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North Carolina group has fun harvesting mistletoe

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LILLINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- On a clear morning on a farm outside of Raleigh a group sets out in a flotilla of kayaks and canoes, in search of mistletoe

Forrest Altman is the leader of this merry band, it's a group with a cause.

“We were looking around for a place to raise money for conservation work and I though, mistletoe.” Altman explained.

Ancient Druids believed mistletoe held some kind of magical life force.

In Sweden, mistletoe was used to make divining rods because of its supposed power of revealing treasures in the earth.

Once blasted out of trees with shotguns, Altman’s group uses a more peaceful method

“If this is the mistletoe you just put the hook over it and twist.” River Guide Scott Sauer told the group

Over the past 30 years Altman a professor at Guildford College has been leading his crew on what they call the “sprig outing”.

Mistletoe grows in many parts of North Carolina, and while no one is quite sure where the western tradition of kissing under the mistletoe came from, it does help to make the season bright.

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Dung-on-a-twig

The tradition of smooching under the mistletoe descends from the customs of several different cultures. For instance, exchanging kisses under the mistletoe was a tradition of Greek festivals and marital ceremonies. If a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life.

The Anglo-Saxons associated the powers of the mistletoe to the legend of Freya, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility. According to the legend, a man had to kiss any young girl who, without realizing it, found herself accidentally under a sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling. Guys would pluck a berry when they smooched the girls and when the last berry was gone, there would be no more kissing!

In France, the custom linked to the mistletoe was reserved for New Year's Day: "Au gui l'An neuf"--Mistletoe for the New Year.

Although the mistletoe is considered to be the seed of love, the common name of the plant is derived from the ancient belief that mistletoe grew from bird droppings. This strange belief was related to the ancient principle that life could spring spontaneously from dung.

In ancient times, people observed that mistletoe appeared on a branch or twig where birds had left droppings. "Mistel" is the Anglo-Saxon word for "dung," and "tan" is the word for "twig". So, mistletoe actually means "dung-on-a-twig". What a strange meaning for a plant that is supposed to bring love and happiness!

In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up. Whenever enemies met under the mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day.

Today's custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a survival of European beliefs and traditions. In Europe, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. In some countries, they were placed over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches.