"Birch is without fruit / but just the same it bears / limbs without fertile seed / it has beautiful branches / high on its crown / it is finely coverd / loaded with leaves / touching the sky"
(Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem)
"I know a 13th: if I sprinkle a young thane / with water, he will not fall, though he goes to battle. / He will not be cut down, by swords"
The rune berkano, birch, is the rune of the Great Mother, the goddess worshipped as Nerthus by the early Germanic people, who became Holda on the continent and was split into Hel and Freya in the Norse countries. The Earth Goddess is the mother of manifestation and of birth and rebirth. She also rules over death, since the soul travels to her cauldron after death to await rebirth. Her symbol is the birch tree, which is a fundamental symbol of fertility. Berkano mirrors Teiwaz (the Rune of first All-Father and the Justified Warrior) in that it is the mystery of the women. It shows the path of the mother, the lover, the seeress and the healer; bringing life after death, just as the birch tree brings the first leaves after the winter. Thus, this rune is Nerthus and Freya as the source of Life, Hel as the Keeper of the Dead and Friga as the Keeper of Wisdom, who knows all there is, and yet does not say much or Keeps Silence. As such, Berkano receives the seed and holds it within herself, guarding and nourishing it until the time has come for it to return to the world outside again. This is the process of rebirth for those who do not struggle up to Valhalla.
Birch trees have long been associated with fertility and the protection of
children and women. In Scandinavia and early American colonies, birches were
planted in front of a home to protect those within it. Berkano serves the same
purpose, and can be used for purification, regeneration, healing and atonement
for past deeds. It brings new life, and with it, fresh starts and second chances.
As the rune of fruitfulness, berkano particularly rules the birth-process of the spring, when the power of the goddess is shown forth most openly as She brings new life from Her womb. In a number of Northern countries there was the custom
The shape of Berkano brings to mind the swollen breast and belly of a pregnant woman, revealing another meaning of this Rune. Just as Berkano rules the rebrith of spring, it also represents fertility and childbirth. This Rune is entirely favorable to children, and it protects and nurtures them just as a mother would. When used in health magic it cures infections. Its appearance often indicates the conception of the birth of a child; it can thus be used as a charm to increase a woman's fertility and her chances of conception.
There are several more meanings and uses for Berkano, all revolving around the same central themes. A second sort of birth associated with Berkano is the creation and implementation of new ideas. It was the symbol of romance in ancient England, and is said to calm a troubled mind. It can be magically used to protect someone you care about, and to bring about a rebirth of the spirit. Berkano's shape holds the twin enclosures of womb and tomb, and it both conceals and protects all that lies within it. Remember that the bringing-forth of spring is prepared for by the concealment of the autumn, and it was at this time that the folk of te Norse countries made their gifts to the land, at the festival called Winternights, disablot (sacrifice to the goddesses), or alfablot (sacrifice to the elves). The disir are lesser Vanic goddesses, usually bound to a single family or person. They are often dead female ancestors who watch over the births and deaths of their descendants and advise or protect; they are closely related to the kinfylga and the valkyrja. They have also been described as the attendant Norns, those who come to every child that is born to shape its life. These beings have survived in children´s stories as the fairies bestowing gifts - writing weird - at a baby´s Naming.
As a rune of bringing-into-being, Berkano is mighty as a shaping force in itself, the thought being as written in the Prose Edda, that the layers laid at birth (coming into being) will remain powerful throughout life. This is also written forth in the Havamal passage. The sprinkling with the waters of life is an old pagan custom; in this case, the magickal action takin is that of enclosing the child at birth in the protection of berkano, which remains around him/her throughout his life, because it has been written as his/her orlog, his first layer of weird.
Berkano is the rune of the mound itself, as apart from the initiation within
the mound. It is the equivalent of the alchemist´s athanor, the oven or
womb in which transformations take place.
In casts, Berkano almost always deals with matters of relationship or the family, sometimes both. It can foretell a birth or pregnancy, or fertility in general - a time of abundance and emotional stability in all cases. This is the Rune of childhood, and often shows good times with children. Berkano is the seed that is planted to grow later; the start of a romance that could lead to marriage is possible. This can also be seen as the birth of a new project or idea, and the ability to nurture that idea until it becomes fully developed and productive.
Problems treated with the Berkano Rune are often resolved with fruitful outcomes, since Berkano always leads to blossoming and ripening in some way. A new enterprise may begin, or an existing one may finally reach prosperity and security. When it appears as an answer to a question, take your steps carefully and slowly. Quick action is not favored, especially if your motive is not clear or correct. Negativity must be purged from the situation before you can proceed with action. If anything is hidden, take the time to find it and use it to fuel the growth that Berkano has begun.
Berkano may be used for female fertility magic and in working with women's mysteries. It is particularly mighty in all matters regarding birth and bringing-into-being. This rune is effective in reaching your disir to call on their guarding might or asking for their wise rede in some matters, as Odin always asks for Friga's.
Berkano is used for concealment, protection and nurturing, especially of children.
It is a good rune for passive warding.
In workings of woe, Berkano may be called upon as the rune of the goddess in Her Being as the Grave Mother, the devouring hag.
Berkano is the rune of hidden transformation and growth. Ritually, it embodies the need for silence and the dark cloth which covers magical implements between use or in the process of creation. It is best for this cloth to be made of linen, as flax is closely associated with Holda, a later German name for Nerthus. Used with other runes, berkano hides their workings until the unified result is ready to be brought fully into being.
The stone associated with berkano is jet, a black fossil wood which shows the enclosing and secretive nature of this rune. Jet is said to be used in seeing that which is concealed and in healing the female problems.
Source: Gundarsson, Kveldulf (1994) Teutonic Magic. Llwewellyn Publications, Inc. ©All rights reserved
You are standing beside a low stone wall, overgrown by blackberry vines, the dark drops of their berries hanging heavily down. Carefully, you push the vines aside, hoisting yourself up and over the wall. On the other side you see the low-gorwing brown cattails and green turf of the bog, laid aside in square black cuts where the peat-harvesters have ripped it away. The peat squishes under your feet as you pick your way carefully through the little white bog-daisies and whispering rushes, following the jagged slabs of granite that show a safe path. A small, clear stream of water winds around the rocks, rising and falling as your weight shifts. The ground here is soft, betraying. The little srping runs into a silent black pool like the mouth of a cauldron open to the gray sky. Here and there the green moss is stained brown and ochre, stains like ancient blood held in the bog, fermenting below the earth. The seeds and leaves fall from the bog-plants, rotting into the earth they sprang from, layered into the thousands of years that lie silent here.
By a low, moss-bearded heap of stones, just off the path, you see a green hump.
You crouch down and reach out to touch it. The moss comes off in your fingers,
showing the peat-stained wooden handle and rst-browned blade of a shovel. As
you pick it up, the mud that held it splits and opens softly - a tawny rut spreading
in the bog. You sink the blade and shaft of the shoven back intot he hole and
the bog slowly swallows it. The cattails around the cairn temble. Slowly as
you watch, a tall stick, dark from years of laying beneath the peaty waters
of the bog, slowly comes forth. It is forked some way down, the cleft carved
in more deeply so that its dark, slender shadow you see the echo of a tall,
long-legged woman´s shape. You stand silent for a moment, gazing at the
shadow of the hidden goddess of this place.
Slowly you step from the path towards the cleft stave. Your feet sink deeply into the suking bog that pulls you down intoher womb, your tomb. Although you struggle, you cannot break free from her grasp. The cold mud rises past your legs, swallowing your in. A strange, still peace comes over you and you let yourself sink deep into the welcoming peat.As the dark bog closes over your head and your breath stills, you feel yourself melting into someone else, into the body that lies just beneath you, kept by the peaty waters for hundreds of years. The woman has lain, clad for her marriage, in this water and earth, pinned down by the oaken stake that wed her to the bog so long ago. You feel her long sleep here , beneath turf, beneath the cairn and the stone wall. Dead, you feel the seeping waters working into your sking, darkening it with peat, tanning it to unfrottingleather. The hoard of life guarded within your pelvis shrinks, preserved like the roots and grains that lie in your stomack, your breasts wrinkle where the soft linen of fur lie over them. A thousand dawns warm you slowly, a thousand nights cool you where you lie beneath, where the grip of the sun and snow cannot reach. Your brain darkens in sleep, its hoard fermenting slowly in your peat-stained skull, netled in the dark coils of your hair, beneath the gold circlet whose jewels have dropped, one by one, from their setting. Held within the bog´s endless darkness, softness, your body is slowly changed, sking dark and grained as bog oak, everlsting as amber and jet.
Another winter passes, cold and slow, and again the new sun begins to warm
all of the bog slowly, setting some of the seeds within to ferment and sprout.
You, too, feel its stirring, rising up from the still body in the bog, through
the black peat and slowly out into the brilliance of the sun. A birch tree stands
above you and the dark pool before you reflects your image like a mirror. You
are a young, golden-haired maiden clad in birch leaves and flowers. Where you
stretch your arm, the bog, brown from winter, sprouts into a mist of green.
You pass through it, your little bare feet springing lightly over the betraying
turf and hidden pools as you spread the new life you have brought forth over
When you have completed your ound of the bog, you stop again before the slender, dark cleft fork of the goddess. A few drops of bright water spring from the top of the stick, landing on your lead in blessing as you bow respectfully to her.
Slowly you return to your body, feet firmly planted on the earth, knowing the power of concealment and birth that is always yours through the rune berkano.
Night was falling and I knew I should advance towards the South the following day. South for Winter and the Power of the Living Earth, South for me, who live in the Southern Hemisphere now and the place of Ancestral Wisdom. To my delight, I saw a light coming from a delicate lamp located in front of an old cottage. Old wood, I could tell, but the feel of the whole landscape was somehow very heartwarming, with the sweet appeal of things we have known for long and and cherished dearly. Like a favorite song or the companionship of a best friend we haven´t seen in a long while and came round for a long chat to catch up with news and ourselves.
I was still contemplating with anticipation what to do next, when the door opened to reveal a Wise One standing at the threshold. She wore a long white robe, and her long silver hair crowned her with glory. She was tall and elegant. Her face had the lines of time, but her eyes, o her eyes shone with Understanding, Wisdom, Compassion, Inner Strength of those who have seen much and have become what they wanted to become. A sob escaped my throat when our eyes locked for a brief and very intense moment and I re-membered the first time I had met the Wise One. It had been right before my Naming by my parents, when She had come accompanied by other ancestral spirits to bless my coming into the family and they had each brought a different quality to me. Their spiritual gifts for me to discover as I grew old and lived life to the fullest. Thus, in a moment of revelation and beauty, I understood who She was and why the cottage and the lamp were so familar. The Wise One had the classic features of my family line, She was what I liked to call The Great Grand Mother of my Family Line, the Disir.
But who were the Disir? The Disir are lesser Vanic goddesses, usually bound to a single family or person. They are often dead female ancestors who watch over the births and deaths of their descendants and advise or protect; they are closely related to the kinfylga and the valkyrja. They have also been described as the attendant Norns, those who come to every child that is born to shape its life. These beings have survived in children´s stories as the fairies bestowing gifts - writing weird - at a baby's Naming.
I bowed deeply in front of Her.
"Great Grandmother", I said, "I lend you graces." She opened her arms for a long embraced and we kissed as kin again.
"Good night, dearest", She greeted very simply while wiping with a lacy handkerschif the runaway tears that stubbornly went down my face. "Be most welcome to this cottage of mine. Rest a while and enjoy the peace, the surroundings and the growing awareness that only solitude can bring. At every generation I wait for someone of our bloodline to come and contact the Guarding Spirits of our Line. I will leave you alone now - and hope the experience is profound".
She traced a sigil in the air and disappeared. Suddenly, everything around me was darkness. It seemed that the Great GrandMother of time had taken the lamp with Her.
I centered myself to the get used to the stillness and darkness around me.
Hear pounding, I somehow was not afraid to come to terms with solitude and and
loneliness. There is deep wisdom in diving into the all-one-ness we are in certain
moments, and this was exactly what I was doing this very moment. My eyes slowly
got used to the darkness and tentatively I crossed the threshold to the cottage.
Still could not see much around, just forms, but the wooden floor seemed strong
enough and little by little I could start perceiving the shapes of furniture
and overall layout of the rooms I was curious to explore.
On the kitchen balcony, I found a candle and matches. Thus, with the candle in hand, I started a more thorough exploration of the surroundings and to my delight, there were electrical lamps and in seconds was pressing all lights in precise and efficient moves.
I saw the quilted bed and the fireplace, the books and the countless pictures of family members on the mantelpiece, on the walls, by the shelves of books, and felt so welcome. Surely I could not remember or have known many of the faces in the pictures, but it seemed that all of them were somehow represented in some way or another in the bedroom of the Great GrandMother of my Family Line.
Back in the lounge, I saw what it seemed to be a photo album, bound in gold.
Curiously I browsed through it with deep respect and reverence. Because as one
page followed the other, I saw the faces of the other Disir of our family line,
the Foremothers and Crones of Power, whose history are part of my because I
share with them a tiny bit of their essence too. As I reach the last page of
the album, I close my eyes and and a prayer to all of them. Their integrity,
the stories of my family line always gave me a sense of pride to walk confidently
towards my own future.
I raise to my feet and look for in the room for the ancestral shrine. I knew I was going to recognize it when I saw it and I did. On the mantelpiece by the fireplace, the Hearth Fire burnt and I add a long candle to burn through the night on the single candleholder of great age, but well polished by the hands of the Great GrandMother of Time. I also intuitively knew I would have to polish the candleholder before leaving the cottage the following day.
Suddenly I understood what growing old was all about. It is about acquiring a new perspective of our bodies while preserving the integrity of our souls. It is about finding who and what we are and realize our power from within to conquer our destinies in our own terms, kissing the past for the lessons long gone and embracing the present, for the future is built here and now. Growing old is about responsibility for our choices and deeds, it is about keeping the heart open to the new and give a hand to the young. Most of all, it is about living and loving fully, and waiting for rebirth in the family line, this one or another, one day. To my delight, I realize I am actually looking forwards to being a Wise One. Because by then I hope I will have accomplished something and therefore have given a bit of myself to the physical world.
I heard a gentle laughter echoing the air:
"Take it easy, daughter of mine and live fully your Earth time. May your deeds and choices reflect what you long to be and blessed be the Light that brought you to Me!" I laugh. She was right, the Knower of the Deepest Mysteries of Our Blood. And I utter a prayer with all my heart, mind, body and soul: "I request all my Foremothers protection to Guide and Inflame my actions. May their Clear Thoughts inspire my own, strengthening my Will to succeed. May my passion built something solid and worth sharing in all worlds and may the Glory of the Everlasting Spirit all worlds in this very moment bespell!"
The album glowed brightly and for seconds I felt the beam of energy take hold
of me, and the clear outline of the rune Berkano in it. I smiled and went exploring
the ancestral home more fully. Tonight it was going to give me shelter and rest.
"Tomorrow I'll leave, not before having cleaned the Family Shrine and polished the candleholder. And I promise to return for as many times as it takes to feel welcome and refresh myself in the solid cocoon of this ancestral home!"
The thought was both a promise and a lifetime committment I gladly accepted. By my vows, by by blood, by my soul.
I am committed to long term projects
I like to have long term goals and am inspired by all learning they may bring
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