The Birch, or Beth, is the first consonant of the Ogham tree alphabet and is the first month of the Celtic tree calendar – December 24th to January 20th.
In many traditions, the Birch is considered to be a female tree and therefore its indwelling spirit is female. The Birch is believed to have the powers of exorcism, purity and fertility.
Because of its power of exorcism, it was hung on the front doors of homes on St. Johns Eve (Midsummer Eve) to protect the inhabitants from harm; it was also carried on the person to act as a personal amulet to ward off all harm but it could also be employed in wrath, revenge and to conquer in battle.
However, Birch is not only a tree of exorcism and casting out, She is also used to summon and bring forth increase and desire. She has long been used in love talismans and for the making of love fetishes; She is also held in great esteem for bringing forth fertility.
Because of Her powers, She was used as switches for beating the bounds and bringing health, fertility and protection to the land, while at the same time, banishing any malefic influences from the place.
It is believed that the first Ogham inscription was made on Birch paper. For the Celts, the Birch signified inception, new beginnings and love.
In Wales, a girl would give her sweetheart a love token made from Birch; it was message to him that she was ready for him to proceed with the courtship and that he may now begin to woo her.
Because of the associations of Birch as a bringer of strength, protection and health, babies cradles were often made out of Her wood to ensure the child thrived.
Until very recently, in the Isle of Man, miscreants were flogged as a punishment and the Birch was used to make the flogger; this was believed to exorcise the evil out of the person and therefore “cure” him of his evil ways. Because the Birch was used to make the flogger, the terms “Birched” or “Birching” became the standard terminology for being “flogged”.
The Birch tree is also the traditional Yule log. Stripped of its bark, it’s burned at midwinter ceremonies to drive out the spirit of the old year while welcoming in the new. It is also used for the Maypoles in springtime because of its associations with fertility.
For the Celts, the Birch is the tree of Arianrhod who is in charge of the Silver Wheel of the Heavens and who presides over birth and initiation. For Celtic shamans, the Birch is the cosmic tree; they visualise Her white trunk as they climb through the various spheres to communicate with the world of spirit.
The famous Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria) is most often to be found growing at the base of the Birch tree and the Celtic shamans used this to aide their Otherworld journeying but it also ties the Birch into the world of Elphame and the dangers that can await there.