Friday, 23 October 2015
The yew, which has an exceptional longevity - several examples are over two thousand years old - has a deep and sacred connection with immortality and eternal life. It is also the tree of death, not least because all parts of it are deadly if eaten.
The custom of planting it around churches and graveyards predates Christian times by at least a millennium: the Celts planted yews around burial mounds and along sacred ways. It perhaps aided a soul's journey into eternal life.
The three witches in Macbeth used 'slips of yew, slivered in the moon's eclipse' in their magical potion, and some say the tree can cause visions of fairies.
On a more prosaic note, the wood was used to make bows and spears until recent times. The oldest discovered wooden artefact in the world is a spear made of yew, 250,000 years old. Another yew spear, slightly more recent, was found embedded in the ribs of a skeletal elephant.
This tree has perhaps the oldest association with ourselves, as befits its immortal nature.