It may be fresh, dried, or artificial, but chances are you hang mistletoe in your home during the holidays. And you have kissed someone under the mistletoe hanging over your head. But do you know anything about this custom or anything about the plant itself?
Drive along any road going south from Virginia during winter, you can see masses of this evergreen plant on tree after tree. But, plant is a misnomer for mistletoe. It is actually a parasite that lives in trees and feeds itself from nutrients contained in the host plant. It is spread by birds eating the berries and the seeds of the berries then passing through in waste and landing on a tree branch. But for the sake of simplicity in this post, I will continue to refer to mistletoe as a plant.
When I was younger, mistletoe was easily found where I lived. People went into the woods with rifles and arrows and literally shot the plant down out of the trees. Then they went around door to door, or to winter craft fests, and sold the plants in small bundles tied with pretty ribbons. People hung them in doorways, or other high places that would allow for people to stand underneath the mistletoe so they could kiss their partner. Some would take the mistletoe and create “kissing balls”, which might also contain other evergreen plants and herbs.
The known custom of hanging the mistletoe dates as far back as the 14th century, but it is the Victorian era interpretation that we are most familiar with today. During the Victorian era, when it was difficult for young lovers to speak to each other alone, a romantic and highly symbolic language was developed using plants and flowers to send messages back and forth to loved ones. Mistletoe was given the meaning of “kiss me” and scores of unmarried young women would line up to stand under the mistletoe during the Christmas festivities to receive a kiss from an unattached young man. Such bold and brazen behavior!
Some of you, like me, keep mistletoe in your home year-round for the good luck it brings. It can repel evil, while allowing the doors to the in-between to remain open for the beneficial visitations from the other side. I never throw away any mistletoe until I have a fresh sprig or bunch to replace it. Doing so would “throw my luck away”. As you can see from my pictures I have had mine for some years now. Where I live, it is hard to find these days due to over-harvest and the lack of the right kind of birds to consume the berries. However, with the internet, I find I can order some and may well do so this season. What is the proper procedure for disposal? You should always burn the old after you have brought in the new. Burning is a sacred disposal and shows respect. Why is that you ask? Well, that’s a long discussion and probably best saved for another post!
WARNING: Mistletoe is a highly poisonous plant (the berries are especially poisonous and should be removed) and must be kept away from children and animals.
I am a Taphophile. I have Taphophilia. It is not a horrific, strange disease, and as scary as the word looks, it is not communicable (but I will do my best to pass it on to you).
The root of the word Taphophilia is Greek. Taphos for grave and phileo for love. The actual meaning of the word as used today is a passion for and an enjoyment of cemeteries. Photography, genealogy, study of architecture, inconography are all subjects that fall under Taphophilia. A Taphophile is an individual who engages in one or more of these interests.
I have, from a very young age, harbored a fascination for cemeteries and graveyards. There is a difference between the two. Cemetery means burial grounds that are taken care of, whether by family members or hirelings, and can be open or closed to new interments (burials). Graveyard means burial grounds that have been neglected, perhaps forgotten, and no longer have interments.
As a child, graveyards were the best. Spooky. Creepy. Home to vampires, zombies, and ghosts. I loved the little frisson of fear that passed over me whenever we passed by a graveyard or when I saw them in movies or in pictures. The older they were the better.
I don’t recall when my love for graveyards changed to encompass cemeteries, but somewhere along the line I discovered that there was a whole lot more to the eye in both places, and a whole lot of learning to be had in them too. And again, the older they are the better they are. I have no real attachment or love for modern burial places. Too sterile. Nothing but sameness as far as the eye can see. Its the older cemeteries and graveyards that hold my love.
Walk into a cemetery created prior to the early 1900s, and you will immediately be surrounded by art, poetry, and prose. Hand carved statues. Angels, figures, flowers, symbols, and inscriptions. Created by artisans in a variety of mediums such as marble and granite. For the most part, one of a kind. The inscriptions can be moving, short bursts of emotion regarding a loved one. A bible verse, or personal lament. A bit of humor here and there.
The symbolism used tells a story about the person buried. It may reflect a personal belief or a belief of the family members. An anchor means eternal life or eternal hope and are found on sailors’ and masonic graves. Calla lillies represent beauty, clasped hands mean farewell to earthly existence or unity. Lambs are most usually found on a child’s grave. Dogs represent loyalty. Most of these are Western meanings and many are Victorian. There are some wonderful books out there on the subject of cemetery symbolism, and much can be found for free on the internet.
Crypts are another interesting feature in the older cemeteries. These structures are very reminiscent of houses, churches, castles, etc. and for the most part, if you were buried in a crypt you either came from a well off family or you amassed the funds over a lifetime to spend on a crypt of your choosing. Some of these crypts will have room for multiple family members. Some will hold only one. Some are grandiose edifices, some are simple in their nature though no less poignant.
Although you will find many crypts, burial mounds and sarcophagi (another form of crypt, more reminiscent of a coffin or casket or a human form) scattered throughout the country, most burials are in-ground. An exception to that rule would be the cemeteries in and around New Orleans. Because the City of New Orleans is below sea level and the water table in the soil is so high, in ground burials, until very recent times, were not the norm. In these cemeteries, the dead are buried in crypts, barrows, and wall ovens, and are reused by generations of family members in those cemeteries that are still accepting interments.
The loveliest cemeteries that I have seen in the U.S. are the garden cemeteries, designed by the Victorians as a park and a place of public entertainment. These cemeteries were modeled on the Paris Pere Lachaise Cemetery and the London Highgate Cemetery. The Victorians enjoyed walking in their cemeteries and even hosted picnics by the loved one’s grave! I have been to two such cemeteries, namely the Metarie Cemetery in New Orleans, and the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond Virginia. Both are on the national historic registry and both have spectacular art, stonework, and landscaping.
When visiting, plan to wear sturdy walking shoes and dress according to the weather. Wear sunscreen and insect repellent. Always, always be aware of your surroundings. Get information regarding the safety of the area, and when in doubt, always leave immediately. Generally it is better not to visit these places alone. Vampires and ghosts are not the only thing to fear in these places.
Remember too that when you are walking around the older cemeteries and graveyards, you are more than likely stepping on someone’s grave. Headstones disappear, are destroyed, stolen, or crumble to dust over time. You never know if the land beneath your feet is hallowed ground. I find myself sincerely and repeatedly saying “Sorry that I stepped on you” whenever I am wandering through. And hoping in my heart that they both hear and forgive me.
Enjoy cemeteries? Clicking any of the pictures featured in this blog will bring you to my shop where you will find beautiful fine art prints of cemeteries (and more!).
In the attic there lies neatly folded
pretty fripperies, mute evidence of someone I wanted
to be once upon a time.
Tarnished crown, plastic slippers, and
a storybook opened to a picture of a handsome prince.
Vision of a pumpkin smashed,
rats running havoc in my dreams, and
didn’t those slippers really shatter as if glass?
So many doors opened, so many slammed shut.
Too many imposters selling the wrong fairy tale
and nobody lived happily ever after.
I gave up.
Packed away the frills, gave the princess
walking papers, and looked every frog
in the eye and proclaimed him suspect.
Until I saw a face in the mirror looking over my shoulder.
She still looks the same after all these years.
She leads me up to the attic and smiles
while I dress myself in tattered finery, rub the
tarnish from my crown, and rush
to open yet another door.
Deborah Decker 1/5/2012
The new year has started and already I feel a difference. Just something about it. I woke up feeling happier and a bit more fulfilled. Went shopping on New Year’s Day, got a new printer that will be better suited to producing digital artwork, and have ordered a table top studio for taking pictures of items I will have for sale in my Etsy store (http://www.etsy.com/shop/twistedpixelstudio).
There’s a saying in our family that whatever you are doing at the stroke of 12 AM on Jan 1 is what you will be doing year round. To stack the deck more in my favor with the hope that I will continue to nurture the creativity in me, I spent New Year’s Eve creating new prototypes for blank greeting cards. Here are two so far:
Made using prints of my digital art. These were prints that did not quite turn out as good as I thought they should be. I couldn’t just trash them. Hey, its my art, my baby! Shamelessly vain, that’s me! So, I decided to try a technique I have used to make paper quilts and started cutting and punching the prints, and then weaving the strips together and adding punched embellishments. Not to shabby, me thinks. There are more in the works.