Monday, March 16, 2015

Sacred Harvest from the Crown of the Oak King

"A mistle thrush at home

within my heart,

The god of Light

laid low by my evergreen dart;

Although my lady

wears pearls each spring,

I must depend upon

the kindness of strangers

for almost everything

as I cannot stand up on my own.

Yet for my love of kisses

I am most well known!

Fertility and protection

I bequeath

to all who gather

round my sacred wreath."

For those new to the game, each poem is inspired by a Teacher found in Nature; a star, stone, animal, plant etc that holds lessons of Wisdom for us. Can you guess who is singing today? Congrats to Poppy (O.R.M.E) and Jan Neavill Hersh for naming this Teacher!

“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don't need a lot of money to be happy--in fact, the opposite.”
― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.  ~George Bernard Shaw

"Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence." ~Eric Fromm

Phoradendron leucarpum is a variety of semi-parasitic plant native to North America and Mexico, while Viscum Album is the Old World variety, both commonly referred to as Mistletoe. Mistletoe is a poisonous plant which will cause acute gastrointestinal problems as well as lowering pulse rate, and it is potentially lethal.  However like many possibly harmful plants, it does appear to have several potential health benefits in modern medicine. 

For centuries in Europe, Mistletoe was used to treat epilepsy, infertility, hypertension and arthritis. Today it is primarily being studied for its potential effect on tumors and cancer. While all tests to date have had major weaknesses in their design that raise doubts about the findings (For example, many of the studies had a small number of participants or did not have a control group.), studies are indicating that this Teacher kills cancer cells as well as stimulating the immune system.  Extracts of mistletoe have also been shown in the laboratory to prevent the growth of new blood vessels needed for tumors to grow.

Bird lime, All Heal, Devil's Fuge, Donnerbesn, Thunderbesem, Witches Broom, Holy Wood,  Wood of the Cross, and Golden Bough are other names for this interesting plant. "Mistel" is old Anglo-Saxon for dung and the original "tan" meant twig, so the name for this plant was Dung-on-a-twig! It's evergreen leaves produce food for it year round, keeping its ovate leaves green and active. Ancient Celts took this as a sign of  It's sticky white berries attach easily to the limbs of their host plants, primarily deciduous trees. Apple and Oak are most well known for bearing Mistletoe, and both are excellent Teacher to examine as potential Balancing Energy for Mistletoe. It is believed that the host plants influence on Mistletoe alters its very makeup and when used medicinally, the host plant is acknowledge within the name of the end product; for example, IscadorP comes from pine trees, IscadorU from elm, IscadorQ from Oak and IscadorM from Apple.

Mistletoe spreads so quickly, gardeners are often dismayed in their attempts to curb or remove this plant from hosts. Only female Mistletoe produces the distinctive sticky white berries, while males produce pollen. A variety of birds feed on and digest the pulp of Mistletoe berries, excreting the living seeds that will stick tightly to any branch they might land on. While fresh seeds will fall and spread mistletoe from upper branches to lower creating fresh growths of Mistletoe, birds do assist greatly in spreading this plant. 

Once a berry, digested or fresh, establishes itself on the limb of a tree, it rapidly begins extending rootlets (haustoria) through the bark and into the tree's water-conducting tissues. At this point it can grow rather slowly, potentially taking years to reach maturity, bloom and produce seeds. Mistletoe forms a rounded bush-like adult grouping of woody stems and oval evergreen leaves about 2 feet in diameter. Old mature plants may be several feet in diameter and some host species will develop large swollen areas where the mistletoe has penetrated. Hosts can typically support a few branches worth of Mistletoe without any noticeable harm beyond the infected areas. However large infestations will stunt growth, reduce the vigor of the host and can kill the host plant if the infestation grows large enough, particularly if other stressors like drought are present.

Ancient Celts treasured the Mistletoe, particularly those growing in Oaks. They gathered it in a special ceremony during the Winter Solstice using golden sickles, and catching it in white cloth before it could touch the ground. Sprigs were hung in the home as protection and to encourage fertility in man and beast. It was even hung over cradles to prevent theft by the Good Folk (faeries). Fighting of any sort was prohibited beneath the watchful gaze of the Mistletoe, therefore bringing peace to any area where it was hung. 
"Phoradendron" means "thief of the tree" in Greek, acknowledging it's largely parasitic nature. In Navajo, this plant was known as "Basket on high". Ancient Romans used Mistletoe during Saturnalia, the gift-giving winter festival celebrating the birth of Saturn, god of Agriculture. The custom of taking one kiss for each berry upon the hanging Mistletoe comes from Saturnalia. In one tale, Mistletoe was once a tree and used to fashion the cross of Christ. It shriveled up in shame, and dedicated itself to bringing only good to those who pass beneath it.

While this interesting plant features in tales from several cultures, perhaps the most well known tale out of time involving this Teacher is the story of Baldr (Baldur/Balder), the Norse god of Truth and Light. Tales vary, but basically Frigga, Baldr's mother, foresaw his death. So she and his wife went to all the beasts and plants in turn asking each one to swear never to harm Baldr. Belonging neither to the Earth nor the Air, the Mistletoe was overlooked and it was from this that Loki, god of Mischief, fashioned the arrow/dart/spear that killed Baldr, bringing Winter into being for the first time. At the unified requests of the gods, Baldr was restored and our cycle of seasons established. The Mistletoe was given into the care of the goddess of Love, Frigga, whose tears became the white berries of the Mistletoe. She declared that the Mistletoe must be remembered as an emblem of Love not Hate. Therefore those meeting beneath a Mistletoe should kiss in truce and lay aside their differences.

Peace Bringer, Evoker of Kisses, and ecological keystone species, this distinctive plant reminds us that powerful Medicines of all sorts must be treated with respect for if used carelessly or outside of their proper context, they can be just as dramatically harmful as they can be helpful. Love too can be a Medicine, whispers the Mistletoe. On the longest night of our year, this Teacher asks us to remember that we are all connected, and the harm we inflict on others we are really doing to our selves. Practice laying aside whatever divisive differences you perceive between yourself and others. Then try looking beyond the concerns of your own species and consider others. More than 200 species of birds have been recorded nesting in mistletoe in Australia alone, and this potent Teacher's first message is that of building a healthy Community.
“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. ”
― Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation."

― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

Keywords: Community, Protection, Love, Truce, Fertility, Immortality/Rebirth, Health, Exorcism

Associated With: Baldr, Frigga, Freya, Odin, Venus, Apollo, Saturn, Christ, Winter Solstice

Potential Balancing Energies: Trees like Apple, Oak, Ash, Cottonwood, Pear, Almond. A wide variety Birds like Mistle Thrush, Robin, Mistletoe birds, Cardinals, Diamond Firetails, Painted Honeyeaters and Spotted Owls. Animals like Elk, Deer, Opossum, Squirrels and Koalas. The Sun, Winds/Air, Water, and a variety of insects from Caterpillars to specific species like the Mistletoe Weevil.

No comments:

Post a Comment