In the Wild
American Yew (Taxus canadensis)
*Also known as Canadian yew
English Yew (T. baccata)
*Also known as common yew
Western Yew (T. brevifolia)
*Also known as Pacific yew
Rarely over five feet tall, the American yew is an evergreen shrub with multiple stems and reddish bark. The English and Western yews are also evergreens; however, they can reach almost fifty feet tall. They both have dark green, needle-like leaves. Although they appear to grow from two sides of the branches, the needles are actually attached in spirals around the branches. The needles of the English yew are glossy on top, gray to pale green underneath. Yews produce seeds surrounded by a fleshy, red coating that looks like a cup-shaped berry. The seeds ripen from September to November and are toxic, as is the foliage. Native to North America, the American and Western yews are found in forests. A favorite for trimming into topiary shapes, the English yew was imported as a garden plant.
The yew can live for thousands of years and became a symbol of everlasting life. It is also associated with death and the afterlife perhaps because the seeds, bark, and leaves are poisonous. In England, yews were commonly planted in graveyards symbolizing death and resurrection. In addition to arrows and spears, yew wood was used for a wide range of votive objects in Britain, France, and Switzerland. Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest carved sacred ceremonial objects from the Western yew.
One particular yew in Devon, England, was for some unknown reason linked with fertility. According to legend, if a man walked backward and a woman forward around the tree, they would have children. Also, walking around the tree seven times was said to make a wish come true.
Place sprigs with berries on your altar during divination sessions to heighten psychic abilities. Hang a sachet of dried berries on a bedpost or place it on a bedside table to end nightmares. Place three berries on your altar to aid in turning inward during the dark of the year to nurture yourself, and then burn them at Yule.
If you have a spirit in your house that troubles you, hang sachets with yew leaves and berries or sprigs of yew in active areas on the dark moon. As you do this, suggest that the spirit follow the energy of the yew to find peace and rest in the otherworld. On the full moon, take the sprigs or sachets down and burn them.
Yew is associated with the elements air, fire, and water. Its astrological influence comes from Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn. This tree is also associated with the following deities: Badb, Banba, Cailleach Bheur, the Dagda, Dôn, Hecate, Hermes, Holle, Loki, Lugh, Odin, and Saturn.
Figure 40. Yew is associated with the ogham Ioho and the
runes Eihwaz, Algiz, and Hagalaz (shown left to right).