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In the Ogham, it was stated that the Holly was "best in the fight," since it helped balance both the positive and negative aspects of the self, thus revealing a new direction. It was believed to restore lost energy, bestowing the strength needed to continue toward a resolution. Despite its prickly leaves (which afford protection to the tree during Winter), the Holly offered empathy and understanding within its branches and was often associated with goodwill and love...virtues of certain Gods and Godesses. For this reason, it was frequently planted near homes for protection and to ward off evil, psychic attacks and demons. When Celtic chieftains chose a successor, that successor was crowned with a Holly wreath and branches of the tree were carried by Celtic men for good luck. The Holly was said to ease thoughts of jealousy and mistrust while providing protection from evil spirits. Also reputed to tame wild beasts, babies were bathed in water from the leaves in order to protect them from harm.
The Holly (also known as "Bat's Wings" and "Christ's Thorn" among others) was thought to repel enemies and warriors would carry cudgels and fashion spear shafts made of its wood. As a symbol of good luck and good fortune, the Holly was the evergreen twin of the Oak in Celtic mythology and was often referred to by the name "Kerm-Oak." As the Oak ruled the light part of the year, thus did the Holly rule the dark. The Holly also represented the eternal, ever-green aspects of Mother Earth. With Ivy and Mistletoe, the Holly was regarded as a potent life symbol by virtue of its year-long foliage and Winter fruits. Holly wood was also formerly one of the three timbers used in the construction of chariot wheel shafts. The ancient name for the Holly was "Holm" and, with the coming of Christianity, it became known as the Holy Tree...symbolic of the Crown of Thorns.
The Holly was particularly sacred to the Druids who instructed folk to take it into their homes during Winter in order to provide shelter for the Elves and Faeries during cold weather. It was said that to keep even one leaf inside after Imbolc (a MidWinter celebration also known as Candlemas) would bring about misfortune. In Ancient Rome, gifts of Holly were given during the Saturnalia celebration and the use of its branches as Yule decorations was common to many cultures. The image of the Holly King is familiar to most people and has been personified as the Ghost of Christmas Present in several celluloid versions of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." By tradition, a Holly branch should never be cut from the tree but instead, must be pulled off. It is considered unlucky to cut or burn Holly, but it is thought to be lucky to hang a small branch remaining from the Yule celebrations outside the house. This is said to protect against lightning and ensure good fortune.
To the Druids, the Holly was regarded as a strong and protective herb, guarding against evil spirits, short-tempered Elementals, poisons, thunder and lightning. The notion of protection against lightning is based upon the fact that the spikes of Holly leaves act as miniature conductors, granting immunity to the tree. It was also believed to be especially favored by the Sun. As a magickal herb, the Holly bestowed wisdom and courage and was considered to be useful in dream magick. According to lore, if a young girl gathered nine leaves from the "she-holly" at midnight on a Friday and then tied them into a three-cornered handkerchief using nine knots, she might dream of her future husband by placing the handkerchief beneath her pillow. A variation of this spell dictated that the leaves had to be collected in silence and bound in a white cloth...again using nine knots. This, when placed under the pillow, was said to make dreams come true. It was once thought that if the smooth leaves of the "she-holly" were brought into the house first during Yule, then the wife would rule the household during the approaching year. If the "he-holly" with its prickly leaves were brought in first, then the husband would rule. It was also once believed that if a man carried a Holly leaf or berry upon his person, he would become attractive to women. One old custom associated with the Holly was to place pieces of candle on the leaves, light the candles and then float them in a tub of water. Each person would then make a wish upon their leaf. If the candle remained lit, then the wish was said to come true. According to Pliny, Holly wood when thrown in the direction of any animal would compel that animal to obey. Medicinally, the Holly was used during meditation to calm the mind and body.
In Christian lore, the Holly miraculously grew its leaves out of season one Winter night in order to hide the Holy Family from Herod's soldiers. One variation on an ancient legend also states that it was the tree from which Christ's crucifix was made, all of the trees of the forests refusing the defilement of the cross by splintering into tiny fragments at the touch of the axe, the Holly alone behaved as an ordinary tree, allowing itself to be cut and formed into a cross.
The Holly tree (of which there are well over 150 species) can grow (albeit very slowly) to be as high as fifty feet and is native to most of Central and Southern Europe. Its white, star-shaped flowers bloom in the Spring and it bears shiny red berries in Autumn which last throughout the Winter season. The leaves of the Holly are shiny, dark green in color, elliptical in shape and have spiny points. In order to produce berries, both a male and a female tree are required. Only the female tree produces berries which, although lovely to look at, are poisonous. Given its evergreen nature, the Holly represented immortality and was one of the Nine Sacred Woods used in Need-Fires (the others being Oak, Pine, Hazel, Juniper, Cedar, Poplar, Apple and Ash). In ancient Irish lore, it was also listed as one of the Noble Trees of the Grove (along with Birch, Alder, Willow, Oak, Hazel and Apple). The Holly tree has a fine white wood which was once used in the making of inlays and for walking sticks as well as riding crops. Its leaves are a favorite food among deer and sheep during the Winter months. The wood of the Holly is hard, compact and beautifully white in color, being susceptible of a very high polish.
There are two distinct types of Holly individuals (a division which relates to all Celtic Tree Signs). The "new moon" character is associated with the first two weeks of a sign and the "full moon" character is associated with the last two weeks.
The "new moon" Holly individual is more inclined to become involved with the dreams and ambitions of others by providing both financial and emotional support. While this is indicative of an unselfish and sympathetic nature, it can lead to a blind optimism which may be personally damaging. The "full moon" Holly individual is more committed to his or her own dreams and amibitions. Such people are likely to become the founding members of societies or business corporations while still retaining a sense of history and tradition. The "full moon" Holly individual, however, is frequently hypersenstive to personal criticism and may be forced to retreat periodically from the world.
In general, Holly individuals are practical, capable and steadfast in the face of adversity. Being cautious, logical and efficient, they possess a good business sense, but prefer to assist rather than lead. In relationships, Holly people are supportive, protective and possessive. Holly individuals have a tendency to strive for perfection, which often leads to loss of confidence and direction. They exhibit a large amount of personal integrity and tend to influence things a great deal, but usually behind the scenes. Their word is literally their bond and honor is their guiding principle. The weak point of the Holly individual is sensitivity to personal criticism...his or her need for constant affection and attention can make the Holly demanding in a close relationship. There may also be a tendency to exhibit a miserly attitude. Not known to be risk-takers until all the facts have been gathered, the Holly individual possesses the ability to solve difficult problems through the use of simple logic.
Holly individuals are attracted to banking and insurance. They are strong-willed and make for trustworthy friends with a great reserve of physical endurance. Down-to-earth people, they usually possess much spiritual contentment. The Holly individual tends to be a collector of artifacts and has an excellent eye for a "good deal." As a mate, the Holly person is affectionate...although often overly-protective...not inclined to wander and frequently marries a childhood sweetheart. Hollies also make for tolerant and very supportive spouses and tend to have a number of close friends of both sexes. Although sometimes appearing to lack a sense of humor, this is chiefly due to the dislike of the Holly individual to laugh at the expense of another. Holly people can be reclusive and all require a quiet place of their own in which to take respite from the huge responsibilities they usually place upon themselves.