The Yew tree or the Taxus baccata is a medium, dark green colored, British Evergreen tree. This particular tree is one of the world’s oldest living trees, with a lifespan of a minimum of 2000 years.
This Fortingall Yew in Glen Lyon grows in Scotland and is considered the oldest living tree in Europe. It is said that this tree has been living since the beginning of life on earth.
Due to this belief, it is considered to be connecting it to the symbolism of life. There are many stories present from the history of time about the symbolism of the Yew tree.
The Yew tree has not only symbolic value but also medicinal value. What makes the Yew tree unique is that all its parts play a crucial role in its life cycle.
The Yew tree’s branches grow into the soil, so this tree can live with the branches when the trunk dies. This shows that it is symbolic of a connection between the past and the present.
This article covers all the theories and stories related to the importance and significance of the Yew tree.
The symbolism of the Yew Tree
Here a few major representations and symbolic importance of the Yew tree which is believed to exists from the beginning of life on Earth.
The Yew Tree and Celtic Culture
The Celts were curious people. They believed that nature was a very efficient way to access wisdom from the Gods. The Celts considered the Yew tree to be associated with honor, strength, mystery, leadership, and immense power. They also regarded it to be silent, illusionary, and holy.
The Yew tree is very twisty and has deep crevices. It is also filled with mysterious nooks. The Celts associated this physical appearance of the tree with an otherworldly presence.
The Yew tree stands alone. Solitary creatures such as this were thought to be magical and full of knowledge. They were thus considered full of mystery and a symbol of higher understanding.
As the Yew tree has a long life, it was believed that weapons made out of this tree would imbibe the same quality. Therefore, it was considered that warriors who use the weapons made from this tree would be victorious on the battlefield. So, the warrior will imbibe the quality of the tree and have a long life as well.
The Celts were also aware of the immense toxicity the tree’s needles hold. There happens to be a paradox, as even though the Celts knew how deadly the Yew tree is, they continued to keep it in high regard.
As the branches touch the ground, the tree continues to live and does not die. Due to this, the Celts related this tree to death and resurrection.
Deirdre and the Yew Tree
A girl named Deirdre was foretold by a Druid that people would die for her for the perfect beauty. Although Deirdre and Naoise were happy with each other, King Conor had his eyes on Deirdre. He ended up killing Naoise in war and brought Deirdre to stay with him.
Deirdre did not talk to him for almost a year and ultimately killed herself. From Deirdre’s grave, a Yew tree had grown. It was believed that the branches of the Yew tree twined and had spread across the countryside until they found another Yew tree had been raised from the Naoise’s grave.
The Yew Tree and Shakespeare
Shakespeare was well aware of the toxic traits of the Yew tree. He has told Macbeth to make a poison-filled brew. The drink was to include “slips of Yew, silvered in the moon’s eclipse.”
The Yew and The Druids
In the pre-Christian time, the Druids thought of the Yew tree as holy. They had observed the tree to symbolize longevity and regeneration.
The Yew Tree and The Christian Era
Continuing into the Christian Era, people used to bury the Yew tree’s shoots with the bodies of the dead. Boughs of the Yew were used as ‘palms’ at the festival of Easter in the church. Sometimes, Yew trees are already present on church grounds before building the church. Other times, the tree was planted near a church.
There seems to be a connection between religious places of worship and solitary trees in Western countries. Some of the Yews near churches are now very popular such as the ‘Bleeding Yews of Nevern’ in Pembrokeshire.
Uses of The Yew Tree
Along with being a tree of life, the Yew tree has proven useful in many ways.
- The tree is so strong that the bark has been used to make spears, bows, and other instruments that require strength.
- The flesh of its red and flashy berry or arils is used to cure diseases like headaches, neuralgia, and cystitis. It’s also used as a diuretic and laxative.
- It was recently discovered that Yew extracts have anti-cancer agents known as Taxol.
- Younger shoots can be used to make homeopathic tinctures. It has to be noted that all other Yew tree parts are incredibly poisonous or deadly, including the berry’s seeds. This tree was known as the ‘Forbidden Tree.’ This was because parts of the tree were used to cause abortion. The Yew tree tends to grow well in other tree’s shades. But no other tree grows in its shade.
- Posts and rods used in religious ceremonies and constructing buildings were made from the Yew tree’s bark. This was said to allow the otherworld people to communicate with the people of this world during spiritual ceremonies. It is believed that a fence post made from Yew will stay longer than an iron post. It is named ‘Yew of Resilience.’
- The hardwood was used in furniture-making.
- In medieval English times, this wood was used to make the English longbows.
- The Scots used this wood to make bows used during the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
There are various poems and stories written about the mysteries of the Yew tree. These include ‘lesson of the Yew,’ ‘The Yew Fairy,’ ‘Tree Magick,’ ‘The Celtic Tree Oracle.’ There is a noteworthy picture given to the Yew tree to date.
The Yew tree is said to represent transformation from one life to another. It represents rebirth and reincarnation. It signifies the new from the old. The Yew tree is said to be found in cemeteries. Also, the Yew tree symbolizes a soul from the ancient roots in a new fresh body. The facts and myths about the Yew tree still create curiosity and is found interesting!