XII. Yew – Hanged Man

Yew – Hanged One – Paradox

Genus: Taxus – Family: Taxaceae

The yew is an ancient tree that reminds us to see both sides of every story. It is a tree of life and death that challenges our perceptions.

The Hittites of Anatolia (Turkey 1750 BCE) first named the yew “eya,” meaning, “touched by eternity” because a solitary yew tree could live to be 3000 years old. This sense of immortality is intertwined with mortality as yew was also the wood of choice for deadly weapons such as longbows. The word “toxic” comes from toxon, the Greek word for bow. Arrows made of yew were known to be toxic, which inspired the genus name Taxus.

The runes of the Elder Futhark identified the vowel “ei” as “eihwaz” meaning yew tree. The rune identified with the vowel “e” was “ehwaz” or “horse.” This association between yew and horse speaks to the paradox of yew as both a stationary tree and a galloping horse.

An 1847 depiction of the Norse Yggdrasil as described in the Icelandic Prose Edda. By Oluf Olufsen Bagge

In Norse mythology, the yew tree (mistaken as an ash tree for being called “needle ash”) was also seen as the World Tree known as Yggdrasil, or “Odin’s Horse.” Odin, the Norse god/king, sacrificed himself by hanging on Yggdrasil, (an evergreen tree) for nine nights and nine days. During this time, he traveled through the nine worlds of existence to learn the secrets of life and death.

Another paradox of yew is its toxicity and its ability to save lives. Yew trees contain poisonous alkaloids known as taxanes. All parts of the yew tree are toxic to humans except for the fleshy “berry” that surrounds the seed, the berry itself is edible but the seed is highly poisonous. The Pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia, native to the Pacific Northwest, was the initial source of Taxol, a drug used to treat breast and lung cancer. By looking at yews from a different perspective, an entire class of medicine was created that saved lives.

Yew trees, Taxus baccata, are long-lived, coniferous evergreens. They grow to 65 feet and live to be 2000-4000 years old. There are nine species of yew that have remained virtually unchanged for over 250 million years. Yews are one of the oldest tree species on earth, native to Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East. When yew appears, our perceptions of life are being tested. Something will dramatically flip in our life that will cause us to see things differently.

Message: The yew tree spirit signals a time of turning our world upside down in order to see life from a new perspective. This will be a time of letting go as our previous perceptions do not serve us anymore. By opening our minds, we can begin to see opportunities where we may have perceived blocks. What feels at first to be a sacrifice could reveal an amazing opportunity. The paradox of yew brings many surprises and shifts in our conscious and subconscious world.

Challenge: Life begins to feel rote, mundane stuck, etc… experiencing a sense of hopelessness, going in circles or being hung up. This is the time to reassess our perception of where we are and where we are going. See that there are many choices.