Today’s card is the Yew, also known as Taxus baccata in scientific terms. The Yew is associated with Perseverance and it is connected with many tales of doomed love in which the lovers’ perseverance is able to unite them, sometimes even after death. The story of Tristan’s and Isolde is such a tale. From the Arthurian mythos, these two lovers were destined to never be together because Isolde was married to the King of Cornwall. Most of their time was spent finding ways in which to meet in secret so they could satisfy their unrequited love. In the end, both lovers die tragically and they are laid to rest on either side of the main sanctuary in the chapel of Tintagel Castle. From their graves sprung two yew trees which King Mark repeatedly cut down but they grew back each time until, at last, he yielded to the power of love beyond death. The yews swiftly grew then to the height of the roof and arched over, and are entwined with each other forever.
This tree has a darker side as well. Known in Ireland as the ‘Renown of Banbha’, the yew was sacred to the death aspect of the triple Goddesses of war, Banbha, Fodhla, and Eire, who lends her name to Ireland itself. In the classical world the yew is associated with the goddess Hecate, the crone aspect of the Roman pantheon to whom black bulls were sacrificed wreathed in yew garlands at the festival of Saturnalia in the hopes that they would be blessed with an easy winter. In Macbeth, the witches are stirring a cauldron which contains ‘slips of yew, silver’d in the moon’s eclipse’, as Shakespeare’s say of recognizing this. The cauldron is, of course, a symbol of the womb and the tomb, the midnight of our lives when our physical being is laid back into the Mother from whom we all are born.
Yews are also a symbol of resurrection and eternal life as well for that which is dead is born again in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The Christian church took over this belief and began to sew yew sprigs into the shrouds of dead people to speed their passing into heaven. For this reason, the tree is still planted in some church yard to this day. This also harkens back to the day when longbows were made from yew with goose feather flights. These arrows and the archers who flew them, were the heart of the British army, so mush so that the old saying goes, “England were but a fling, but for the yew and the grey goose wing’. These ancient soldiers would gather in the courtyards of the local church for the pre-battle blessing before riding off to war and the yew was thought to have the ability to allow them to transcend life and death.
The Ogam for this tree is Idho which translates to ‘oldest tree’ and is considered linked with wisdom as well. By linking this meaning with that of perseverance, the creators of the Ogam recognizing the enduring qualities of both. Therefore, the perseverance of the yew is that of all life, which continues in the face of overwhelming odds and not only survives but grows stronger because of it. This tree speaks to us of the transformation and transcendence that occurs after death. However, this is not fortelling our physical death. This card speaks to us of the end of a way of life, of being or seeing, of doing ‘the same old thing’. This card is asking us to rebirth into a new life, but it will take more than the determination to change, which is a feeling but not an action. The perseverance required to achieve such change is an action. The Green Man Wisdom here, ‘Perseverance Leads to Achievement’ tells us that we can achieve what we desire is we continue to persevere along the way.
May you merge with the yew at this time, bringing wisdom and strength to play as you navigate your bright new future! Blessed Be!