Tag Archives: tree lore

Ogham: B – Beith/Birch

Birch’s day is the first day of the new year, the beginnings of new things, the beginning of a new cycle.

Shining One

The word birch means bright and/or shining in many languages including a Sanskrit root “Bhräjate” “it shines” and “bhurja” for birch. Indo-European and proto-Indo-European tree names are (*bherH-ģ-o ) as meaning  “shining”, “bright”, “gleaming”. It’s also known as finnbheann na coille “the bright lady of the woods”.

Shining … sun-bright … giving off light. The glimmering white trunk of the tree in northern woods is stunning and gives the truth to the naming.

The thesaurus gives us the following for bright and shining …

Bright … Vivid Intense Dazzling Light Clear

Shining … Unblemished Immaculate Glowing Radiating Virgin Original Primeval

That last word, primeval, is significant here. The birch is one of the primeval trees, one of the first trees in the world and one of the first trees to help reclaim old building sites, to bring them back to nature. It and the Scots Pine work and live together.

Sit-with these words, see what gifts of insight they offer you at the beginning of the year.

Birch Tree

New Beginnings

In Scandinavia the farmers use it’s leafing to time the planting of wheat. In many countries Birch is the earliest tree to put on leaves, and one of the trees that begins to make new land along with the Scots pine.

You have just worked with the first vowel tree, Ailm, the Scots pine. Both trees work with newness and ask you to always be open to all possibilities, but without being so gullible that otherworld is able to send you off for a tin of striped paint … LOL. This is the sort of paradox-line you continually walk as a shaman, always having to discern what is both true and pertinent to the moment. You must learn to know when you are being tested. It will be to see if you are really awake or just bumbling along on auto-pilot J.

Birch is the tree of inception. What does this mean? Here are some words for you to sit-with and ponder on to help open up your mind and intuition to what Birch and inception is about, what Birch does, what its job is.

Inception begin, set up, start, set in motion, commence, inauguration, open, origin, foundation, launch, establishment, creation, activate, initiate.

Sit-with these words. What pictures come into your mind from them? Take them into your journey as foci, guiding and directing you towards finding the spirit of the wood.

Kenning

In the medieval kennings, the verses associated with Beith are:

  • Féocos foltchaín: “Withered foot with fine hair” (Word Ogham of Morann mic Moín)
  • Glaisem cnis: “Greyest of skin” (Word Ogham of Mac ind Óc)
  • Maise malach: “Beauty of the eyebrow” (Word Ogham of Culainn)

Kennings are knowings … not knowledge! To ken something is about having an acquaintance with it, a cognisance of it, and understanding of it, an awareness of it. To have any or all of these things of another ensures you have a new beginning of your relationship with it … be it animal, vegetable, mineral or human. The birch is a tree of kennings.

Broomstick

The birch twigs make the flying tail for the witch’s broomstick … so the birch is about flying too. The French broomstick’s handle is traditionally of hazel – the tree of Elen of the Ways, so giving the broomstick its ability to find its way across the worlds. In Britain it is often given a handle of Ash, Gwydion’s tree, the shapeshifter’s tree that helps with the flying between worlds. The birch twigs are tied to the stem with fine willow strippings, bringing in the goddess Brighid = she of the Bright Fiery Arrow. The birch gives the broom the shining, glimmering light of otherworld to light the ways which it will travel.

Birch Tea Benefits, particularly their anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties, have been highly regarded for centuries.

The broomstick is used in many traditions as a method of cleansing or purifying a space. In some cultures, the rite of jumping the broom is considered an important part of a marriage ceremony, signifying new beginnings and a clearing away of the past for a new future. This ritual has seen some resurgence in popularity as more and more Pagan couples celebrate handfastings.

Take all of this into your meditations for the beginning of the year.

Elen Sentier

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Exploring the Ogham

Ogham Wheel
Ogham Wheel

For years I’ve played with, and been played with by, this amazing system of communication. I won’t say writing, it is writing … sort of … but it’s much more about communication – with Otherworld, with yourself, with nature, with other people even.

For many years, academics have tried to form it into a type of writing, alphabet, with varying amounts of success. I’ve read lots of books by those who’ve studied it, and got insights from them, but my main sources of inspiration are …

This year, I’ve been very drawn to going deeper into the language of the trees, of the wood, and the pondering, sitting-with all of it, has just come to fruition. In fact, I got so excited about the whole thing that I’ve set up a year-long internet course for anyone who’d like to walk the path along with me.

So, what happened to get me so inspired? The trees themselves working and sitting with them, asking them to teach me. I have most of them in my garden here at Archenland. The trees for the 13 moon-months … Birch, Rowan, Ash, Alder, Willow, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Oak, Holly, Hazel, Apple, Blackberry, Ivy, Guelder Rose & Reed, and Elder. And the trees for the seasons … Silver Fir, Furze, Heather, Poplar and Yew.

With the five season goes an ancient verse which gives light darkly on the meanings of the seasons. This gives you an idea of how it works with the goddess and the seasons …

Ailm – Silver Fir – Birth – Sun Return – I am the womb of every holt
Onn – Furze – Initiation – Spring Equinox – I am the blaze on every hill
Ura – Heather – Consummation – Midsummer – I am the queen of every hive
Eadha – Poplar – Repose – Autumn Equinox – I am the shield to every head
Iolo – Yew – Death – Winter Solstice – I am the tomb to every hope

I’m still missing Bran’s tree, the alder, although there’s lots of it about in the hedges so I might get a whip this coming spring and plant it in the hedge here. Heather we don’t have as we’re very alkaline here but I must get some in a pot, and the same for furze, that’ll have to be in a pot too. I swap Scots Pine for Silver Fir as I’ve a very deep relationship with the Scots Pine.

I find Graves THE WHITE GODDESS both deep and broad at the same time. He’s very inclusive, able to think of, accept and suggest lots of correlations that others don’t seem to do. His wide knowledge of many ancient cultures enables him to see similarities across them – essential truths, probably, that underlie all traditions on this Earth. I like that. I like the feel of universality and, to me, this is part of being pagan. Like I said in a recent blog, being pagan is being of the Land to me, of this Earth – at least while I’m incarnate on her. Sensing into the depths of her wisdom, with the trees through the Ogham, is just so good for me, inspires me, gets me excited.

So I set off on a journey this Imbolc that has brought me here, soon after Lammas, to a place where I want to share what I’ve found.

The journey began with one of the loves of my life, Gwydion, the master magician of Britain. I know a lot of folk find him tricksy and devious and so he is, but he’s such an excellent teacher because of it. I also have a strong sympathy for him, he explores, goes outside the box, gets into trouble but manages to help people in spite of this. He helps his brother, Amatheon, bring the three secrets of agriculture to humans, stealing them from the Elder gods and so starting the Battle of the Trees … the beginning of the Ogham. The three secrets of agriculture are close to my heart because of biodynamics. In biodynamics, the three underlying principles are silica, clay and calcium. In Amatheon’s story they are represented by the Lapwing, the Bitch-hound and the Roebuck. In the Rainbow Warrior shamanic training I run we do this in depth during the second year but here, through the Ogham I found myself exploring it again, but differently, adding new insights.

The story of Amatheon bringing the secrets of agriculture to human beings reminds me of Hephaestos stealing fire from the gods and bringing that to humanity too. Both get into trouble for changing the status quo, trying to include people, for moving some of the control away from the Elder gods. As a closet-anarchist this pleases me *g*. I like change, growth, movement, growing up. I don’t like having Nanny changing my nappies all my life, I want to think for myself … make mistakes, fall over, get up and have learned something. My Dad always said, “the person who’s never made a mistake has never made anything” … he was quite right! Failure, getting it wrong, screwing up, are the best and most effective ways of learning. Getting it right just gives you a big head *g*. But don’t get me started on that old Obby Oss of mine!

This Ogham journey I’ve been doing this year has brought so much into focus for me. The seasons themselves, represented by the vowels. There are five, yes five not the usual four we know from gardening! What for? What difference to my thinking does the five make? As I pondered and worked with the trees I found it quite mind-expanding, particularly by bringing in the five lines of the old poem that describes the goddess in her own ways. Susan Cooper uses that poem as the basis for her “Dark is Rising” quintet – and that says a lot too! I found I was re-reading Cooper’s books again on the Ogham journey.

Then there are the thirteen moon-months. To start with, Celtic culture so often uses the concept of “a year and a day”. Ceridwen does it with Gwion Bach and her Cauldron of Inspiration … so I found myself back here too! And it comes up in lots of other stories too.

The thirteen moon-months give you 364 days plus one left over … a year and a day. So what happens in the brewing of the cauldron for that year and a day? What do each of the thirteen moon-months give. Aha! The weak 40w bulb flashes briefly on the top of my head as I got to this … there were thirteen fairies at Briar Rose’s naming. Well, twelve were asked but the daft parents decided not to invite the thirteenth fairy and came a cropper because of it! Or did they? Would there have been any change if they hadn’t made that mistake? What connections here? Oh, be sure, there are lots!

That whole piece took me into working with the fairy stories, yet again. I love them, work with them all the time, so much of the Grammarye of our land is held within them.

The trees themselves are wonderful to work with. To sit-with the tree, ask it to show me itself, its qualities, what it does. To listen to it without interrupting and then be able to ask for clarification of the things I didn’t understand, is so good, so insightful. Then, when Tree and I are agreed, I ask if I may have some of its wood for a stave. I never take wood without asking, even a dead branch on the forest path I ask before I take it. Always check! Making assumptions is the way to make lazy mistakes!

So here I am, with the Ogham journey under my belt and a year-long course written and blossoming. It’s very exciting. I hope there are folk out there who would like to work and play with me on this. If you think you would check out …

Ogham  and on Facebook or contact me at directly