Source from: Controverscial
The Holly tree (Ilex aquifolium) is one of the sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft, and was of old a favoured tree of the ancient druids. In England during the winter, against the barren whiteness of our snow and frost, the Holly tree is an important native evergreen. Its glossy green leaves and clusters of red berries add a flash of colour to trees without leaves and is one of the most striking plants in the woodlands.
According to the Celtic Tree Calendar the Holly tree represents the eighth month of the year (July 8th - Aug 4th), which includes the Celtic festival of Lughnassadh (Lammas) celebrated on the 1st of August. In England, Holly is known by many different names, in Norfolk it is called Hulver, in Devon - Holme and in parts of Dartmoor - Holme Chase, other popular names include: Christ’s thorn, Hulver bush, Bat’s wings, Tinne and Holy tree.
As a small tree or shrub the Holly grows slowly and at best achieves heights of up to 50 feet (15 meters), in Britain however its normal height is closer to 30 to 40 feet (9-12 meters). In Italy and in the woodlands of Brittany in France, it grows to a much larger size. The ease with which Holly can be kept trimmed renders it valuable as a hedge plant and forms hedges of great thickness and impenetrability.
Today there are some 400 species of Holly shrubs and trees, and many but not all are evergreens. The main North American species is known simply as American Holly (Ilex opaca) and grows naturally along the Atlantic coast and in the Southern states. In Japan and China the Kashi Holly (I. Chinensis) is used for decoration during the Chinese New Year. Of the cultivated varieties of Holly, one is distinguished by the unusual colour of its berries, which are yellow, while others are characterized by their variegated foliage and by the presence of a larger or smaller number of prickles than ordinary types.
The Holly tree will grow in almost any soil provided it is not too wet, but gains its best results when planted in rich, sandy or gravely soil with good drainage and a moderate amount of moisture at the roots. In very dry localities its growth is usually stunted. Holly is often found growing wild in thinly scattered woods of Oak and Beech trees were it seems to be immune to infestation by insects. It is rarely affected even by the most severe of winters, during which time birds love to feed on its berries. Seeds are propagated by birds during flight and take about two years to germinate. Initially growth is slow, but it gains momentum after the first four or five years.
As the Holly grows it branches and leaves from top to bottom, pointed at the top and leafy at its base like a pyramid. The trunk of the Holly is frequently knotted with small nodules of solid wood embedded in its bark, but these can be easily separated from the tree with a smart blow. The bark of the tree is delicate and thin, and tends to wrinkle around areas were it branches. It has a light ashen hue that is smooth and grey, and sometimes touched with a faint crimson. Quite often the bark is covered in a green algae and thin lichen consisting of curvy black lines.
The wood of the Holly is hard, compact and close-grained. Its colour is of beautiful white ivory that can be buffed to a very high polish. When freshly cut the wood has a slightly greenish hue but soon becomes perfectly white, and its hardness makes it superior to any other white wood. As such it is much prized for ornamental ware and the evenness of its grain makes it very valuable to the turner. It is also used for inlaying furniture with marquetry. However the wood of Holly is very retentive of its sap and as a consequence can warp if not well dried and seasoned before use. As well as an imitation of ivory, it is often stained different colours. When stained black it has the appearance of ebony, for which it is often used as a substitute. Of old, fancy walking sticks were made from Holly, as were the stocks of light riding whips. Today it is used in delicate instruments such as weather-gauges and barometers.
The leaves of the Holly tree have a leathery texture and are thick, green and glossy. Normally about 2 inches long and 1 1/4 inches broad, they are edged with stout prickles alternately pointing upwards and downwards, while most of the upper leaves have only a single prickle. The leaves have neither taste nor odour and remain attached to the tree for several years. When they fall, the leaves take a long time to decay, defying the natural actions of air and moisture.
In May the Holly bears its flowers, these are pale pink on the outside and pure white on the inside. Male and female flowers are usually borne on different trees. The female flowers are pollinated by insects such as wild bees attracted by the smell of a honey like liquid released from their bases. Later the flower produces the familiar and distinctive clusters of brilliant scarlet/red berries. If a tree produces its berries well one year, it will normally rest the following year before producing again.
The berries while favoured by birds and animals are poisonous to human beings, and children in particular should be warned against eating them. During the winter the country folk would gather up young stems of Holly and use it as a cattle-feed to sustain them during the privations of the winter. The stems when dried and bruised were often given to cows, who seemed to thrive on it producing good milk, the butter from which was said to be excellent. It is also well known to rabbit-breeders that a Holly-stick placed in a hutch for the rabbits to gnaw, would act as a tonic and restore their appetite.
The berries possess totally different qualities to the leaves, being violently emetic and purgative, and if swallowed can cause excessive vomiting. They have been used in dropsy, and in a powder form as an astringent to check bleeding. Nicholas Culpeper in his “The Complete Herbal” (1653) say’s that: “the bark and leaves are good used as fomentations for broken bones and such members as are out of joint”. He also considered the berries to be curative of colic. Care needs to be taken however, for Holly berries can be poisonous if given to children.
Birdlime used to catch birds and other insects is made from the bark of Holly when stripped of its young shoots and fermented. The bark is stripped during midsummer and steeped in clean water, then boiled until it separates into layers. Once that happens the inner green portion is stored in small heaps till fermentation begins. After about a fortnight it turns into a sticky gooey substance, which is then pounded into a paste, washed and left to continue fermenting. When done it is mixed with goose-fat or other oily substance and is ready for use. Very little is now made in this country but of old in the Lake Districts of northern England, Holly was so abundant that birdlime was made in large quantities and shipped to the East Indies for use in controlling insects.
The leaves of the Holly were used in the Black Forest as a substitute for tea. In Brazil “Paraguay Tea” is made from the dried leaves and young shoots of another species of Holly called (Ilex Paraguayensis), which grows in South America. Other types used to make tea are (Ilex Gongonha) and (Ilex Theezans), all of which are considered valuable as diuretics and diaphoretics. The leaves of the Ilex Paraguayensis and several others species of Holly contain tannin, which was used as a dye. Acting like galls when bruised in a ferruginous mud, they were mostly used to dye cotton.
As with most other trees the Holly was revered for its protective qualities. When planted around the home it protects the inhabitants and guards against lightening, poisoning and mischievous spirits. When confronted by wild animals throwing a stick of Holly at them would make them lie down and leave you alone. A piece of Holly carried on your person is said to promote good luck, particularly in men for the Holly is a male plant (the Ivy its opposite female). As a charm to enhance dreams, nine Holly leaves gathered on a Friday after midnight, wrapped in a clean cloth to protect against its needles, and tied up using nine knots was placed under a pillow to make dreams come true.
Some old stories tell us that when winter came the old druids advised the people to take Holly into their homes to shelter the elves and fairies who could join mortals at this time without causing them harm, but these stories also tell of a warning, to make sure and remove the Holly entirely before the eve of Imbolc, for to leave just one leaf in the house would cause misfortune. An old Scottish traditions says that no branch should be cut from a Holly tree, but rather it should be pulled free in a method considered fit for sacred tree. It was also considered unlucky to fell a Holly tree or burn its green skinned branches. Yet luck was increased if a small branch was kept and hung outside of the house, there it would continue to protect against lightening.
In ritual uses, Holly is associated with the life, death and re-birth symbolism of Lughnassadh/Lammas, the first harvest of the year. Holly also symbolizes holiness, consecration, material gain, physical revenge, beauty, immortality, peace, goodwill and health. Holly water (infused or distilled) was sprinkled on newborn babies to protect them. It can be used ritually to aid and help with a person’s ability to cope with death, and to ease their sleep with peaceful dreams. The Holly has always been associated with mid winter festivals and was used in old Celtic traditions for celebrating the Sun Gods re-birth at the Winter Solstice.
The wood of the Holly tree burns very hot and its charcoal was used to forge the swords, knives and tools necessary for survival and protection. The old smithies and weapon-makers were considered to be great magicians for their ability to use the elements of fire and earth to create these tools. For this reason the druids associated Holly with the element of fire. In the ogham alphabet they called the Holly “Tinne”, which is thought to mean “fire” derived from the word “tinder”, in association with the Holly’s timber used in the fires of the old smithies. In today’s rituals, Holly is used for magick associated with the element of fire and Holly incense is used to consecrate the magickal knife (athame).
The Holly tree deity associations are with: Lugh, Tannus, Taranis and Thor, as well as Tailtiu, Habondia and Tina Etruscan. Its gender type is Masculine. Its planetary ruler is Mars and its associated element is Fire. The bird associated with the month of the Holly is the starling. Holly is used to attract the powers needed for: Protection, Consecration, Healing, Peace, Goodwill, Luck and anything to do with the element Fire.
Astrologically Holly people (i.e. those people born in the month of July) come alive at winter and delight in the cold that most people dislike. They are very balanced in a fight, provided the cause is a just one. They are bearers of truth and demand truth from their friends and associates. They are honest, hardworking and very tolerant of changing situations. They tend to see both sides in an argument but will choose a side if they have to. They also tend to be spiritually advanced but may be clueless to being that way. They can also be showy at times and seek attention.
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