The Joy and Sorrow of Mistletoe

I’m a huge fan of folklore and the history behind traditions. Here’s what I dug up on Mistletoe, everyone’s favorite kissing plant.

It turns out that Avengers fans will recognize their favorite villain in the mistletoe story. Yes, Loki is responsible for more mischief. But, we’re ahead of ourselves. First let’s go the the number two power in the Norse universe (and one that seems to be absent in the Marvel films): Frigga. Like Odin, she could also see the future, but was less doom and gloom about it.

800px-FriggSpinning

“Frigga Spinning the Clouds” by John Charles Dollman

She gave birth to her son, Balder, on the winter solstice. He, being the god of light and truth, fits the season well as the days slowly grow longer leading up to the summer solstice. However, she also received a dream that her son would die. She asked all manner of things in the world to swear an oath to never hurt Balder. This was easy because he was the popular type, with a sunny disposition. (Yes I know, you can hate me now.)

balder

The Marvel version of Balder

The one she passed up was mistletoe. Accounts vary. Some say that mistletoe was too young and immature. Another version says that is was too small and inconsequential. Needless to say, this turned into Balder’s Achilles Heel.

The gods, being the ones to push things to the limit, decided to test Balder’s invulnerability. They hurled all sorts of weapons at him, including Thor’s axes. None harmed him. Loki sidled up to Hod, the blind god of darkness. Loki had fashioned a dart (some versions say an arrow, but mistletoe is tiny, so I buy the dart version). He helped Hod aim and shot it toward Balder, striking the god right in heart.

balder_died

Balder being Killed by Hod and Loki

At this point the story splits into a happy ending and a sad one. Let’s do the sad one first.

Balder died and went to Niflheim. The goddess Hel promised to return Balder to life if every living thing shed a tear for him. Loki again twisted the knife by assuming the form of the giantess Thok. In this form, he refused to cry, dooming Balder to remain in Niflheim forever.

The gods saw through Loki’s deception. The trickster transformed to a salmon to escape. And he almost slipped away. Except his brother, Thor, nabbed him. Loki was then bound in a cave with venom dripping on his chest until Ragnarok.

Now the happy ending.

After being struck by the mistletoe dart, Frigga cried over her fallen son. She cried so much, that mistletoe took pity and formed milky white berries to represent her tears. Her crying also restored Balder to life. Frigga made the plant a symbol for love and she promised to bestow a kiss on any who passed under it.

You pick the ending. Either way, there’s a lot more to this tiny plant than a seasonal amusement.

Tim Kane

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One comment on “The Joy and Sorrow of Mistletoe

  1. Never heard either story before. Thanks for sharing, Tim!

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