The time of Yew is known as a
time of death, and so on the day before Yule it said that is not a good idea to
do actual spell work, instead it is suggested to do rituals of the season
concerned with reincarnation. Because the Yew grows to such an old age, it has
become a symbol of stability in Celtic areas of the world and so is often used
as the central "World Tree" in ritual spaces.As one of the three
magical trees (along the Alder and the Black Poplar) associated with death and
funerals, the Yew has often been planted in graveyards. Yew sends up new trees
from its roots, so is a powerful symbol of death and reincarnation. In ancient
times Yew sticks were carved with the Ogham characters as tools of divination.
The Futhark features a 13th Rune, which is considered one of the most powerful
Runes and represents a stave cut from a yew tree. This Rune is regarded as the
stave of life and death. Yew can be dried and burned as an incense to contact
spirits of the dead - and even to raise the dead.
Celtic Ogham symbolism of the
yew tree speaks of eons captured within its silent woody rings. Within the
folds of the yew bark lurks ages of history encapsulated in its stoic stance. As
if its solitary status weren't enough fuel for it's symbolism of wisdom,
knowledge, and magic - its gnarly contortions surely seal the yew's reputation
as an otherworldly oracle. Another symbolism of the yew deals with longevity. A
single yew has untold lifetimes under its belt. New yews are born from existing
systems. The oldest yew is known to be at least 3,000 years of age.
Shields and weaponry made from the yew were highly admired by the Celts and were considered extremely auspicious on the battlefield. It was thought that the longevity of the yew was transferred to the Celtic warrior.
Using the element of yew in battle would
assure victory and long life to the warrior. Staves, rods, and other tools used
for divination or spiritual rites were made of yew to augment the energetic
atmosphere of the ceremony or procedure. It was thought the otherworld would
whisper through yew staves during rituals and initiations. Lastly, it's
interesting to note the paradox of longevity juxtaposed to the yew's poisonous
nature to humans. The Celts no doubt knew its lethal ways and counted this
among its many attributes. This aspect of death (mortality) played against its
symbolic longevity (immortality) would add tremendous strength to the symbolism
of the yew, ranking it highly sacred among the spiritual clans as well as the
The name "Yew" is a
corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word 'eow'. The word 'Taxus' is from the Greek
word 'Taxon', meaning 'bow'. The 5000 year old "Ice Man", discovered
in the Alps, had a bow and axe handle made of Yew. The Yew is known as the
'Tree of Death' throughout Europe and is associated with the season of winter.
It is sacred to many Dark Goddesses: Banbha, Amalthea (mother of the horned
Dionysus), Morrighan, The Erinyes, Cailleach Beara, Berchta, and Hekate.
Shakespeare recognized the relationship of Yew and Heckate and referred to the
contents of her cauldron as "slips of yew, silver'd in the moon's
eclipse..." (Macbeth) - and elsewhere Shakespeare makes 'hebenon, the
double-fatal yew' the poison which Hamlet's uncle pours into the king's ear.
Heckate's sacred tree of death is said to root in the mouths of the dead and
release their souls, and also absorbs the odors of death itself. Bulls are
associated with this tree, as are female goats. The bird associated with Yew is
the eaglet, since the eaglet's appetite is insatiable, and the bones of its
nest are white like the snow on its cliff-ledge. The Yew is associated with the
metal lead. In Old England the Yew was known as "The Witches Tree"
since it is associated with sorcery and magick.
Found in ancient cemeteries, this tree is said to grow a root into each corpse in the graveyard and is a symbol of rebirth and may have been used as wood for the “fe" rod, used for measuring of graves and corpses and in the making of shields. It is good medicine for working with past life issues.