Saturday, 19 December 2009

Yule Wreaths and Mistletoe

The tradition of hanging evergreens and wreaths on the door as we know has origins in Pagan times. We believe that evergreens have powers, they retain their leaves in winter and have come to symbolise eternal life. Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe are also seen as powerful life symbols as the bear fruits in winter. Hung and exchanged as gifts in order to help ward off unwanted spirits and to bring good fortune with new beginnings.

However although as pagans we hang them for some of these reasons they have also been adopted by the Christians, though originally not without some misgivings. The early Fathers of the Christian Church wear fearful of bringing in the Holly as they thought this would help keep alive the pagan rituals and so for several centuries the use of green boughs as a winter decoration was banned by the church. This attitude continued in parts of America (in particular New England) until as recently as the 19th century.

So as a welcome the wreath is on the door and you move inside to find the mistletoe hanging above you.
Originally a fertility “charm” and still used by herbalists the mistletoe is poisonous if the berries are consumed, so be careful with the Littleuns! In Norse, Balder was a god of vegetation. His mother Frigg, prompted by a prophetic dream, made every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm him. But Frigg overlooked the mistletoe plant — and the mischievous god Loki took advantage of this oversight, tricking the blind god Höður into killing Balder with a spear fashioned from mistletoe. Balder's death brought winter into the world, until the gods restored him to life. Frigg declared the mistletoe sacred, ordering that from now on it should bring love rather than death into the world. Happily complying with Frigg's wishes, any two people passing under the plant from now on would celebrate Balder's resurrection by kissing under the mistletoe.

"The Passing of Balder"

I heard a voice, that cried,
"Balder the Beautiful
is dead, is dead"
And through the misty air
Passed the mounful cry
Of sunward-sailing cranes.
I saw the pallid corpse
Of the dead sun
Bourne through the Northern sky.
Blasts from Nifel-heim
Lifted from the sheeted mists
Around hin as he passed.

And the voice for ever cried,
"Balder the beautiful
Is dead, is dead"
And died away
Through the dreary night,
In accents of despair.

Balder the Beautiful,
God of the summer sun,
Fairest of all the Gods!
Light from his forehead beamed,
Runes were upon his tongue,
As on the warrior's sword.

All things in the earth and the air
Bound were by magic spell
Never to do him harm,
Even the plants and stones:
All save the mistletoe,
The sacred mistletoe!

Höður, the blind old god,
Whose feet are shod with silence,
Pierced through that gentle breast
With his sharp spear, by fraud
Made of the mistletoe,
The accursed mistletoe!

They laid hi in his ship,
With horse and harness,
As on a funeral pyre.
Odin placed
A ring upon his finger,
And whispered in his ear.

They launched the burning ship!
It floated far away
Over the misty sea,
Till like the sun it seemed,
Sinking beneath the waves.
Balder returned no more!

Photos are of the wreaths we made for our homes, top one mums, bottom one Littleuns and mine.

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