There are certain trees I find myself gravitating towards – spruce, pine, oak and birch. When I was living in Sweden, there was one silver birch in particular that I’d pass on my daily walk in the forest, and which I felt a kinship with.
I’d always stop and watch it for a while. More often than not, I’d take leave of the path, and maneuver my way across a dozen or so moss covered boulders, so I could press my palms against its silvery, paper-like bark. If I was in a dark place, I’d always feel better once I’d had a physical connection with this tree. If I’d ever find strips of birch bark on the forest floor, I’d place them carefully in my rucksack and take them home.
While you might not think so to look at it, what with is being so slender and all, the birch is actually an extremely resilient tree that bends and flexes in gales and under the weight of fallen snow. Its resilience may be one of the reasons that it’s the national tree of both Finland and Russia.
Birch has long been associated with renewal because it’s one of the first plants to sprout new leaves when the thaw of winter begins, and it was worshiped by several Finno-ugric, Baltic and Slavic tribes, as well as the Celts.
The straight grained wood of birch is tough, heavy and has been used for everything from wheels to cups, sleighs to axe handles, skis to babies’ cradles. In Ireland, a cradle of birch was said to keep a new-born safe from being snatched by faeries.
The birch is especially valuable for practicing witches and has been used in European folk magic for centuries. A broom made of birch twigs should be used at Yuletide to sweep out the dust so the blessings of the new year are free to flow inside. If you’re wanting to prevent folk who mean no good from entering your home, you should place a birch tree or bough near your front door. If you’re reading this a bit late…and those no gooders have left a less than agreeable vibe in your house, burn some birch bark to purify the place.
In Finland, wands made of birch twigs used to be used to cast protective spells over cows. It was with the belief that the cows under the protection of the birch would provide milk that was as good as birch sap. It was a common thing to drink sap after winter to revitalize the body and mind, and an old Finnish name for March was Mahlakuu which translates to sap month. It wasn’t unheard of for people with the best sap trees to give them names.