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Yew: The Dark Tree of Death

Most associations nowadays to plant life is that of growth.

Beautiful buds blossoming, helpful herbalism providing a better life, and an overall helpful hand to our ecosystem.

But Yew, Yew has different lore of a much darker kind associated with it.

Dark but glorious, the yew tree is an evergreen tree found to hold strong beliefs in both Celtic Paganism, and later on Christianity.

Its infamous reputation is due to the way the tree grows. Branches from the tree grow down into the ground to form new stems. These stems rise up around the old growth and after a time can not be differentiated from the old growth.

Not to mention the incredibly long lives these babies live. In the Book of Lismore, a passage states:

"Three lifetimes of the yew for the world from its beginning to its end."

A yew tree can thrive for thousands of years. In fact, they're not even considered "ancient" until around 900 years old.

For us non-tree experts out there that's a long ass time. For an oak tree, they only have to wait 400 years until they get that title.

Also, they're very poisonous.

Hence the symbology of death and rebirth.

So it makes a ton of sense for the Druids with their belief in reincarnation and Christians with their teachings of resurrections to symbolize the mystery of the Yew tree.

Sounds like a beautiful thing, right? Our cycle is all about death and rebirth.

Whether or not you believe it from a reincarnation standpoint, as humans we are constantly shedding our skins and stepping into new and different versions of ourselves.

Darker Lore and Legends of the Yew

The beauty however grows dark with the lore and legends that come to greet it.

The Graves Have Eyes

It is not uncommon to see Yew trees planted around or in graves. This makes sense based on what we've learned previously surrounding the association with death and rebirth.

But of course, this isn't the only reason behind our grave keeping friends.

Lore states that since these trees grow down, it will ensure that the dead will stay put as these roots would grow through their eyes.

Pretty hard to escape with rooted eyes.

The Maiden and The Priest

One legend hails from Yorkshire and tells that of a young maiden who met her death when an insulted priest decapitated her.

Seems like a bit of a ridiculous sentence for one whose crime was not paying attention to the address of a man.

And I'm sure at some point the priest realized this as well as he later tried to conceal his crime by hiding her head within a yew tree.

Don't worry though, later on, this tree gained holy significance, even attracting pilgrims to its location solely to collect branches.

But why?

Because the fibrous hair-like growths found between the bark and wood were supposedly those of the Maiden.

And who doesn't love a dead girl's hair growing out of a tree?

The Yew of Wales

There are tales of a churchyard in Nevern, Wales that grows a line of yew trees thought to be hundreds of years old.

Within that line, grows one Yew in particular.

A yew to rule them all if you will.

It's known as the Bleeding Yew.

It's not uncommon for a tree to sap (just ask my poor car), but typically sap dries up decently quick.

This bleeding baby however has been constantly seeping (or bleeding) blood-red sap and has been doing so for as long as anyone can remember.

Of course, there are multiple theories and speculations as to why, however, the church likes to chalk it up to its sympathy with Jesus being crucified by the cross.

Magic of Yew

Now, if you're anything like me and let's face it, if you've read this far you probably are you may feel a pull to the Yew tree.

As I previously mentioned, it is very poisonous so don't just go out and grab some willy nilly. Regardless of its poisonous state, don't do this anyways as plant spirit should be respected.

That being said, some magickal properties and uses of yew are protection, visions/divination, and strength.

Unsurprisingly based on its association with the underworld, it is also useful for communication with spirits, seeing through the veil, and overall helping with rebirth and renewal of one's self.

It's also badass for my hexing witches out there.

It is known for its associations with Persephone, Hecate, Hel, and Loki as well and can provide good offerings.

No matter how you split it, the Yew is a truly fascinating and powerful tree that should be regarded and appreciated as such. Not to mention the tales and information in this blog are just the tip of the iceberg.

If you are interested in learning more about the lore, legend, or magic of Yew please let me know in the comments for a part 2.

To close out, a poem written by Lord Alfred Tennyson.

Old Yew, which graspest at the stones That name the under-lying dead, Thy fibres net the dreamless head, Thy roots are wrapt about the bones. The seasons bring the flower again, And bring the firstling to the flock; And in the dusk of thee, the clock Beats out the little lives of men. O not for thee the glow, the bloom, Who changest not in any gale, Nor branding summer suns avail To touch thy thousand years of gloom: And gazing on thee, sullen tree, Sick for thy stubborn hardihood, I seem to fail from out my blood And grow incorporate into thee.


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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

My name's Maven and witchy momma and writer documentating the wonderfully mundane aspects of the Occult. I like to share my experience with folk, kitchen, and green magick along with other tidbits I find along my journey.

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