There are some 300 species in the genus Ilex, which is more commonly known as holly, hollin, holm, and even poisonberry. Associated with Saturn, and the element of Fire, Holly rules the waning half of the year, from Summer Solstice to Yule. It is especially used in celebrations of Saturnalia, from the 17th through the 23rd of December, and is a symbol at this time of happiness and health.
Holly trees can be planted outside your house and their blossoms are excellent for hanging over the doorways to ward off bad vibes, lightning, and unwelcome energies of all sorts. Men can carry some for good luck (women should carry ivy). In some Druid traditions, it is hung throughout the home to welcome the spirits of the trees. If you throw holly at a wild animal that is chasing you, it is believed it will make the animal lie down and leave you alone. I do not recommend testing this, however. Also, holly water was used for sprinkling on newborns as a blessing (long before christening).
Like Oak and Aspen, Holly is sometimes thought to have been the tree from which Jesus of Nazareth’s cross was made. Holly is a powerful Bach Flower Remedy that can help to ease jealousies, suspicions, and generally negative or aggressive feelings towards others.
It was important to bring in the right kind of holly at the right time. In Somerset, holly might not be brought in before Christmas Eve, and then only by a man. Sterile holly was dangerous to man and beast, and on a year when holly had no berries, it was wise to add ivy or box to a wreath or ball for good luck, for the lack of berries was a portent of infertility or death.
As mentioned yesterday by Marj, my generous botany consultant, the sex of holly is sometimes tricky to determine, although in magical terms, holly is generally treated as a masculine magical energy. However, in some parts of England and Germany, hollies are referred to as “he” and “she.” Those with prickly-edged leaves are thought to be male, while the smooth-leafed variety signified a female tree. Whichever type was brought in determined whether the man or woman would rule the household in the coming year.
Holly was often paired with ivy, whose black berries symbolized night and darkness. In some regions, holly played the King and ivy his Queen. In many places in the British Isles, the burning of the holly was a big celebration to observe the death of winter. At springtime in Scotland, the Cailleach, the Death Goddess who presides over the winter months, throws Her magic rod or hammer under a holly, admitting defeat in the race of the growing light. This explains why no grass grows under holly trees.
Tomorrow, I’ll offer some more interesting lore and magic about this very magical tree.