A Winter meditation on the healing plant Holly (Ilex Aquifolium)

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Each winter I try to write on a plant relevant to the season. I find in each attempt that I am not only writing about the capacity for the plant to transform health, but also it’s relevance to cultural history and our current condition. Just as important it seems to reflect a stage which I am attempting to heal in myself.

These things come out when the darkness dominates the light.

Holly was introduced into common knowledge by Edward Bach who was a physician in England in the early half of the 20th century.

Most are familiar with Dr. Bach from his flower remedies. He was known for most of his professional life as a bacteriologist at London University College Hospital. Bach’s investigation in 1926 led him to conclude that certain intestinal germs belonging to the non-lactose fermenting, gram-negative, and coli-typhoid group, had a close connection with chronic diseases and their cure. He developed early vaccines which he called “bowel nosodes” from these bacteria.

He moved from London in his later life where he developed his methods for a healing system he felt could be self prescribed. Holly was one of his first twelve remedies. His indications were psychological, “For those who are sometimes attacked by thoughts of such kind as jealousy, envy, revenge, suspicion. For the different forms of vexation. Within themselves they may suffer much, often when there is no real cause for their unhappiness.” Bach: Twelve Healers and Other Remedies 1936.

When we are jealous of what others are or have, when we mimic or imitate others in order to gain a false sense of identity, we invoke violence. This is the ground for consumerism, for divisions and ultimately for war. We are always willing to sacrifice others, scapegoat others, because of our own sense of inadequacy. Whether it is the sacrifice of Issac or Jesus, the sacrifice of young men on battlefields or the domination of the other, we tear at fabric of our humanity when we ignore the unacceptable sense of ourselves. Everyone is looking for someone to blame rather than accept who they are.

Rene Girard says, “Everywhere and always, when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not they find them.”

My old friend Misha Norland has written recently about the holly. He says:
The Holly speaks to the fierce capacity of the human soul to take the descent into the underworld, bringing inner light into darkness. Thus we can understand the signature of the tree, with its ability to germinate without sunlight, favoring dark, moist conditions that are more strongly related to the downward earth pole. Its stiff, pointed leaves are not unlike thorns or “spears.” The Holly yields a hard, white close-grained wood that imparts a quality of solidity and impermeability, as it stands in the depths of winter, impervious to cold and darkness with its somber evergreen color.

Holly holds a central position among the Bach Flower Remedies, because it embodies love – the highest energy quality through which we all live, and which is our greatest healing power.

The desire for love is programmed into every cell of our being, and when we are going with the stream of love we live in a state of grace. However, when the need to give and receive love is denied, the negative Holly state emerges.The personality will experience such extreme disappointment that love is expressed as its opposite – in jealousy, hatred, envy, resentment, malice, and a desire for revenge. While everyone experiences these emotions at some time, in the negative Holly state they are prevalent, and can form the emotional basis for serious physical illness. While even the negative Holly personality longs for love, it is unable to let it flow forth, and thus often repels that which it seeks through jealously. Even when finding someone with whom to share that love, uncertainty and fears predominate and it lives in fear of losing that love.

When jealousy becomes “morbid” then love can be extinguished. In an extreme negative Holly state, an individual becomes suspicious, is super sensitive to real or imagined slights, feels rage and anger, experiences violent bouts of ill-humour, and, understandably, feels unloved and unworthy of love.
When describing this Bach Flower Essence, Edward Bach said: “Holly protects us from everything that is not Universal Love. Holly opens the heart and unites us with Divine Love.”

The soul quality of Holly is that which we all desire – the ideal human state. In its positive state, individuals are able to live in inner harmony, taking pleasure in the achievements and successes of others, freely accepting and feeling love that flows toward them, and having knowledge of the higher purpose of existence.