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.  To me this hints at its role in maintaining the fire of life: the Yew tree reminding us that life will come again, even in the coldest and darkest of times.  In Norse Myth, one man and one women will survive Ragnorak, sheltered within the World Tree.  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.  She eventually returns to her hall upon 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.

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

As the World Tree Eihwaz is the Axis Mundi, the central column which joins and unites the worlds, the pillar of creation and the manifestation of the present moment.  Despite its rather heavy, serious nature Eihwaz have a lighter, more zingy side.  This is best personified by the squirrel, Ratatosk, who is said to carry banter between the Eagle at the top of the World Tree and the Serpent down at the bottom.  Now Ratatosk has a lot to teach us when it comes to the body/mind connection.  Consciousness is the vehicle of our greatest wisdom, and our greatest foolishness, after all. 

Literal meanings: Yew Tree

Rich meanings:Transformation (especially inner change), death, endurance, eternal life, protection, hunting

Deepening your connection with Eihwaz

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

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