HISTORIES & FOLKLORE
Indigenous uses of holly are varied but do have medicinal applications across North and South America. It's known among various Southeastern (North American) tribes as “black drink”, an infusion (do not try this) for ritual purification, both physically and spiritually; or to inspire visions and ecstasies. Yerba Mate is one of three caffeine-containing holly species whose leaves are toasted over a fire and then made into a stimulating tea, although some people also use the leaves green. The two South American caffeinated varieties, including Yerba Mate, are used as both a social drink and in ceremony before divination. The third caffeinated species is what’s used to make “black drink” across the Southeast, and through records of trade and remnants of pottery, we know this drink made it as far north as the Great Lakes region. While it's commonly understood that black drink incorporates additional herbs, for obvious reasons (this is a closed culture), that recipe isn’t shared outside of tradition.
Beyond the Americas, holly has a strong presence in folklore and medicine throughout the world. During Saturnalia, the Romans were given to decorate their homes with greenery, often incorporating holly into boughs and wreaths. Across Northern Europe, holly boughs are used to decorate homes in winter, as it's believed the red berries carry the symbolism of renewed life in the bleakness of midwinter. Some believe bringing the boughs inside at winter is an invitation or an offering to kindly spirits but that come spring festival time, the greenery should be burned to symbolize the end of winter. However, In Scotland, holly charms are hung at the threshold and considered strong protection, and therefore unlucky to burn. Like other trees with thorns and/or red berries, holly is associated with the Otherworld but also because the berries were associated with hot coals, the forge of the god Goibniu, master metalsmith of the Tuatha Dé Dannan, the predominant pantheon of deities in the Irish tradition. In the Irish ogham, holly is associated with the fires of coal, the marrow of charcoal, a molten ingot; a third of a weapon, a third of a wheel; or a blade. This makes holly, known as tinne, associated not just with wealth but with authority of the arts and craftsmanship. The wood itself is very hard, and starkly white. It was used for shields, weaponry, staves, and wheels, solidifying its associations with protection and defense. In heraldry, holly is used to symbolize truth; for example, the coat of arms for the Southwestern Norwegian municipality of Stord has a yellow twig of holly against a red shield.
Holly’s magical associations are deeply rooted in ideas of protection against the forces of nature (and especially lightning), the fae, witches and sorcerers, and other hostilities or maladies. As an ogham association, holly is sometimes associated with the Sun as a catalyst for wealth, value, the brilliance of fresh, hot iron. Holly is also worn, hung up, made into charms or satchels, dried and burned, made into tools to invite and promote good fortune, prosperity, luck, and dreams. Holly can be used in protective or banishing work. Holly water was asperged on newborns for protection and prosperity, and can also be used to consecrate one’s magical tools and objects. Use holly wood for any magical tool related to the kind of work associated with the plant; it’s common for wands and staves to be made from holly and some prefer their runes to be made from this wood, as well. Because of its midwinter associations of death and rebirth, holly is an appropriate addition to any kind of ritual ancestral work or any kind of magical work related to the cycle of birth and death.
All Anglo Saxon Artemis Asia Asperge Beer Birth Blessing Brodo Candies Ceremony Charms China Confectionary Culinary History Death Dessert Divination Dreams Elf Shot England Erynn Rowan Laurie European Floor Wash Florida Water Folklore Fumigation Germany Goibniu Great Lakes Region Greek Helen Of Troy Horseheal H-Úath Incense Ireland Japan Love Lustral Water Medicine Medieval Middle East Midwest Midwinter Mochi Nine Herbs Charm North America Northern European Ogham Porridge Protection Pudding Rebirth Recels Ritual Rome Rose Runes Saturnalia Scandinavia Scotland Smoke Ritual St. John's Day St. John The Baptist Stuffing Thorns Tinne Tonic Tuatha Dé Dannan Wales Wards Wine Wormwood Yerba Mate