Berkano – Initial Rune Study

Six months ago I started a thorough initial study of the Elder Futhark. Each week I would focus on a new rune, reading the rune poems and a number of published interpretations. While these posts are old (originally posted to my Tumblr), I want to move them over here for easy reference.

Week 18: Berkano

Basic meaning: Birch, or Berchta the birch goddess

Further meanings:  Birth, general fertility, both mental and physical growth, liberation.  Light of spring, renewal, regeneration, promise of new beginnings and new growth.  Arousal of desires.  Resilience.  Secrecy and containment.

Divinatory meanings:  New beginnings.  Birth, either spiritual or physical.  A new love.  Love as a mother to a child or a tender to a pet.  May point to the prospering of an enterprise or venture.  A recovery or strengthening of health.  Concealment and protection.

Reverse/Merkstave meanings:  Family problems, domestic trouble.  Anxiety about someone close to you.  Carelessness, abandon, loss of control.  Blurring of consciousness, deceit, sterility, stagnation.  Immaturity, clinging, addiction.

Magical uses:  Regenerative power.  Rune of healing, recuperation, rejuvenation, and purification.  Good for concealing something until the right time.  Protection of anything, especially someone who is defenseless.  Helpful to bridge rights of passage into next stages of life.  Rebirth of spirit.  Contains and holds other powers together.  Brings ideas to fruition in the creative process.

Personal thoughts on and associations with Berkano

I’m not very tree-savvy, so of course the first thing I have to do when dealing with a tree-related rune is look up what the heck the kind of tree is.

I kind of fluttered happily when I saw this:



The signature trunk and bark patterns for a white birch tree are very memorable to me, despite my not knowing their name.  It’s one of those things I have always associated with deep mysteries, nurturing, and peace.

Berkano’s meaning is more active than that, but still from a very loving, peaceful place.

However, the rune poems, at least the translations I read, repeatedly referred to birch as a shrub, not a tree.  Assuming then that the birch they referred to was not the above image, I started looking for species native to Iceland.

According to good ol’ Wikipedia, the most common tree native to Iceland is the Northern Birch, or Betula Pubescens.  It looks like this:



While the bark looks similarly to the white birch I am more familiar with, I can see the more shrub-like aspects of this particular plant.

A tree as a figure of regeneration and fertility goes without saying much to support it.  So let’s look at who Berchta was.

Berchta, according to Freya Aswynn, was the southern German equivalent of Holda, patron of children and domestic animals, particularly dogs.  She tends a garden in the underworld where babies and children who die young go to spend the afterlife, along with dogs.  She would also be called on to assist with healing, particularly related to children, animals, or birthing.

I don’t have children and do not want children, but I care for quite a few animals in my home.  I will definitely be looking for Holda’s assistance next time one of them is sick, and Berkano will be a helpful rune to help make that connection.

Sources for meanings:

  • Runelore by Edred Thorsson
  • Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic by Edred Thorsson
  • Principles of Runes by Freya Aswynn
  • Northern Mysteries and Magick by Freya Aswynn

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