The murmur of bee, A witchcraft yieldeth me… Emily Dickinson
This last blog in this series of winter reading is meant to be light and fun. I hope this series has presented options for new discoveries or relearning as I often say these days. They are just a peak into the wealth of knowledge and information in developing your sacred space. All the best on your journey.
Starting with Garden Flower Folklore by Laura Martin. A good resource for planting seasonal flower gardens. Laura walks you through seasons, a bit about them and wraps up with a floral calendar.
Garden Witchery, Magic From the Ground Up by Ellen Dugan. This book helps you to understand the magic that resides in your sacred space. From histories, poems, and spells to the Language of the Flowers and crafts. If you are planning a moon garden, Ellen’s chapter on Moon Gardening, Magic, and Astrological Timing is a must.
The Magic of Trees by Tess Whitehurst. Tess brings a current understanding of tree magic mixed with traditional knowledge. Discover why the Aspen talks and what it is telling you. The Manzanita and why it needs fire. The Tulip Tree and the sprite who lived there. Each tree listed has magical components of the ruling element, energy, and planet. You may discover why certain trees speak to you through this book.
Magical Gardens, Cultivating Soil & Spirit by Patricia Monaghan. One of my much-loved books. Each chapter walks you through developing your vision of a sacred space. You will understand building a relationship to the earth, give yourself permission to dream and create your own style of sacred space. You may want start at the last chapter where lovely descriptions of different sacred spaces are described. See which ones draw you in.
How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack by Chuck Sambuchino. The title says it all. Get your coffee, go out into your sacred space and let the laughter roll over you as you attempt to share your space with the gnomes.
A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because some one expended effort on them. Liberty Hyde Bailey
In Philip Dorf, Liberty Hyde Bailey: An Informal Biography: a Pioneer Educator in Horticulture (1956), 83.
I’m going to be lazy in this blog. Partially after a week of being cold, howling winds, limited sleep and two papers to finish. This collection of titles speaks for themselves and can assist in winter planning. They are part of my technical hard-core section of my library. This collection reminds me there is always something to learn, sometimes relearn or re-acquaintance myself with or just explore. The first 3 books are solid reference books on plants, their behavior and what they can do for you. I feel the titles tell you what the books are all about.
The last book covers soil in urban tree management. A 21st century understanding of what it takes on planting street trees, approaching soil requirements and general concepts of overall management of them. James Urban maintains a website with resources to understand the delicate balance and wisdom needed when planting trees. If you are engaged in tree city programs and policies, this is a good reference to have handy.
“The old men say the earth only endures you spoke truly you are right,” Teton Sioux*
This quote is from a song that speaks to the relationship nature, agricultural, and humans. It speaks to the earth and human roles as keepers and stewards. Sacred spaces are a place where we can find peace and learned to be stewards.
In this next collection of books, these are ideas on learning the ways of stewardship or guardianship while helping you, the individual become one with your sacred space. All of these books cover aspects of scents in a sacred space. Something I always try to incorporate as I help individuals create their sacred spaces.
Garden Retreats, Creating an Outdoor Sanctuary by Barbara Blossom Ashmun. If you can only get one book on building your sacred space, make it this one. All components are covered from the ground up to integrating color options, textures, and plants to your space. Reading this book will help the beginner to the experience reconnect with nature and their own vision.
Gardening for Seniors by Patty Cassidy is a great introduction into developing sacred space and deciphering tools, positions, and different types of gardening. She presents step-by-step techniques and projects for the aging body that still desire to be in nature. Garden types that included soil management to suggestions of plants, and safety precautions.
Spiritual Gardening, Creating Sacred Space Outdoors, by Peg Streep. A delightful book helping to develop a sacred space with fragrance, style and structure. Peg covers many styles, Celtic, Gia, and Zen etc… The focus is design, spirituality and healing. Now go make that mini labyrinth.
The Fragrant Path by Louise Beebe Wilder is a classic in building year-round fragrance to your sacred space. I have 2 copies of this book, one to lent out to clients and the other for my reference. Louise walks you through the seasons, so if you are only in a 2-season area, options are presented. And just not flowers, bulbs, shrubs, and trees are discussed. Even those weird and wacky scents that have nothing to do with the human nose such as hawthorns, Herb Robert, and Stapelia (carrion cactus). This is a great book to read during the winter when the snow is several inches high and you long for the breeze to bring in joy.
The Holistic Garden by Karen York. Sacred spaces are about healing. As I have stated before, it does not matter the size or object. The objective is always an attunement to nature. This delightful book reflects that. It’s a book of kindness. It starts with the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson from his work Nature. “He who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the plants, the waters, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man.” The book offers ideas moving from herbal, trees, naturalizing plants and the peaceful development of the individual.
Note: * The full title of this piece is The Earth Only Endures: On Reconnecting with Nature and Our Place in it, by Jules Pretty. Earthscan, James & James Science Publisher, London.
“Literacy is critical in understanding your sacred space.” D. MacPherson
Winter is a great time to read. Those marked articles, digital or hard copy books sitting near your sofa. Those lists followed by “I’ll get to them this winter”. I’ve been asked what books I use for my research and writings. My library is close to 300 books ranging from the technical view of tree growth, soil management to building senior gardens to the mystical aspect of elementals, fairies, and plants themselves. Over the next few blogs, I will share some of them.
The first group is quite fun. Plants are the foundation in making spirits and today some of the oldies are coming back. Amy Stewart in The Drunken Botanist shares the recipe for a Manhattan, made with rye. A grass first used in American whiskey and distilled by George Washington.
Agatha Christie is well known for her delicious mysteries and the excitement in working the intrigue to the end. Her plant and chemical knowledge were fantastic. A is for Arsenic, The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup is an excellent compilation of those plants and chemicals used in the mysteries. It will answer the question of scent. Is that cyanide or arsenic?
And for Shakespeare fans. Botanical Shakespeare took 20 years to complete, which gives me hope for my recent book that is on year four. Beautifully illustrated with their corresponding reference to the Bard’s plays. This book is a feast for the eyes. Wonderfully noted is that until Linnaeus created the first botanical taxonomy, plants had many names based on area and language. A challenge to any researcher. So, if you pursue taxonomy always ask what language and where did the name of this plant begin. It’s a fantasying study in travel, culture and life.
In one of my first graduate classes, my professor always said read the Foreword, Acknowledgements, or the Introduction. I encourage you to do the same. These sections are really the foundation of the content. The authors of this book really bring in the botanical knowledge of Shakespeare’s time. Did you know that under Elizabeth I, a horticultural bloom occurred? Men and women wrote extensively on their observations, experiences, and designs. Literacy was common and strongly encouraged.
Put your feet up, make a concoction and enjoy the wealth of knowledge these books present.
“It’s supposed to be jolly, with mistletoe and holly… and other things ending in olly.” Terry Pratchett
Mistletoe, the thief of trees, cannot live on its own much like love, matchmaker; partners to keep an environment together, forest savior.
Historically mistletoe is a plant of peace, friendship, and in antiquity goodwill. If enemies met beneath it in a forest, usually a grove of oaks, arms were laid down and truce called until the next day. Strabo, Greek geographer and philosopher in the 1st century CE recorded such a meeting of the Galatin Celts, in Drunemeton in today’s modern Turkey. Warring spouses would kiss and make-up.
From the Old English/Anglo-Saxon misteltãn where tan signifies twig and mistel from mist. Mistl, means different, from its being unlike its host. Mist in old Dutch meant birdlime. Birds eat the berries and then their droppings fall to tree branches where they will sprout in a sticky substance called visco/viscin. In the 14th century mistletoe was called mystyldene and Lignum crucis. The term for modern day modern mistletoe evolved from these words.
Kissing boughs are a winter ornament made famous in England under the Tudor reign. First documented in the 16th century they initially hung in doorways welcoming guests into the home. Boughs were made of garland covering ash or willow branches in the shape of a double hoop or crown. Along with mistletoe, greenery, ribbons, ivy and holly, candles and red apples completed a joyous and cheery site of nature and warmth. The candles would be lit on Christmas Eve every night until Twelfth Night or Epiphany. At which point the boughs were removed and burned lest they bring bad luck to the house.
The 18th century saw a migration of boughs to the dance floor where it hung in the middle of the room. Dancers passing under the bough hoped to steal or encourage a kiss. Single women found under the bough or a sprig of mistletoe were to be kissed. If they were not, they would not marry for a year. The same was true for men. Burning the bough on Twelfth Night – took all that silliness away.
If a couple in love exchanged a kiss under the mistletoe, it was a promise to marry. Another version predicted happiness and a long life. Today, kisses can be exchanged under the mistletoe any time during the holiday season.
Mistletoe bestowed life and fertility, a protection against poison, and an acted as an aphrodisiac. The Anglo-Saxons connected kissing under the mistletoe to the legend of Freya or Frigga in her role as Goddess of Love, Beauty and Fertility. She is the mother of Balder, the God of the Summer Sun. In a dream Balder saw his life end which would cause all life on earth to end. Freya in her fear went to the elements air, fire, water, earth, and every animal and plant asking for their assistance in keeping Balder safe. But Loki in his mischievousness knew one plant had not been asked, the mistletoe.
The mistletoe grows only above the ground. Loki made an arrow tip of the mistletoe then gave to the blind God of Winter, Hoder. He shot it striking Balder dead. The sky paled and all things in earth and heaven wept for the Sun God. For three days each element tried to bring Balder back to life. Freya restored her son and her tears turned into the pearly white berries on the mistletoe plant. In her joy, Freya kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which it grew. The story ends with a decree that who should ever stand under the humble mistletoe, no harm should befall them, only a kiss, a token of love.
Mistletoe was present in many ancient and winter festivals. The Roman festival Saturnalia was a way to celebrate the Saturn, the God of Agriculture and Time. This festival evolved from a one-day celebration to a week. Under the Julian calendar the end date was December 25th, the winter solstice. This festival ended with gift giving. The timing, festivities and use of greenery have evolved into the Christmas season.
Pliny the Elder describes Saturnalia on the sixth day of the moon, the chief druid would climb a designated oak tree and use a golden sickle to cut boughs of mistletoe. The chief druid than gave branches to a youth who would spread the news of the New Year.
Mistletoe berries are white and important in fertility rites. The Greeks use mistletoe in marriage ceremonies. An evergreen plant, mistletoe is thought to take custody of the soul of its oak host in the winter. This behavior led to the belief that when mistletoe is removed the power of the oak would go with it and will give strength to the sprig hung over doorways as protection against thunder, lighting, and witchcraft.
Mistletoe is actually hemi-parasitic. In its youth it undergoes photosynthesis to survive. Once mature enough, mistletoe will completely survive on the host for its nutritional needs. As they grow, thick rounded masses of witches’ brooms can reach several feet and weigh 50 pounds or more.
Mistletoe as a species is over 30 million years old and their origins are unknown. An interesting plant found everywhere even the desert. There are over 1,000 species in the Order Santalaceae. Two Families Loranthaceae and Viscaceae. The genera Viscum and Nuytsia. Viscum and visco reference the sticky substance the berries emit so they can stay with the host and grow. The oldest plant can be found in Western Australia, called Nuytsia floribunda, the Christmas Tree with its showy orange flowers create a firestick image against the blue sky. Nuytsia floribunda belongs to the oldest lineage of mistletoe, long before they became shrubs or witches brooms. The stems are so soft, they can be peel in layers like an onion leading to the gift of being fire sensitive and an indicator of the condition of the ecosystem.
There are two types of mistletoe used in Christmas decorations. The European variety Viscum album with its yellow flowers. The North American native, Phoradendron flavescens found from New Jersey to Florida. Phoradendron is Greek for tree thief.
Australian research has found this tree thief to be a keystone species. Where present mistletoe aids into a larger diversity of animals and plants and a healthier ecosystem. The berries are a main food source for birds and nesting. The plant supports canopy development with its leaf litter supporting life on the forest floor.
Mistletoe as Medicine
The white berries of mistletoe are described as album. The berries and leaves are poisonous and yet have been used in homeopathic solutions for centuries. One of the names the Druids gave mistletoe is All Heal because it seemed to heal all aliments.
Mistletoe berries fall from the sky and were a gift as long as they did not touch the ground. The seeds were used to treat some forms of epilepsy, known as the falling sickness. To mimic the falling from the sky, arrows or rocks were used to make the berries fall.
The whole plant is being studied to treat cancer, immune system and female reproductive disorders. Please do your research before experimenting with mistletoe.
I would like to end this blog with a delightful song about mistletoe. From the group Misty River, Don’t Take Down the Mistletoe.
Note: Mistletoe is quite an interesting plant. If this plant has caught your attention, I encourage you to look at the first two references.
Australia’s giant parasitic Christmas tree, Tim Low, May 15, 2017
The Mistletoe Pages, Johnathan Briggs – All things mistletoe
Images in order of presentation are credited to these folks. Let them know you like their photos.
Leaf & Limb, 4 Fascinating Facts About Mistletoe
Mistletoe: Good for More Than Free Kisses, Juanita Evans, 2018
Mistletoe its history, meaning and traditions, The Holiday Spot
Mistletoe, Myths and Medicines, Backyard Gardner
The White Goddess, Mistletoe
The Poison Garden, Mistletoe
The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer, Wordsworth Editions, 1993
Longmans Dictionary of the English Language, Penguin Book Ltd, 1991
A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Christina Hole, Helicon Publishing Ltd, 1995
The White Goddess, Robert Graves, Faber and Faber, 1997