Friday, January 02, 2009

The Birch Maid and the Birch Moon – Finsbury Park, London

Friday January 2, 2009:

Dainty but hardy, the silver birch, the lady of the woods brightly shines. Her slender trunk rises silvery amongst her tapering branches, the twigs frailly fluttering in the breeze. A tree of beginnings, of inception of the time before Imbolc, heralding the spring, she is strongly associated with faerie and air.

The bark is diuretic, antiseptic and a tonic; it helps release pain. The leaves are used to treat urinary infections and are a diuretic. Ruled by Venus, she has powerful healing properties and is associated with the mysteries of the young goddess. Frigga , Arianrod, Eostre, Blodeuwedd and other goddesses of love and fertility are hers. Ubiquitous across Northern Europe, she features strongly in folklore.

The air is beginning to thin with the coming of dawn as I creep out into my silent garden. This is the time of birch, the tree of beginnings. When better to meet her than at dawn at the very beginning of the year.

My silver birch is a slender specimen about fifteen feet high. She stands behind a garden bench, branch in branch with a beautiful old fashioned and fragrant rose tree. I climb behind the bench and move to embrace the tree.

My fingers trace the fluttering papery bark. It shivers in the breeze against my tenderly touching fingers. I lean my cheek against the cool bark and breathe in her faint green perfume.

The body I hold is frail yet soft. Long limbed, straight backed, she is draped in the lightest of silky gossamer insubstantialness, yet she does not tremble with the cold, despite the icy sharp wind. Carefully I hold my arms to support her in a truly unconditional hug.

I can hardly believe it! She leans into me peacefully, her hair tumbled and tangled tickles my face. In the stillness, I am aware of the quality of our silence, companionable and simple. She shifts in my arms, lifting her face to lay her cool cheek against my warm one. My heart turns over, but I don’t intensify my embrace, I just become aware that I am allowing her to be and allowing myself to hold her.

Oh but then she is gone! Before I know it, my arms are empty and my chest constricts. I look round to see her darting away through the trees, skipping and laughing, she turns her head to look back, checking that I am following. I start to run.

It is twilight and really quite hard to see her against the gloom. She leads me a merry chase, in and out of the trees, across muddy brooks, through little quiet clearings and back into the dark woods.

Just when I think I can run no more, she darts into a silvery clearing and drops to her knees in front of a tall and graceful silver birch.

I stand in the shadow of the trees and watch as the tree sways, shining dazzlingly, and shifting shape until it is a tall and graceful somewhat androgynous figure. Our eyes lock for a moment before she begins to shift shape again, elongating and extending until she is a glowing crescent moon. I gaze in awe as she floats effortlessly into the dark sky and settles behind the tender frail branches of the birchwood.

The moon, a new crescent peeps out from behind the trees, their branches tracing a lacy pattern across its sickle slenderness, the light shining through and repeating the pattern on the clearing floor, like a silver doily.

I am lost, moonstruck and amazed. Cool fingers touch my cheek and I turn to see the birch maiden standing close to me. She looks up at the moon and bows deeply. I follow suit and hand in hand we turn and walk back through the woods.

To my left, I hear a soft pawed cat approach, her bells tickling softly. I smile and wonder when she will see me, but she pads carefully onwards. In the ash tree beyond the garden fence, a robin trills an arpeggio of joy and a crow caws crossly back. I lean my cheek against the birch tree, still spellbound and unable to move away. But it is cold and I can’t stand here all day.
Plunging my frozen fingers into a pocket, I pull out a small Green Lady plaque. Cold fingers fumble with the knots of the cord. I wish I’d brought green ribbon instead and make a mental note to exchange it for the cord that I am now tying the plaque to the tree with. Under my fingers, wreathed by leaves, she smiles out through the slender birch branches at the quiet garden.
This year I will follow the moon, I decide as I back away carefully , and bowing, bid my birch maiden a temporary farewell.

After my morning prayers by the rowan tree, I rush in doors to find the silky green ribbon. The exchange made, I arrange the ribbon ends and bowing once more, return to the warm to consult my Luna diary.


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