Wednesday What Herb is This – Yew Lore

November 25, 2009 at 11:44 am (Associations, Christmas, Dark Goddess, Herbs, Magic, pagan, Solstice, Wednesday, Winter, Witch, Yule)

Yew Lore
Taken In part, from an essay by Sarah the SwampWitch,
Originally written for and posted to the
Witches Three list

Tree of the day before the Winter Solstice (Aprox. December 21)
Latin name: Taxus baccata.
Celtic name: Idho (pronounced: Ih’ huh).
Local name: English Yew, European Yew
Parts used: Needles, wood, berries.
Herbal Uses: Caution!! This plant is poisonous and should be used with caution!!!! The needles and branch tips have been used to treat lung diseases and bladder problems, and more recently a new cancer drug, Taxol, has been derived from its bark and berries.
Magical History & Associations: The name "Yew" is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word ‘eow’. The word ‘Taxus’ is from the Greek word ‘Taxon’, meaning ‘bow’. The 5,000 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 Hecate.  In addition, it was associated with Odin. Shakespeare recognized the relationship of Yew and Hecate and referred to the contents of her cauldron as

"slips of yew, silver’d in the moon’s eclipse…"


Elsewhere, Shakespeare makes ‘hebenon, the double-fatal yew’ the poison which Hamlet’s uncle pours into the king’s ear.

Hecate’s sacred tree of death is said to root in the mouths of the dead and release their souls, and also to absorb 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’s colors are white and silver and it is associated with the element of water. The Yew is associated with the planet Saturn and with the metal lead. In Old England the Yew was known as "The Witches’ Tree" since it is associated with sorcery and magic, and was used by the Celtic-Irish to make dagger handles and wine barrels. Some say Yew wood is acceptable for the making of magical tools such as wands and staves, yet others strongly recommend not using this wood for any magical tools.

Magickal usage: 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 that rituals of the season concerned with reincarnation are appropriate. 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. Yew sends up new trees from its roots, so is a powerful symbol of death and reincarnation. It is called for in "destructive" workings concerning death, as well as those concerning passage, spirits, penitence and psychic growth.

No tree is more associated with the history and legends of Great Britain than the Yew. Before Christianity was introduced it was a sacred tree favored by the Druids, who built their temples near these trees – a custom followed by the early Christians. The association of the tree with places of worship still prevails 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. As one of the three magical trees (along with the Alder and the Black Poplar) associated with death and funerals, the Yew has often been planted in graveyards. It is, as such, traditionally a cemetery tree, in large part because Celtic Priests and Priestesses regarded it as a symbol of immortality and planted it in their Sacred Groves, druids also used wands of Yew to foretell the Future. Yew leaves placed on a grave remind us that the death of a dear one is only a pause in life before rebirth. It offers healing for mental and emotional problems, and is said to contain the secrets of the Goddess. Yew can also be dried and burned as an incense to contact spirits of the dead – or even to raise the dead, so it is claimed…

Yew is represented by the letter I (idho) in the tree alphabet and is sometimes regarded as the most sacred tree to the druids with it symbolism of death and rebirth (due to the fact that the outer tree dies and a new tree grows within). It represents transformation & reincarnation and may be used to enhance magical/psychic abilities as well as to induce visions. All parts of the yew are poisonous apart from the berry covering, and as such, it was used to poison weapons. Before the use of iron became general, yew was greatly valued as it  resists the action of water and is a very hard wood. It is a symbol of the hunt, making superior bows and was widely used for that purpose. This use, and the high quality of bows achieved using the wood, also strengthened the belief that the Yew was strongly connected with death.

This herb is sacred to the the Winter Solstice and deities of death and rebirth. The Yew is known as the death tree in all European countries. The Silver Fir of birth and the Yew of death are sisters. They stand next to each other in the circle of the year and their foliage is almost identical.

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