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Huginn’s Heathen Hof

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Entschtanning 3: Baerk un Haerdbutzerei – Birch and Cleaning of the Hearth

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Yesterday we discussed the goddess Freid and Her role in the home and hearth. Tonight we will expound upon the role of the hearth in Entschtanning and how birch fits into that role.

Birch by itself plays a major role in the Deitsch culture. On a mundane level, it is the source of birch water and of our most well-known beverage, birch beer. On a more spiritual level, though, birch tea serves as the means to remove the stain of death from a decedent’s loved ones, and the tree itself represents renewal, rebirth, healing, motherhood, and mystical knowledge.

Several deities bear an association in Urglaawe with birch. Most prominent among them, and in no particularly order, are Freid, Holle, and Berchta. Holle and Berchta seem to be connected to birch mostly through healing and the process of rebirth and renewal. Freid’s connections are mostly in the form of motherhood and mystical knowledge.

Within the oral lore of the Deitsch culture there is a belief that birch’s association with renewal and rebirth comes from birch being one of the first trees to grow back after a forest fire, and the trees grow rapidly. Also, the “eyes” of the tree are viewed as the eyes of Berchta or of Freid. In the case of Freid, the eyes are everywhere, and that is one means for Freid to maintain Her knowledge of what is going on here in Mannheem. In the case of Berchta, it is more personal; She is watching “you.” Indeed, walking through a stand of birch can sometimes be unnerving if one senses the eyes watching every step!

Another interesting item that I only recently learned is that some types of pitch can are made from the dry distillation of birch bark. This fact lends a new perspective to the story of Frau Holle, in which Holle rewards the industrious protagonist by covering her in gold while the lazy antagonist is covered in pitch. A Deitsch word for “bad luck” is “Bech,” which literally means “pitch.” From the Urglaawe perspective, the story can be read on multiple levels, one of which is the establishment of Urleeg and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

The symbolism of birch runs deep in Urglaawe, particularly during Entschtanning. Another component of the observance is the cleaning of the hearth.

At Entschtanning, we are to let hearth fires go out and to extinguish candles, oil lamps, and any other fire-bearing apparatus, including the oven and furnace (as safety allows, of course). We are then to clean out the apparatus, removing all old coals, candles, wicks, etc. They are to be replaced with new material. New fires are then begun using birch wood in the hearth or fireplace and birch twigs on candles or lamps. This represents the manifestation of new life, whether birth or rebirth, as part of the Entschtanning emergence.

Tradition holds that embers from the home’s hearth are then to be taken to any furnaces or fireplaces in other rooms or buildings on the property. Some Brauchers and Hexes report that they gather at this time of year at the home of their mentor, where the main fireplace or hearth is lit up with birch. Embers from that fire are then taken in ember boxes to the homes of the apprentices to serve as the starter for their new fires.

By the end of Entschtanning, birch water and birch beer stores from last year are likely depleted, but the birch sap season begins in March, so they will soon be refilled.

So, tonight we honor the spirit of the birch. We also encourage folks to clean their fire areas and to begin a new flame with birch. Bear in mind while doing so that we are at a time of renewal, rebirth, and promise. Take a few moments to meditate to the dancing flames on new opportunities and how to bring into being the things that will help to improve your life and your community.

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