After his wife’s death, a broken man lives in an isolated forest with his little daughter:
“Nothing had been able to call him out of the fog that had enveloped him ever since his wife’s death; he saw everything through a veil, which greatly impeded his vision, but nothing worse.”
Having lost touch with the living tissue of life, he neglects his daughter, passing all his days wrapped in his mourning shroud. Quite unexpectedly, his lively younger brother comes to stay bringing high spirits, love of music and jarring blue socks. As it turns out, the brother is dying of consumption and has come to spend his last days in the idyllic setting of the birch grove with his older brother and his niece. In an extraordinary movie by Andrzej Wajda entitled The Birch Grove, based on a short story by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, the symbolism of the birch tree is rendered in an outstanding way. Death, life and rebirth are the main themes of the movie; paradoxically, the brother closest to death is the hungriest for life, grabbing at it with all his might. The older brother, rigid and shrunk with mourning, throughout the movie undergoes a resurrection silently witnessed by the delicate yet resilient birch trees – “the snow-clad pillars, brittle, as if made of sugar or snow.” Towards the end of the story, the older brother experiences a mystical moment of connection with all life, while contemplating the birch grove. He sees the white tree trunks as pearls set in the dark velvet of the night. The white smooth entangled trunks remind him of feminine arms pointing upwards as if in a prayer of ecstasy. The humid and dense air circulating between the trees, transforms the grove into some sort of a sensual temple.
Birch trees are my beloved ones. So many times they have made me stop and just marvel at their beauty. The birch tree is the first one to wake up in the spring. It is also associated with the first month of the Celtic calendar. The birch belongs to the so-called pioneering species, i.e “hardy species which are the first to colonize previously disrupted or damaged ecosystems” (Wikipedia). Birches spring up rapidly after a forest fire or another disturbance. Sharlyn Hidalgo, the author of The Healing Power of Trees: Spiritual Journeys through the Celtic Tree Calendar, connects the resilient birch tree with beginnings, endings, shedding, purification, renewal, overcoming difficulties and resolution of conflict, as her branches are pliant and subtle. The snake and the phoenix are totem animals associated with the birch tree.
In the runic alphabet, Berkano, meaning “birch goddess”, is a rune associated with femininity. In The Book of Rune Secrets by Tyriel we read:
“Berkano is the rune of life’s emergence from the fundamental cosmic law. In natural science, abiogenesis or biopoesis is the study of how biological life arises from inorganic matter.… The Berkano rune then, points to this biopoesis wherever it occurs in the universe, and its particular qualities of reproduction, regeneration and adaptation to the rhythms of varied environments. An example of one such event, to which the rune refers, is life’s spring-time renewal from the cold of winter.”
This rune’s symbolism points to life force itself, because life can “care about itself and provide sanctuary for itself.” The fruition of this rune is achieved through silence, stillness and love. This can be a rune of deep secrets, which are justified, because the new life gestating in the womb requires our protection.