Friday, November 1, 2019

Birch Tea Rite / Baerketeeiwwergangsgebrauch

A very meaningful rite comes into Urglaawe directly from Braucherei. It is widely accepted within most Braucherei communities to be ultimately of heathen-era origin, particularly due to the close association of birch with the goddesses Berchta, Holle, and Freid.

Birch represents renewal. It is easily killed by fire, yet it is also one of the first trees to sprout again after a forest fire, and this fact is what oral tradition relates to the origin of the Birch Tree Rite.

Death leaves a stain of strong reactive energy on those whom it touches. The process of grieving, the energy put into coping with loss, the strain of planning for funerals and tending to the deceased's affairs all place a burden on the survivors. Typically this means the closest friends and relatives of the person who passed.

Additionally, the soul -- or parts of it -- of the deceased can linger around others, particularly those who were closest at the time of death. This is usually of little benefit to either party, and it is usually better to break that link in order to release the spirit to the Hunt and to allow the grieving person to heal from the loss.

This is where the Birch Tea Rite comes in. The tea breaks the unhealthy connections and removes the energies of death from the living. It is actually very simple and elegant. This tea is usually made by a person who is less affected by the passing because those affected may inadvertently imbue the tea with energies based in sorrow. However, in my experience, this spirit of Birch is powerful enough to neutralize those energies. 

Birch bark, twigs, and/or wood are placed into a pot of water and decocted from a cold temperature to a hard boil. The boil is then turned down to a simmer and the tea is to steep on the heat for at least one hour (thicker branches are often decocted for several hours). After that time, the heat is turned up once again to a hard boil, and then the heat is turned off. The birch stays in the water and continues to steep until cool. Some people keep the birch in the water overnight, but it is fine to strain the tea and to place it in glass jars once it is cool.

Although prayers and blessings may be uttered into the tea at any time throughout the process, it is really the straining that lends itself best to the application of intention. I find myself sympathetically mirroring the action of straining out the tea with straining out the thick energy of death from the body. The straining can be done by pouring or by using a ladle or other tool. I typically use a ladle through cheesecloth or fine mesh, and I find that it is very easy to slip into a meditative state during that process.

Part of Urglaawe funerary practices is a time to anoint the foreheads of the living with the tea. Often this uses a birch twig, but it is just as often done with the hand of the ritual leader or with flowers or branches. Some people do drink of the tea ritually in a manner similar to Urglaawe Sammel. Please note, though, that wintergreen  oil can be toxic. Most teas do not contain the oil at a dangerous level, but this is a strong decoction. If anyone chooses to ingest the tea, it should be at minimal levels. Pregnant women should not ingest the tea and may want to avoid pouring over the body.

Those who are hardest hit by the loss are to take an ample amount of the tea, and, during bathing, they are to rinse their bodies with the birch tea. Traditionally, a trusted friend, spouse, or partner is to be present to gently pour the tea over the grieving person. This may sound odd to our modern ear, and not everyone has such a person to take on this role, but it can be a beautiful expression of support and caring during a time of loss.

The birch tea is to stay on the body for a few minutes and then may be washed away, taking with it the unwanted energies of death. It is not intended to end the grieving process, but it can have a palliative effect. In fact, the process of boiling the birch releases volatile oils into the air, and the methyl salicylate smells like wintergreen. The oil and the aroma can actually aid in the coping process.

This is a rite of passage, particularly in the case of those who are most closely affected by the loss. It represents the physical separation from the deceased and the beginning of life without a particularly significant loved one.