The Mistletoe is a shrub that’s traditionally been charged with symbolic import, and it still has cultural significance today.
Robert Graves says that in European pagan times Mistletoe was taken to be the oak tree’s genitals. The Druids ritually chopped it with a gold-colored sickle, which was a kind of “symbolic emasculation.”†
In addition, the juice of the berries was understood as the tree’s sperm, having “great regenerative virtue.” So in pre-Christian Europe mistletoe was associated with the spark and spice of life.
In cultures across pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality), possibly due to a resemblance between the berries and semen.‡
In ancient Roman mythology, Aeneas is prompted by Sibyl to journey to the underworld. On his journey he carries mistletoe, which enables his safe return to the everyday world. And Graves believes that a “‘certain herb’ that raised Claucus from the tomb” was probably mistletoe.†
Today, Christmas revelers continue to feel obliged kiss under the mistletoe, this curious custom possibly having its roots in Scandanavia (others associate the practice further back to the ancient Roman Saturnalia festival).
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† Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Combined edition, London: Penguin, 1992, p. 176.
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