How Mistletoe Works

Mistletoe Myths

Mistletoe myths abound in ancient cultures.
Mistletoe myths abound in ancient cultures.
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There are a lot of myths surrounding mistletoe. Vikings dating back to the eighth century believed that mistletoe had the power to raise humans from the dead, relating to the resurrection of Balder, the god of the summer sun.

Balder had a dream that he was going to die. His mother, Frigga, the goddess of love and beauty, was frantic about his dream and said that if he died, everything on Earth would die. To ensure her son's safety, Frigga went to all of the elements -- air, fire, water and earth, as well as to all of the animals and plants -- and asked them not to kill Balder. In the same way a child would be heckled these days if his mother asked kids not to pick on her child, Balder was teased and had things thrown at him. It was thought that, because of his mother's power, he was immune to harm.

Balder's only enemy, Loki, found a loophole in Frigga's request for her son's safety -- mistletoe. Mistletoe grows on the tree it attaches itself to, and therefore has no roots of its own and could not be affected by Frigga's request. Loki made a poisoned dart with mistletoe, and tricked the blind brother of Balder, Hoder, into shooting the arrow that killed Balder.

For three days, all the elements tried their hardest to bring Balder back to life, but failed. Finally, the tears that Frigga cried for her dead son changed the red mistletoe berries to white, raising Balder from the dead. Frigga then reversed mistletoe's bad reputation, and kissed everyone who walked underneath it out of gratitude for getting her son back [source: Reshetiloff].

The Miracle Worker

Another myth in mistletoe's past comes from Britain. In the first century, the Druids in Britain believed that mistletoe could perform miracles, from providing fertility to humans and animals to healing diseases and protecting people from witchcraft.

The Druids would cut mistletoe off oak trees in a special ceremony five days after the new moon following the winter solstice. The Druids believed that the mistletoe would become contaminated if it touched the ground, so they used a special white cloth to catch it. The Druids then sacrificed two white bulls while prayers were said, and priests gave out the mistletoe sprigs to the people, who believed they would then be kept safe from evil spirits and storms [source: Reshetiloff].

In the next section, we'll look at why we smooch under mistletoe.