Another Obscured Mistletoe

Dear pagan readers,

Today I will introduce you to a tree parasite just as important as the mistletoe for the pagans living close to the arctic circle. The documentation about this sacred tree parasite regarding mythology in ancient times is almost non existant. For the pagan tribes using it had a very strong oral tradition but an almost non existant written tradition. These were mostly druidic tribes, like the gaels, gauls, etc. and we all know that invasions, conquests and assimilations did not left much information about their lore and myths, their knowledge and vast wisdom. But I did my best to gather the available knowledge on the subject. The host tree I already discussed in an earlier article: the birch tree.

birches

The Celtic birch, or ‘Beith’, played a spiritual role in the lives of our Gaelic ancestors, symbolising renewal and purification. ‘Beith’ was the first letter B in the early medieval Celtic tree alphabet or ‘Ogham’ and also represented the first month of the Celtic year.

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The birch was part of the celebration during the festival of Samhain (what is now Halloween) held from sunset on 31 October to sunset on 1 November, which marked the culmination of summer and the harvest period with the onset of winter. During this period, ‘besoms’, or brooms made of birch twigs, were used to drive out the spirits of the old year in anticipation of the return of spring and a new awakening.

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The birch tree, or ‘Lady of the Woods’ represented fertility and new birth, and in this way, echoed Norse mythology where the birch is dedicated to Thor, and also to the goddess Frigga, the goddess of marriage, childbirth and motherhood. A ‘besom wedding’ was a marriage ceremony also referred to as ‘jumping the broom’, where the besom would be held over the doorway of the couple’s home, and the couple would jump over it and then be married. It is still possible to ‘jump the broom’ as part of a traditional Highland wedding ceremony today. Birch was also featured prominently in the May Day festival of Beltane. The fires of Beltane were kindled with birch twigs and fertility dances would be performed around an often living birch maypole to ensure health and abundant crops.

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There are a variety of medicinal and even beautifying properties attributed to different parts of the birch tree by folklore and herbalism. The astringent leaves have diuretic and antiseptic properties. Consumed as a tea, the leaves were, and still are, used as a remedy for cystitis and other urinary tract infections. They were also used to dissolve kidney stones and relieve rheumatism and gout. The sap as discussed in an earlier article was given for kidney and gall-bladder stones, and also for rheumatism and gout. Women in the Highlands were known to use birch sap as a hair shampoo and even to rinse their hair with an infusion of spring birch twigs. Both birch tea and sap contain significant amounts of vitamin C. The bark, when soaked in hot water, was applied to the body to ease muscle pain. The ancient practice of dry distilling birch bark also produces an oil or ‘birch tar’ which contains antiseptic compounds or phenols (which are highly concentrated in chaga, oups, I just gave the clue…), making it useful for the treatment of skin wounds or infections. There is evidence of birch tar chewing gum being used thousands of years ago to treat gum infections. Birch tar is still regarded as an effective treatment for acne, eczema, psoriasis and dandruff. Birch tar soap certainly has a very pungent, though not unpleasant, antiseptic smell. The tender inner layer of birch bark, known as the cambium, can also be made into a surprisingly delicious and refreshing tea, or even ground down into a flour for baking. But historically, it has been used mostly when the crops were bad.

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So the birch tree has great importance in Celtic folklore and medicine, and can even be consumed as a food. No wonder chaga mushroom, the sacred mushroom, which concentrates within it the therapeutic phytonutrients of the birch, whilst adding a myriad of its own, is such a powerful medicinal mushroom. What we call ‘Chaga’ is the dense black mass (25-40 cm large) that can be seen on the outside of trees (almost exclusively birches) infected with the fungus Inonotus obliquus. It is not a fruiting body (meant for spreading spores, the final stage in the life of many mushrooms) but a dense sterile mass of mycelia, with decayed bits of birch tissue incorporated. When chopped from the tree the interior has a rusty yellow-brown color, somewhat granular in appearance, and is often mottled with whitish or cream-colored veins. The hard, deeply cracked black outside of the Chaga is called the sclerotium. This is important, because this sclerotium contains a massive amount of a specific fungi-melanin, giving a very high level of anti-oxidants and turning Chaga into powerful anti-aging tool. Typically, well-developed Chaga sclerotia are found on trees over 40 years of age, but the infection starts earlier. The period from initial infection to tree death varies with the number of infection sites and tree resistance, but is typically around 20 years. After about 3-5 years the Chaga can be harvested. After harvesting, chaga can regrow to harvestable size again in three to ten years, and this can be repeated until the tree dies. Chopping off the Chaga does not stop the infection.

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‘Chaga tea’ was used for the treatment of an upset stomach and intestinal pains. Such a decoction was (and still is) especially popular among hunters and foresters, since this drink alleviates hunger, removes tiredness, refreshes, and increases work capacity. Chaga tea is also used as a means of improving the general tone. Patients were (and still are) frequently recommended to use chaga extracts when it was necessary to reduce the arterial or venous blood pressure. Chaga infusions were (and still are)also used for the treatment of periodontitis, eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. Inhalations of chaga with other herbs are until today being used to reduce inflammations in the nasopharynx and to facilitate breathing. Chaga was also used in agriculture, in particular in animal breeding: adding chaga to the ration of pigs stimulates the growth of piglets and accelerates the weight gain of fatteners. Chaga has also been used as a plant growth stimulator, like fertilizer. Chaga develops best in very cold regions and it appears that the more harsh the climate and the swings in temperature, the better the therapeutic quality of the Chaga. Harsh climate + birch forest = high Chaga potential!

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Chaga was and is still used for general well-being, internal cleaning (we would call it ‘detoxing’) and curing and preventing disease in general, but in particular for liver problems, heart problems, tuberculosis and to get rid of parasitic worms. It was prepared as a tea. (method of preparation: cut up dried Chaga, put it into boiling water, boil for several minutes.)Three cm3 were used for 2.5 l of tea, and the tea was drunk until the ailment was cured. The Chaga was also used to make ‘soap water‘. To make ‘soap water‘ the fungus was first put into the fire. When it turned red (like smoldering charcoal) it was put into a bucket of hot water and then stirred until it broke into small pieces. The black water thus obtained has a strong cleaning and disinfecting ability. This ‘soap water‘ was used to wash the genitals of women during menstruation and after birth; sometimes new-born babies were also washed. It can be compared to the effect of a KMnO4 solution (potassium permanganate; a disinfectant used in Russia to wash new-borns the first three months after their birth) and stated that women who washed themselves with such water, never took ill. In older times it had been used instead of soap to wash the hands, feet and sometimes also the whole body. Chaga was also burned and the smoke was inhaled; its purpose was ritual cleaning.

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As you can see, the Chaga was an essential for survival in the northern regions. It’s multitude of purposes and benefits and the hunt linked to it’s harvest clearly justify his sacred status. About the hunt, I guess the fact that 1 birch tree out of 10000 bears chaga justify calling the harvest a “hunt”. For our ancestors, to have found a chaga was likely to have been a greater discovery than that of finding gold. Thus the chaga beholder was probably seen as some kind of savior and must have been honored by the whole tribe. For the survival and wealth of their tribe was secured by the chaga. I highly recommend you to use it on a daily basis if you manage achieve a successful hunt…

Hail and joy!

Fred

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17 thoughts on “Another Obscured Mistletoe

      • Ah, still stucked to the urban life, with very few money and using quite all my free time to know more deeply our heritage. I really understood that I have the need to find a good woman as soon as possible: among the other things, it is a decisive factor for concretely planning and do steps forward on long-term objectives…

        Thanks for asking! I hope that you and your family are doing well as always!

  1. Pingback: Another Another Mistletoe | Ceremonial Magick Musings

  2. Salut Fred! Je vis dans les laurentides! Je buvais du Chaga à chaque jour depuis plus d’un an jusqu’à temps qu’on m’apprene une mauvaise nouvelle. Je connais des naturopathes très professionnelles qu’ils ont eux droit à des formations avec le représantant du plus grand mycologue au monde. Ils ont parlé du Chaga et de ces merveilleuses propriétés reconnus depuis des décennies! Le problème est du aux radicaux libres et les pluis acides. Le Chaga tel qu’on le récolte est le fruit du champignon. Ce fruit agit comme une éponge donc absorbe radicaux libres, pluies acides, pollution, ect. Ce qu’on doit récolté en nature est le coeur du champignon qui se retrouve dans l’arbre, le mycelium. Donc, quand on se fait des tisanes, tout ces indésirés se retrouve dans notre eau… C’est sure qu’il y a 100ans les amérindiens en prennaient régulièrement car la pollution était moindre mais maintenant… J’ai arrêté depuis et c’est bien triste. Désolé pour cette nouvelle… Hail the Gods!!

    • Je suis bien au courant de ça. C’est pourquoi il faut chercher le chaga loin des routes et des zones industrielles. Mais il ne faut pas non plus extremiser la chose. Le chaga absorbe les poluants de l’air tout comme nos poumons le font à chacunes de nos respirations. C’est pour la même raison que j’évite les centre urbains comme la peste. Pour revenir aux radicaux libre, comme je disais, le chaga agit comme notre corps en general, puisque nous absorbons aussi ceux ci par notre derme et nos muqueuses. Cependant, les propriétés détoxifiantes sont toujours là, et c’est pourquoi je préfère les aliments sauvages aux aliments de productions qui sont ultra aseptisé et même traité avec toutes sortes de produits douteux. À mon avis, de faire circuler ses radicaux libre dans notre corps via la digestion du chaga est moin dommageable que de respirer sur Atwater, car le chaga nous detoxifie par la même occasion, mais pas une promenade sur Atwater par contre. Le poisson que je mange, les volailles comme le canard et l’outarde, le cerf, les baies, les noix et graines sont aussi exposé à ses radicaux libre quand on y pense. Mais heureusement, lorsque l’on avale quelque chose, notre foie est là pour filtrer. À mon avis, une injection intraveineuse comme un vaccin est beaucoup plus dangeureux que de manger des aliments contaminé, car lorsqu’injecté dans notre systeme sanguin, le foie ne peut filtrer…

      • J’appréci ta réponse rempli de justesse et de véracité! Je suis très content que tu aies recommencé à écrire sur ton site! Tout le monde l’ai d’ailleurs! Hail the pagan from vinland! Hail the Gods!

  3. Hello, Frederik !
    I want to ask of you guidance upon the herbalist path !
    Books that I can read, websites that I can visit, etc.

    Thank you in advance !

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