Herb /Plant of the Season: Holly
The Holly tree (Ilex aquifolium) as a symbol of goodwill, peace, health, and happiness is one of the sacred trees of Witchcraft, but its most common association is as a Christmas seasonal decoration. In England, Holly is an important native evergreen, as it is to most parts of central and southern Europe, but it is also grown in America, China, and Japan. In the barren whiteness of winter against the frost and snow, Holly forms one of the most striking objects in the woodlands. Its glossy green leaves and clusters of scarlet/red berries, add a flash of color to trees without leaves cheering the hearts of weary wanderers. Many of the old Christmas Carols are full of allusions to Holly.
In folklore, the Holly is associated with the spirit of vegetation and the waning forces of nature, which are represented through the mythical figure of the Holly King. The Holly King rules nature during its decline from mid-summer through to mid-winter when at the winter solstice he is defeated in ritual combat by his brother the Oak King, who then claims and rules the following seasons. The Holly King is often depicted as an old man dressed in winter clothing wearing a wreath of holly on his head and walking with the aid of a staff made from a Holly branch. Traditionally at Christmas time a man was dressed up and covered in Holly branches and leaves, and a woman was likewise dressed in Ivy (the female counterpart of Holly). Together they would be paraded through the streets hand in hand leading the old year into the new. This is symbolic of the fertile interaction of the goddess and god during nature’s decline and the darkest time of the year, from which the new light of the sun-god springs forth encouraging fresh growth and renewed vegetation during the coming new year. Today the Holly King has been stylized by the figure of Santa Claus
Holly leaves were formerly used as a diaphoretic and an infusion of them was given in catarrh, bronchitis, pneumonia, influenza, pleurisy, and smallpox. They have also been used in intermittent fevers and rheumatism for their tonic properties. The juice of the fresh leaves has been used to advantage in jaundice, and when sniffed was said to stop a runny nose. When soaked in vinegar and left for a day and a night, it was used to cure corns. An old remedy for chilblains was to thrash them with a branch of Holly to “chase the chills out”, but this could also be painful.
The berries possess totally different qualities to the leaves, being violently emetic and purgative, a very few can cause excessive vomiting soon after they are swallowed. They have been used in dropsy, also in a powder as an astringent to check bleeding. Culpepper says’s “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 though, for the berries can be poisonous to children
Holly was revered for its protective qualities. The Holly guards against lightning, poisoning and mischievous spirits, and when planted around the home it protects the inhabitants from evil sorcerers. 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 corresponding female). Holly leaves wrapped in an appropriately colored cloth to protect against its needles, placed under your pillow will make your dreams come true. Holly is used for magick associated with the element of fire and Holly incense is used to consecrate the magickal knife (athame).
In ritual uses, Holly is associated with the death and rebirth symbolism of winter. Holly also symbolizes holiness, consecration, material gain, physical revenge, beauty, and immortality, as well as peace, goodwill, and health. 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 birth at the winter solstice
Its deity associations are Tannus, Taranis and Thor. Its gender type is Masculine. Its planetary ruler is Mars and its associated element is Fire. Holly is used to attracting the powers needed for: Protection, Healing, Peace, Goodwill, Luck and anything to do with the element Fire.
Astrologically Holly people (i.e. those people born in the month of June) are often very religious. They come alive in winter and delight in the cold that most people dislike. Holly people are very balanced in a fight if the cause is just. They are bearers of truth and demand truth from their friends and associates. Holly people are honest, hardworking and very tolerant of situations. They tend to see both sides in an argument but will choose a side if they have to. They tend to be spiritually advanced and yet maybe clueless to being that way. They can also be showy at times and seek attention