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Mistletoe: Folklore, Yule, Spiritual & Magical Uses

Updated on:

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)

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Reviewed by: Tina Caro

Mistletoe (Viscum album (European) OR Phoradendron Leucarpum (American), Zones 6-11) is a parasite that grows on larger plants, usually hardwood trees, its roots drawing nutrients from the sap of the host plant.

It has lanceate green leaves and a short stem with many forks and can form a large, bushy clump hanging from the host plant up to three feet long. Plants are unisexual and greenish flowers form in clumps. White, translucent, veined berries with one seed follow.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Mistletoe, a semi-parasitic plant, grows on various trees, with a preference for apple, oak, and poplar trees, and has been revered for centuries due to its mystical properties.

The tradition of hanging mistletoe during Yule celebrations stems from Norse mythology, where it represented love and protection.

Mistletoe holds various correspondences in magical practices, such as protection, fertility, and love spells, making it a versatile tool in the realm of witchcraft and rituals.

Beyond its mystical attributes, mistletoe has been explored for its potential medical benefits, particularly in Europe, where it has been used in complementary medicine.

Growing Mistletoeflickr:2329017794

The juice of the berries is very sticky and allows seeds to stick to the bark of a tree. European mistletoe prefers softer deciduous trees, especially apple trees and they are frequently found on ash and hawthorn as well. American mistletoe, called Oak mistletoe is most commonly found on maple trees but also enjoys oak.

If you wish to grow your own mistletoe, you will need to obtain fresh berries. Squish them down onto the wood on the underside of a branch of an appropriate tree so that the juice makes the seed stick. Some people make notches in the wood for this purpose, but how much do you want this poor tree to go through?

A threadlike root will form in a few days and pierce the wood, eventually finding its way into the tree itself. You should select a large, healthy tree and a branch that will get plenty of its own sunlight. The mistletoe will take up to two years to mature.

Berries can be picked in autumn. The plant should be harvested in the winter and hung to dry and stored in a paper or cloth bag with plenty of circulation.

Alternatively, you can buy bulk mistletoe herb for magical use.

History and Folklore

Mistletoe has always been considered a magical, good luck plant. Lovers who kiss beneath it will have lasting happiness and carrying a sprig on your person will ensure good luck, protection, and fertility.

Hanging it in the home was supposed to protect it from disease, lightning, werewolves and having your children switched with faerie changelings.

Folklore/LegendDescription
Norse MythologyAssociated with the god Baldur, symbolizing love, peace, and reconciliation
Druidic TraditionsConsidered a sacred plant with healing and protective properties, used in rituals and ceremonies
Kissing under the MistletoeA popular tradition during the holiday season, believed to bring luck, love, and romance
Medicinal UsesHistorically used for various medicinal purposes, such as treating infertility, headaches, and arthritis
Symbol of LifeIn some cultures, mistletoe is seen as a symbol of fertility and vitality, representing the life force and the seasons of life
Table 1: Mistletoe Folklore and Legends

In England and Wales, farmers gave a bunch of mistletoe to the first cow that calved to ensure the health and production of the whole herd for the year.

In Scandinavia, mistletoe was a symbol of peace under which warring parties swore truce.

According to lore, Druids held mistletoe in high esteem and collected it only when they received a vision ordering them to do so, and then with great ceremony.

Since the seeds are spread through bird droppings, our observant forebearers named Mistletoe “dung-on-twig”, (the word literally translated is a conjugation of “birdlime” or “bird dung” and twig) believing that the plant actually sprang from the dung itself. Other beliefs held the Mistletoe grew where a tree was struck by lightning.

According to Pliny the Elder, a first-century Roman Historian, described a ritual gathering of mistletoe by Gaulish Druids in his Natural History XVI as follows:

The druids – that is what they call their magicians – hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is Valonia Oak…. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon….Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things,’ they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion. A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then finally they kill the victims, praying to a god to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it. They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons

Fir Mistletoe Viscum album subsp. abietis on a Greek Fir Abies cephalonica. Picture taken on Kithairon, at the height of approx. 1000 m.

Mistletoe as a Yule Tradition

Kissing under the Mistletoe originated with the Roman festival of Saturnalia. In England, kissing under the Mistletoe took place on Christmas, of course. The man must pick a berry when the kissing was complete, and once the berries were gone, there was no more kissing. The mistletoe must then be burned on the twelfth night to ensure that those who kissed under it would marry.

Throughout the Middle Ages, mistletoe was banned by the church because of its association with fertility and all of the fun debauchery that goes with it. As a substitute, holly was suggested. Even as late as the 20th century some churches did not allow people to wear mistletoe to services.

Mistletoe retained its lusty reputation, however. During the Victorian era, public displays of affection were largely frowned upon, but if you were standing under the mistletoe, you were going to get kissed. A tradition we still hold dear today.

Mistletoe Correspondences

CorrespondenceMeaning
ElementAir
PlanetSun
Zodiac SignSagittarius, Capricorn
DeityBaldur, Apollo, Freya
Magical PropertiesLove, protection, fertility, healing, peace, prosperity

Magical Use

Mistletoe is considered to be a plant of male energy. Indeed, the white berries are reminiscent of semen (if you imagine hard enough).

It has feminine properties as well, however. It is also associated with the sun and the element of air. It is associated with the Gods ApolloVenusFreyaOdin, and Balder.

Mistletoe is associated with both Yule and Midsummer festivals.

Use in spells to attract love, for protection, for luck while hunting, for forgiveness and reconciliation, to increase sexual potency in men and to help conceive.

It can be burned to banish unwanted spirits, laid across the threshold of the bedroom to banish unpleasant dreams, hung in the home to attract love and drive away negative influence and carried as a general protective amulet.

Its wood is useful for making wands and other ritual tools.

Healing/Magical UseDescription
Love and RomanceUse mistletoe in love spells or charms to attract love, enhance relationships, and foster harmony
ProtectionHang mistletoe above doorways or carry it as a protective talisman to ward off negative energies and harmful influences
FertilityIncorporate mistletoe in fertility rituals or place it in the bedroom to promote fertility and conception
HealingUtilize mistletoe in healing rituals or herbal remedies for ailments such as headaches, menstrual issues, and arthritis
Yule CelebrationsInclude mistletoe as a decoration during Yule festivities to bring joy, luck, and blessings
Table 3: Mistletoe Healing and Magical Uses

Cautions

Mistletoe is toxic. While you’d have to eat a lot of it to kill yourself with it, pets and small children are at a great risk. Mistletoe berries should never be taken internally.

There are many different types of mistletoe; check the botanical name before use.

Women who are pregnant or nursing should never use mistletoe!

Image Credit
from Johann Dreo @flickr Creative Commons
License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

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