We thought it would be fun to explore the Ogham (oh-am) Tree Calendar in our newsletters. The tree calendar has thirteen months. Each month offers its own unique wisdom to us as we make our way through this life trying to live lightly, kindly and communally.
Kicking off the New Year, we’re back in the 1st Moon of the calendar, ruled by Beith (pronounced ‘bay’), which celebrates the Birch tree. Birch is a beautiful tree that is easily recognisable in the Irish landscape for its dazzling and unique white bark which stands out among other species in the forests. For this reason, Birch has been dubbed ‘The Goddess tree’ and ‘The Lady of the Woods’ associated with positive qualities, most notably – the bringer of hope, regeneration and new beginnings.
It is significant that Birch is known as a ‘Pioneer tree’, a tree that can be the first to appear and restore woodland by restarting colonisation after forest clearing or natural disasters. In clearings with ample sunlight, it can grow tall, up to 60m in height. As Birch springs up in barren soil, paving the way for a brighter future for all, it brings with it a symbol of hope and renewal, showing us that something good can arise after misfortune.
Its striking white, peeling bark gives it a faery-like beauty in all its seasons and is unusual for its paper like qualities. Even in dark wintery days, the Birch shines bright, giving light to the forest and radiating a celestial elegance that raises the spirits of onlookers.
As the sap rises in early March, it’s possible to cut the bark, tap the trees and use the sweet liquid collected neat and cold as an immune boosting tonic water, or as the basis for a birch wine or beer. Its astringent leaves can be grinded to make a Birch tea that is high in Vitamin C and a good diuretic and laxative.
Birch has many spiritual and mythical associations. Many major pre-Christian festivals feature the use of birch wood, bark, leaves or branches.
At Imbolc (Candlemas) in February, the white bark is used to symbolise the return of light along with the candles. At Beltane (May Day) the birch was first choice as the tree to make the Maypole, cut at dawn to be decorated and danced around in old fertility rituals, later to be burned with ash logs at the Beltane fire. At Samhain (All Hallow’s Eve), some of the pagan new year festivities use birch to beat out the old or malign spirits from the hearth, as the symbol of returning light and rebirth.
Also, at Halloween when the witches fly, they will get out their best birch wood besoms! Besom brooms are still often made with birch wood handles and twigs – an interesting choice for the witch, as the fly-agaric mushroom (the beautiful scarlet and white spotted fungus of all good fairy-tales) likes to grow amongst the base and roots of the birch tree. If carefully prepared by an expert and taken in tiny doses, it’s known as a hallucinogenic flying drug. This shouldn’t be tried though – it is also a fatal toxin! Even the Baba Yaga (the infamous Russian witch) is said to live in a birch forest, sweeping away her trails with a silver birch twig broom.
So, what does Beith, our beautiful Birch, offer us as learning in our own journey as OFN Ireland?
It is fitting that we should start the year by celebrating Birch, the tree symbol of hope and new beginnings. At OFN we hope to power a new food system and have a lot to learn from this pioneer tree about bravery and willingness to start out in unchartered territory. Birch is a shinning emblem of the forest, a beacon of light that encourages other trees to follow in its path. Through our digital platform, we hope to provide small ethical and environmentally-conscious businesses in Ireland with the tools and resources needed to compete on the market and pave the way to a more resilient and inclusive food economy centred on cooperative, local principles.
Birch Magic, Charms and Beliefs
* Write a wish on birch bark with the charcoal-like tip of a burned birch twig. Keep it safe and secret and your wish will be fulfilled.
* To cool any violent passion, anger or over-reaction, sit alone for a while with your back against the birch trunk. Its innocent energy will channel your strong feelings into wise ways.
* Burn a little birch bark or dried leaf on its own or as part of a purpose made incense blend at the start of any important new beginning or before a journey.
* A cradle, toy or decoration made from birch wood will protect the baby against bad spirits, and against faeries who are intent on turning the child into a changeling
* Herd your cow with a birch stick and she will be fertile and birth healthy calves.
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[Text adapted from Eco Enchantments ‘The Thirteen Trees of the Ogham Moon Calendar ‘]