Wednesday, 8 September 2010
The Silver Birch
The Silver Birch called out today whilst wondering how best I could thank the trees. Been thinking a lot about magic of the woods today, the oneness and communicating with nature. Found some lovely mythology on the Birch to Share.
Silver Birch - Betula pendula
The Lady of the Wood.
Birch was the first tree to colonize Europe and North America after the last Ice Age so it is fitting that it should be the first consonant of the Tree Alphabet. Besides being one of the daintiest trees it is also one of the hardiest. One of the first trees to leaf, it is easily recognized by the tracery of its delicate green leaves, twigs, branches and white trunk. It is fast growing and acts as a nurse tree by offering protection to slower growing trees like oak and pine. Because its leaves are small and cast a light shadow other plants are easily able to grow in its shelter and this in turn encourages insects, birds and animals into the woods.
The first ogham inscription made in Ireland was said to have been written on a switch of birch. Birch bark makes exceptionally potent magical parchment. For the Celts the birch was the 'Tree of Inception' of new beginnings, birth, springtime. Associated with the pioneer spirit, birch implies the breaking of new ground and survival under extreme circumstances. As a bringer of strength and protection in adversity, the tree nurtures new life and its wood is believed to help ward off evil. Hence the tradition of making babies cradles from birch. Carrying a birch talisman is likewise said to protect you from harm.
The birch tree plays an important part in many of the year's oldest celebrations. It is the traditional Yule log that was burned during the midwinter ceremonies to drive out the old year while welcoming in the new. This old festival falls at the same time as the later Christian celebrations of the birth of Christ. A birch trunk is also traditionally used as the maypole because of its associations with fertility, birth and springtime. It is the tree most associated with the youthful aspect of the White Goddess, particularly in her role as bringer and protector of new life. The triple goddess appears in cultures throughout the world in 3 guises, maiden. mother and crone. The white bark is the goddess's mark and this colour is also said to denote close links with the fairies.
For the Welsh Celts it is the tree of Arianrhod, who is in charge of the Silver Wheel of the Heavens and who presides over birth & initiation, and of the virginal goddess Blodeuwedd, who was created from 9 types of flowers as a consort for the Welsh sky god, Lew. The Anglo-Saxons used the birch to create Eostre, goddess of fertility and springtime. For the Nordic people the birch was the tree of Frigga, the Babylonians called her Ishtar and the ancient Egyptians, Isis. The birch is the Cosmic Tree of Celtic shamanism. Druids visualized its white trunk when climbing up through the different planetary spheres to communicate with the World Spirit. Various origins of the word 'beith or beth', variations of the Gaelic name for birch, are given the meaning 'existence, enduring, world and shining one'. It symbolizes a fresh start, giving us courage and determination.
Sweet bird of the meadow, soft be thy nest
Thy mother will wake thee at morn from thy rest,
She has made a soft nest, little redbreast, for thee,
Of the leaves of the birch, and the moss of the tree.
Colour White, Planet Venus, Stone Crystal, Polarity Feminine, Elements Air/water
Deities Arianrhod, Blodeuwedd, Frigga, Frigga, Freya, Eostre
Inception, Purity + Cleanliness, Love + Friendship, Birth + Initiation
In German folklore, the birch is regarded as a tree of life and was traditionally used to make maypoles, around which lovers danced. Welsh folklore associates the birch tree with love, lovers met under a birch tree.
Celtic Astrology information on Birch birth sign associations.
To the Druids, the Birch (often referred to as the "Lady of the Woods" represented renewal, rebirth and inception, since it was the first tree to come into leaf after the Winter Season. The Birch along with the Elder were said to stand on either side of the one "Nameless Day" (December 23). This slender but determined tree, which represented the seed potential of all growth, is hardier than even the mighty Oak and will thrive in places where the Oak will fail to flourish. It also signifies cleanliness and purity. The Birch once fulfilled many purposes...from providing handles for brooms and axes to the manufacture of cloth and childrens' cradles. It is particularly well-known for its use in making writing parchment and oil from the bark was often used to treat skin conditions and depression. People were once "birched" in order to drive out evil spirits, while twigs were given to newlyweds to ensure fertility. Witches would use Birch twigs bound with Ash for their broomsticks or "besoms." Birch has been known to cure muscular pains and the sap used in the manufacture of wine, beer and vinegar. It is the rod of a Birch that Robin Red Breast used to slay the Wren in a furze or gorse bush.
Gemstone: The Birch gemstone is Rock Crystal, a naturally-occuring substance with the ability to render invisible light visible through the means of refraction. It is formed from clear, lustrous quartz and was first discovered in the Alps, at which time it was believed to be a kind of ice or "krystallos." Rock Crystal has been valued since ancient times as a magical stone of divination and was formed into spheres for the art of crystal-gazing. Sometimes, shadows would materialize within the Crystal as it cooled...shadows which resembled mountains or pyramids, usually indistinct and barely discernable. These shadows were known as "phantoms" or "ghosts" and though considered imperfect for divination, such ethereal inner shapes lent a certain unique enchantment to the particular sphere. In Medieval Europe, alchemists believed that if Rock Crystal were cut in a certain manner and then placed in sunlight, it would have the power to make any solid thing invisible. To the Japanese, it was the "perfect jewel," being a symbol of purity, patience and perseverance, and in Ancient Rome, noblewomen carried Crystal balls in their hands during the heat of Summer, believing they had been formed from ice and thus, possessed cooling properties. American Indians treasured the Crystal as a sacred stone, believing it to possess a life and energy which was treated as a sacred trust. Some tribes would "feed" their Crystals with sacrificial blood whenever a Deer or Caribou was slain, believing this would keep the spirits within the stones aware of their reverence. The Druids are said to have used Rock Crystal to make themselves invisible so that they might travel undetected. If held in both hands, it was believed to induce serenity and peace of mind, as well as sharpening the mental processes. An aura of mysticism and magic continues to surround the Crystal and it may be many centuries before all its secrets are truly revealed.
Flower: The flower of the Birch is the Common Daisy, which blooms from the earliest days of Spring until late in the Autumn and covers the ground with its flat leaves so closely that nothing can grow beneath them. It is said that the Daisy awakens with the Sun and sleeps with the Moon. As a symbol of innocence and fidelity, some authorities claim that the lineage of the Daisy may be traced to "Belenos," a Celtic God of Light and a Solar deity. Others maintain that the name is derived from the Latin bellus (meaning "pretty" or "charming") while yet others believe its name is taken from a dryad named "Belidis." The healing powers of the Daisy were often employed by the Druids, particularly on the battlefield. Under such circumstances, those who could counteract the debilitating shock of injuries accompanied by the immense loss of blood, were considered to be great wound-healers. Knights of old would wear a chain of Daisies on their persons to protect them in battle. If such a knight wore a double band, then he was recognized as being betrothed. Worn as a charm, the Daisy was said to protect the wearer and afford a cure for ulcers and warts. The Daisy grows profusely over wide areas throughout the world and is an evergreen plant of hardiness which complements the durability of the Birch. There is an old English proverb which states that Spring has not arrived until one's foot can be set upon twelve Daisies. To dream of Daises in the Spring or Summer is associated with good luck, but the same dream in the Autumn or Winter is considered to be bad luck. The tears of Mary Magdalene, as they fell upon the ground, are said to have created the first Daisies and, according to Celtic legend, the spirits of infants who had died in childbirth scattered Daisies on the Earth to cheer their sorrowing parents.
Celestial Body: The celestial body associated with the Birch is the Sun ("Sul"). In terms of Celtic mythology, the Sun was a powerful deity whom the Welsh Bards called "Taliesin" and whose brilliance was referenced in many romantic and intellectual deeds which are the subject of numerous poems. In similar fashion, the Irish Celts also have many tales recounting the great deeds of their greatest of all Warrior Gods...their Sun-King named "Lugh." Lugh had many titles, one of which was "Lugh of the Long Arm," since he was believed to be guardian of two Great Gifts of the Ancient Irish...the Magical Sword and Spear. This belief in Lugh would eventually evolve over time into the beliefs surrounding Christianity and Jesus Christ...the "sun" or "son" of God who, coincidentally, may have belonged to an ancient Jewish order known as the "Essenes" or "Brotherhood of Light." Lugh is also credited with being the inventor of all arts and crafts.
Deity: The Birch deity is Lugh, also known as the "Shining One." Lugh was a Hero God whose symbol in Wales was a White Stag and whose sacred symbol was a spear. Always accompanied by two Ravens, Lugh is sometimes depicted as having only one eye. He was a deity of many skills, a diverse God whose jurisdiction included the Sun, light, grain harvest, fire, metallurgy and weaving. He was also know to be a protector of the weak. Lugh, whose destiny it was to kill his grandfather, was Chief Lord of the Tuatha De Danaan and may have originally been a King of the Fomorians who was adopted by the Tuatha De Danaan and then by the Celts. Though divine, Lugh is thought to have possibly been sired by an earthly father and, because of this association, is perceived as a "bridge" between the mortal and immortal worlds. More statues and holy sites were erected to Lugh than to any other Celtic deity and he is often equated with the Greek God, Apollo. Lugh's final claim to fame is that his name became part of the term used to describe a certain fairy common in Irish folklore...over time, "Little Stooping Lugh" or "Luchorpain," evolved into the word "Leprechaun," the tiny expert cobbler and guardian of hidden treasure.
The Golden Eagle - The Golden Eagle once symbolized the soul...signifying resurrection and rebirth...the power of life over death. It also represented a metamorphosis or change of spirituality on all levels. Now almost extinct in Britain, this magnificent Bird is seldom seen except in the North of Scotland. Scottish Highland Chieftains still wear three golden-eagle feathers in their bonnets to proclaim their high rank. The Druids were believed to have the ability to change into the form of all birds and beasts, but among their favored choices was the Eagle, as well as the Raven and the Crow.
The White Stag - The Stag of ancient times was considered a beast of royal lineage and, as a horned deity called "Cernunnos," became an important intermediary for the Celts between the animal kingdom and man, being guardian of the gateway connecting these two worlds. The Stag figures prominently in Celtic myths and legends. Antlers have been unearthed in Newgrange (Ireland), as well as at various sites in Britain, including Stonehenge and Glastonbury. It was a symbol of the metamorphic process of spiritual growth, high ideals and aspirations.