To avoid your livestock being plagued by witches decorating the tree with red and white ribbons and then placing it outside the stable/shed was thought to be the perfect solution against evil. Brooms held across a threshold were used as part of wedding ceremonies - jumping across one in the 19th-century was used as a legally binding action of marriage by some workers (navvies).
Birch trees have been traditionally reputed to be the favourite trees of mythical creatures which inhabited Russian Forests known as ‘Forest Devils’ or ‘Genii of the Forest’. These creatures were said to view the world from the top of the trees. Able to transform their shape at will, said to be the same height as trees when in the forest and as small as the smallest blade of grass when on open land. Cutting Birch branches and placing them in a circle with the points towards the centre was said to provide a way of the forest devils appearing.
Placing a branch of the Birch tree above the front entrance to a property was thought to provide protection from any evil spirits and misfortune.
A Russian tale tells how the Mother of God is thought to sit at the top of a Birch tree on the Island of Buian.
In Estonia the Birch tree is considered to be symbolic of all their beliefs and the country itself. Legend tells the story that a man was asleep under the tree and a peasant woke him. A change in the weather was coming and to save the man from getting wet the peasant thought it best to help him avoid the storm. The stranger thanked the peasant saying ‘When, far from thy country and experiencing homesickness, thou shalt see a crooked Birch, strike it and ask : ‘Is the crooked one at home?’’. The man thanked the peasant for his help and went on his way. It is said that when the man was later a soldier in Finland he became homesick. Remembering what the peasant had said, he was suddenly surprised by the appearance of a crooked birch. As the soldier was repeating the expression, he was shocked to see the peasant to appear. The peasant called upon the spirits that were known to him. He asked the spirits to relieve the man’s suffering. Instantly the soldier was transported to his home with a knapsack full of shining silver.
The bark of the Birch tree was traditionally used in ancient times for writing as it is extremely durable. The bark has a smooth texture and had a light satin colour, of which many fossilised examples have been unearthed.