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TT: Pagan Mistletoe
Many moons ago Richard T wrote about the Irish alaphabet which was based
around trees - the Beth-Luis-Nion ('Birch-Rowan-Ash') from the first
three of a series of trees whose initials form the sequence of its
letters), anyway here are some extracts from The White Goddess by Robert
Graves first published in 1948 discussing Mistletoe.
... The explaination seems to be that though the Beth-Luis-Nion calander
is a solar one, in so far as it expresses a year's course of the sun, it
is ruled by the White Moon-goddess whose sacred number is 13 in so far
as her courses coincide with the solar year, but 15 in so far as the
full moon falls on the 15th day of each lunation. 15 is also the
multiple of 3 and 5: 3 expressing the three phases of the moon and the
Goddess's three aspects of maiden, nymph and hag, and five expressing
the five stations of her year: Birth , Initiation, Consummation, Repose
and Death. Thus because 15 letters are needed to present the Goddess as
both a triad and a pentad, and to express the days in a month up to a
full moon, and since only thirteen 28 day months can be fitted into a
year, two of the months must be shared between pairs of trees.
...And at last we can complete the Beth-Luis-Nion calander, with the
proper tree accredited to each letter - for the doubled I, or J, letter-
tree, the tree belonging to the Day of liberation which stands apart
from the 364 days of the thirteen months is soon found. Put the
requirements of the tree into the bardic riddle and there can only be
The day that is no day calls for a tree
That is no tree, of low yet lofty growth
When the pael queen of Autumn casts her leaves
My leaves are freshly tufted on her boughs.
When the wild apple drops her goodly fruit
My all-heal fruit hangs ripening on her boughs.
Look, the twin temple-posts of green and gold,
The overshadowing lintel stone of white.
For here with white and green and gold I shine-
Graft me upon the King when his sap rises
That I may bloom with him at the year's prime,
That I may blind him in his hour of joy.
For Mistletoe, the berries of which were formally prized both as an all-
heal and as an aphrodisiac, is not a tree in the sense that it grows in
the earth; it subsists on other trees. There are two sorts of mistletoe,
the mistletoe proper and the loranthus. The Greeks distinguished them as
respectively, hypear(L.) and ixos(L.) or ixias(L.). The Lorantus is
found in Eastern Europe, but not in Western and, unlike mistletoe
proper, grows on oaks. It also grows on tamarisks, and its flame
coloured leaves may have been the original 'burning bush' from which
Jehovah appeared to Moses. Whether the loranthus was onve native to
Western Europe, or whether the Celtic Druids brought it with them from
the Danube area where their religion was first formulated, or whether
they grafted mistletoe proper from poplar, apple, or other host trees,
on to their oaks, cannot be determined. It is most likely that they
grafted it, to judge from the insistenve in Norse myth on oak-mistletoe.
Virgil notes that the mistletoe is the only tree that leafs frshly in
wintry weather. Its colours are white, green and gold like the pillars
and lintel shown Herodotus in the ancient temple of Hercules at Tyre. On
midsummer day, in ancient Europe, the Eye of the year was blinded with a
mistletoe stake, all the other trees (according to Norse ledgend) having
refused to do so. The Church now admits holly and ivy as reputable
church decorations at Christmas, but forbids the mistletoe as pagan.
However, mistletoe cannot be ousted from its sovereignty of Midwinter,
and the exchange of kisses forbidden at all other seasons is still
permitted under its bough, if it has berries on it...
... The wood, by the way, is extremely hard and tough, mistletoe being
slow growing: Haedury's mistletoe spear which pierced Balder's gentle
breast in the legend was no poetic fancy...
One thing that is apparent from Graves writing is that mistletoe was
quiet large, something which isn't borne out by todays offerings.
Myk Rushton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Middlesex University-Ecology and Ecotechnology <email@example.com>
'Know your roots'