Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

As deciduous trees in the far north go, the birch tree reigns supreme.  While aspens are much touted (and imminently fashionable) at ski resorts in less elevated longitudes, we here in truly cold climates prefer our birch.

It probably goes without saying that birch is not much considered in hoodoo.  Having grown up in tropical and subtropical climates, the discipline probably had no knowledge of birch originally.  Wicca and Druidism both make use of birch, however.  Surprisingly to me, I can find no mention of its use in American Pow-wow practice.

In high northern areas of Europe and Asia, birch was used for numerous pursuits, both mundane and magickal.  The abundant leaves, which are usually resistant to local bugs and infections, were raked up as they fell in the fall and used as insulation in animal and human bedding. 

Birch twigs were particularly popular bound together as brooms for keeping homes clean.  The autumn ritual of gathering dead twigs, stripping and binding them to broom handles and trying them out on front stoops may have been one of the origins for the notion that witches flew to esbats on brooms.  While Scott Cunningham points out that Wiccans continue to be fond of birch brooms, there is scant documentation of their use by witches prior to the European witch craze.

Birch twigs were used since ancient times to exorcise people afflicted by spirits.  A moderate to severe beating with a birch switch was considered a sure cure for possession by Celtic Druids.  A birch switch was also a tool for punishing children and it is hard not to make a comparison.  Were parents hoping to “beat the devil” out of a naughty child aside from simply teaching them a lesson?

Birch trees are thought to bring good luck when planted in one’s yard in Russia, Alaska and northern Canada.  In Russia, red ribbons are tied around the trunks of birch trees to ward off the evil eye.  An added bonus is that birch trees are thought to attract lightening, keeping it away from home and barn.  Bon chance ~

Header: 16th century engraving of witches on brooms by Gillot de Givry


Timmy! said...

Birch is also excellent for firewood...

Pauline said...

It is; experts say it is the wood least likely to cause build up of potentially flammable creosote in a chimney.

Charles L. Wallace said...

Birch Beer is a tasty drink, as well :-)

Pauline said...

It is. Around this time of year the spruce beer starts to show up as well; yum.

Timmy! said...

Wally, try this one if you can find it down your way:


It's an Imperial Stout brewed with birch syrup and fireweed honey. I got a growler filled locally last weekend and it is really tasty stuff. Their winter ale brewed with spruce tips is really good too.