Mistletoe and kissing are two words that go together during the Christmas season. Thousands of people hang mistletoe up during the Christmas celebrations.
We all accept that it is expected to kiss the person standing under the mistletoe.
Kissing under the mistletoe has become a common and widely used tradition in the Western world.
It would be considered very unlucky for any girl to refuse a kiss under the mistletoe. Her love life would certainly not blossom the following year with such an act.
During the 19th century it was traditional for the man to pick one berry off the mistletoe for every kiss.
When all the berries were gone there could be no more kissing.
During the Middle Ages the mistletoe was believed to be a strong fertility and aphrodisiac promoter.
Women who longed to have a child would carry mistletoe with them, either in their pouch or wrapped around their wrists.
Mistletoes in churches are frowned on.
Many churches have a long history of banning the use of mistletoe in the house of worship as it is considered a symbol of paganism.
Mistletoe Plant and Symbolism
The mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant which grows on the surfaces of trees. Birds will eat the berries and pass the seeds in their droppings. This propagates the plants.
The name “mistletoe” actually means “dung twig”.
This may be a perfect name for a plant that springs out of the droppings from birds.
Birds were thought to be messengers of the gods. The birds brought the seeds of the mistletoe to the trees.
As the mistletoe grows high up on the tree, it was considered sacred. The mistletoe never grows on the ground.
It was thought that this plant preferred to be closer to the gods and heaven.
The European mistletoe grows in par branches and leaves. This was associated with couples.
The white berries contain a sticky white juice. The white juice was thought to be a symbol of the male sperm. The berries were a powerful aphrodisiac symbol.
Many associate the tiny mark on the mistletoe berry with an X. The pattern is thought to be a symbol of a kiss.
The mistletoe is an evergreen plant. It stays green throughout the winter even though the hosting tree seems “dead”. This gave the mistletoe a symbol of new life and immorality.
Oklahoma State Floral Emblem
Mistletoe is the state flower of Oklahoma, USA. It is the oldest symbol of the state. This plant was chosen as the state flower in 1893 and remained so until 2004.
In 2004 the Oklahoma Rose was officially announced as the new state flower. The mistletoe remains a state floral emblem.
Mistletoes are common in Oklahoma and grow on trees throughout the state, especially in the southern regions of the state.
The Romans and the Mistletoe
In Ancient Rome there were many different festivals to celebrate the gods. One of them was the Saturnalia held from the 17th to the 23th of December. This festival lasted seven days and was in honor of the god, Saturn.
All shops, businesses, schools, courts and so forth were closed during the festival. Great feasts were held all over the place, both publically and privately.
The 23rd of December was the main gift-giving day. All would give gifts to each other. Children and adults would all delight in the gifts received and given in private parties in the homes. Slaves would enjoy luxurious meals.
Saturn was the god of agriculture; seedtime and harvest. The mistletoe was hung up during the Saturnalia festival.
Fertility rituals and kissing were done under the mistletoe. So kissing under the mistletoe is in no way a new tradition. It goes far back.
Though the festival of Saturnalia was a joyful time for many, there were certainly those who did not find it to be the best days of their lives. Drunkenness and rape was not uncommon during the festival.
The weekday Saturday is named after the Roman god, Saturn.
Druids and the Mistletoe
The mistletoe was sacred to the Druids. They associated this evergreen plant with protection, health, antidote and love.
The Druids were the respected and learned leaders of the Celtic tribes during the Iron Age. The Celtic tribes resided in Britain, Ireland and Gaul (Western Europe).
Pliny the Elder (23 Ad – 79 AD) was a Roman author and naturalist. He wrote the following about his knowledge of the importance of the mistletoe according to the Druids:
“We should not omit to mention the great admiration that the Gauls have for it as well.
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 a hard-timbered 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.”
The Mistletoe in Norse Mythology
Frigg was the queen goddess in Norse mythology. Her husband was Odin, the chief god.
Frigg was the goddess of marriage and mothers. Her name means “the one who is loved”. She is very beautiful. The Vikings called Venus “Frigg’s Star”.
Frigg was secretive. She had immense knowledge, but kept quiet. She shared her wisdom with only her closest of friends.
Frigg lived in Fensalir, which means “marsh hall”. Viking women were known to worship Frigg close to the wet marsh lands.
The weekday “Friday” is named after her. It comes from “Frigg’s Day” originally.
Frigg and Odin were the parents of Balder and Hod. It seems Frigg loved Balder more than anyone.
Hod was blind and not as close to his mother as Balder was.
The name “Balder” meant “the shining one”. Balder was the friendliest and kindest of all the gods.
He was a handsome man. His home was named Breidablik.
Nothing evil could ever happen inside the home of Balder. Delling, the god of Dawn, guarded this immaculate home.
Balder was married to Nanna. She was extremely devoted to her husband. Nanna was considered to be the most faithful wife of all the goddesses.
Nanna and Balder had a son named Forseti. Forseti was the god of justice.
Forseti lived in a house named Glitnir. The name means shining, it had gold pillars and a roof made of pure silver. Court could be held at Glitnir where Forseti ruled.
The Quest to Prevent Harm
It was no secret that Frigg loved Balder more than anyone. She was terrified that something might happen to her beloved son.
The Queen goddess took action to prevent anything or anyone to ever harm Balder. She made every living creature and plant swear never to harm her beloved son.
The only plant she did not demand this solemn promise from was the mistletoe. Frigg figured this little plant was harmless and could not in any way be considered a threat.
The Death of Balder – Son of Frigg
Loki, the vindictive god, overheard Frigg talking about how she had walked passed the mistletoe because she considered that plant to be so innocent.
Loki immediately went to fetch the plant and crafted an arrow from the mistletoe.
Meanwhile all the gods were playing a game of shooting arrows at Balder. They all thought this was hilarious. No matter how many times Balder was shot, he never got hurt.
The only one who was not participating in the game was Hod. Hod was blind.
Loki went over to Hod and asked him why he did not join in the game. Hod naturally replied the obvious reason, reminding Loki that he was blind.
Loki offered to help Hod. He gave Hod the arrow he had made from the mistletoe and then he held his arms to show him where to aim.
The arrow hit his brother in the heart. Balder fell dead to the ground.
Frigg was heartbroken
She would from that day on cry tears of gold, mourning the death of her beloved son.
Nanna died of a broken heart.
Odin is also filled with grief. He places his precious gold ring named Draupnir in the boat where the bodies of Nanna and Balder lay. This is the ring that reproduces eight new rings every ninth day.
They set the boat on fire and bid their farewells. Balder and Nanna were sent on their way to Hel. Hel was the ruler of the Underworld.
All the gods and goddesses of Asgard mourn the death of Nanna and Balder. Frigg was obsessed with the thought of getting Balder out of the Underworld. Odin and Frigg knew they had to try to bring Balder back to life.
Hermod Rides to the Underworld: Hel
They turn to Hermod for help. He is the brave messenger god and son of Odin. Hermod is asked if he would make an attempt to visit Hel in the Underworld and ask that Balder be returned to Asgard.
Hermod agrees to take on this mission. Odin lets him borrow Sleipnir. Sleipnir is the eight-legged horse. Hermod rides for nine days before he reached the gates of Hel’s world of the dead. With mighty force the horse jumps over the gates.
Once inside he finds Hel, the ruler of the dead. He also meets with Balder and Nanna. Hermod begs Hel to let them return to the living. Hel finally agrees with one condition.
Every living being must cry for Balder.
All Must Mourn for Balder
Hermod agrees to these terms. Before he leaves, Balder gave him Draupnir and requests Hermod to return the gold ring to Odin.
Nanna gave him some beautiful linen and asks if he would give the linen to Frigg. She also gave him some finger rings to give to Fulla.
Taking the gifts with him, Hermod returns to the home of the gods with the news.
In every corner, every living being is now crying for Balder. They all have hopes of his safe return to the land of the living.
That is everyone except one old woman named Thokk.
When Hermod asks her to cry for Balder, she simply replied that whoever belongs to Hel is hers to keep. As it turned out the old woman who had refused to shed tears for Balder, was Loki in disguise.
As a result Nanna and Balder had to stay in the Underworld.
Tears and a New Symbol of Love
Frigg continued to cry tears of gold.
Frigg did once more turn her attention to the mistletoe. She now made the mistletoe promise never to harm anyone again.
From then on the mistletoe was to be a symbol of love.
You may also want to read the Christmas Tree Spider Legend