Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Under the mistletoe
From the centre of the ceiling of this kitchen, old Wardle had just suspended with his own hands a huge branch of mistletoe, and this same branch of mistletoe instantaneously gave rise to a scene of general and most delightful struggling and confusion; in the midst of which, Mr. Pickwick, with a gallantry that would have done honour to a descendant of Lady Tollimglower herself, took the old lady by the hand, led her beneath the mystic branch, and saluted her in all courtesy and decorum. — From The Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens
The familiar convention that if any two people meet under a hanging of mistletoe, they are obliged to kiss, is ubiquitous in popular culture. There are songs, cartoons and jokes about it; Harry Potter kissed Cho Chang under the mistletoe (and nargles) in the Room of Requirement in J. K. Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Although generally associated with Christmas, mistletoe’s significance during this time of year predates Christianity:
Before Christianity came to the British Isles the Winter Solstice was
held on the shortest day of the year (21st December). The Druids
(Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and
give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of
the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.
BBC–Religion & Ethics
The fatal mistletoe
Mistletoe also plays a huge role in Norse mythology as the means by which Loki, the god of mischief and fire, brought about the death of the beautiful and beloved god Balder.
Links to versions of the story:
The Death of Balder
The Poetic Edda
I’ve taken portions of the tale in the Elder Edda: Voluspa, in which the Norse Sybil sees and describes, in a weird prophecy, the tale of the fatal mistletoe and woven
it with the themes of lost love and the dying god theme (of which this story is one variation) in my poem The Golden Bough.
The Golden Bough
Annette Marie Hyder
From the book, The Real Reason the Queen Hated Snow
“I beheld fate looming for Balder,
the bloody victim.”
If it’s true that I took my soul
and put it into an external object
for cherishing and safekeeping,
it is also true that this protection
has grown tusked
bars, has kept me half alive
and never free.
“There stands the mistletoe
slender and delicate,
blooming high above the ground.”
In Winter, mistletoe stays green
against the leafless oak
and grows not from the ground
but perches, like a verdant soul
upon the branches of the tree.
“Hod shall shoot it, but Friga
in Fen-hall, shall weep over
the woe of Wal-hall.”
The very sprig of my vitality
blindly (is love always blind?)
let loose against me
unstrings my heart
which crumbles golden
like withered mistletoe.
And mistletoe is ever harvested
in this way, situated between heaven
and earth, never allowed to touch the ground
but cut by pith scythe and caught on white cloth.
Weave for me a crown of thorns,
green flowers, white berries, cloven
from the golden bough that grows
on soul’s-desire tree–
weep amber tears and kiss
in remembrance of me.
Note: Italicized portions one, two, and three are quoted material from the Elder Edda: Voluspa, in which the Norse Sibyl sees and describes the tale of the mistletoe.
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Hasn’t everyone known a “Loki,” at one time or another?
Whether it is the charming coworker who can’t seem to stop himself from undermining you and simultaneously seeking your approval and friendship, the family member or friend who is out of control for the love of the thrill, or a chance encounter with a stranger who seems to derive pleasure from annoying you/pulling your chain–you’ve probably come into contact with this destructive personality that finds its personification in the Norse god Loki.
Annette Marie Hyder
My secret is this:
I know fire
is not applied to objects
it exists already
My talent is that
of a sculptor.
I set free conflagration
like shape from a stone.
My nature is to
sparkle, warm, enchant
crackle like fire
I mean you no harm
when my sparkle blinds
my warmth is uncomfortable
I’ve enchanted you
off your guard.
But I delight in
the gunpowder roar of discord.
I delight in lighting your fuse.
My favorite tool?
I like forks. And people can be forks too.
Forks are great for skewering with.
And then there are forked flames
my forked tongue
and the fork in the road
where I’ll be waiting.
Yes I char
I blacken and hurt and burn.
But it is all
for the sake of my art