Holly-Wood

Holle, or Holly-wood comes from the goddess Hel and the name of the trees have very ancient roots and its root meaning is “the place of magic”. The holly wood is a favorite source of magical spaces where they grow, magical amulet and talisman made from the word, especially wands. This magic comes from the spirit of the tree’s vibrant light color of the wood and the connect of the soul which is represented by the birds who come for the fruit… Phoenix

Trees are magical, there is no doubt and those of us who love and respect them do our best to love and respect and protect them. The Wood of the Holly is a hard, compact and close-grained wood, and its color is a beautiful white ivory that can be buffed to a very high polish.  When freshly cut the holly wood has a slightly greenish hue but soon becomes perfectly white, and its hardness makes it superior to any other white wood. However the wood of Holly is very retentive of its sap and as a consequence can warp if not well dried and seasoned before use. Old, fancy walking sticks were made from Holly, as were the stocks of light riding whips.  Today it is used in delicate instruments such as weather-gauges and barometers.

Holly is commonly used all over the world as a winter season decoration in many traditions, a custom derived from the earliest Romans who sent boughs of Holly and other gifts to their friends during Saturnalia, the Roman festival of Saturn held around the 17th of December to celebrate the Winter Solstice.  

dryad

In pagan folklore the Holly Tree is associated with the spirit of vegetation and the waning forces of nature, to which its personified as a mythical figure called the Holly King.  The Holly King rules nature during in its decline from the mid-summer solstice (Litha – Jun 21stthrough to the mid-winter solstice (Yule – Dec 21st).  At each of the solstice Sabbats, the Holly King and his brother the Oak King engage for the attentions of the Goddess, from whence the victor presides over nature through the following half of the year.

In his personification as the Holly King, he is often depicted as an old man dressed in winter clothing wearing a wreath of Holly on his head and walking with the aid of a staff made from a Holly branch.  This is symbolic of the fertile interaction of the Goddess and God during natures decline and the darkest time of the year.  At Yule after his battle with the Oak King, the new light of the sun-God re-emerges to encourage fresh growth during the coming new year.  After the advent of Christianity, and during their Christmas and New Year celebrations, a man would be dressed up and covered in Holly branches and leaves, while a woman was likewise dressed in Ivy (the female counterpart of Holly) and together paraded through the streets leading the old year into the new.

J.K. Rowling has this to say about wands…

“I gave Harry a wand made of holly wood back in 1990, when I first drafted chapter six of ‘Philosopher’s Stone’. It was not an arbitrary decision: holly has certain connotations that were perfect for Harry, particularly when contrasted with the traditional associations of yew, from which Voldemort’s wand is made. European tradition has it that the holly tree (the name comes from ‘holy’) repels evil, while yew, which can achieve astonishing longevity (there are British yew trees over two thousand years old), it can symbolize both death and resurrection; the sap is also poisonous.” 

Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) a Roman naturalist in his classic “Historia naturalis”, an old world encyclopedic study of plants and animal life, tells us that if Holly is planted near a house or farm, it would repelled poison and defended it from lightning and witchcraft.  Also that its flowers cause water to freeze and that its wood when thrown at an animal, even without touching it, had the power to compel the animal to return and lie down.

holly.jpg

Holly is a Chieftain Tree of the Celts associated with Taranis, the Gaulish Thunder God. Other Holly Gods include Tina, the EtruscanThunder God, Taran, the Pictish Thunder God, and the Scandinavian God Thor. Holly was planted near homes to protect them from lightning, storm, fire, and hexes. Its wood was used in door sills to repel sorcery and sorcerers. With its blood-red berries and its spiny leaves, Holly was understood to have a warrior’s Spirit.

In England a ritual combat was enacted each year involving the Oak King who ruled in Summer and the Holly King who ruled in Winter. At Midsummer and again at Midwinter these Divine Kings would battle for the hand of the “Queen” (the Land Goddess) . The Oak King always won in Summer initiating the season of green and light and the Holly King in Winter, initiating the cold, dark season. In ancient Rome gifts were decorated with sprigs of Holly at the Saturnalia, a Midwinter festival that took place on December twenty fifth.

​The use of evergreens as decoration has traditionally been associated with good luck – Holly and other evergreens in and around the home are a signal to the Nature Spirits that they are welcome to find shelter and comfort within. Picture Holly featured on a vintage botanical illustration. Picture Vintage illustration of from a series on flower fairies. A round evergreen wreath on the door is a Solar symbol and a sign of faith that life, like the Sun, is cyclical and that a dark phase such as the apparent “death” of the trees and herbs at Winter is merely temporary. In English tradition it was unlucky to bring Holly into the home before Christmas and unlucky to take it down before Twelfth Night. ​A sprig was kept in the home to perpetuate luck in the coming year. By Imbolc (Candlemas) on February second, all greens had to be out of the house.

Dryad by Séverine Pineaux 1960.jpg

Medicinal Uses
Holly leaves were formerly used as a diaphoretic and an infusion of them was given in catarrh, bronchitis, pneumonia, influenza, pleurisy and smallpox.  They have also been used in intermittent fevers and rheumatism for their tonic properties.  The juice of the fresh leaves has been used to advantage in jaundice, and when sniffed was said to stop a runny nose.  When soaked in vinegar and left for a day and a night, it was used to cure corns.  An old remedy for chilblains was to thrash them with a branch of Holly to “chase the chills out”, but this could also be painful.

The berries possess totally different qualities to the leaves, being violently emetic and purgative, and if swallowed can cause excessive vomiting.  They have been used in dropsy, and in a powder form as an astringent to check bleeding.  Nicholas Culpeper in his “The Complete Herbal” (1653) say’s that:  “the bark and leaves are good used as fomentation for broken bones and such members as are out of joint”.  Holly berries can be poisonous if given to children.

The leaves of the Holly were used in the Black Forest as a substitute for tea.  In Brazil “Paraguay Tea” is made from the dried leaves and young shoots of another species of Holly called (Ilex Paraguayensis), which grows in South America.  Other types used to make tea are (Ilex Gongonha) and (Ilex Theezans), all of which are considered valuable as diuretics and diaphoretics. The leaves of the Ilex Paraguayensis and several others species of Holly contain tannin, which was used as a dye.  Acting like galls when bruised in a ferruginous mud, they were mostly used to dye cotton.

holly tree.jpgMagickal Uses
As with most other trees the Holly was revered for its protective qualities. When planted around the home it protects the inhabitants and guards against lightening, poisoning and mischievous spirits.  When confronted by wild animals throwing a stick of Holly at them would make them lie down and leave you alone.  A piece of Holly carried on your person is said to promote good luck, particularly in men for the Holly is a male plant (the Ivy its opposite female).

As a charm to enhance dreams, nine Holly leaves gathered on a Friday after midnight, wrapped in a clean cloth to protect against its needles, and tied up using nine knots was placed under a pillow to make dreams come true.

Some old stories tell us that when Winter came the old Druids advised people to take Holly into their homes to shelter the elves and fairies who could join mortals at this time without causing them harm, but these stories also tell of a warning, to make sure and remove the Holly entirely before the eve of Imbolc, for to leave just one leaf in the house would cause misfortune.

An old Scottish traditions says that no branch should be cut from a Holly tree, but rather it should be pulled free in a method considered fit for sacred tree.  It was also considered unlucky to fell a Holly tree or burn its green skinned branches.  Yet luck was increased if a small branch was kept and hung outside of the house, there it would continue to protect against lightening.

In ritual uses of Holly is associated with the life, death and re-birth transformations.  Holly water (infused or distilled) was sprinkled on newborn babies to protect them.  It can be used ritually to aid and help with a person’s ability to cope with death, and to ease their sleep with peaceful dreams.  The Holly has always been associated with mid winter festivals and was used in old Celtic traditions at the Winter Solstice.

The holly tree – Y Gelynnen – a Welsh folk-song

Sources: http://www.controverscial.com, Ellen Evert Hopman shares information on Yule plants holly, ivy, and pine, from her book “A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine.”

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