O the Ivy O, she’s the Queen of old,
And the Holly he is red.
Hang ’em high in the farm, and us won’t come to no harm
Till the Christmas days be told
Old Carol from Somerset, England
Some 10 or more years ago, I wrote a series of posts about various kinds of herbal magick, and featured some of my favorite Green Allies.
In the spirit of this magical season, I thought I would encore (and touch up) some of those offerings. So for today and tomorrow, I’d like to spotlight one of my favorite old friends, the Holly.
There are some 300 species in the genus Ilex, which is more commonly known as holly, hollin, holm, and even poisonberry.
Holly is associated with Saturn (who, as most astrology aficionados know, is being prominently activated in the heavens right now), and the element of Fire. Holly rules the waning half of the year, from Summer Solstice to Yule.
It is especially important 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 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. For instance, 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.
The sex of holly is sometimes tricky to determine, although in magical terms, holly is generally treated as a masculine 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, the Celtic Crone Goddess who presides over the Winter months, known as Cailleach Bheur or Beira in Scotland, throws Her magic rod or hammer under a holly. Thus She withdraws, defeated in Her race against the growing light. This is one reason why no grass will grow under holly trees.
Tomorrow, I’ll offer some additional lore and magic about this very magical friend.