Patriarch of Long Lasting Woods
In early times, the darkly glorious yew-tree was probably the only evergreen tree in Britain. Both Druids with their belief in reincarnation, and later Christians with their teaching of the resurrection, regarded it as a natural emblem of everlasting life. Its capacity for great age enriched its symbolic value. The early Irish regarded it as one of the most ancient beings on earth. Yew is the last on a list of oldest things in a passage from the fourteenth century Book of Lismore: ‘Three lifetimes of the yew for the world from its beginning to its end.’
The yew’s reputation for long life is due to the unique way in which the tree grows. Its branches grow down into the ground to form new stems, which then rise up around the old central growth as separate but linked trunks. After a time, they cannot be distinguished from the original tree. So the yew has always been a symbol of death and rebirth, the new that springs out of the old, and a fitting tree for us to study at the beginning of the new year. As the days now grow longer with the beginning of a new solar cycle, we move into the future on the achievements of the past, new creativity springs forth grounded in the accomplishments of the year gone by.