Holding the Yew tree in mind

Today I began to use Mickie Mueller’s Voice of the Trees oracle deck properly for the first time. I’ve had it a while as it is the next deck we will be studying in my Oracle Class. It’s so pertinent that I pulled Idho (pronounced EE-yoh) or Yew at this time because I feel, very much, that I’m on the cusp of entering a new phase of my life in a few ways. firstly, let me explain how I’ve been feeling lately…to sum it all up in three words…confused, angry, scared! I’ve been fighting rather than going with the flow, which I think has added to my feelings of confusion, anger and fear. Silly me! Things are happening around that bring up these feelings that I’ve either been ignoring or trying to deny completely. I should know better shouldn’t I? Well yes but I’m a pitiful human being with an ego and I sometimes get distracted with my monkey mind. Then synchronicity happens and my patron deities or my guides bring me back to ‘reality’ with a big thump. When I say reality, it means MY spiritual reality, the one that sings to my soul, and it’s very different from other people’s sense of reality (but each one of us has a multitude of realities that are different from other people’s but that’s another story). Anyway, so I pulled Idho/Yew and was immediately confronted with the Crone…or as I see her Cerridwen, Goddess of Transformation. I’ve been neglecting her and I’m amazed she hasn’t upped and left. But instead here she is calling:

The oldest of the woods has come into view

The Crone at your service, she summons to you

Now you know a rite of passage does await

Leave something behind as you step through the gate.

Yes, it does feel rather like I’m approaching a rite of passage, maybe even a couple. In 4 weeks my group therapy ends and to be honest I’m very pleased yet also fearful as I’ve been in this therapy group for about 3 years. We’ve laughed and cried together for so long and I guess I’ve been able to build up some trust within the group. In some ways I feel understood but in others I still feel misunderstood. Anyway, after this the therapy ends…what then? I think Cerridwen is calling me to step up to the plate and stop being fearful. I feel like a snivelling child in her presence and she admonishes me with a wagging finger but says very kindly ‘come on lady…you KNOW what to do’. Yes, I DO know what to do! Completing therapy feels a bit like growing up and reaching adulthood, I can pretend I don’t know but really I do; the answers lie within…always!

The second rite of passage has to do with my age and my dear daughter getting hand-fasted next year. Yes, I know I’m not ‘in’ the menopause yet but I’m approaching it and of course my hormones are a bit out of whack sometimes. My body can no longer do what it used to do and I am reaping what I’ve sown in the past with pretty much a decrepid body now. I’m not blaming anyone or anything…it is what it is! But I am at the top of the hill now looking down on the valley below – a bit fearful of what I will encounter on this side. I’m always going to be a mother but my ‘little’ girl is no longer little and is beginning a life of her own with a wonderful man, and possibly moving away in the next few years. Sometimes I ask myself where does that leave me? Cronehood beckons and I’m a little apprehensive.

Then Cerridwen appears and throws herbs and plants into her large cauldron of inspiration and gives it a good stirring. She looks at me with a sharp eye but gently says ‘it all goes into the cauldron of life and comes out transformed and renewed, don’t fear it, embrace it!’ It’s all well and good for her not to fear it but I’m a mere human being and sometimes, despite my wisdom (such as it is) I still shit bricks! Ok, maybe not quite as bad as that but I still worry and fear stuff to a degree. But this is where Idho/Yew comes in I think.

My earliest memories are of the three Yew trees that grew in my grandmother’s front garden; no wonder it was so gloomy and dark there. As a child I had a fascination for its bark, which kind of grows in thin dark browny-purple ‘plates’. As one plate falls it exposes rosy-reddish new plates underneath. Of course, being a child I would pick at these plates and pull them off the trees, only to be reprimanded by my mother, who told me NOT to touch the trees because they were poisonous. I also knew that Yews grew in graveyards and for the longest time I just thought Yews only grew in two places – graveyards and my grandmother’s front garden, which instilled in me the fear that my grandmother’s house was haunted and I never wanted to sleep the night there. When I look back how little I knew (not surprising, I was very young) but how little my mother knew and all this claptrap about how Yews were ‘bad’. I do actually think my grandmother’s house had spirits within it but they never hurt me, although I still never liked sleeping there.

Anyway, it is true that Yews are found predominantly in church yards. Why is this? Well, the ancient druids held the Yew in high regard and it is, in fact, one of their sacred trees. The Yew grew prolifically in Britain’s (and Europe’s) primordial forests. As time went on Druids kept these ancient trees (there is one in England that is said to be over 4000 years old) as part of their groves and symbolic entrances to the Underworld because the Yew has always been associated with death, transitions, endings but also rebirth and renewal. It made sense for druids to establish their sacred groves and places of worship amongst trees that were sacred to them. Then Christianity came along and one way the priests converted the people was to build their churches on already established sacred places. Hence the reason why many very old Yew trees still survive in many old church yards to this day – it really is sacred ground but existed long before Christianity. So Yew trees do have a connection with death. but in the Celtic tradition, that of my ancestors, death is not a finish, and end…well it might be the end of one thing but it is also the beginning of something else. You see the Celts did not work with linear time at all but with cyclic time, a never-ending spiral of birth, death and renewal. how does this relate to Yews? Well this is a tree that actually renews itself and very rarely dies (except if it is cut down, and even then it can renew itself). The Yew stands for so long that eventually it becomes hollow and this original part may well die BUT the wonderful thing is that during its life-time it sends out shoots around it and new growth appears – these are all part of the original tree, and so in a way, the original tree never dies but merely goes on renewing itself, growing larger and larger until it is even difficult for dendrochronologists to even ascertain its real age.

So the meaning of Yew is one of transition, how appropriate for me! Things pass and end but other things are born and grow. Of course this isn’t easy to accept – the fact that some part of my life (that I have attached to emotionally) is coming to an end and it can be a difficult process as the wood suggests. Yew wood was once used to make the long bows of warriors, as well as a wood used to test the edge of axes; this is because Yew produces a very hard wood. So spiritually we can take from this that the transition may be quite hard going and difficult. However, Yew has strong protective qualities (as used by the ancient druids as a cleansing and purification incense, along with Juniper). Additionally, despite its poisonous nature, it is actually a great healer. The ONLY part of the yew that is not poisonous is the flesh around the red berries (ask any blackbird!). However, under the use of an experienced and highly qualified herbalist, all the parts can actually be used for healing many ailments, even cancer.

So, I’ve gleaned some things already about the Yew – it is the means to help me transition, it is a protector and a healer, and although I’m not about to use the Yew in my herbal practise, I can use it symbolically and spiritually. Cerridwen stands at the entrance to the Underworld, she stands within the trunk of an ancient Yew, beckoning me to drink her brew. Cerridwen, the Goddess of change and transition, Yew, the tree of death and rebirth, of endings and beginnings. Both give a hard lesson – they know the going might get tough, that the transition will probably be painful, yet I have protection and I have healing.

So I must be strong, like the Yew’s wood, and relinquish the attachments I’ve made, or rather the ‘need’ for the attachments. But without clearing away the old and the death there is no room for the new is there…new possibilities, new challenges, new phases of life.


A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine by Ellen Evert Hopman

Voice of the Trees by Mickie Mueller

Ogham: The Celtic Oracle of the Trees by Paul Rhys Mountfort


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