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Piquing Facts About What the Yew Tree Symbolizes, Actually

What Does a Yew Tree Symbolize?
Who would have thought that an old, large, and mysterious Yew tree that we see in some churchyards is actually considered as a sacred symbol of resurrection? This little piece of information must have piqued your interest to know more about this tree.
Rucha Phatak
Last Updated: Mar 4, 2018
Did You Know?
Llangernyw Yew, which is planted in the churchyard of St. Dygain's Church in Llangernyw village, North Wales, is considered one of the oldest living trees in the world. It is approximately 4,000 - 5,000 years old, and is still growing.
The long-living Yew trees, or Taxus baccata are truly fascinating. These trees grow approximately 10-20 meters tall, with their trunk diameter being almost 2 meters. The green leaves adorning this tree look like a majestic being or a sage who has been meditating for years and years. Even the great romantic poet, William Wordsworth couldn't resist the mystery surrounding this tree. In his poem Yew-Trees, Wordsworth writes:

... This solitary Tree! -a living thing
Produced too slowly ever to decay;
Of form and aspect too magnificent
To be destroyed. ...

This piece of poem is another evidence that supports the tree's longevity. Though known as a symbol of long life, surprisingly, the tree is called the death tree. Strange, isn't it? This makes us delve deeper into what a Yew tree symbolizes and unveil the mystery shrouding this oldest living tree.
Yew tree
Celtic Mythology
◆ Celts were a tribal group from the Iron Age across the United Kingdom and a majority of Europe. There are several mentions of Yews trees in Celtic mythology. They believed that Yew trees had magical powers, and therefore, these trees were sacred to them.
◆ According to Celtic mythology, an educated and professional class in Celtic Druids would use Yew trees for wand making, dowsing rods, relic boxes, etc. The trees were used for making bows, spears, dagger handles, etc., to stimulate leadership, power, and bravery. It was considered that the longevity of the trees was transferred to the warrior when he would use weapons made with the tree's wood.
◆ Yew trees were also a symbol of immortality, rebirth, transformation, protection against evil, connecting to one's ancestors, tenacity, etc. It was known to induce psychic abilities and wisdom to Celtics as well. For a psychic reading or vision, occultists are known to pray beside Yew trees.
Christian Symbolism

◆ Yew trees are often found in churchyards in the UK, Spain, and France. These trees are mostly on the north side of the churches where the devil's door is usually situated.

◆ Christian stories of resurrection led the tree to become a symbol of eternal life. As the trunk of the tree begins to decay, a new tree sprouts from the old one. This represents the cycle of life that makes Yew trees a symbol of rebirth as well.

◆ However, due to its poisonous nature, it was considered as a symbol of death (associated with funeral and death).

Yew Tree Symbolism in Literature

◆ Yew trees are often used as symbols in literature. Many writers and poets like Wordsworth, Keats, etc., have used the prevailed notions regarding Yew trees and used them as a symbol in their literary work to depict their own meaning. Let us take Sylvia Plath's poem as an example and discuss The Moon and the Yew Tree symbolism:

◆ Plath uses excessive symbols and personification to depict her melancholy even when surrounded by beautiful sights. In the poem, the moon represents her mother, and the Yew tree is the symbol of her dead father. Though it is not clearly mentioned, the references to death like a Yew tree, headstone, floating saint, etc., tell us that her father is not there anymore, and that she misses him. Therefore, the tone of the poem is characterized by melancholy.

◆ Plath refers to the tree only twice in the poem, which might suggest that she did not know her father too well, as he died when she was just 8-10 years old.
Yew Tree Dream Symbolism
◆ Dreaming about things is not new to us. On the other hand, we do not pay much attention to such dreams. However, what if things that you see in your dream, such as Yew trees, have some meaning attached? With several meanings attached to trees, it might be troublesome to guess the exact meaning of the dream. However, the following chart might help you out. Compare your dreams with the chart to find out the meaning of your dream.
Dreaming About ...
◆ Admiring a Yew tree = Sad event in the family
◆ Yew branches = Development in a new relationship
◆ Sitting under a Yew tree = Contemplating about overcoming the future, overcoming fears
◆ Top view of a Yew tree = Too many wishes
◆ Fallen, cut-down Yew tree = Confusion, sacrifice
◆ Yew tree forest = Discover inner happiness and relax
◆ Burning of Yew tree = Suffering from negative emotions
◆ Climbing a Yew tree = Escaping from something
◆ Loved one standing alone by the tree = misfortune
We sign off with some beautiful lines penned down by Thomas Gray in his poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard;

Beneath those rugged elms, that Yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.