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In Worship of Trees

Birch

 

Written and Compiled by George Knowles

 

 

The common birch tree (Betula pendula alba, also B. pubescens, and B. verrucosa) is one of the sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft.  Coleridge (the English poet and critic 1772–1834) spoke of the birch as the “Lady of the Woods”, due to its lightness, grace, elegance and fragrance particularly after rain.  The wood of the birch is soft and not very durable but being cheap and the tree being able to thrive in any situation or soil, it is grown all over Europe and used for a wide variety of purposes.  In country districts the lighter twigs are used for thatching, wattle fencing and brooms.  Bobbins for thread-mills, herring-barrel staves and various fancy articles are made from birch, as is the manufacture of cloth.  The tree is also a source from which asphyxiating gases have been manufactured, and its charcoal was and still is used for gunpowder.

 

The white epidermis of its bark when separated into thin layers can be employed as a substitute for oiled paper and applied to various economical uses.  It yields Oil of Birch Tar and the peculiar well-known odour of Russian leather is due to the use of this in the process of its dressing.  Its use imparts durability to leather and it is owing to its presence that books bound in Russian leather are not liable to become moldy.  The production of Oil of Birch Tar is a Russian industry of considerable importance.  It is also distilled in Holland and Germany but these are appreciably different from the Russian oil.

 

When the stem of the birch tree is wounded a saccharine juice flows out and when added to yeast it produces a vinous fermentation from which beer, wine, spirits and vinegar are made in various parts of Europe.  Normally during March incisions are cut into the tree from which a thin sugary sap is collected.  Honey, cloves and lemon peel is then added and the whole fermented with yeast from which Birch Wine and a very pleasant cordial is made.  From 16 to 18 gallons of sap may be drawn from one large tree and a moderate tapping does it no harm.

 

The bark of the birch contains only about 3 per cent of tannic acid but is still used extensively for tanning throughout Northern Europe or wherever there are large birch forests.  As it’s tannic acid gives a pale colour to the skin it is used for the preliminary and the final stages of tanning.  The bark also contains betulin and betuls camphor, while the leaves contain betulorentic acid.  By destructive distillation the white epidermis of the bark yields empyreumatic oil known variously in commerce as:  Oil of Birch Tar, Oleum Rusci, Oleum Betulinum or Dagget.  This is a thick bituminous brownish-black liquid with a pungent balsamic odour.  It contains a high percentage of methylsalicylate as well as creosol and guaiacol.  The Rectified Oil (Oleum Rusci Rectificatum) is sometimes substituted for Oil of Cade.  The Oil of Birch Tar is almost identical with Wintergreen Oil.

 

In Wicca/Witchcraft the Druids placed the birch at the start of the Celtic tree calendar from whence it became associated with inception and new beginnings and twigs of the birch were use at Beltane celebrations to light the festival fires marking the beginning of a new season.  The birch was also associated with the spirits of the dead and the Underworld.  An old folk-ballad known as “The Wife of Usher’s Well” tells of souls returning from the realms of the dead wearing hats and clothing of made of birch.

 

One of the ritual tools of a Witch is the Broom, which traditionally it was made by tying the twigs of a Birch tree around a handle made of Ash with strips of Willow.  In folklore it was thought that the Ash with its association with water had command over the four elements.  The Birch with its connection to the spirits of the dead drew those spirits into one’s service and the Willow through its connection with Hecate allowed communication with the Goddess.  The handle, brush and binding of the broom are also symbolic of the triformis aspects of the Goddess. 

The Birch tree is known by several folk-names:  Beithe, Bereza, Berke, Beth and Bouleau.  Its associated deity is Thor.  Its gender type is Feminine, its planet ruler is Venus, and its associated element is Water.  Birch is used to attract the powers needed for protection, purification and exorcism. 

Magical Uses:

In folklore, tying a red ribbon around the stem or branch of a birch tree would ward off the evil eye.  Because of its purificatory and cleansing properties as well as its association with the Underworld, birch twigs can be used to exorcise evil spirits by gently striking possessed people or animals.  Babies’ cradles were once made from birch wood to protect their innocent charges and the birch was also used for protection against lightning. 

Various parts of the tree have also been applied to medicinal uses.  For instance, the young shoots and leaves of the birch secrete a resinous substance having acidic properties, which when combined with alkalis is said to be a tonic laxative.  The leaves have a peculiar aromatic though agreeable odour with a bitter taste and have been employed in the form of infusion (Birch Tea) for use in gout, rheumatism and dropsy.  It was also recommended as a reliable solvent of kidney stones and with the bark they resolve and resist putrefaction, a decoction of which is good for bathing skin eruptions. 

Oil of Birch Tar is astringent and is mainly used for its curative effects in skin affections, especially eczema, but is also used for some Internal maladies.  Rubbing the oil onto the hands or skin also keeps away insects and prevents gnat bites.  The inner bark is bitter and astringent and has been used in intermittent fevers.  The vernal sap is diuretic and Moxa is made from the yellow fungous excrescences of the wood, which sometimes swell out from the fissures.

 

Astrologically birch people (i.e. those people born in the month of December) can be vivacious, attractive, elegant, friendly, pretentious and modest.  They do not like anything in excess and abhors the vulgar.  They love life in nature and create a calm and content atmosphere, but while they can be full of imagination, they are not very passionate and have little ambition.

 

Sources:

Cunningham's Encyclopedia Of Magical Herbs - By Scott Cunningham.

Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft - By Raven Grimassi.

The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft - By Rosemary Ellen Guiley.

Tree Wisdom (The definitive guidebook to the myth, folklore and healing power of Trees) - By Jacqueline Memory Paterson.

AA Book of Britain's Countryside.

The Penguin Hutchinson Reference Library (CD cassette).

Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (CD cassette).

Plus many websites to numerous to mention.

Note:

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Traditional Writings:

 

The Wiccan Rede Charge of the Goddess Charge of the God  /  The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) /  The Witches Chant The Witches Creed Descent of the Goddess Drawing Down the Moon The Great Rite Invocation Invocation of the Horned GodThe 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief /  The Witches Rede of Chivalry A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality

 

Correspondence Tables:

 

IncenseCandlesColours Magickal Days Stones and Gems Elements and Elementals

 

Traditions:

 

Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /

 

Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /

 

Other things of interest:

 

Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) /  Esbats & Full Moons Links to Personal Friends & Resources Wicca/Witchcraft Resources What's a spell? Circle Casting and Sacred Space  Pentagram - Pentacle Marks of a Witch The Witches Power The Witches Hat An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 /

 

Sabbats and Festivals:

 

The Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)

 

Rituals contributed by Crone:

 

Samhain / Yule Imbolc Ostara /  Beltane Litha Lammas Mabon

 

Tools:

 

Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron Magick Mirror Gazing

 

Animals:

 

Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) /  AntelopeBatsCrow Fox Frog and Toads Goat / HoneybeeKangarooLion OwlPhoenix Rabbits and HaresRaven Robin RedbreastSheep Spider SquirrelSwansWild Boar Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat

 

Trees:

 

In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder

 

Sacred Sites:

 

Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /

 

Rocks and Stones:

 

Stones - History, Myths and Lore

 

Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:

 

Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble

 

Wisdom and Inspiration:

 

Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /

 

Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:

 

Murdered by Witchcraft The Fairy Witch of Clonmel A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) /  Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-Lantern The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark

 

Old Masters of Academia:

 

Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras

 

 

Biographies

 

Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)

 

Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)

 

Abramelin the Mage /  Agrippa Aidan A KellyAlbertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” /  Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” /  Alison Harlow /  Amber KAnna FranklinAnodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey /  Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite /  Austin Osman Spare /  Biddy Early /  Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel /  Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke Cecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey Leland /   Charles WaltonChristina Oakley Harrington Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" /  Dion Fortune /  Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki Doreen ValienteDorothy MorrisonDr. John Dee & Edward Kelly /  Dr. Leo Louis Martello /  Edward FitchEleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” Eliphas Levi /  Ernest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake /  Fiona Horne /   Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia Friedrich von Spee /  Francis Barrett /  Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft /  Gwydion Pendderwen Hans HolzerHelen Duncan /   Herman Slater - Horrible Herman /  Isaac Bonewits Israel RegardieJack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick /  James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches /  Janet Farrar and Gavin BoneJessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” /  Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" /  John Belham-Payne John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" /  John Gerard /  John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred /  John Michael Greer /  John ScoreJoseph John Campbell /  Karl von Eckartshausen /  Laurie Cabot  - "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis SpenceMargaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMarie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMatthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” /   Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" /  Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set /  Monique WilsonMontague Summers /  Nicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellarsMrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning GloryOld Dorothy Clutterbuck /  Old George PickingillOlivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis /  Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsus /  Patricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPhilip HeseltonRaymond Buckland /  Reginald Scot /  Robert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" /  Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) /  Rudolf SteinerSabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" /  Scott CunninghamSelena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" /  Silver RavenwolfSir Francis Dashwood /  Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough"S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  Starhawk /  Stewart Farrar /  Sybil LeekTed Andrews The Mather Family - (includes:  Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) /   Thomas AdyT. Thorn CoyleVera ChapmanVictor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" /  Vivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWalter Ernest ButlerWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest /  

 

 

Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)

 

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