Rune Study Group: Berkano


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Cool Rune Study Group: Berkano


Berkano:
"bear-kawn-oh" (Berchta, the birch-goddess) [as in Berkenstocks (get it?)]. Looks like the letter B.

Is the Rune of the Great Mother [Nerthus / Holda / Hel & Freya / Frigg]
It is said to represent the swollen breasts and belly of a pregnant woman. It also represents the womb and tomb alike. In the form of Freya, Berkano represents the source of life; in the form of Hel, the keeper of the dead, as Frigg the silent keeper of wisdom.

Berkano is the rune of the earth, fruitfulness and concealment (think fall and autumn [tomb]).

I am not a botanist, however I am told that the birch grows without seeds, spreading new growth from its roots. They all (birch trees in a grove) grow to the same height (for if one birch grows taller than those around it, it endangers the grove, as it may be blown over).

New beginnings based on existing roots (already laid down).

Tradition brings growth.

Some elements of craft, deceit, or viciousness may be required to achieve goals (birch roots breaks rocks)

As a merkstave Berkano represents family problems and or domestic troubles. Anxiety about someone close to you. Blurring of consciousness.

As a person, it indicates a mother or a whore.
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I have always associated this Rune with the Empress card. To me, it represents the hard work and labour needed to bring about the birth of new ideas, new beginnings, etc...

Kiama
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When the ancient tribes moved north after the retreating ice, they did so in stages, moving a little further each spring, learning about their new environment in summer, stuffing their hairy little bellies in autumn, and bedding down hard in winter...

And each spring, they found new Birch saplings growing to the north of the forests... Birch was the first tree to come back to the north after the Ice age, and symbolised the Birth, and also the annual rebirth to the tribes who followed them...
(interesting side note...trees can actually migrate over the course of generations...north or south with the ice-age cycles...)

Birch trees grow in groups, like a family, with little trees seeding close to their parents, then seeding their own family, always moving, but never running away...
If Birch-rune falls close to Fehu, or Othila, it especially refers to family, rather than fertility...if a stave falls pointing away, it can be a merkstave...running away from family issues...
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Umbrae
I am not a botanist, however I am told that the birch grows without seeds, spreading new growth from its roots. They all (birch trees in a grove) grow to the same height (for if one birch grows taller than those around it, it endangers the grove, as it may be blown over).
I think you are thinking of aspen. An aspen grove is essentially one organism with one large interconnected root system and many trunks. Aspen are interesting in the fall because you can see one grove change color all at once. Very interesting.
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Berkano analysis


This is one runestave where I am not sure I agree with most of the current esoteric runelore works in existance (most of these works draw quite heavily from the Armanen literature, while I have an approach which looks to the surviving lore as the primary source of meaning). In the end, I think that many of the approaches can be found to be analogous on some level. But the overall question is how we learn, study, and teach.

Etymology

Berkano is probably a form of *bjarkan meaning "Birch," which comes from the PIE *bhergo from *bhereg "to gleam, white." The birch was known to the oldest of the Indo-Europeans as the "White Tree" or the "Gleaming Tree."

The PGmc *Barkuz (->Mod. Eng. Bark) is probably derived from the same root and may have that birch may have been noted specifically for its bark by the oldest Germanic peoples. These two observations leads one to look at this runestave as representing specifically the paper birch type birch trees.

Initial Obersvations

This is one of two trees mentioned by name in the Futhark (the other representing the Yew). There are many differences between the two:

Unlike yew tries, birch trees are androgynous.
Yews are evergreen while birches are deciduous
Yews have rough dark bark, while paper birches have white, smooth, flakey bark.
Yews are slow growing with heavy wood while birches are fast growing with light wood.
Yews are poisonous while birches are not.
Yews produce fruiting bodies while birches produce freespreading seeds
Yew wood is good for weapons, while birch wood is better for light-weight impliments.

In the Elder Futhark the Yew the 13th runestave, and the fifth in the second aett while Birch is the second in the final aett and the eighteenth overall. In the Younger Futhark, however, the Yew is moved to the end (number 16), while Birch is still the second of the final aett (Number 13 overall). In other words, they almost exactly switch numerical position.

Note too that the color white in Rigsthula is associated with the sovereign division and Jarl.

The shape of this stave is either patterned after the Greek "Beta" or the Latin "B."

Rune Poems

The OIRP lists a number of attributes two of which seem directly related to youthful growth. The third (the leafy branch) deserves a little more explenation. Leaves here are a representation of the vital energy of the tree and in the same way, hair was seen as a representation of the sovereign, vital energy of a person (one reason why hair color features into the myhts legends as often as it does). For this reason, thralls were often required to shave their heads while Jarls were allowed to grow their hair long. It is quite possible that this reference to the leafy twig or branch may also be a reference to sovereinty. This same image is repeated in both the ONRR and the OERP, though the OERP is probably referring to aspen rather than birch itself.

Another noteworthy point is raised by the ONRR where the poet notes that Loki was lucky in his deceipt. This is evidently paired against Tyr (see my discussion under Tiwaz) who lost his hand while deceiving the wolf.

Summary

I see this stave as representing growth as a whole, and especially youthful growth. It also represents soverenty, and the upward growth towards the gods.

I see nothing wrong with associating it with pregnancy, or using it to help with pregnancy-related magic, but I think that this association is secondary at best.
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One should note that many poplars and aspens have bark which is white as well, though it is neither shiny nor flakey like a Birch's. So it would make sense if popars were seen in some cases asbeing analogous to the birch for Runic purposes.
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