Burning Last Year’s Mistletoe

In winter Central Texas cedar elms lose their leaves, revealing birds’ nests, ball moss, and mistletoe. The white-berried hemiparasite particularly plagues the cedar elm growing just outside our front door. While mistletoe performs some of its own photosynthesis, it draws most of its water and nutrients from the tree hosting it. Mistletoe flowers and produces white berries, which birds eat. They then disperse the sticky seeds via their beaks or excretions. Here’s one of our American species, Phoradendron tomentosum:

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Phoradendron is Greek for “thief of the tree.”

Mistletoe has a storied relationship with humans. In Norse mythology, mistletoe was used to kill Baldur, Frigg and Odin’s beloved son, and in happier versions of the tale, it was under mistletoe that his mother was able to revive him. Mistletoe featured in the rituals of Celtic Druids, according to Roman historian Pliny the Elder. And mistletoe began to play a part in kissing rituals during the Ancient Roman midwinter festival Saturnalia.

How many years do you have to perform a ritual, before it becomes tradition? For the second year in a row now, I’ve collected a branch of mistletoe from the cedar elm near our front door and burned it in my first outdoor fire of the New Year.

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Thank you for midwinter cheer, tree thief, but you have fallen; the old year has gone. Drink no more nourishment and steal no more growth from me and mine. To the fire of a New Year, I bring both the blessings and banes of the year past. So it is, and so I let it be.

After I burned the mistletoe, my family and I enjoyed dinner together outside. Later, as a waxing gibbous moon rose, I spent time gazing at the dying flames. What in my life steals my energy and personal power? I wondered, And what can I do about it?

This kind of banishing work would have been more meaningful during the waning or new moon, but when you’re a working mom of school-aged children, your forms must be short and your timing opportunistic, if you want to maintain a practice.

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