Yew - The Trees

The Magic of Trees: A Guide to Their Sacred Wisdom & Metaphysical Properties - Tess Whitehurst 2017

The Trees


The yew’s magical resume is impressive and unique. Long known to be sacred to the Celts, many scholars now believe that Yggdrasil—the world tree in Nordic mythology from which the god Odin famously hung—was actually a yew, not an ash as previously believed. William Wordsworth evoked the haunting and eternal character of this long-lived evergreen in his poem “Yew-Trees,” which includes the lines:

…ghostly Shapes

May meet at noontide; Fear and trembling Hope,

Silence and Foresight; Death the Skeleton

And Time the Shadow; there to celebrate,

As in a natural temple scattered o’er

With altars undisturbed of mossy stone…

Please note: Every part of the yew is extremely toxic. (Although the red berrylike aril is not technically toxic, the seed within it is.)

Magical Uses

Death, Rebirth, and Eternity

The yew is closely associated with the famed Eleusinian mysteries of ancient Greece, which had to do with death, rebirth, and the divine realm. The Celts had a similar association with the tree, and considered it a guardian of the veil between the worlds. Clearly, the yew has a fundamental alignment not just with the portals of birth and death, but also with the portal between them and even the space beyond time: the realm of eternity.

While the yew (Taxus) has a reputation as a “gloomy” tree (Wordsworth’s poem “Yew-Trees” includes the lines “of vast Circumference and gloom profound/This solitary Tree!”), it’s also associated with incredibly sacred sites and stories. Perhaps this is because a brave gaze into the truth of our physically finite nature may initially be uncomfortable, but it’s the only thing that will support an authentic realization of our infinite nature. This is why some Buddhist monks are instructed to meditate on the inevitable death and decay of their physical bodies, and to visualize it in ornate detail. Once the monks get through the frightening feelings and reach the other side, they come into contact with the eternal, indestructible nature of consciousness. Indeed, for many, looking death in the face is the key to really living fully. As Odin perhaps knew, this is wisdom of the yew.

Spend time with a yew to contemplate and to be initiated into the mysteries of death, rebirth, and eternity.

Hallowed Ground

An ancient yew tree sometimes grows in the center of extremely old churchyards in Europe. And quite often, these churchyards were once pagan sacred sites. In some cases, one can find a chapel made from the yew herself, with a door placed at the border of her huge, hollow trunk. To be sure, considering her alignment with eternity and the doorway between the worlds, she is perfectly suited to serve as an anchor for places of worship and divine communion.


The yew is an extremely slow-growing, long-living tree with many exceptional survival strategies. While it’s difficult to say precisely how old the oldest yew trees are (because of their hollow trunks and consequent lack of rings), some of the oldest ones are definitely into the thousands. With all of this in mind, you might want to spend time with a yew and request an energetic infusion of support when your magical intention involves longevity. This would include not just physical longevity, but also the longevity of other things, such as a business, relationship, or career.

In the realm of modern medicine, the yew has been employed to support longevity in the form of paclitaxel, a yew-derived cancer drug that’s been in use since its discovery in 1962.

Shamanic Visions

On warm days yews may emit a gas that has hallucinogenic properties. It’s been postulated that this had something to do with the Norse god Odin’s vision during his hanging. His experience may have been a sort of shamanic journey to another level of reality, assisted by the yew. Similarly, in the 1881 volume British Goblins by Wirt Sikes, there is a tale of two “farm servants” who become enveloped in a mist while in a yew forest, find themselves bathed in an otherworldly light, and subsequently fall asleep under a yew tree. Upon awakening, one of the farm servants finds the other one missing, and after much searching retrieves him from fairyland, where he had been transported during the night.

To work with yew for the purpose of shamanic visioning, try meditating in the shade of a yew tree on a warm day. Ground and center your energy, and call on divine protection in a way that feels powerful for you. Then close your eyes and consciously explore an inner world for the purpose of receiving wisdom, power, and guidance. You might do this on your own or with the help of a guided meditation recording.

Magical Correspondences


Element: Earth

Gender: Feminine

Planet: Ceres