Tales from the Theatrical Woods: Chapter 20

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17 December 2017

Down at West Horsley Place in the damp, dark depths of December where morning ice on the puddles and ponds is a sure sign of frustration for the assembled brickies who have travelled down from Oxford in the early hours.  No brick or block can be laid in sub-zero temperatures.  Nevertheless, the external brick cladding to the auditorium is creeping up the cliff face and the blockwork to the new permanent WCs is nearing completion, forming an imposing skeletal drum: a rotunda in the woods.

Over the wall in the orchard on an exceptional, cold, crisp, sunny day the apple trees shimmer with a profusion of waxy, white mistletoe berries.  We think of mistletoe as being romantic, but its etymology is anything but. The name derives from mistletan, which means a twig of mistle; the seeds of the plant are propagated through the excrement of birds, notably the mistle thrush. The old Germanic word mist means shit or dung.  Mistletoe, accordingly, loosely translates as ‘shit plant’.

Folklore sees it differently.  From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European culture. It was believed to bestow life and fertility; a protection against poison; and an aphrodisiac. The mistletoe of the sacred oak was especially sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids.  The custom of decorating house interiors at Christmas with mistletoe is a survival of the Druid and other pre-Christian traditions, as is the requirement for any women lingering beneath it to accept a kiss from whoever might be passing by.

Mistletoe is the State floral emblem of Oklahoma, and, wa-do-u-no, Oklahoma! Is coming to Grange Park Opera this forthcoming Festival.

David Lloyd Jones