Alternative Wheel: Other seasonal cycle stories

When this column started, it was all about exploring different ways of thinking about the wheel of the year, reflecting on aspects of the natural world to provide Pagans alternatives to the usual solar stories. It's still very much an alternative wheel, but there's a developing emphasis on what we can celebrate as the seasons turn. Faced with environmental crisis, and an uncertain future, celebration is a powerful soul restoring antidote that will help us all keep going, stay hopeful and dream up better ways of being.

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Celebrating the mistletoe

The normal association with mistletoe at this time of the year is the cut stuff we bring indoors to decorate with. However, there’s more mistletoe celebrating to be done than this!

Once the leaves are down from the trees, you have your best chance at finding mistletoe in the wild. It doesn’t grow everywhere – I used to struggle to see any at all when I lived in the Midlands, but Gloucestershire (south west UK) has loads. As you can see from the photo, mistletoe in trees isn't always that self announcing and you have to pay attention to spot it - which makes finding it all the more rewarding.

The great historical Druid Mistletoe thing comes to us from Roman writing, and gives us the curious image of ancient Druids cutting mistletoe off oak trees using a golden sickle. Gold doesn’t take an edge, and mistletoe very rarely grows on oaks, so there’s a lot to wonder about here. I may have seen mistletoe on an oak once, but I couldn’t get close enough to the tree to be sure!

Mistletoe will cheerfully grow on all kinds of trees. It gets there because birds eat the berries and then clean their beaks, and sometimes a seed makes it through this process to get lodged in the tree bark. Locally I find it on fruit trees, hawthorns, willows and hazel. The photo shows mistletoe growing on a hazel. One the tree leaves are down, the clusters of green mistletoe leaves are much more obvious. They grow in bundles, and you can often see the distinctive balls of them from afar. Although, there are other kinds of clusters in trees – witches brooms are twig clusters caused by parasites and from afar can be mistaken for mistletoe balls – more about that here.

Too much mistletoe can be bad for a tree, so there is a good case for cutting it, but if you take everything, you kill the plant. I think it’s more fun to get out there and look for mistletoe as a thing to enjoy where it’s growing. Greet it, honour it, connect with the spirit of the living plant. It’s wonderful finding it. As the winter progresses, the leaves turn from dark green into the infamous ‘golden bough’ . The berries are poisonous – not kill you levels, but enough to give you quality time in the toilet. Oddly the Celts are reputed to have called mistletoe ‘all heal’ which makes me wonder what they were trying to cure...


More about mistletoe here -

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Nimue Brown is the author of Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors. Pagan Dreaming, When a Pagan Prays and Spirituality without Structure. She also writes the graphic novel series Hopeless Maine, and other speculative fiction. OBOD trained, but a tad feral, she is particularly interested in Bardic Druidry and green living.


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