Our sacred trees and the Nordic birch
In our tradition, trees are sacred. It might be helpful for most people to stop for a while, and again reflect on our nature, our ancestors, and what particular birch has meant to our families and kin for thousands of years.
Birch (Norse: Bjarkan (of Bjarte, which means luminous, shiny glossy) was perhaps of all sacred trees, that which contributed most to the household of our ancestors. The tree grows in the northern hemisphere. Rune # 2 in Futhark is called Bjarkan. The tree is represented by the goddess Frøya, and through our myths can be attributed to all its various attributes: Frøya, like birch, represents love, light, warmth, fertility and health. In mythology personified as an elongated, beautiful, light, blond and warm woman.
The little girls by Erik Werenskiold.
«Bjarkan er laufgrønstr líma;
Loki bar flærða tíma».
(The birch has the greenest leaves,
Loki was lucky with his trickery)
- Norwegian rune-poem
7,000 year old arrows have been found, where birch strips are used for lashing of arrow shafts. Birch bark was used as paper for writing. Our oldest sources are written down on these. They were used for roofing and footwear, slippers, scuffles and baskets. The long twigshots were used for locks, ropes, horse- and riding gear. The Norse lur (the instrument) is made of birch.
The birch sap was in many cases vital to our ancestors. In the spring before the buds shoot, it is usually full of watery sap you simply taper off with an incision one meter up from the ground level. Dozens of liters of sap will pour out during a day. You can drink it as it is. It tastes like a little sweet water and is full of nutrients and antioxidants. In springtime, and early summer, this was an indispensable nutrient for our ancestors. In addition, besides honey, the sap was a sugar source. By boiling down the sap to 1/10 part of the volume, you get syrup that is up to 10 times sweeter than farin. Our ancestors used this in cakes and foods. We had sugar long before the plantations arose in distant foreign regions and exported to Norway.
Effective and simple tapping of birch sap.
First of all, birch is the best of trees for light and heat, in a fire, fireplace or oven.
Old birch trees often get growths (tumors) that in Norse were called “Mare” (personified as a female blackelf, riding a horse). Of this we still have the name "nightmare". She is said to be “sitting on trees”. These growths are in short what we call cancer, but these were very valuable to our ancestors. They chopped out the growths of the trunk with an axe, and dried them. Then they crushed them into powder. This was used for tea, before the times of imported coffee. This teadrink has a sedative effect, and is excellent for digestion and against parasites.
Life-giving and multifunctional "Mare"
If they did not grind it up to powder, they kept it whole in the flames until charred. Then they stirred it into boiling water until everything dissolved. The liquid you get is antiseptic and acts as an antibacterial soap. Our ancestors used this for wound care, and especially in connection with births, both on mother and child.
Birch trees, full of life-giving «mare» at Sundby in Røyken (of Norse Suðrbú. Meaning: the southern stray). Today this place resides by the river Åroselva. The name is Norse and from a time when the sea level stood higher, and you could sail up the river and further in to the lands.
The birch leafs also have multifunctional value. They can be dried first and cooked to either a juice or tea. This provides a nutritious brew and is good for digestion and the immune systems. If you take fresh leaves and cut them so that the juice in them comes out, you can collect these in a large pot of water. This can be given a couple of boils for 20 minutes, until you have a foaming liquid. Then filter off the leaves, and pour the foamy liquid into bottles. The result is our ancestors' shampoo. It both foams, washes and is added nothing but "Frøya's love and life-giving effect", completely without chemicals, parabens and other artificial additives.
So, it is perhaps no wonder we in Norway still decorate with birch on all our fertility festivals. That birch is hung over newlyweds, that this decoration is used from Pentecost, to Austr (Easter), Midsummer (St. Hans) and on May 17th. It is perhaps no wonder that the goddess of love between husband and wife, for all growth and progress is represented by birch, or that even Santa Claus (Jólafaðr - Heimdal / Odin) has a staff of birch, or when he blows in his Gjallarhorn (birch lur). When our ancestors went on a voyage, it was probably not uncommon for birch to appear as beautiful decorations in the stern of the ships – just like we decorate our boats at the Summer Solstice.
All trees that were to be cut down had to be symbolically explained why by our ancestors. They were life-giving manifestations of those who were here before us. Every tree and every tree type is represented by a god or goddess in our mythology. Each tree was an Yggdrasil.