The Birch Tree
Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.

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The symbols above are from two different sets of Rune Cards. The left one is from Ralph H. Blum's The Rune Cards illustrated by Jane Walmsley, and are produced by St Martin's Press (New York), 1997 (first edition). The second card is from the set called: Rune Magic by Donald Tyson, and is published by Llewellyn Worldwide, 1988.

The bfarkan or birch-twig is used in divination runes and is associated with the goddess Freyja. This is said to be the "Rune of Transformation."

There are two types of birch trees:

...the silver birch
...the downy birch

Worldwide there are sixty (60) species of birch. Some can grow 80 feet tall and live for 100 years. Birch trees are thought to be hardier than oaks. However, it takes twenty-five (25) years for a silver birch to bear fruit. The silver birch is known as the "Lady of the Woods." The birch was dedicated to the Norse goddess Frigga, the goddess of married love and the goddess of the skies and clouds. Frigga was Odin's wife. Legends say the her seven mortal sons founded the seven Saxon kingdoms of England:

(1) Northumbria
(2) Mercia
(3) East Anglia
(4) Essex
(5) Kent
(6) Sussex
(7) Wessex.

One of Frigga's sons was Balder, and another Hermod, the divine messenger. Friday is named after Frigga. Frigga is also associated with the Welsh owl goddess, Blodeuwedd, her companion or familiar.

Frigga has much in common with Freyja:

Both were consorts of Odin.
Both took the guise of the falcon
Both had a great passion for gold.

It is liekly that Frigga and Freyja came from the same single earth mother diety.

The Celtic Zodiac has Birch as December 24th until January 20th; which corresponds to Capricorn (the goat and others with cloven hoofs). Capricorn's trees are the willow, pine, and elm. The elm is similiar to the birch.

The name birch is from the Ogham Rune called "Beith." This comes from the Sanskit word bhirga meaning "tree whose bark was used to write upon." The first inscription in Ireland was written on birch bark by Oghma, Sun Face and god of eloquence. Oghma was the son of Daghdha Mor, King of the Tuatha De Danann in Celtic lore, and was worshipped in Europe, Ireland, and Wales.

Copyright-Painting now in the Archiv fur Kunst and Geschichte, London, England.

The birch is also associated with Freya, the goddess of fecundity and the Norseman god, Thor, who made the birch his personal sacred tree (portrait above). Birch is the national symbol of Finland. In Slavic countries, the Lieschi/Lesovik Spirit of the Forest, was said to live in the tops of birch trees. The Lesovik had a long green beard and cast no shadows. The Lesovik could change his size at will. Every October he was said to hibernate until spring. The birch tree was often used as a living Maypole in the spring. Birchs are thought to ward off evil spirits, and birch twigs were used to beat witches out of the house.

Freyja ("lady") was the daughter of the sea god Njord in German mythology and the twin sister of Freyr (her brother). She was one of the Vanir gods. Vanir was surplanted by the Aesir gods, the gods led by Odin. Odin had a sword called Gungnir and a boomerang hammer called Mjollnir, which symbolized his power and wealth. He also had a ring called Draupnir that was made by the dwarf Sindri.

Freyja's teasure was her Brisingamen necklace. The necklace was thought to enhance her beauty and she wore it both day and night. It was thought she got this necklace from sleeping with the four dwarfs. The dwarfs made the necklace that glittered like the stars. When Freyja wept her tears turned into gold on land, and into amber at sea.

Odin and Freyja took a special interest in the heroic death. Odin's share went to Valhalla (an immerse hall in the fortress of Asgard); while Freyja's lived in Sessrumnir Hall. Odin was her husband. He was the father of battle and loved destruction. She was lustful and loving and made a perfect wife.

The Vanir

Thiassi (the forest giant)

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Njord (the Germanic Sea god and bringer of good fortune married Nerthus (his sister?) and his second wife waa Skadi, who liked his "beautiful feet."

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Freya (Twin of Freyr) married Odin, son of Bor and grandson of Buri
Freyr (Twin of Freyja) married Gerda, the frost giant. Freyr could control sunlight, rain, fruitfulness, and peace. His treasures were his magic horse and his magic sword, which he lost in order to make love to Gerda. Freyr fell in love with the beautiful Gerda on his first sight of her. However, she would not marry him. Then Freyr's servant, Skirnir, said he would cast a spell on Gerda, so that no man would even come near her again ... the spell would make her extremely ugly and vile. After this threat Gerda, who was not wanting to loose her great beauty, married Freyr.

One of Freyja's admirers was called Ottar, and she changed him into a boar, so she could keep him at Asgard. Freyja could fly in a falcon's skin. She taught the other gods the spells and charms of the Venir.