Siege Diaries 12/3/2020

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Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt:  What practical problems am I solving with this philosophy?

One of the most practical things doing this daily prompt is encouraging is completely meta:  Doing these prompts daily is making me write daily.   They always give me a topic, even on days where I don’t think anything interesting happened.  More often than not, I end up remembering something I’ve read, or listened to, or even something simple that I’ve done.  Looking back on my memories of the past, I’ve found myself wishing I’d written down thoughts or kept mementos of not just the big events, but also the everyday rhythm of life.  What I am doing right now, by living in the present, is creating a record of memories for the future.

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SMASH for today:

Silk banner (above) is well underway.

On a pagan tradition adapted for Christmas:
Kissing beneath mistletoe is a Christmas tradition.  But how did this parasitic plant with its poisonous berries come to be associated with the holiday?   The roots of the association may go back as far as the Romans, who seemed to have associated the plant with fertility and featured it in Saturnalia celebrations around the winter solstice.  The plant was also sacred to the Druids, and there seems to have been a belief that the mistletoe, which often grows on the oak, kept the spirit of the oak alive in winter—as mistletoe does not shed its green leaves.

But the more famous tale comes from the Norse.  Frigg, wife to Odin, the goddess of wisdom and foresight, had a son named Baldr, considered the most beautiful and shining of the gods, immune to all harm, associated with summer and light.  He had a dream one night, however, that foretold his death. Frightened, he told his mother, who knew if Baldr were to die, all life on earth would also die and the world would be plunged into darkness.  So she called upon all of the elements, all of the plants, and all of the animals of the world to swear they would not hurt her son, and they agreed.  But Frigg overlooked the mistletoe, and the trickster Loki, learning of this, fashioned an arrow out of this plant.  He gave it to Baldr’s blind twin, Hodr, who is associated with winter and darkness, and Hodr unknowingly shot his brother in the chest and killed him. Frigg tried desperately to bring Baldr back to life, and was able to get the goddess Hel to promise to revive him if every creature on all the worlds were to weep for him, but one giantess (thought to, perhaps, be Loki in disguise) refused.  Some say that the mistletoe berries represent those tears.   (Note that many of the “history of mistletoe” sites make mistakes in this story, such as conflating Frigg with Freya (the goddess of love and peace) or claiming that Frigg was able to revive Baldr.  In actual Norse myth, the death of Baldr is final (although it is avenged) and is one of the presages of Ragnarokr.)

Because of the association of the story with gods of summer and winter, as well as the folklore about the plant sustaining the oak in winter, mistletoe became one of the evergreens commonly associated with Yule.  As Yule and Christmas traditions merged, Christians took up the custom of decorating with the same evergreens used by pagans.  Later claims that medieval churches specifically forbade decorating with mistletoe because of its strong pagan associations do not seem to hold up under scrutiny, and seem to have been more of a Victorian reaction to its use as an excuse to kiss.   That particular custom seems to date back to about the 18th century, where the tradition was to pluck a berry for each kiss, and once the berries where gone, the sprig of mistletoe was “spent.”

Sources :
Baldr, https://mythology.wikia.org/wiki/Baldr

Mistletoe, the Origin of a Christmas Tradition, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/mistletoe-the-evolution-of-a-christmas-tradition-10814188/

Christmas Legend and Lore:  The Meaning of Mistletoe,  https://patch.com/new-york/easthampton/bp–christmas-legend-and-lore-the-meaning-of-mistletoe

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