Tree Lore: (Sacred Trees)
Tree lore is a suspected ancient school of knowledge with roots stretching back into our earliest symbolic imaginations. The Tree is a common universal, archetypal symbol that can be found in many different traditions around the ancient world. Trees are symbols of physical and spiritual nourishment, transformation and liberation, sustenance, spiritual growth, union and fertility. The tree is a spiritual motif and framework, a map of conception and consciousness that brings together the temporal worlds of time, space and consciousness. Trees are the places of birth and death; they are used as sacred shrines and places of spiritual pilgrimage, ritual, ceremony and celebration. Sacred trees are found in the Shamanic, Hindu, Egyptian, Sumerian, Toltec, Mayan, Norse, Celtic and Christian traditions. The World-tree is described in The Upanishads as “a tree eternally existing, its roots aloft, its branches spreading below.”
The Symbolism of Trees:
The Herder Symbol Dictionary says, “Psychoanalysis sees in the tree a symbolic reference to the mother, to spiritual and intellectual development, or to death and rebirth.” It also notes that the fruit, shade, and protective nature of trees have caused them to be seen as feminine or maternal symbols; yet, at the same time, the erect trunk is a phallic symbol. Perhaps this is why, for Carl Jung, the tree symbolized the Self, androgyny (integration and equality between the masculine and feminine principles), and individuation.
‘…A tree is one of the best examples of a motif that often appears in dreams (and elsewhere) and that can have an incredible variety of meanings. It might symbolise evolution, physical growth, or psychological maturation; death (Christ’s crucifixion on the tree); it might be a phallic symbol; it might be a great deal more. And such other common dream motifs as the cross or the lingam can also have a vast array of symbolic meanings…’ – Man and his Symbols by Carl Jung
|Ogham and Tree-lore:|
The Ogham script consists of twenty-five simple strokes centred on or branching off a central line. It is similar in purpose, but separate in origin from the Nordic runes. The Ogham characters were inscribed on stones or written on staves of wood. As a method of writing it is laborious, but as a language of symbolism it is powerful. It is probably pre-Celtic in origin, although most of the existing inscriptions have been dated to the fifth and sixth centuries. Whether Celtic or pre-Celtic we can sense that it carries with it some of the very earliest of Druid wisdom. Amongst our sources of information about its use, we have The Scholar’s Primer from Scotland (transcribed from the oral tradition in the seventeenth century) and O’Flaherty’s Ogygia from Ireland [published in 1793]. But it was the poet Robert Graves who, in modem times, brought the Ogham into public awareness once again, with his publication of The White Goddess in 1948.
The Original Irish Ogham Script With 20 Phonetic Letters.
Ogham is sometimes called the “Celtic Tree Alphabet”, based on a High Medieval Bríatharogam tradition ascribing names of trees to the individual letters. The earliest example of Ogham comes from the 4th cent AD, although it is generally accepted that the Ogham alphabet script was modelled on an already existing script. (2) In Early Irish literature a Bríatharogam is a two word combination which explains the meanings of the names of the letters of the Ogham alphabet. Later Medieval scholars believed that all of the letter names were those of trees, and attempted to explain the bríatharogaim in that light. However, modern scholarship has shown that only eight at most of the letter names are those of trees, and that the word-oghams or kennings themselves support this. (1)
Each stroke of the Ogham corresponds to a letter of the alphabet, which is in turn associated with a tree. It is most commonly read from bottom to top. Although we know the letters that each stroke represents, and can translate the ancient Ogham inscriptions accordingly, we cannot be so confident when we come to associate the trees with particular months. There has been much controversy as to whether the Ogham really was used as a calendar by the Druids, linking each tree and letter of the alphabet to a moon month, as suggested by Robert Graves.
The Ogham Alphabet and the Association to Trees.
The Modern concept of Ogham was largely derive from the theories of Robert Graves in his book The White Goddess. In this work Graves took his inspiration from the theories of the Ogham scholar R.A.S Macalister (see above) and elaborated on them much further. Graves proposed that the Ogham alphabet encoded a set of beliefs originating in the Middle-east in Stone Age times, concerning the ceremonies surrounding the worship of the Moon-goddess in her various forms. Graves’ argument is extremely complex, but in essence he argues that the Hebrews, Greeks and Celts were all influenced by a people originating in the Aegean, called ‘the sea people‘, who spread out around Europe in the 2nd Millennium BC, taking their religious beliefs with them. At some early stage these teachings were encoded in alphabet form by poets in order to pass on their worship of the goddess in a secret fashion, understandable only to initiates. Eventually, via the druids of Gaul, this knowledge was passed on to the poets of early Ireland and Wales. Graves therefore looked at the Tree Alphabet tradition surrounding Ogham and explored the tree folklore of each of the letter names, proposing that the order of the letters formed an ancient “seasonal calendar of tree magic”. (3)
Ogham and the Lunar Calendar:
Following along the same line of thought, Graves proposed that the Celts used a Lunar Calendar that consisted of 13 months, each 28 days in length. Each month of the Celtic Lunar calendar bears the name of a tree, which also stands for one of the consonants in the Celtic ‘tree alphabet’. There are basically two different versions of this Lunar calendar: the Beth-Luis-Nion (which begins on the Winter Solstice) and the Beth-Luis-Fearn (which begins on Samhain). It needs to be emphasised that the concept of an Ogham Lunar/Tree Calendar was single handedly inspired by Robert Graves in his book ‘The White Goddess’, and he used Roderic O’Flaherty (1629-1718) as his source. Much of what Graves wrote has been elaborated upon further since, but the idea that of a Celtic/Druidic Ogham-Lunar-Tree calendar ever actually existing is strongly contested.
Article: The Fabrication of Celtic Astrology, By P.B. Ellis. (1997) (Quick-link)
Regardless of any metaphysical connections, there exists a special relationship between trees and humans, as we both produce the gasses that enable the other to exist: They produce the oxygen that we need to breathe, and we produce carbon dioxide which trees breathe. Tree worship (dendrolatry) refers to the tendency of societies throughout history to worship or otherwise mythologize trees. Trees have played an important role in many of the world’s mythologies and religions, and have been given deep and sacred meanings throughout the ages. Human beings, observing the growth and death of trees, the elasticity of their branches, the sensitivity and the annual decay and revival of their foliage, see them as powerful symbols of growth, decay and resurrection. In folk religion and folklore, trees are often said to be the homes of tree spirits. Historical Druidism as well as Germanic paganism appear to have involved cultic practice in sacred groves, especially the oak. The most ancient cross-cultural symbolic representation of the universes construction is the world tree.
The Tree of Life (World Tree):
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the tree of knowledge and the tree of life, are both forms of the world tree or cosmic tree. (4)
The image of the Tree of life is also a favourite in many mythologies. Various forms of trees of life also appear in folklore, culture and fiction, often relating to immortality or fertility. These often hold cultural and religious significance to the peoples for whom they appear. For them, it may also strongly be connected with the motif of the world tree.
The Tree of Life in Myth: Extract From (5):
‘Buddhism tells of Sakyamuni’s birth and a flash of light that travelled around the world that sparked the first growth of the Tree of Perfection – a sacred fig tree that it is said to have been four hundred feet high that bloomed with flowers and fruit that glowed and glistened. It is said that the Buddha was born, received his enlightenment, preached his first sermon and died all under the Bodhi tree. Some say he sat under the tree for six years protected by the tree while he was enlightened.
In Judeo-Christian parable in the Book of Genesis there are actually two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. A tree planted by God in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve are commanded and warned not to eat from (it is the Tree of Knowledge that God explicitly warned them about) but are tricked by a crafty and cunning serpent who promises that they will become as wise as God, that they will know knowledge and wisdom (consciousness of duality) and never die if they eat. They indulged in its fruit and they were cast out and banished from the garden. The prophet Enoch describes the tree as bearing like grapes with a beautiful fragrance. Talmudic scripture suggest that Eve made wine from the fruit. It is the Tree of Knowledge that Christ is said to have been crucified upon.
This Sumerian Clay tablet is dated c. 2,500 BCE. The original Sumerian (Indo-Iranian) concept was that wisdom is likened to a tree whose fruit endows those who eat it with health and longevity. The symbol of an elixir of life had already been well established in antiquity by the Indo-Iranian cultures long before Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other cultures had the opportunity to recognise it. This 4,500 year old clay tablet shows a man and a woman seated below the Tree of Life. Behind the woman is seen a serpent allegedly ‘tempting’ the woman.
In Norse mythology Yaggdrasil is the holy Ash World Tree surrounded by nine worlds. It is said to connect the Underworld to Heaven with its branches and roots. Odin is said to have hung on the tree for nine days, self-sacrificed so that he could bring the wisdom of the runes to his people. Once again, from the symbol of the tree flows human awareness and consciousness.
In Egypt the Holy Sycamore is said to stand on the threshold of life and death, connecting the worlds. It stands at the Eastern gate of Heaven from which the sun rises each morning. A number of different types of trees had different functions and were sacred to different Egyptian deities.
In alchemical traditions the Arbor Philsophica is another tree that is said to bear alchemical symbols representing the seven planets and the processes of alchemy. These planets correspond to the seven metals gold, silver, copper, iron, mercury, lead and tin which were all said to grow on the tree. The tree is said to grow from the ground or sometimes from the body of man. Jung speaks of a dream where he sees a tree with branches of gold, silver, steel and mixed iron which he realises corresponds to the Arbor Philsophica and symbolises growth and illumination’. (5)
Other examples of trees featured in mythology are the Banyan and the Peepal (Ficus religiosa) trees in Hinduism, and the modern tradition of the Christmas Tree in Germanic mythology, the Tree of Knowledge (Kabbalah) of Judaism and Christianity, and the Bodhi Tree in Buddhism. In folk religion and folklore, trees are often said to be the homes of tree spirits. Historical Druidism as well as Germanic Paganism appear to have involved cultic practice in sacred groves, especially the oak. The term druid itself possibly derives from the Celtic word for oak.
A sacred grove is a grove of trees of special religious importance to a particular culture. Sacred groves were most prominent in the Ancient Near East and prehistoric Europe, but feature in various cultures throughout the world. They were important features of the mythological landscape and cult practice of Celtic, Baltic, Germanic, ancient Greek, Near Eastern, Roman, and Slavic polytheism, and were also used in India, Japan, and West Africa. Examples of sacred groves include the Greco-Roman temenos, the Norse hörgr, and the Celtic nemeton, which was largely but not exclusively associated with Druidic practice. During the Northern Crusades, there was a common practice of building churches on the sites of sacred groves.
To the ancient Greeks and Romans, trees were thought to be inhabited by female spirits called Dryad (in oak trees) or Meliae (in ash trees). In Greek drys signifies ‘Oak’ from an Indo-European root *derew(o)- ‘tree’ or ‘wood’. In Scottish folklore a friendly tree spirit, called the Ghillie Dhu, helps lost children find their way home. Japan is home to a rich tradition encompassing various tree spirits, generally called Kodama. Traditionally, foresters made offerings to the Kodama before cutting a tree down.
The physical characteristics of the trees often reflect the lore that surrounds the tree itself: bows made from the poisonous yew as bringers of death; the sweet scented apple wood as a symbol of love; the strong, straight ash that was believed to form the central axis of the world.
Sacred Trees and their Meanings:
ALDER: (Alnus spp.) – This tree was sacred to the Druids and is generally associated with protection and oracular powers. The pith is easily pushed out of green shoots to make whistles. Several shoots bound together by cordage, can be trimmed to the desired length for producing the note you want and used to entice Air elementals. The old superstition of “whistling up the wind” began with this custom. The oily water resistant wood has been used extensively for underwater foundations and pilings in Venice and elsewhere. It is used in dairy vessels and the branches in making whistles. It is associated with Bran, as he used his body as a bridge to span dangerous waters. It is used in the construction of bridges. Bran’s Head was oracular.
APPLE: (Malus spp.) – In Norse myth, Idunna was the keeper of the ‘apples of immortality‘ which kept the Gods young. The ‘fruit-bearing tree’ referred to by Tacitus in his description of Norse runic divination may have been the apple. Apple indicates choice, and is useful for love and healing magic.
ASH: (Fraxinus spp.) – A Druid sacred tree. Druid wands were often made of ash because of its straight grain. The Ash is one of the sacred Druidic three: ‘Oak, Ash & Thorn’. The Ash is associated with applications in magick for sea power, ocean rituals, karmic laws, magical potency, healing and health, protection, love, women’s mysteries, prophetic dreams, prosperity. The European variety (Fraxinus excelcior) was referred to in the Eddas as the species of Yggdrasil – the ‘World-Tree”. The first man, named Ask, was created from an ash log. Ash was commonly used to make spears because of its ‘springiness’ and straight grain. In North America, strips of black ash were split along the grain to make splints for baskets and hoops. It is used in weaver’s beams. Women would weave cloth and intermingling threads together in a tight pattern as the microcosm and the macrocosm are united. Ash can be used in spells requiring focus and strength of purpose, and indicates the linking of the inner and outer worlds. Put fresh ash leaves under your pillow to stimulate psychic dreams.
Oak, Ash and Thorn were called the ‘Fairy Triad’: Where they grow together it is said that fairies live…!
BEECH: (Fagus spp.) At one time Beech tablets were used as writing surfaces. Beech and book have the same word origins. Beech is concerned with ancient knowledge as revealed in old objects, places and writings. Beech indicates guidance from the past to gain insight which protects and provides a solid base upon which all relies.
BIRCH: (Betula spp.) – Long associated with fertility and healing magic, new beginnings, purification, protection, creativity, fertility & birth. It was known as ‘The Lady of the Woods’. Birch twigs were used to bestow fertility on cattle and newlyweds, and children’s cradles were made from its wood. Birch is one of the first trees to grow on bare soil and thus it births the entire forest. Criminals were at one time birched to drive out evil influences on them, to renew them for the new year. Birch is an incredibly useful tree – nearly every part of it is edible, and it’s sap was an important source of sugar to Native Americans and early settlers. The inner bark provides a pain reliever and the leaves are used to treat arthritis. It’s bark was used for everything from paper to canoe hulls, and axe handles were also made from Birch.
BLACKTHORN (Prunus spinosa) – Blackthorn is a winter tree. Blackthorn is used for purification & protection, ridding the atmosphere of negative energy. It aids in combating fear, depression and anger. Associated with inner work and assessment, grounding and protection. It represents the strong action of fate or the outside influences in life. The wood is used in the cudgel shillelagh and Blasting Stick. Its thorns are used to pierce waxen images. Blackthorn indicates strong action of fate or outside influences that must be obeyed.
ELDER (Sambucus spp.) – The Latin name sambucus is derived from a Greek word for a wind instrument made from elder. Also known as Ellhorn, Elderberry, Lady Elder. Sacred to the White Lady and Midsummer Solstice. The Druids used it to both bless and curse. Standing under an elder tree at Midsummer, like standing in a Fairy Ring of mushrooms, will help you see the “little people.” Elder wands can be used to drive out evil spirits or thought forms. Music on panpipes or flutes of elder have the same power as the wand. The pith can easily be removed from the small branches to make a flute. Elder re-grows damaged branches with ease and can root rapidly from any part. A tea for purifying the blood can be made from the flowers and wine from the fruit, but in general the tree is poisonous. In Norse mythology, the Goddess Freya chose the black elder as her home. In medieval times it was the abode of witches and it was considered dangerous to sleep under its branches or to cut it down. Sticks of Elder were used as magical horses by Witches. Elder indicates the end in the beginning and the beginning in the end. Life in Death and Death in Life.
‘Elder is the Lady’s Tree, burn it not or cursed ye be’!
ELM (Ulmus spp.) – Elm is often associated with Mother and Earth Goddesses, and was said to be the abode of faeries, explaining Kipling’s injunction; “Ailim be the lady’s tree; burn it not or cursed ye’ll be”. Elm wood is valued for it’s resistance to splitting, and the inner bark was used for cordage and chair caning. Elm adds stability and grounding to a spell.
FIR (Abies spp.)– Fir is a very tall slender tree that grows in mountainous regions on the upper slopes. Fir cones respond to rain by closing and the sun by opening. Fir can see over great distance to the far horizon beyond and below. Fir indicates high views and long sights with clear vision of what is beyond and yet to come. Also known as the Birth Tree. The needles are burned at childbirth to bless and protect the mother and baby.
HAWTHORN (Crataegus oxyacantha) – Hawthorn is associated with protection, love & marriage, health, prosperity, fertility, purification, fishing magic, purity, inner journeys, intuition, female sexuality, cleansing, and happiness. The fey (Earth spirits/Fairy Folk) are said to especially like Hawthorn since it is sacred to them. The wood from the Hawthorn provides the hottest fire known and wands with the greatest power. The blossoms are said to be highly erotic to men. Its leaves and blossoms are also used to create a tea to aid with anxiety, appetite loss and poor circulation. The Greeks and Romans saw the hawthorn as symbolic of hope and marriage, but in medieval Europe it was associated with witchcraft and considered to be unlucky.
HAZEL (Corylus avallania) – Hazel, The Tree of Immortal Wisdom has applications in magick done for manifestation, spirit contact, protection, prosperity, divination-dowsing, dreams, wisdom-knowledge, marriage, fertility, intelligence, inspiration. Hazel is a tree that is sacred to the fey Folk and a wand of hazel can be used to call the Fey. In Celtic tradition, the Salmon of Knowledge is said to eat the 9 nuts of poetic wisdom dropped into its sacred pool from the hazel tree growing beside it. Each nut eaten by the salmon becomes a spot on its skin. The Hazel tree provided shade, protection and baskets. In Europe and North America, hazel is commonly used for ‘water-witching’ – the art of finding water with a forked stick. Magically, hazel wood is used to gain knowledge, healing, wisdom and poetic inspiration. Forked sticks are used to find water or buried treasure. If outside and in need of magical protection quickly draw a circle around yourself with a hazel branch. To enlist the aid of plant fairies, string hazelnuts on a cord and hang up in your house or ritual room. Magically, hazel wood is used to gain knowledge, wisdom and poetic inspiration.
HOLLY (Ilex aquifolium) – Holly is associated with the death and rebirth symbolism of winter in both Pagan and Christian lore. Holly is also associated with magic for protection, prophesy, healing, animals, sex, invulnerability, watchfulness, good luck, Holiness and consecration. It is also said to have the ability to enhance other forms of magick. In Arthurian legend, Gawain (representing the Oak King of summer) fought the Green Knight, who was armed with a holly club to represent winter. It is one of the three timbers used in the construction of chariot wheel shafts. It was used in spear shafts also. The qualities of a spear shaft are balance and directness, as the spear must be hefted to be thrown the holly indicates directed balance and vigour to fight if the cause is just. Holly may be used in spells having to do with sleep or rest, and to ease the passage of death. A bag of leaves and berries carried by a man is said to increase his ability to attract women.
LARCH (Larix europaea) – Larch is one of the few conifers which sheds its needles in the winter. It plays an important role in Sami (Lapp) and Siberian mythology where it takes the place of the ash as the World-tree. Their shamans use larch wood to rim their ceremonial drums. The smoke from burning larch is said to ward off evil spirits. Larch may be used for protection and to induce visions.
MISTLETOE: – Also known as Birdlime, All Heal and Golden Bough. It was the most sacred tree of the Druids, and ruled the Winter Solstice. The berries are poisonous. Bunches of mistletoe can be hung as an all-purpose protective herb, also for kissing under. The berries are used in love incenses.
OAK: (Quercus spp.) – The Oak is one of the sacred Druidic three: ‘Oak, Ash & Thorn’. In general, Oak is associated with spells for protection, strength, success and stability, healing, fertility, health, money, potency, and good luck. Oak has been considered sacred by just about every culture that has encountered the tree, but it was held in particular esteem by the Norse and Celts because of its size, longevity, and nutritious acorns. The oak is frequently associated with Gods of thunder and lightening such as Zeus, Thor, and the Lithuanian God Perkunas. This association may be due to the oak’s habit of being hit by lightening during storms. Specific oak trees have also been associated with the ‘Wild Hunt’, which is led by Herne in England and by Wodin in Germany. Oak galls, known as Serpent Eggs, were used in magical charms. Acorns gathered at night held the greatest fertility powers. The Druids and Priestesses listened to the rustling oak leaves and the wrens in the trees for divinatory messages. Burning oak leaves purifies the atmosphere. In general, oak can be used in spells for protection, strength, success and stability; the different varieties will lend their own special ‘flavour’ to the magic.
In addition to being at the geographic junction of three county borders (Hereford, Gloucester and Worcester), the proposed centre of John Michell’s ‘Great Decagon‘, and therefore, a hub for Britain’s ancient ‘Perpetual Choirs‘ and sitting almost exactly on the 52nd latitude, the importance of this seemingly invisible village is only now seen in its name.
PEAR (Pyrrus spp.) – The Roman author Tacitus described how the Germanii would carve runes into the wood of a fruit tree. This is often assumed to be the apple tree, but may well have been the pear which is considered by some to be of the same genus as the apple. In the 5th century, Constantius told of a pear tree which was honoured by the North-men. The pear tree is also mentioned in literature and folklore connected with love and temptation.
PINE (Pinus spp.) – The Pine tree is an evergreen, its old title was “the sweetest of woods”. Its needles are a valuable source of vitamin C and can loosen a tight chest. The scent of Pine is useful in the alleviation of guilt. The Bach’s flower remedies lists it for dealing with feelings of guilt. Pine indicates issues of guilt within you. It was known to the Druids as one of the seven chieftain trees of the Irish. Mix the dried needles with equal parts of juniper and cedar and burn to purify the home and ritual area. The cones and nuts can be carried as a fertility charm. A good magical cleansing and stimulating bath is made by placing pine needles in a loose-woven bag and running bath water over it. To purify and sanctify an outdoor ritual area, brush the ground with a pine branch.
POPLAR (Populus spp.) – The White Poplar flourishes beside rivers, in marshes and in other watery areas. The pith is star shaped. The upper leaves are green, the underside is silver. The wood was used in the making of shields. Leaves move with every puff of wind. It is commonly referred to as the talking, whispering and quivering tree. The Anglo-Saxon rune poem seems to refer to the poplar as being associated with the rune berkano. Heracles wore a crown of poplar leaves when he retrieved Cerberus from Hades, and the upper surface of the leaves was thus darkened from Hades’ smokey fumes. In Christian lore, the quaking poplar (aspen) was used to construct Christ’s cross, and the leaves of the tree quiver when they remember this fact. The Poplar’s ability to resist and to shield, its association with speech, language and the Winds indicates an ability to endure and conquer.
ROWAN (Sorbus aucuparia) – The Rowan tree (also called Mountain Ash and ‘Witchwood’) is long known for aid and protection against enchantment. It is also associated with divination, astral work, strength, protection, initiation, healing, psychic energies, working with spirits of the dead, psychic powers, personal power, and success. Sticks of the Rowan were used to carve Runes on. It was also used in the art of metal divining. Rowan spays and crosses were placed over cattle in pens and over homes for protection. The berries have a tiny pentagram on them. The pentagram is the ancient symbol of protection. The Rowan tree indicates protection and control of the senses from enchantment and beguiling. The Rowan was sacred to the Druids and the Goddess Brigit. It is a very magical tree used for wands, rods, amulets and spells. A forked Rowan branch can help find water. Wands are for knowledge, locating metal and general divination
WILLOW (Salix babylonica) – The willow is a water loving tree, associated with Moon Magic, the Willow is used for enchantment, wishing, romantic love, healing, protection, fertility, magic for women, femininity, love, divination, friendship, joy, love, and peace. Willow bark contains Salicin which is used in the treatment of rheumatic fever and various damp diseases. Her catkins, which appear in early spring before her leaves, attract bees to start the cycle of pollination. In western tradition it is a symbol of mourning and unlucky love. The Latin name for the weeping willow refers to the psalm in which the Hebrews mourn their captivity in Babylon by the willows. Willow indicates cycles, rhythms and the ebb and flux. The willow is a Moon tree sacred to the White Lady, Its groves were considered so magical that priests, priestesses and all types of artisans sat among these trees to gain eloquence, inspiration, skills and prophecies. For a wish to be granted, ask permission of the willow, explaining your desire. Select a pliable shoot and tie a loose knot in it while expressing what you want. When the wish is fulfilled. return and untie the knot. Remember to thank the willow and leave a gift.
YEW (Taxus baccata) – Yew was used to enhance magical and psychic abilities & to induce visions. Transformation, reincarnation, eternal life and immortality sum up the attributes of the Yew tree. It has been associated with death, rebirth, change and regeneration. All parts of the tree are poisonous except the fleshy covering of the berry, and its medicinal uses include a recently discovered treatment for cancer. Long associated with magic, death, rebirth and the runes, there are some convincing arguments for it being the original ‘World-tree’ of Scandinavian mythology. In Europe, yew wood was used for making bows, while on the northwest coast of North America, the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) is used by the Haida and other tribes for making masks and boxes. Yew may be used to enhance magical and psychic abilities, and to induce visions. Another important tree to the Winter Solstice and the deities of death and rebirth. The Irish used it to make dagger handles, bows and wine barrels. The wood or leaves were laid on graves as a reminder to the departed spirit that death was only a pause in life before rebirth.