The oldest tree in Europe is said to be the Yew of Fortingall, Scotland, near Loch Tay. It is 3,000 years old and presently lives surrounded by a cast iron fence in a churchyard. It is 56 1/2 feet in circumference, but the trunk has hollowed with age, making a ring count impossible. Because yews were considered sacred, they were protected as such. There are still very old examples living today.
The genus name “taxus” comes from the ancient Greek word for bow. Greeks, Romans, Celts and Teutonic warriors made bows from yew wood. In addition, Celts frequently used yew for spears and shields. This practice eventually led to the demise of the great yew forests. Compared to what once stood, modern populations are mostly confined to landscaping and ornamental horticulture.
Because yew rarely grows with other trees, it was considered mysterious and special. The Druids placed yew at the end of the Celtic tree calendar. Because it stands in the darkest time, it is associated with death, but as an evergreen, it also symbolizes immortality. In later times, yews were planted at burial sites because it was believed that they had power over travel between worlds. It was also believed that yew offered protection from malevolent spirits.
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Believed to bring the wearer: flexibility, immortality, longevity, rebirth
Other associations: drawing close to ancestors, physical and emotional strength during difficult times, persuasion, change, divinity
Spirit animals: deer, eagle, hummingbird