Mistletoe has long been associated with the magick of winter holidays throughout the Western World. There are many varieties of this parasitic and toxic plant that grow all over the planet Earth. Phoradendron serotinum, is known as American mistletoe and often grows in oak trees. Its spiritual properties are also associated with the tree in which it is found. Since the Oak Tree is also sacred within solar magick, Mistletoe and Oak form a perfect magickal marriage for Winter Solstice spell work.
Wildcrafting Mistletoe, or harvesting it from the wild, can be a little tricky considering the height at which it grows. Bottom line, all plants collected for spiritual purposes should be approached with reverence and great care. I mean, duh, right? So for the love of all things holy, please don’t shoot the mistletoe out of the tree with a shotgun.
Finding and Harvesting Mistletoe
Once the leaves fall from the deciduous trees in winter, it is easy to find see the Mistletoe growing in large clumps among the branches. I live in Eastern, North Carolina and it is EVERYWHERE, once you know what to look for. The problem with wildcrafting this herb for magickal and ritual uses isn’t its availability, but its accessibility. When climbing the tree isn’t possible, and the ladder won’t reach, folks around here get creative.
My dad was raised in Alabama and Kentucky, and he tells me it is common country-boy practice to take your shotgun out into the woods and shoot the mistletoe out of the branches. I even found this article bragging about just such a 12-guage shotgun hunt in NC. I’m a city witch, so I wouldn’t have guessed this to be something a magickal person would think to do. Then I met a witch peddling freshly blasted mistletoe. <headdesk>
Um, no. Just….no. Trust me.
How did the ancient Druids collect Mistletoe?
Pliny the Elder, a first century Roman historian, described the ceremony of collecting mistletoe in his Natural History XVI:
“Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon….Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things,’ they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion. A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then finally they kill the victims, praying to a god to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it.” Witchipedia
Avoid Damaging the Tree
“From a magical and spiritual perspective, it’s not a good idea [to shoot down mistletoe]. People use a shotgun because it’s easy – you don’t have to hit the mistletoe exactly (as with a rifle). But that means you don’t just shoot down the mistletoe, you also shoot the tree. So you’re not just detaching the mistletoe from the tree, you’re also damaging the tree – and likely mangling what mistletoe you shoot down. None of which is likely to preserve the magical properties of mistletoe, much less establish good relations with your local nature spirits.”
In witchery we regard trees to be the priests of the plant realm, so I think one can assume that assaulting a tree with a deadly weapon isn’t a great way to begin your partnership. That isn’t magick; that’s a mugging. Then consider the spirit of the Mistletoe whom you hope will work to aid you. Introducing yourself via GSW* hardly seems neighborly. I shudder to think how the Dryad, the nymph of an oak tree, might take umbrage and retaliate! Good luck with that.*GSW = Gun Shot Wound, for those who don’t watch police and legal procedural shows as much as I do. <snark>
Morgan Daimler, Author and Patheos Agora Blogger on Irish American Witchcraft, reminded me of the “old belief that you shouldn’t cut a plant for magical purposes with iron because that would drive out its spirit.“ Assuming there is some iron or steel in the shot, that would be counter-productive at least. I don’t know any modern pagans wielding golden sickles (as Pliny described); however, there are more common non-ferrous metals, including aluminum, copper, zinc, brass, gilding metal and tin. I have pair of aluminum gardening sheers for magickal harvesting that serve my purposes just fine.
Don’t Let it Hit the Ground
Moreover, to remain effective, Mistletoe should never be allowed to touch the ground, hence the Gaulish Druid’s practice of catching it in a white cloak.
Chris Godwin, Patheos blogger at From a Common Well, offered this input: “In British Magical practice, you address herbs as allies, with reverence and reference to their lore. Gaelic magic doesn’t seem to be of much difference. Also, Mistletoe is sacred in systems like trolldom because they’re liminal, they don’t grow on the ground, but in the sky. So if the mistletoe hits the ground, it loses its liminality and potency.”
So, unless a shooter has a partner in crime who is brave enough to stand UNDER where they’re blasting and can catch it as it falls willy-nilly, you’ve foiled your magick before you’ve begun. All these shenanigans sounds stupidly dangerous, too.
Mistletoe is a helpful Parasite:
Just for interest, how does the Mistletoe get all the way up there? Mistletoe spreads among the heights of trees when birds eat the sticky white berries and then poop them out on branches. Ahhh, the circle of life. There is a good lesson here about how excellent things can emerge from shit. Thanks birdies!
These evergreen plants are able to grow high up in the branches of trees by jabbing a special type of root called a haustorium into the host plant to suck out water and nutrients from it. Despite their parasitic means of growth, scientific studies have found that the presence of mistletoe plants actually improve the biodiversity around them. (Biology Bytes ) They never touch the earth, which is why they are especially magickal plants associated with air.
Mistletoe is Toxic
Mistletoe is toxic. I know that there are some medicinal uses for the leaves, but I don’t think the berries should ever be taken internally. I know that there is information all over the internet about adding berries to the hand-fasting chalice brew, or how to steep it for herbal medicines, but I personally think that unless you are a highly trained herbalist, or otherwise knowledgeable about physical medicine, that it is best practice to avoid consuming mistletoe. You’d have to ingest a whole lot of berries to kill you, but children and pets are especially at risk, so exercise caution while handling this sacred plant. Wash your hands well after handling!
Keep reading for my next installment on the Mistletoe Magick for Healing, Fertility and Protection!
Happy Mistletoe Hunting!