Walking in my yard today, I stopped to take a look at a sprouting and very Saturnine holly bush that I cut back a few years ago. Weaving itself through the crisp thorny leaves was holly’s famous partner for the holiday season, ivy. For years, I’ve pulled the ivy and pulled the ivy which determinedly returns again and again, but today—in honor of the holiday season and their special place in it—I left this pair to carry on their legendary affair.
Plant holly during the third quarter moon phase and in the autumn if possible. Planting trees and shrubs in the autumn allows them to establish themselves for their busy spring season. Planting during the spring and summer requires extra attention to water needs.
It’s really hard to get rid of a holly bush. They’re incredibly strong and long-lived (Saturn). At one time there were many of them in my yard, grown tall and scraggly from lack of pruning. It was a very 70’s thing to plant holly around houses to deter burglars. If you’ve ever been tangled in a prickly (Mars) holly bush, the reason to plant them beneath windows to deter burglars becomes immediately clear. Quite a few of the hollies were cut down on my property, but many remain.
When I learned how helpful holly can be in clearing negativity, there was no way I was going to be without it.
I was experiencing some uneasy, very negative vibes in our guest bedroom a couple of years ago. A Bach Flower Essence practitioner suggested that I place of vase of holly in the room to help clear the air, literally. Fortunately, holly will last for what seems like forever in a vase of water so I was able to leave it in the room for several months with an occasional water change. The heavy feel of the room began to lighten within a couple of weeks and was clear by the end of the second month. I left the holly in the room for a couple of more months. It was starting to turn a little brown by then, but the vibe in the room was so much improved that I wasn’t taking any chances. (Read more about holly flower essence and negativity below.)
Culpepper assigns rulership of holly to Saturn based on its medicinal properties in treating Saturn-ruled bones, phlegm, and its ability to bind the body.
“…The bark of the tree, and also the leaves, are excellently good, being used in fomentations for broken bones, and such members as are out of joint. Pliny saith, the branches of the tree defend houses from lightning, and men from witchcraft.”—Culpepper’s Complete Herbal & English Physician
Don’t rely on this medical information. See a doctor for all medical conditions. We’ve come a long way since this herbal was published in 1649.
Scott Cunningham associates holly with Mars, probably due to the sharp, prickly leaves instead of the medicinal properties noted by Culpepper, as well as its magical use to “guard against lightning, poison and evil spirits.” (Note: Mars had rulership of lightning before it was given modern rulership to Uranus.)
Bach Flower Essence
It’s easy to see Holly’s association with Saturn in the Bach flower essence remedies. The key symptoms used in prescribing Holly are jealousy, distrust, discontent, sadness, and a lack of compassion and warmth.
Holly protects us from everything that is not Universal love. Holly opens the heart and unites us with Divine Love.—Dr. Edward Bach
Holly is remedy #15 of the Bach Flower Essences. This is interesting because the number 6 (15=1+5=6) is the number of love, associated with Venus. Venus is, indeed, a remedy for Saturn’s often cold and calculating insensitivity.
In this season of light, bring some holly inside, dispel any lingering negativity and replace it with love.
Legends and Lore
In the language of flowers, holly sends the message of “foresight.”
Holly is a very popular greenery during the holidays, finding its way into wreaths and encircling candles on our holiday tables and mantles. The holly blooms in June/July, however. Because of its bloom time, it is associated with the eighth month of the Celtic tree and/or lunar calendar (July 8-August 4) which includes portions of the western zodiac signs of Cancer and Leo. The Druid calendar gives rulership of this month, also known as Tinne, to Earth. (Source: The Celtic Lunar Zodiac by Helena Paterson)
Glad Christmas comes, and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now,
E’en want will dry its tears in mirth,
And crown him with a holly bough
—John Clare, Christmas Time
Liz and Colin Murray, authors of The Celtic Tree Oracle, give a condensed meaning of Holly as “best in the fight.” It has won every fight it’s had with me, that’s for sure. Their more accurate reference is to holly being used to make spears.
Holly and ivy join in a male/female relationship with holly as the male and ivy as the female. There are both male and female hollies, however. Male and female flowers differ, as do the leaves. Only the female plants produce berries.
“…since the thorny-leaved plants are considered male and the smooth are known as female, the variety first brought into the house during the holidays determines which gender shall lead the household during the next year.”—Dorothy Morrison, Yule
Shakespeare makes little note of holly in his plays, but he does mention it in song in As You Like It, Act II, Sc. 7:
Heigh-ho! sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly.
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.
Then, heigh-ho, the holly! This life is most jolly.
Many, many years ago, plants of all kinds were given common or folk names. Some of Holly’s cloaked names are Bat’s Wings, Wool of Bat, and Christ’s Thorn. Legend tells us that Christ’s crown was made from the holly, the little red berries representing blood.
Bat wing is the nickname for holly leaves, a plant of good fortune, doubly enhanced by its resemblance to the flying mammal’s wing.—Judika Illes, Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells
Holly receives quite a bit of attention in The Folk-lore of Plants by T.F. Thiselton-Dyer, 1889
“Speaking of the holly, Mr. Conway remarks that, “it was to the ancient races of the north a sign of the life which preserved nature through the desolation of winter, and was gathered into pagan temples to comfort the sylvan spirits during the general death.” He further adds that “it is a singular fact that it is used by the wildest Indians of the Pacific coast in their ceremonies of purification. The ashen-faggot was in request for the Christmas fire, the ceremonies relating to which are well known.” (Note: an ashen-faggot is similar to a yule log, either a large log or a bundle of ash sticks, wikipedia)
“Among the supernatural qualities of the holly recorded by Pliny, we are told that its flowers cause water to freeze, that it repels lightning, and that if a staff of its wood be thrown at any animal, even if it fall short of touching it, the animal will be so subdued by its influence as to return and lie down by it.”
“…for chilblains, a Derbyshire cure is to thrash them with holly…”
“Holly is said to be antagonistic to witches, for, as Mr. Folkard says, “in its name they see but another form of the word ‘holy’ and its thorny foliage and blood-red berries are suggestive of the most Christian associations.”
And my personal favorite:
“By lovers the holly has long been supposed to have mystic virtues as a dream-plant when used on the eve of any of the following festivals: Christmas, New Year’s Day, Midsummer, and All Hallowe’en.
According to the mode of procedure practised in the northern counties, the anxious maiden, before retiring to rest, places three pails full of water in her bedroom, and then pins to her nightdress three leaves of green holly opposite to her heart, after which she goes to sleep.
Believing in the efficacy of the charm, she persuades herself that she will be roused from her first slumber by three yells, as if from the throats of three bears, succeeded by as many hoarse laughs. When these have died away, the form of her future husband will appear, who will show his attachment to her by changing the position of the water-pails, whereas if he have no particular affection he will disappear without even touching them.”