Eihwaz is sometimes likened to the Death card in tarot; it is a rune of transformation and testing, stripping away that which is worn out, diseased or weak so that strong new growth may occur. It is the rune of the Yew tree, a symbol of age, endurance, death, and eternal life. The Yew tree is an evergreen, in the depths of winter it lives on, reminding us of the tenacity of life and the will to survive.
In the Old English rune poem Eihwaz is referred to as ‘fire’s keeper’, arousing much speculation concerning the way in which it burns and whether it might have been used to gather up and store hot embers. I wonder whether the fire referred to might also be the fire of life, the Yew tree reminding us that life will come again, even in the coldest and darkest of times. The Yew tree is often found at grave yards and, rather than seeing it as a sign of death, we might view it as symbolising eternal life, guarding and keeping the ancestral spirits resting in the ground. In the northern tradition a part of the soul is believed to remain at the place of death or burial, available for the living to commune with.
The Eihwaz rune is also associated with the spinal column, the core self, and the eternal part of the soul. The rune is linked to the yew bow through the Old Icelandic rune poem, the weapon of choice for the God Ullr and the giantess Skadi who ‘becomes’ a goddess through her marriage to the benevolent sea God Njord. Despite the benefits of this match with Njord, Skadi cannot bear the warm, sloshy sea and eventually returns to her hall within the cold, grey mountains where she is said to spend her time with her lover Ullr, speeding joyfully across the glittering snow on swift skis, enjoying the hunt together. Skadi’s strength of personality left the Gods themselves quaking in their boots (hence the marriage to Njord which was designed to appease her), she represents the core self which must find expression, no matter what the cost.
Traditional meaning: Yew tree
Old Norse rune poem: yr meaning Yew.
Yew is the winter-greenest of woods;
burning it is wont to singe.
Translated by Pollington, Rudiments of Runelore
Present significance: Most of the association for Eihwaz come through the lore of the Yew tree and its link t othe great World Tree Yggdrasil. As the yew it represents transformation, eternal life, inner change and endurance. As the World Tree it is the Axis Mundi, the central column which joins and unites the worlds, the pillar of creation and the manifestation of the present moment.
Key terms: Transformation, death, endurance, eternal life, protection, hunting
Gods: Skadi is known for her great strength and her love of the winter season and mountainous regions where her home is located. Skadi’s lover is the hunter god Ullr who bears the yew bow. Odin is associated with Eihwaz throught he World Tree, Yggdrasil, which means ‘Odin’s steed’ – referring to the nine-night vigil he undertook hanging upon the tree to discover the runes.
Colour: Black, dark green, dark blue
Elements: Eihwaz, as the symbol of the World Tree, is commonly thought to contain all of the elements within it; however, the rune poem specifically refers to it as ‘fire’s keeper’ and so, perhaps, fire is of particulary importance to this rune.
Half month: December 28th – January 13th
Plants: Yew, lilac
Body: Third eye, spine
Aroma: Cypress, benzoin
Object of power: Bow, World Tree, axis mundi
The yew, an evergreen, is also associated with endurance/ survival of the body through winter hardship and especially of the soul after death. It was only used for winter fires in the severest conditions owing to its slow burning qualities and intense heat radiation. The Vitkis (sorcerer/ shamans) would meditate under the canopy in summer to breathe the trees’ resinating fumes which are toxic enough to induce visionary states and out-of-body experiences. Grimnisson, Rune Rede: Wisdom and Magic for the Life Journey
Discover Eihwaz for yourself: Journeys with the Elder Futhark – The Second Aett
Eihwaz is the fifth rune in the Second Aett (second family) of the Elder Futhark. Visit the Resources page to download your free Journeys with the Elder Futhark – The Second Aett includes the Eihwaz journey.
Magin’s articles featuring Eihwaz
- Magin’s January 2012 podcast on The Shamanic Voice: Yggdrasil’s Song includes a channelled message from the tree
What other practitioners say…
- Oswald the Runemaker’s summary analysis of Eihwaz
- RuneSecret’s analysis of Eihwaz
- Sacred Scribe’s analysis of Eihwaz
- Caleb Bookers analysis of Eihwaz – focusing on pronunciation and the principle of flexibility
- Midnight Moonchild’s analysis of Eihwaz
- White Wolf Heathen’s You tube video about Eihwaz – focusing on life, death and the hunter god Ullr
- Lurch579’s You tube video about Eihwaz focusing on strength, flexibility and protection