up to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.”
“On reaching the church porch, we found the parson rebuking the gray-headed sexton for having used mistletoe among the greens with which the church was decorated. It was, he observed, an unholy plant, profaned by having been used by the Druids in their mystic ceremonies; and though it might be innocently employed in the festive ornamenting of halls and kitchens, yet it had been deemed by the Fathers of the Church as unhallowed, and totally unfit for sacred purposes. So tenacious was he on this point, that the poor sexton was obliged to strip down a great part of the humble trophies of his taste, before the parson would consent to enter upon the service of the day.”
Whatever your traditions for this Yule season, may it be a joyous and tranquil time for you and yours. If you hang a twig of mistletoe for the unsuspecting person to pause under, take a look in the mirror to see if Loki is grinning in the edge shadows. Perhaps, Dr. Seuss’ Grinch is based on this mischievous Nordic god.
Please add spice to the season. Have a cup of homemade wassail.
Cinnamon and cloves scenting the air is a delight. Light a lavender candle to relax during these polar nights of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
Wow, mommy’s kissing Santa Claus
I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus
Underneath the mistletoe last night
She didn’t see me creep
Down the stairs to have a peep
She thought that I was tucked up
In my bedroom, fast asleep
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus by Thomas Patrick Connor
G. D. Williams © 2017
Different mistletoe species have to be used in many countries, as the original kissing mistletoe is the original European species. So in the USA whilst the custom is widespread local species of American mistletoe – Phoradendron – are used instead of the original Viscum.
Like our mistletoe, these are evergreen and white-berried but they differ in leaf shape and branching patterns – and so do not have the full ‘sexual’ connection. Nobody seems to worry much about that though!
Inconvenient customs, such as removing berry after each kiss and thus limiting the fun, are usually forgotten. There is also increasing reliance on plastic substitutes, rather than real plants.
And if you notice that this plastic stuff doesn’t look much like mistletoe (other than being green and white), that’s because it’s modelled on the American Phoradendron, not our distinctively branched European Viscum!
Why Do People Kiss Under The Mistletoe
A sprig of mistletoe tied over the Christmas party dance floor or hanging in a doorway is generally taken as an excuse for people to pucker up.
It is mistletoe’s properties that enable it to stay green in the winter, even when the tree has lost its leaves, that led both the Celts and Norse peoples to form myths about its special properties.
7 Surprising Facts About Mistletoe
Think mistletoe is all about holiday romance? Think again. The festive plant — which also goes by the name devil’s fuge — holds some sinister secrets.
Mistletoe is also known as birdlime, all-heal, golden bough, drudenfuss, iscador and devil’s fuge.
European mistletoe (Viscum album), the traditional mistletoe of literature and Christmas celebrations, was known for centuries before the Christian era… Mistletoe was once believed to have magic powers as well as medicinal properties. Later the custom developed in England (and, still later, in the United States) of kissing under the mistletoe, an action that once was believed to lead inevitably to marriage.
12 Things To Know About Mistletoe
Often used as a symbol of renewal because it stays green all winter, mistletoe is famed for its stolen-kisses power. But the plant also is important to wildlife, and it may have critical value for humans, too. Extracts from mistletoe—newly used in Europe to combat colon cancer, the second greatest cause of cancer death in Europe and the Americas—show signs of being more effect against cancer, and less toxic to humans, than standard chemotherapy.
The kissing custom may date to at least the 1500s in Europe. It was practiced in the early United States: Washington Irving referred to it in “Christmas Eve,” from his 1820 collection of essays and stories, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. In Irving’s day, each time a couple kissed under a mistletoe sprig, they removed one of the white berries. When the berries were all gone, so was the sprig’s kissin’ power.
Old Christmas Washington Irving
“But is old, old, good old Christmas gone? Nothing but the hair of his good, gray, old head and beard left? Well, I will have that, seeing that I cannot have more of him. Hue and Cry after Christmas.”