|From the Runic Tarot|
by Caroline Smith and John Astrop
The yew is a tree with rough bark,
hard and fast in the earth, supported by its roots,
a guardian of flame and a joy upon an estate.
In the old Anglo-Saxon languages, Eoh translates to 'yew' - making it the first rune I've studied to be directly named after a tree. There are a few others in the Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet, indicating that trees are an important part of the way the tribes we now call the Anglo-Saxons viewed the world around them. There are many Pagans who associate this rune with death and transformation; because yew trees are often found in graveyards in the British Isles. In my research, I've found no evidence that this is a pre-Christian tradition; which doesn't mean I will automatically discount it - but the rune poem quoted above seems to paint quite a different picture of the Anglo-Saxon idea of the yew tree. In fact, the yew tree is portrayed differently in each of the rune poems; in the Icelandic it is described as "bent bow, and brittle iron, and giant of the arrow", a clear reference to the making of bows out of the wood of the tree, not mentioned at all in the AS poem. In the Norwegian we come a bit closer to the AS: "yew is the greenest of trees in winter; it is wont to crackle when it burns" - as this also references yew's use as a firewood.
Considering only the AS rune poem, the yew is described as outwardly rather unremarkable, or even unpleasant. Its bark is rough, not pleasant to feel. Yet, the poem goes on to tell us that despite its gruff exterior, the yew tree is honored by virtue of its deep, lasting roots. Yew trees are one of the longest-lived plants in Europe; some are possibly as old as 2,000 years (if we could reliably talk to trees, Pagan reconstruction would be so much easier)! It is also described as being a useful firewood, which is possibly the reason that it is so desired to have a yew on one's property - though it could also be because of its long-lived, deep-rooted nature.
In divination, I think I see this rune two ways. The first is a bit like Ben Weatherstaff from The Secret Garden - a gruff man, as old as the earth and deeply connected to the spirit of the place where he lives. Though he is a bit rough on the outside, his connection to the land and its plants and animals ensures that he cares deeply about all who are equally deep-rooted there. The second way is a bit like JRR Tolkien's Strider poem: "all that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost". That is, appearances can be deceiving. Tolkien's poem, by the way, goes on to include the line "deep roots are not reached by the frost". The yew is ancient, and here to stay.