Berkano, the second rune in the third aett, is the rune for the sound of the letter “B.” In the Younger Futhark, it sometimes stood for the sound of “P” as well, since Perthro did not carry over into that Futhark. Its meaning is “birch tree.” The beautiful, graceful birch tree is common in the north. It usually has beautiful white bark, which by the way was sometimes used to write messages in runes. The Runes, by the way, being made up entirely of straight lines, are ideal for carving on wood or bark! All three Rune Poems refer to the beautiful limbs (and leaves) of this tree, although the Old English Rune Poem may be referring to the poplar, which I believe is closely related to the birch! It is easy to see why this lovely, hardy tree, one of the first to leaf out and whose leaves are a particularly lovely shade of green, is associated with our Goddesses! Berkano’s meanings include Goddess, growth, renewal, rebirth, wife, woman or women, fertility, pregnancy, plants, florists (the runes are as relevant today as they ever were), gardens, female sexuality, a female lover, or a female leader.
The Sheils mention the Goddesses Freya, and Idunna, and Frigga in particular as having strong ties with Berkano. The loveliness of the tree suggests Freya, as do love spells traditionally connected with that tree. The early greening suggests Idunna (possibly equivalent to the German Ostara and Anglo-Saxon Eostre) as a Goddess of renewal. The use of birch twigs to protect a child and its connections with spells to attain motherhood point to Frigga. Still, Berkano can refer to other Goddesses as well. While as a general rule, the shape of the rune-stave is not directly connected with its meaning, a useful memory aid is to see the rune Berkano as the silhouette of a pregnant woman.
There are ties between Perthro and Berkano. The rune-stave for Perthro looks like Berkano opening from within. While Perthro holds the processes of childbirth and pregnancy; fertility and motherhood fall under Berkano.
Berkano is a healing rune, especially useful for dealing with the illnesses and problems associated with childbearing and early childhood, being especially useful for children under seven years of age. It is useful for protecting mother and child. A fine amulet for a pregnant woman is a birchwood charm with Berkano etched on it and charged in Frigga’s name.
Our society has great difficulties in dealing with sexuality, especially female sexuality. A prime reason for this is over a millennium of Christian teaching. While many Christians today are re-evaluating their positions on sexual issues; many, perhaps most are not. In the fields of reproductive freedom, rights to divorce and to hold property, etc., Western women today have only recently regained and are in many places struggling to hold on to rights their Heathen foremothers possessed long ago! Berkano can be of great help in integrating a healthy understanding of female sexuality. It can also help us reconstruct the mysteries of the Goddesses from the bits and pieces of often distorted lore that remain. Fortunately, the Goddesses are actively helping! An understanding of Nature and its processes is helpful as well.
Remember that according to Snorri’s Edda, the Goddesses are equal to the Gods in both power and holiness. We can reach out to that power through Berkano. Odin has a polarity with Frigga. She is the Goddess with the keys, which symbolize her rulership over things in the home. Odin handled the “outside” affairs. One was NOT superior to the other. An old legend recorded by a Christianized Lombard in Italy tells how Odin was tricked by Frigga into granting victory to his people instead of to their enemies. A Goddess who can beat the Allfather at his own game is neither a weakling nor a fool! The rulership functions are hers as well. While gender roles have shifted over the centuries, a look at how they functioned in Heathen times can yield useful insights into the myths.
Odin has another, different polarity with Freya. Remember that the divide those who die in battle between them, and my understanding is that Freya gets first pick! While Frigga is a Goddess of the home and by extension the family and childbearing (but not precisely as a “fertility Goddess” in the Vanic sense), Freya embodies more the wilder or at least more emotional aspects of a love relationship. Berkano is a good rune for women to use to enhance their natural charms. Also, it is as good for the fertility of a new undertaking, business, or project as it is for a would-be mother! In love spells, handle Berkano carefully. It could, if mishandled, turn a love spell into a pregnancy spell. You might get more than you bargained for! Berkano tends to promote long-term relationships. The better you know this (or for that matter any) rune, the more accurately and effectively you can apply it!
Idunna and by extension her husband Bragi bring enthusiasm and renewed vitality into life. Think of Idunna’s apples and Bragi as a God of poetry and song. Don’t forget the equation by many of Idunna and Ostara. Ostara eggs and all those rabbits! The goodness provided by Berkano expands outward and upward, like any growing thing. It yields its good continually, unlike Jera, where one must wait until the harvest.
Berkano is a rune of natural health and vitality. It can help us appreciate the goodness of Midgard and the bounty of nature. Unlike the followers of some other religions, we Heathens like it here! Like Idunna’s apples, it can regenerate. It can be used to enhance someone’s recovery from illness, injury or other disaster. It is a great rune to, with the help of Idunna, help restore someone’s will to live. Healing wounds per se, however, does not fall under Berkano. I personally would look at Kenaz/Kauniz and Laguz/Laukiz for those functions.
The rune Berkano has a polarity with the rune Tiwaz. It is no coincidence they are together in the Futhark. Tiwaz is a rune of war. In Norse poetic kennings, a woman can be referred to as a “peace-weaver.” Unlike Tiwaz, Berkano promotes harmony. In many, perhaps most families, women weave the peace and keep the family together. The idea is to steer a harmonious course into the flow of Wyrd. While strife has its place (Tyr is no peacemaker and one of Odin’s nicknames is “Stirrer of Strife”), it must be balanced with harmony and frith.
As you can see, while the basics of this rune can be learned quickly, as with all runes, the task is never finished. Berkano in particular can shed light on aspects of our Heathen religion which are poorly documented. While the popular Neopagan perception of Heathenism/Asatru as male-oriented and male-dominated is untrue, we need to focus extra energy on recovering the feminine aspects of our faith. With the help of the Asynjur, channeled to us through Berkano, it is being and will continue to be done!
At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson (for the translations of the Rune Poems).
The Road to Bifrost volume III: the Runes and Holy Signs by Thor and Audrey Sheil.
last modified 08/11/2004