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Holly Winter Magic

The holly berry that shines so bright

Once upon a time it was white as wheat bread.

Holly (Ilex aquifolia) Is one of the most beloved and expressive Christmas symbols. In Christian symbolism, the thorny leaves of the holly express suffering, and the red berries - blood, it is a symbol of eternal life and rebirth. One of the biblical legends says that where the Savior stepped on the earth, holly bushes grew. In some images, the crown of thorns on the head of Christ replaces the thorny wreath of holly. According to biblical legends, once its berries were white, but stained with the blood of the Savior, they turned red. Some sources claim that a cross was made of holly wood, on which the Savior was crucified - other trees refused to take part in this and split at the first blow of the ax, and only the holly remained firm.


People paid attention to this plant long before the introduction of Christianity. The inhabitants of the European coast of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, where holly grows in the wild, have long deified it and endowed it with powerful magical powers. This is a viable plant that can survive in the deep shadow of forests, where the seeds of other plants do not sprout, that comes into the peak of its decorative effect in the fall and survives the winter in evergreen leaves and fruits, armed with thorns and poisonous blood-red berries, providing food and shelter for birds and healing - to people, it seemed at the same time the personification of protection and threat. Various peoples dedicated it to their most powerful gods, and its fruiting was associated with the changing seasons, the confrontation between life and death.

It is still debated where the holly cult came from - from the Celts or the Romans. The Celts considered the oak to be their supreme deity as the personification of the world tree, there is a hypothesis that the word "druids", which the Celtic priests were called, means nothing more than "people of the oak". But if the Oak King ruled over the coming part of the year before the summer solstice, and with it - over life, then after he was replaced by the Holly King, i.e. the holly that ruled over the waning part of the year and death. According to the ideas of the Celts, they supported a bridge from different sides over the river separating the kingdoms of the living and the dead. The ancient Icelandic name of the holly has survived - Helver (from the Scandinavian word Hel, meaning the kingdom of the dead). This is reflected in the Irish Tale of Gawaine and the Green Knight, where Sir Gawaine, armed with an oak club, and the immortal giant, the Green Knight, armed with a Holly's bitch, agree to take turns decapitating each other on a midwinter and mid-summer day. But the holly knight pity the oak king.

In the cut outlines of the leaves of the holly, they guessed the resemblance to the oak, one of the names of the holly - the Thorny oak - put it on a par with the main deity. Druids believed in its magical power, using it to enhance magical spells and attract prophetic dreams. Holly branches were burned in bonfires on the winter solstice of Yule and dedicated to the Sun. In the Irish poem "Song of the Forest Trees" there are lines:

Holly will be on fire

Like candle wax ...

It was believed that a magic wand could be made from a holly, and a spear with a holly shaft brings an unconditional victory over evil. And today, the belief is alive that a bountiful harvest of holly berries portends a harsh winter.

Holly whorled

In those days, when elves, fairies and goblins were believed, in England holly was planted around the dwelling to protect against lightning, evil spirits, disease, witchcraft and winter melancholy. English maidens hung holly branches at the head of the bed or surrounded the bed with them for protection from the goblins. In Ireland, on the contrary, they tried not to plant him next to the house, so as not to scare off the good fairies.

Spiked holly hedges were used to enclose livestock pens, and the least thorny branches were fed to him to prevent mortality.Stables were built from holly wood, believing that it protects horses from diseases and fires, and a whip from a holly branch gives the rider power over the horse.

The use of wood in the humid conditions of the British Isles was dictated rather by expediency. The trunks of holly trees sometimes reach 1 m or more in diameter. The wood is very strong and resistant to decay, fine-grained, beautiful ivory color with rare greenish veins. Today it is considered too valuable, therefore it is used only for decorative items and inlays.

Holly berries have been used to treat fevers and other illnesses, and there is evidence that they helped in smallpox epidemics in Europe. Holly fruits and leaves do have antipyretic and other medicinal properties. But the drugs from them are dangerous because of the toxic substance they contain - ilicin, only twenty berries are enough to lead to the death of an adult, however, there are few fatal cases described. German physicians believed that rubbing against the first holly bush they encountered was enough to get almost immediate healing.

In Scandinavian mythology, holly was associated with the divine giant Thor, who ruled over lightning (he was also called Thunderbolt), and Freya, the goddess of fertility, love and beauty, who ruled over the weather and thunder. The broken lines of the holly leaf with thorns along the edges brought people to associations with lightning, along with the fact that this tree is better than others at taking lightning into the ground and at the same time hardly suffers.

The Celtic attitude towards holly was probably passed on through the wars to the inhabitants of the Mediterranean. The earliest mention of holly is found here by the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus. The Roman philosopher Pliny, who lived two centuries later, pointed out that holly is able to protect against lightning, poison and dark witchcraft. The Romans dedicated it to Saturn, the god of agriculture, decorated it with branches of its images, and brought it as a gift to each other as a symbol of good luck and protection from evil on the days of Saturnalia (December 17-23) with the end of fieldwork. The early Christians initially rejected the holly as a pagan symbol, but over time it became firmly established in Christian culture. Saturnalia was replaced by Christmas, and the holly remained, but no longer a symbol of fertility, but the personification of the sufferings of Christ.

Holly christmas wreath

In the cultures of different countries of the world, where other representatives of holly grow (there are about 600 species in total), the attitude towards them is about the same. Crenate holly is worshiped in Japan (Ilex crenata). The greatest of Japanese mythological heroes, Yamato is armed with a symbol of divine power - a spear made of holly. And one of the legends tells how the rats helped the Buddhist monk Daikoku to repel the attack of the devil, bringing him a branch of the holly at the decisive moment of the fight. From here came the village tradition of hanging a sprig of holly along with a small spit on the door to keep the devil away. In China, on New Year's Eve, houses are similarly decorated with local Chinese holly. (Ilex schinensis).

Christmas wreath

In North America, before the arrival of the white settlers, the American holly (Ilex opaca) was a sacred symbol of courage and defense, it was planted around camps to protect the tribe. Seminole and Cherokee Indians cooked from leaves and shoots of tea holly (Ilex vomitoria), "Black drink", which had an emetic, laxative and hallucinogenic effect. It was used in the cult ritual of cleansing the mind, spirit and flesh, carried out before the beginning of the use of cereals from the new harvest. Only men participated in the preparation of the drink and the ritual itself. The high caffeine content (6 times more than coffee) made it possible to continue the ceremony, accompanied by dancing and smoking tobacco, all night long.The rite, which originated at least 1200 BC, lasted until 1830, when tribes were resettled from Florida to Oklahoma, where this type of holly does not grow, and other herbs and roots replaced it in the ritual drink.

From the leaves of the paraguayan holly (Ilex paraguayensis), also with a high content of caffeine, in South America they prepare the tonic mate tea, now known to the whole world. The origin of this drink is considered divine - some peoples say that the bearded god Pa-I-Shume taught it to mortals to cook, others that the plant was given by the goddess of the moon and clouds to the old man who saved them from the attack of the jaguar when they visited the earth. Consuming mate is considered beneficial not only for the body, but also for the soul, allowing you to achieve divine peace. It is called the "drink of friendship" that holds family and friendships together.

In the Indian Himalayas, holly was one of the sacred trees, guarded by the benevolent guardian spirit of Munispuram. Signs were applied to the trunk of a tree in cinnabar, three stones painted red were placed at the foot, and animals in need of healing were sacrificed. This is mentioned in the book by P. Sedir "Magic Plants".

Echoes of ancient beliefs are still alive today. The English and German tradition of bringing holly to the house at Christmas is associated with the belief that on this day it is possible to determine who will rule the family in the coming year - husband or wife. A holly with thorns is considered male, and those without thorns are considered female. In fact, this plant is dioecious, and the female plants are easily distinguished by the presence of berries. In contrast, in Wales, it is believed that plucking a branch of a holly can bring about quick death, and stepping on a berry - other misfortunes. English christmas holly

In many European and North American houses, since the 18th century, before Christmas, doors have been decorated with a traditional wreath, expressing a greeting and a wish for a long life to everyone who enters. They often combine holly and ivy, the first as the personification of the solid masculine principle, and the second - in need of the support of the feminine. At some point, the holly with ivy replaced mistletoe, which was considered too harmful a parasitic plant, but later mistletoe again supplemented them. After Christmas, the wreaths are put on fire in the fireplace, and the church wreaths are cut into separate branches and distributed to the parishioners for good luck. A small sprig of holly is a traditional Christmas pudding in England.

For Christmas wreaths and compositions, not only holly is now used, but also American deciduous species - whorled holly (Ilex verticillata) and holly falling (Ilex decidua), which for the New Year holidays are already without leaves, but densely decorated with bright drupes. And the holly is holly, like the hybrid species of holly meserv (Ilex x meservae) and the Altaklarensky holly (Ilex x altaclarensis) are presented in many varieties - with green, bluish, variegated foliage, with red, orange and yellow berries.

We do not grow holly holly, but in the New Year's decor this winter berry will not be superfluous, even if there is no need to drive away evil spirits. It is said that the mystical spirit of the holly is able to attract financial well-being and improve business.

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