This forgotten method of divination is done with the oak tree and mistletoe, and was commonly used by the Druid priests of the ancient Celtic nations in Gaul, Germany and Britain. It was regarded as a highly sacred rite, known then as "divining the Golden Bough."
From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore. Its various names include "All Heal" and "Chieftain Tree". It was considered to bestow life and fertility; a protection against poison; and an aphrodisiac.
The mistletoe of the sacred oak was especially regarded by the ancients. On the sixth night of the moon white-robed Druid priests would cut the oak mistletoe with a golden sickle. Two white bulls would be sacrificed amid prayers that the recipients of the mistletoe would prosper.
During the summer and winter solstices, the Druids also cut mistletoe, using their long robes to catch the plants, preventing any from falling to the ground, where they believed it would lose its magical qualities. Later, the ritual of cutting the mistletoe from the oak came to symbolize the emasculation of the old King by his successor.
In its most common form, Dendromancy was performed by simply burning oak and mistletoe and observing the resulting smoke patterns.
Other methods of this type of divination involved examining oak and mistletoe parts for particular signs and omens.
According to 16th century folklore, if an oak apple (a gall or swelling on a oak leaf caused by an insect known as a gallfly) is opened, and a worm is discovered within it, this indicates a life of poverty and strife. If the worm should "run about," it presages the plague. If a spider is found, it is a omen of pestilence and scarcity of the corn crop. A fly presages war in the ensuing year.
The ancient Druids revered mistletoe for its magical properties, but the plant was also renowned for its healing properties. A tea made from small amounts of this toxic berry was believed to help sufferers from epilepsy, heart disease, nervousness, toothache, and Saint Vitus' dance. A sprig of mistletoe in the house was said to guarantee domestic harmony and to increase fertility. Native Americans used infusions of mistletoe to treat headaches and lower blood pressure.
In the Middle Ages and later, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. In Europe they were placed over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches. It was also believed that the oak mistletoe could extinguish fire.
It is good luck to cut mistletoe at Christmas, but bad luck to cut it any other time. It is extremely bad luck to cut down any tree bearing mistletoe. Mistletoe placed on the headboard of the bed is said to inspire beautiful dreams.
Dendromancy, in some traditions, also implied divination by using any type of trees.
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Sources: (1) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (3) Pickover, Clifford A., Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction, Prometheus Books; (4) Dunwich, Gerina, A Wiccan's Guide to Prophecy and Divination, Carol Publishing Group; (5) Webster, Richard, The Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Llewellyn Publications.
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