Lecture: The Oak and Weed: Mistletoe and Myth in the Druidic Canon
The Druids are central to the cultivation of esoteric mythology. Because little empirical evidence documents the holistic lifestyle and culture of the Druids, traces of history are pieced together through archaeological records, excavations, and written histories from the Roman era accounts and poetic verse. Early scholarly attempts to quantify ritual and pagan religious practice are often theatrical observations of the Druids, accounting for much of the identity and relationships to the natural, biological world. Even as Pliny the Elder, in Naturalis Historia, (77-79 A.D.) conveniently observed and identified “mistletoe” as a singular plant championed by the Druids, the medicinal properties and subsidy to the culture is largely speculated. Known in Gaelic as uil’-ice, Mistletoe (lat: Viscum album) has transgressed from ancient culture as a mythical and magi cal all-heal plant to a formidable icon in post-pagan Christian society. Yet, the medicinal value is undermined and certainly suspect of use to early Celtic society. Identified in genus as a parasitic shrub, the species is favored to grow virally on many deciduous trees, including the Oak. The true power of mistletoe does reside with the dual symbiotic essence of the plant, and especially symbolizes the histrionic story the Druids exemplified. Looking at both an anecdotal world and evidence-based literature, this talk attempts to construct a contemporary space for medicinal uses and practices with mistletoe built on the mythical and misunderstood canon of the Druids.
Kim Schwenk is a rare books librarian and archivist at San Diego State University, Special Collections & University Archives, devoted folk herbalist, and artist. Her areas of research include Northern European and nomadic peoples’ history and medicine, early medieval botanical illustration, and folk mythology. In every facet of life, her interests of art and ecology mirror the critical need to archive and use folk medicine traditions and document our knowledge. Her paintings and block prints depict mythical and occult themes, as insight into the whimsical and spiritual aspects of nature. She also operates an online herb shop, Of Oak and Ash Botanicals, and distributes education about herbalism through the printed word.