Thursday, June 20, 2024

Polaris of Enlightenment

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Polaris of Enlightenment

Berkana – The rune of the birch

Norse mythology

Updated today 20:18 Published 5 June 2024
- By Editorial Staff

ᛒ – Berkana is the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name of the b-rune with the IPA sound value of [b] or [β].

The meaning of its name is “birch” and its symbolism is clearly linked to fertility, rebirth and womanhood.


This article is part of our exclusive series on the origins and secrets of the Nordic runes in the Elder Futhark and the merits of the intriguing Uthark theory proposed by the Swedish philologist Sigurd Agrell, professor at Lund University, Sweden.

The Uthark is a secret cipher, based on positioning the Fehu rune at the end of the rune row, like an ace in a deck of cards, revealing esoteric philosophy reaching deep into the heart of Norse culture and religious beliefs.


Meaning and interpretation

For many different reasons, the shape of the Berkana rune has been described as representing a pregnant woman, with the rune being noted as a “closed” extension of the “open” rune of the Earth Mother ᛈ-rune Perthro, as shown by the illustration below:

ᛈ — ᛒ

Professor Sigurd Agrell notes the close connection between the birch tree, fertility and women that appears in many forms in ancient European folklore. For example, it is recorded that on the Thursday before Pentecost, Russian peasants went into the woods, sang songs, made garlands, and cut down a young birch tree, which they dressed in a woman’s costume. Similar customs can also be found among many other European peoples, including in Lithuania and parts of Germany. As can also be seen in Icelandic Skaldic poetry, there are ancient legends both in Latvia and Ostrobothnia in Finland about a special connection between the birch tree and the spiritual essence of the woman.

When walking in a typical Scandinavian forest with a mixture of different trees, the birch stands out with its grace and softness that truly exudes a feminine spirit. After the Ice Age, the birch was one of the so-called pioneer species that characterized its early landscapes as vegetation reemerged. Furthermore the birch is among the first trees to bloom in the cold spring of Scandinavia, making the connection to rebirth even stronger.

 

Amalie Bruun of the Danish music project Myrkur, playing the nyckelharpa in a birch forest, singing the song “Två Konungabarn”.

 

Symbolism and magical use

According to the numerology of the Uthark hypothesis, Berkana is, in a magical sense, the seventeenth rune. There is also evidence that the number 17 is associated with the feminine, love and women in ancient European folklore. On a number of inscriptions found on objects clearly worn by women, the gematria is focused around 17.

Consistently, the seventeenth stanza of Odin’s troll songs, clearly alludes to love, passion and womanhood.

pat kann ek it siautianda, at mik mun seint firra:
it manunga man;

“A seventeenth I can: ….
that late she forgets me
the young woman, who is loved by me.”

An ancient 17-word Old English poetic medical text has also been documented, aimed at ensuring a healthy pregnancy.

Up ic gonge, ofer pe stæppe
mid cwican cilde nales mid cwellendum,
mid fulborenum nalas mid fægan.

And when a woman is carrying a child, and she lieth down with her husband,
she shall say, I will arise, and I will pass over thee with a living child,
with a fully developed child, not with one that is fallen unto death.

(Free translation, TNT)

One artifact with gematria based around the number 17 is the Seax of Beagnoth (“The Thames Knife”), dated to the 10th century. This contains the entire 28-character English futhork.
After the eight runes of the first aett (see explanation of aettir in the article about Hagalaz) there is a punctuation mark on the knife, as well as after the second aett. The third aett is followed by two engraved ornaments and finally a word, BEAGNOþ, which is probably a name.

Interestingly, the sum of the three aettir and the two punctuation marks is exactly the same as on the Charnay Fibula (17*24=408), an artifact which you can read more about here in our previous article about the Algiz rune.

The Seax of Beagnoth (click to zoom in). Photo: BabelStone/CC BY-SA 3.0

Punctuation marks appear on many artifacts in a seemingly random order, sometimes with one punctuation mark, sometimes two, sometimes three and sometimes a combination of the different marks. On the Charnay fibula, four plus four plus three punctuation marks occur.

The ornament that follows also consists of 17 squares.

The Norse goddess of love, Frigg, wife of Odin, was seen as a special protector of womankind as a whole. Sigurd Agrell further notes that Frigg and Freya numerologically is alluding to 17 and is, not surprisingly, most closely associated to the Berkana rune.

As in other Germanic languages, the name of Friday comes from the Old English frīġedæġ, meaning “day of Frigg” or “day of Freya“. The Nordic goddess was seen as the equivalent of the Roman goddess Venus, with whom the day is associated in many other cultures, like in Italian venerdì, French vendredi and Spanish viernes.

The god of war Tiwaz has given name to Tuesday, consequently the Roman god of battle and victory, Mars, was also identified with Tyr, and also named Tuesday in Latin – dies Martis. The similarities and influences of ancient Rome and Greece is a cornerstone of Agrell’s Uthark theory and it just so happens that Thursday is also named by the thunder god Thor in Scandinavian-Germanic languages and by his equivalent Jupiter in Latin. Of course Wednesday is named by Odin (Wotan) and his equivalent Mercury, like mercredi in French.

Two famous portraits of Freya receiving the necklace Brisingamen from Heimdall. By Nils Andersson to the left and Nils Jakob Blommér to the right.
Names of places in Scandinavia derived from Frigg (circles to the left) and Fröja (dots on the right). Frigg is Odin’s wife and has a higher standing among Norse female deities, but Freya is more frequently mentioned in the Sagas. Photo from Runkalendern.

In modern times, the Berkana rune is best known for its appearance on the Bluetooth symbol, which is a so-called bindrune – a combination of the Berkana rune and the younger Futhark version of the Hagalaz rune.

Bindrunes on artifacts are covered here and here.

The Bluetooth symbol is derived from the analogy that technology would unite devices, just as the Danish king Harald Bluetooth united the various tribes of Denmark into a common kingdom in the year 958. Harald Bluetooth was known, as the name suggests, for his dark blue-gray coloured dead tooth which gave him his nickname. The bindrune of H and B stands for his initials.

A version of Hagalaz and Berkana makes up the symbol for the bluetooth technology. Montage: TNT.

Divination

With its associations to the feminine, the Berkana rune is considered to relate not only to motherhood, family life, and the nurturing hearth of the home – but also to rebirth and growth in a broader sense.


The basics of rune divination

According to Norse belief, the runes represent aspects of the web of destiny, called the web of Urd (Wyrd). This web is intimately connected to time and the three Norns; Urd, Verdandi and Skuld. The Norns are weaving the threads of the web and represent what was, what is and what is to come.

Tacitus, among others, noted that rune divination was a widespread practice among the Norse. One of the most basic forms of such divination is to pray and draw three runes on twigs or cards which will signify the three Norns. By reading the web of Urd one may understand the present of Verdandi as well as the past, and also lift the veil of Skuld and see what lies hidden in the future.


Like other runes, its meaning in a divination depends on both the question and the context. For example, in the context of a relationship question, an upright Berkana could suggest a renewal of the relationship, love, or even that a child is on the way – or, for the person not in a relationship, that love is around the corner. In another context, it may refer to a renewed identity, or a personal rebirth, or a significant breakthrough in one’s personal development in some way.

In contrast, a Berkana turned upside down or oblique is said to represent stagnation and a lack of nurturing love in the relationship, or stagnated personal development.

 

Discover the following rune Ehwaz – The horse rune 

The Nordic Times

 

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