“Au gui menez, ‘To the mistletoe go’, an old French phrase mummers proclaimed traveling door to door around Christmastime when they played tricks for small coins.
The Gaelic words for mistletoe are Sú Darach, Uile-íce, Drualus which translate as Sap of the Druids, All Heal and Druid’s Herb respectively. Mistletoe is not native to Ireland and is only found in a handful of places here, yet it is shrouded in mystery and folklore and particularly associated with an Grianstad an Gheimhridh, when the sun stops at the Midwinter Solstice.
This plant is considered a symbol of fertility and is associated with peace, love and understanding. It was once traditional to hang mistletoe over doorways to protect the household and in late medieval times the custom of kissing under the mistletoe seems to have replaced that earlier tradition and survives today.
Given its scarcity on this island, that’s all the more reason to treat it very reverently. It is a parasitic plant that derives all of its nourishment from its host plant particularly the apple tree but is held in great veneration when found on oak trees. All trees are sacred to the druids, but the oak and mistletoe are particularly sacred.
Grianstad an Gheimhridh (The Winter Solstice), was according to Bardic tradition, the time when the Chief Druid would cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak. The mistletoe was cut using a golden sickle on the sixth night of the new moon after the winter solstice. A white cloth is held beneath to catch the sprigs of mistletoe as they fell, fir it was unlucky to allow the mistletoe to fall upon the ground. The branches would then be separated into many sprigs and hung-over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning, and other evils. Mistletoe was placed in the crib of infants to guard against the child being stolen by fairies and replaced by a changeling. This is more a custom of the Gaulish Druids than the Irish ones though.
Mistletoe was said to cure many ills, serve as an antidote to poison, ensure fertility and protect against witchcraft, it was the plant of peace in antiquity. If enemies met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms and maintained a truce until the next day. Because it grows between earth and sky and touching neither it was considered very sacred to the druids. It can be gathered at either the winter or the summer solstice with it being most associated with winter.
Mistletoe berries contain four black, semi-circular marks around the central dot. The berries can be white or red. These represent the mystic cities of the Sidhe: Gorius, the East; Finias, the South; Murias, the West and Falias, the North. The central dot is the etheric fifth thought to be Tara, thus encompassing the circles of existence. Its symbolism being linked to the unknown, the life force, divine semen, the white berries resembled drops of semen, the red berries resembled menstrual blood, and immortality. Mistletoe seems to combine the sun and the moon energies. It will grow upside down, sideways, or in any direction it chooses, and this adds to its mystical quality.
WARNING, this plant is highly toxic when ingested. You should seek expert advice before using Mistletoe in any form. I am a proponent for sticking to kissing beneath it and even then, under advisement.