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Inspirational Reads

Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. XCII

December 10, 2010

This is the weekend when I finally go and get a Christmas tree. As we support the wholesale slaughter of evergreen trees, I'll be picking up a "live" tree. This is why I'm getting the tree only three weeks before Christmas. It's an attempt to lower the potential of the tree bursting into flame (always a damper for the holiday celebration) and to slow the inevitable dumping of needles onto the carpet in my living room. I'm thinking, however, that I might invest in a nice artificial tree next year as well as an evergreen-scented candle. Not only will I have the smell of a tree, but I'll also have a cozy light of a candle to warm myself by during the cold, dark weeks leading up to the arrival of winter. Plus, then I'll be able to turn the heat up a little bit and not freeze my ass off quite so much. *rubs frostbitten cheeks*

Of course, the Christmas tree isn't the only bit of vegetation we invite into the home during the holiday season. Mistletoe is also a popular sprig of greenery to hang over doorways and zippers, all in a hope for a quick kiss stolen beneath it's green leaves and white berries.

Don't laugh at the notion of the mistletoe hanging over the belt. Mistletoe, despite being a parasitic plant, has always been seen as a sign of virility, romance and fertility. The Celts used to think that it would help cure barren animals, and mistletoe berries were often baked into cakes used for religious ceremonies. Most likely, the reason for the connection to fertility and virility is because the white berries of mistletoe look like drops of semen.

Mistletoe also figures prominently in the mythology of the Norsemen. Odin sired twin sons by his wife Frigg, Baldr and Hodr. Baldr was the most beautiful child ever born, mortal or divine, and Hod happened to be blind. Frigg doted on Baldr because of his beauty, but Frigg also had a problem. She had a bit of a Cassandra complex (see what I did there?) in that she was gifted with the ability to predict the future, but no one would believe her if she said or did anything about it.

One night, Frigg had a dream that Baldr would die (one thing about the Norse gods: they were quite mortal, yet they did not die of natural causes nor did they age after they reached adulthood...but that's a different story altogether). Upset that her beautiful son was slated to sleep with the lutefisks, Frigg went around the world and asked everything to make a pledge that it would not harm Baldr. As everyone loved Frigg--she was quite beautiful, herself, and is an archetypical Mother Earth goddess--everything promised it would not harm Baldr. However, when she came to the mistletoe, it seemed too young to be of any worry, and so Frigg didn't bother to get an oath from it.

By this point, Loki had eaten a witch's heart, thereby gaining the blackness of her soul. Loki thusly changed his attitude toward the gods of the Norse pantheon--it was they who had killed the witch and burnt her corpse, and apparently her resentment lingered in her heart after her death. Mmm. Delicious hate.

One night, in Odin's mead hall, all the gods had gathered and started playing a game wherein they threw things at Baldr. Since he could not be harmed, nothing damaged him. Rocks, arrows, swords, hammers, all of it bounced harmlessly off Baldr. It was great fun. Especially if you're drunk off mead.

Out of the cold came a stooped and bent old woman--Loki in disguise--who also enjoyed the fun. As the festivities continued on, however, poor Hodr, Baldr's blind twin brother, kept trying to shoot arrows at Baldr but missed. Because he was blind, and couldn't see to shoot straight. Kind of like a Storm Trooper.

The old woman stepped up behind Hodr and helped him aim at Baldr. She then gave him an arrow forged out of mistletoe, which had not sworn not to harm Baldr. When Hodr released the arrow, it struck Baldr in the chest and killed him instantly. Frigg was devastated, Odin was enraged, and the closest thing to all Hel breaking loose occurred (see what I did THERE?).

Odin immediately sired a son with the goddess Rindr (presumably, Frigg was too distraught with grief over Baldr's death to put out...Frigg spent the rest of her life weeping over the loss of Baldr) who sprang from Mama's loins and grew into adulthood. Vali was his name, and his sole purpose in life was to kill Hodr for murdering Baldr, accident or not.

Odin then sent another god, Hermodr, into Hel, the realm of the dead to ask for Baldr's return to Asgard, the home of the Norse gods. Hel, the goddess who presides over her eponymous realm, said she would release Baldr if everything in the world wept for his death. Hermodr returned and reported this, and Frigg went about getting everything to weep. She was successful until she came to one giant--again, Loki in disguise--who refused to weep. Thus, without that giant's tears, Baldr was relegated to living in Hel until Ragnarok. At that time, he would survive (as would Hodr), and rule over the reborn world. If I remember correctly, Vali survives, as well, which ought to lead to some rather awkward times in their post-apocalyptic world.

Because of mistletoe's role in the death of Baldr, Frigg declared it a sacred plant, and deemed that it should no longer be a plant associated with death. Instead, she wished it to be considered a plant of love. Whenever any two people would pass under the mistletoe, they were to lay down arms and have a truce with one another. This eventually morphed into kissing beneath the mistletoe--either to seal the truce or as courting ritual if a man and a woman passed beneath the mistletoe.

And, if they were from a bit further south on the continent and were fully, lusty lovers, perhaps they would utter something like this to one another upon passing beneath the mistletoe:

Osculare mea praedulcia labra!

Pronounced: "Oh-skew-lah-ray may-ah pry-dool-key-ah lah-brah!"

Exceedingly sweet double entendre in the hovertext

Traditionally, mistletoe can be kept over the doorways in the house either until Candlemas, when the last of the Christmas greenery is traditionally taken down, or can remain in the house year round. The mistletoe is supposed to also help ward off lightning strikes and fires for the house, bring good fortune, and--naturally--help bring babies to the house. However, if you keep mistletoe up all year, you should take it down on Christmas Eve and replace it with a new sprig. This helps re-up the good luck and fertility invocation of the plant.

Another tradition is to remove a berry every time you kiss someone under the mistletoe. When there are no more berries, there are no more kisses for you, buster. I'm sure there's also some lore connected with the kiss corresponding to the final berry will be the kiss you share with your future wife.

Mistletoe also is typically shown with three berries in a clump, which makes perfect sense. With its symbolism hearkening back to semen, an average man is only good for about three white showers a day, if you know what I mean. Not that I would have first hand knowledge about that. *shifty-eyed*


BigSis said...

I don't ever remember history being as entertaining as this. I learned and I laughed. You are a talented man!

MJenks said...

I may or may not have completely made up that last part about the three berries. It was very late last night, and I'm having trouble misremembering my actions.

Yeah, we'll go with that.

@ BigSis: I have been kicking around the idea of putting together a somewhat amusing overview of specific parts of history. Comments like this make me think it might actually be successful. :D

Simply Suthern said...

I was always more successful Mistletoe hunting than deer hunting.

Good Story as with big sis your version is more entertaining.

SkylersDad said...

An excellent story, well done sir!

Eric said...

Wow the girl with the mistletoe was praedulcia indeed. Dividulcia, even.

Scope said...

I laughed until I was thor.

Mr. Condescending said...

f*ck I missed being follower 100 by 1!

Sorry I haven't been around more Jenks. It's nice to see you're still firing up those racy Latin phrases.

I thought you preferred your showers golden though.

DEZMOND said...

your forgot to say that our dear druid Aspirinix has used mistletoe for his magic potion which gives abnormal strength to Asterix, Obelix and other brave Gauls! :)