On the Calendar
As the wheel of the year makes its final turn and begins a new cycle, many plants have faded or died, but evergreens live up to their name and this is their time of year to shine. With sacred trees, mistletoe, and other plants taken into the home, it is no accident that this is a magical time of year. The name for this month comes from the Latin decem, meaning “ten,” as it was the tenth month on the Roman calendar.114
On the Calendar
December 21/22: Yule/Winter Solstice
The winter solstice is an event that has been celebrated around the world by civilizations throughout time. As a time of transformation, Yule celebrates the return of the sun/son, which brings hope and the promise of ongoing life. While the Celts had established Samhain as the beginning of the New Year, tenth-century Norse Pagans changed their new year to Yule to coincide with the solar cycle.
Evergreens were considered sacred because they didn’t seem to die each year like other trees. Bringing them indoors embodied the reborn spirit of the Green Man. The red of the holly berries represented the blood and fertility of the Goddess, while the white of mistletoe berries symbolized the sacred seed of the God.
Traditionally, the Yule log was a large forest log. Burning it symbolically burned away all vestiges of the old year, and along with it negativity was dispelled. The great log also represented the God of vegetation, which is why Yule log ashes were believed to have special powers of fertility. In nature, fire prepares the way for rebirth.
Representing the light and dark halves of the year, the oak king and holly king trade places at the solstices. Yule marks the succession from the holly (king of the waning year) to the oak (king of the waxing year). Holly represented death, and oak represented rebirth.
December 24: The Celtic Month of Birch Begins
Birch is associated with new beginnings, protection, purification and the increasing sunlight. It was one of the trees traditionally used for Maypoles
Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)
*Also known as canoe birch, silver birch, and white birch
Silver Birch (B. pendula syn. B. alba, B. verrucosa)
*Also known as common birch, European white birch, lady of the woods, and warty birch
Paper birch grows fifty to seventy feet tall and can have one or several slender trunks. Its pointed, oval leaves are irregularly toothed and about four inches long. They are dull green on top and lighter underneath, and turn bright yellow in autumn. In the early spring, yellowish-brown male flowers grow in drooping catkins and greenish female flowers grow in smaller, upright catkins. The tree’s white bark peels in strips revealing orange-brown inner bark.
The silver birch typically grows thirty to forty feet tall. Its oval, toothed leaves are glossy and have long tapered tips. They turn greenish yellow in the autumn. Silver birch also has yellowish-brown male flowers in drooping catkins and greenish female flowers in smaller, upright catkins that appear in early spring. This tree’s bark becomes black and rugged at the base of the tree.
While the genus name Betula is the Latin name for the tree, some sources say that it originated from Celtic betu, meaning “tree.” 115 The species name is from the Greek papurus, meaning “papyrus” or “paper,” and fero, “to bear” or “to carry,” making this the paper-bearing tree.116
In Wales, birch was associated with love, and in German folklore it was the tree of life. Throughout Europe it was used medicinally. According to legend, Siberian shamans used birch in initiation rituals. Because the wood was often used for broom handles, birch eventually became affiliated with witches. In western England, crosses made of birch twigs were hung over doorways for protection against enchantment.
Use birch twigs to symbolically sweep and clear away negative energy before ritual. Also do this for protection during magic work. Burn a few small pieces of bark for purification and to attract abundance. As a symbol of birth and renewal, birch helps us learn from the past when we want to make a fresh start. For aid in this, place a couple of small twigs on your altar during times of transition.
Hold a twig before a divination session to focus your energy. It will help to bring clarity and aid in receiving knowledge. Use pieces of bark in a sachet for love spells, and place a twig under the bed to aid in fertility. Crumble and sprinkle pieces of bark around your property to attract fairies.
Birch is associated with the element water. In addition to fairies, it is associated with the deities Angus, Cerridwen, the Dagda, Freya, Frigg, Lugh, and Thor. This tree’s astrological influence comes from Jupiter, the moon, the sun, and Venus.
Figure 42. Birch is associated with the ogham Beith and
the runes Berkana and Uruz (shown left to right).