14 April 2012
Celtic Ogham Divination: Ioho (Yew)
Letter: I, J or Y
Color: Dark green, some sources say bright white
Bird/Animal: Eagle or spider
Deities: Caílte and Oisín (poet/warriors, lone survivors of the Fianna), Tuan mac Cairill (reclusive guardian of Ireland who reincarnated as different animals over 2000-plus years to witness repeated invasions of Ireland); Hecate (crone aspect of the triple goddess)
Planet: Saturn or Pluto
Yew is the last of the "traditional" ogham symbols, so it is sometimes called the "oldest letter" or "older than letters." Ideas associated with yew are transformation, rebirth, immortality, transference, passage, illusion, and transition.
As most, if not all, parts of the tree are toxic, it is known as the death tree. It's wood is extremely strong and springy, so it was often used to make longbows, and extract from the berries used to poison the tips of arrows and swords. Because it grows slowly, it is too easily overharvested, so it is not as abundant as it once was; those trees that are left tend to have crooked, twisted trunks and branches.
Its aspect is feminine; in recent years taxol, a substance derived from the bark, has shown promise in fighting breast cancer.
Another interesting fact about yew is that as the tree ages, the outer wood dies, rots and falls away and a new tree grows from within.
"Yew is the link to spiritual guidance through your ancestors, guides and guardians in the Otherworld. The Yew is here to remind us that there are other levels of existence beyond this material plane. By understanding the illusionary nature of the life we have created for ourselves, we can live our lives more consciously. Often death is fraught with a sense of loss, but the Yew can teach us to see death as a form of transformation and that it is never final." (Source, The White Dragon, 1997 article)
Long ago, clan leaders were buried beneath yew trees, and clan members conducted rituals at the tree to connect with those departed leaders to ask for guidance. Therefore the tree symbolizes connection to the ancestors through old stories, lore and tradition.
When yew appears in your reading, it is telling you you've been holding on to something for too long and it's time to either let it go or pass it on. It's a reminder to take comfort in the fact that nothing lasts forever. Spiritually, it is not unlike the Tarot's Death card, signalling that change is afoot and you need to let it happen. Change is your friend, not your enemy. Without change, we don't grow.
Stay tuned for another in this series next time!