In some mysterious way, woods have never seemed to me to be static things. In physical terms, I move through them; yet in metaphysical ones, they seem to move through me.
— John Fowles
The daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere slowly, almost imperceptibly, grow longer. But the Moon now fades, and we move towards Her dark face next week. This Moon has been the first lunation since Solstice, making it the first Moon of the lunar year.
The Celtic ancestors named the lunar months for their most sacred trees. The first of these, that opens the door of the New Year is the Birch, called Beth (pronounced “Beh“) in the Celtic tongue. It includes any of the many species of birch, including the yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis); the black birch (B. lenta) and the American white birch, or the canoe birch (B. papyrifera).
Because it is the tree of the year’s beginning, the month of Birch is a great time for magic of initiating new projects and fresh beginnings. Traditionally, magical work done during this lunation will add strength and momentum to new projects and choices.
The birch is a powerful guardian that will enhance all magical work to do with protection, purification, creativity, fertility, birth, healing, and increasing one’s inner sense of authority and self-discipline.
It is an old custom to tie a red ribbon around the trunk of a birch, to protect the home and its inhabitants from sorcery and curses. And the wood of the birch is especially loved for its power to protect babies, and branches were often hung in the homes of newborns. Safety from magical meddling was even surer if the cradle was made from birch.
Birch Goddess ©Emily Balivet
Sometimes called the Lady of the Woods, it was often identified with the Goddess Freya or Frigga. The Celts, who were equally fond of the birch, identified her with the Goddess Bridha or Brigid. Etymologically, the name Birch derives from the Sanskrit ‘bhura,’ meaning ‘shining tree.’
While Yggdrasil of the Norse realms was an ash tree, in Siberia, the birch was regarded as the sacred world-tree, which served as the bridge between this world and the realm of spirits and Gods.
The traditional besom (broom) of the witch is made from birch twigs, or else from a powerful magical mixture of ash, birch and willow. Since birch is sacred to the God Thor, it protects the home against lightning. And it is best to take the bark after the tree has been ‘kissed’ by Thor, that is, hit by lightning.
The birch was also associated with the spirits of the dead and the Underworld. Because of its ability to connect endings with beginnings, a circular grove of birch trees is among the most magical of sites, and is especially harmonious for communing with the Feminine Divine.
Birch wood is also a popular choice for making runes. In return for their gifts to us, birch trees especially appreciate offerings such as pretty stones, sea shells, flowers or herbs. And please remember that you must never peel the bark off of a living birch tree, lest you bring it great suffering and even death.
As we stand in this liminal time of both new beginnings and yet the waning, releasing energy of the Moon, this would be an ideal opportunity for clearing away what is outmoded, no longer useful, or finished, to make room for the new beginning of this year. I would suggest a thorough magical sweeping with a birch twig broom as a rite of protection and purification. Thus you can bless and welcome the new year, even as you remove and cleanse with the banishing energy of the waning Moon.
May the birch’s magic bless you.