Birches are the most common deciduous trees in Finland and birch species that exist there are silver birch, downy birch and in Lapland grows dwarf birches. Birches can live up to 300 years and the highest birch can grow to be 40 meter high. Birches have been important trees for many people and several Finno-Ugric, Baltic and Slavic tribes have worshiped them. Russian word for birch берёза (berjoza) means protection.
In Komi and Udmurt (кызьпу) languages name of the birch is connected to burnt clearing. Burnt clearing meant burning forest in order to create farm land. Occasionally too much of the forest was burned and birches were planted into these empty fields. Birch has symbolized purity, goodness, summer and warmth. Finnish word for birch koivu is a proto Finno-Ugric word. For the Mordvans, birch was the tree of life. The sap that was moving inside the tree symbolized the continuance of life and rebirth. The leaves represented ancestors and the starry sky.
In Finland birch has been an important material for building and carving objects such as wheels, dishes, cups, skiis, fire wood, sleighs, and handles for axes and hammers. Birchbark was multipurpose material that was used as much as we use plastic today. It was used for making backpacks, shoes, dishes, tinders and ancient Finno-Ugric people even used it as early writing paper.
In Finland and in Russia birch twigs were used as wands to cast protection spells over the cattle. It was believed that cows who were protected with these ”wands” would provide milk that was such as good as birch sap. Similar custom was practiced in some countries in Southern Europe as well. Birch branches were connected to the arrival of summer and back in the days homes were decorated with birch branches for mothers day and summer solstice festival. During the summer bundles made of birch twigs were prepared for sauna for the whole coming year. Each branch that was used in the bundle had different meanings and symbols. Birch branch in the bundle represented goodness and good health. One of the old Finnish name s for March was Mahlakuu meaning the sap month. Some people drank birch sap for refreshment after the long winter. Owners of the best sap trees might even name them . If one cut down a sap tree they could get fines or give two equal birch trees away. Sap was brewed into beer and into lemonade. It was enjoyed during dinner and also as medicine to heal bladder problems, scurvy and to heal pain in the limbs. Clothes soaked in hot water boiled from young birch leaves were used to heal rash and ache. Tar from birch has been used to heal tooth ache and burns.
Birch is connected to many deities such as Germanic goddess Berchta, who was the protector of mothers and children, Venus, goddess of love and sex of the ancient Romans, Brigid, Irish goddess of fire and forgery, Thor, the Norse god of thunder. In Finnish mythology birch is connected to Luonnottaret, the goddesses of nature.
Birch sap magic:
Girls washed their faces with the first sap of the spring so they would not burn themselves in the summer. They always had to taste the sap first in order for the magic to work.
My video on birches in Finnish mythology (Finnish with subs).
Check out my other treelore articles as well
Pines in Finnish mythology and folklore
Artist and Illustrator. Folklorist , anthropologist, mythology enthusiastic. Keen traveller. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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