History; Long associated with Yule and Saturnalia this is another sacred herb of the druids, they were said to keep holly in their homes so all woodland spirits would have a safe refuge against the snow and the cold. The Romans would give gifts of Holly to their friends during the Saturnalia celebrations, and there are many historical references of Holly being made into wreaths. Churches would be ‘decked’ in Holly on Christmas Eve, and as with many Christian rituals and traditions this was seen as a way of appeasing and incorporating earlier Pagan traditions – the Holly King and the Oak King are popular images still.
The Holly King; The Holly King and the Oak King fight for dominance as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice, or Yule, the Oak King conquers the Holly King, and then reigns until Midsummer, or Litha. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the old king, and defeats him. In the legends of some belief systems, the dates of these events are shifted; the battle takes place at the Equinoxes, so that the Oak King is at his strongest during Midsummer, or Litha, and the Holly King is dominant during Yule. From a folkloric and agricultural standpoint, this interpretation seems to make more sense and it makes more sense to me as a pagan – which is why the Holly King is such a powerful Yule image, but as the days begin to grow longer once more he looses his strength. In other Wiccan traditions, the Oak King and the Holly King are seen as dual aspects of the Horned God. Each of these twin aspects rules for half the year, battles for the favour of the Goddess, and then retires to nurse his wounds for the next six months, until it is time for him to reign once more.
Holly the Plant; Native to Central and southern parts of Europe, Holly grows slowly and takes 2 years to germinate once planted. It has spiky, glossy leaves that stay on the plant for a number of years and produces bright red berries that can be poisonous to humans, but are eaten by animals. Holly planted around your house is said to bring protection, and it is a wonderful tradition if you have a Holly Bush to bring in a few sprigs for Yule – who wouldn’t want to provide some shelter for a few woodland spirits during the snow?
Herbal; Culpepper says ‘the bark and leaves are good used as fomentations for broken bones and such members as are out of joint.‘ Holly leaves have been used as a diaphoretic and an infusion of them was given in catarrh, 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 employed with advantage in jaundice. The berries possess totally different qualities to the leaves, being violently emetic and purgative, a very few occasioning excessive vomiting soon after they are swallowed, though thrushes and blackbirds eat them. The leaves of Holly have been employed in the Black Forest as a substitute for tea. Paraguay Tea, so extensively used in Brazil, is made from the dried leaves and young shoots of another species of Holly.
Holly Bach Flower; Possibly its most popular and recommended Herbal use is as a Bach Flower remedy. Holly is taken as a remedy for Anger, and in particular negative or aggressive feelings directed towards others, such as hatred, suspicion and anger. As Bach Flower remedies look holistically at an issue the Holly looks to address the underlining issue – which is often based on an absence of love, and Holly works to encourage generosity of spirit and openness to others.
Ritual; As above bring Holly into your home at Yule to provide a refuge for woodland spirits, Decorate your altars, mantelpieces and shelves in celebration of the time of year in which the Holly King is strongest. If you can get hold of enough Holly make a wreath to wear or hang, this is best done by threading the Holly carefully through an existing wreath of bendable wood such as willow or any soft branches you can find that will bend and hold together.
Image; Margaret Ellis – Paintersonline.com
Reference; bachcentre.com, Master Book of Herbalism; Paul Beyerl, Botanical.com, Culpepper, Grieve, earthwitchery.com and paganwicca.about.com