Ritual of Oak and Mistletoe
The ritual of oak and mistletoe is described by Pliny the Elder, writing in the 1st century AD, as a religious ceremony in Gaul in which white-clad druids climbed a sacred oak, cut down the mistletoe growing on it, sacrificed two white bulls and used the mistletoe to cure infertility:
Philippe Auguste Jeanron (1809-1877): Druids Cut the Sacred Mistletoe
” The druids – that is what they call their magicians – hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is Valonia Oak…. 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. They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons”
Symbolism of the ritual
Oaks were held sacred by both druids and Celts alike.
‘Sixth day of the moon’ – in numerology terms, the number six is equated with success, harmony, balance, equilibrium and rewards. Six, like four, has a pleasing solidity and groundedness: it anchors us in the real world. Thus a propitious time to carry out the ritual.
Henri Paul Motte, Druids Cutting the Mistletoe on the Sixth Day of the Moon Date: circa 1890-1900
‘Two white bulls’ – white is traditionally the colour of the otherworld so the colour of the bulls says that they are set apart, sacred to more than just being themselves in the animal kingdom, and possibly capable of acting as links between the world of form and the otherworld. Bulls are solar creatures: with their strength, vigour, potency and endurance they share the properties of the ever-giving Sun as masculine God-forms.
The fact that the bulls are being sacrificed so near to the Solstice could indicate a range of possibilities: that they are messengers to the Sun, which is visibly growing weaker and withdrawing from the earth at this time: that their blood feeds the land; that the Solar Lord must retreat into the darkness of death in order to be reborn; that the Lunar (white and green) mistletoe descends from its magical place in the sky now to be brought fully into this world and bring its gifts as a result of this exchange.
‘Gold sickle’ – gold is important as a solar symbol and the sickle blade is shaped like the moon thus combining solar male and lunar female principles.
Mistletoe – Vikings and Druids and Celts before they became Christians looked at mistletoe as an incredibly powerful plant because it grew out of what they thought was dead wood. Because they thought trees died in the winter time and then magically sprang back to life in the spring. Yet, the mistletoe did not die.
Mistletoe is considered female (the Oak is male) and so conveys a message of fertility and renewal born from a partnership of solidity and strength – especially during the winter solstice.Mistletoe was considered to have tremendous healing properties. Rudolf Steiner firmly believed that mistletoe is a cure for cancer and is used to this day by the Rudolph Steiner Health Centre as a treatment
Sir James Frazer in his famous work on the study of religion “The Golden Bough.” wrote concerning mistletoe that the ancient belief was that the spirit of the tree resides in the mistletoe while the tree stands in winter’s death. With the mistletoe not being of the land or of the sky it cannot be harmed by either realm. There the spirit of the tree is safe from death and can return to the tree in the spring.
Symbolically mistletoe is a representative of an illumined life. Neither shrub, nor tree and suspended in the air – Mistletoe is a powerful symbol of freedom. It is limitless in its capacity for growth, and indeed, it chooses the Chieftain of the forest, the Oak as its home. This intensifies Mistletoe symbolism as the Oak is vastly powerful to the Druidic arboreal realms of wisdom.
- A. Hornel and George Henry: The Druids Bringing in the Mistletoe 1890.