Eihwaz. The yew tree. This rune signifies travel between the worlds of Yggdrasil, including that to the realm of the dead. These are the worlds which lie beneath this one, those which only our subconscious mind can sense. Eihwaz is a release of the self, a removal of the senses that we associate with life. The deepest level of this journey is not for the faint of heart, but this realm is one which we touch regularly, in our dreams, with our intuition and during meditation.
The yew tree was planted in ancient graveyards as it was said to be connected to the world of the dead. There are several reasons for this, one being that the yew tree was said to be able to resurrect itself from its branches. Yew trees also grow slowly and for what seems like an eternity to humans, with lifespans of up to 5,000 years. They hold this history in their annual tree rings and are ancient wisdom keepers. Most prominently, the yew bark is toxic and contains a mixture of potent chemicals that are, to this day, used as medicine to treat parasites, breast cancer, kidney and liver issues and can trigger miscarriages as an abortifacientas. The seeds within the berries are also highly toxic and can kill livestock as well as humans. I have also read that the chemicals emitted by yew trees can induce a psychedelic state in people who are sitting or sleeping under a tree in a graveyard. They may then believe they were speaking with the dead, not understanding why they entered a heightened state of awareness. This myriad of characteristics makes the yew tree a sacred and ancient plant with much wisdom and is understandably highly associated with death.
The yew tree is a sacred and ancient plant with much wisdom and is understandably highly associated with death.
Yggdrasil is the world tree that spans the universe, holding the nine worlds. It reaches from the lower realms with its roots to the most upper realms with its branches. The roots are where the Muspelheim, Niflheim and Helheim are located, and the great dragon Nidhogg gnaws upon Yggdrasil’s roots. The upper realms of Asgard (home of the Aesir gods), Alfheim (home of the elves) and Vanaheim (home of the Vanir gods) are held above in its branches, where a great eagle sits. Midgard, more commonly known as earth, is where we are located and is present in the center of the tree, with Jotunheim (home of the giants) and Svartalfheim (home of the dwarves or dark elves) somewhere around it. There is a squirrel, Rattatoskr, who likes to insult everyone as he travels up and down the trunk of the tree sending messages from the gods to the beings of the other worlds.
Yggdrasil is sometimes said to be an ash tree, likely because of the doming shape of the canopy that looks like it could hold an entire world. Ash is also said to be the wood from which the first man, Ask, was created, while the source of the first woman, Embla, is less clear but could be Elm, or Vine. Personally though, I associate her with alder, which is similar to birch and is a meaning contained in the rune Berkano.
The image of Eihwaz represents the trunk of the world tree, though Eihwaz is yew and not ash. Travelling up and down Yggdrasil’s trunk is the transference of a spirit or consciousness between one realm and another. There is a sense of movement, and travel, as one leaves this world and senses behind to journey forth and experience consciousness in another way. This is not a physical journey, but a spiritual one.
Travelling up and down Yggdrasil’s trunk is not a physical journey, but a spiritual one.
Eihwaz is a rune of many mystical properties and can be used in any kind of shamanic or magical working, whenever one needs to access energies beyond the physical realm. For example, it can be used to speak with our ancestors and unearth ancient knowledge. It can also be used to deepen one’s state of meditation, or induce frequent and powerful dreaming. Eihwaz can even be used in ceremonial magick, activating of the kundalini serpent in eastern practices, and connecting with one’s spirit guides. It can also help one find their way back from these realms.
I very often find this rune comes up when people are using psychoactive substances, as entheogens are another mode of altering one’s consciousness. Eihwaz can thus be used as a protective tool when one is embarking on such journeys, not to ground, but to help one find their way and direct them to what they need to know.
There is also a sense of relief and movement in Eihwaz, of letting go and shedding all of the weight of experiencing this life. Letting go of the senses is one interpretation, but it can also be a metaphorical death in the sense that we are leaving behind something that may no longer be serving us. Where Raidho represented a journey forth, from which we usually return, Eihwaz is more final, where there is no going back after experiencing a death. This could signal the end of a job, relationship, or any other experience which we are done with and are now ready to move on to the next stage. Think of a caterpillar, and how it has to undergo a type of death of the self to transform into a beautiful butterfly that can flutter free of the plant which it has been stuck on. We may not be able to turn back in death, but there is a sense of freedom and release that comes with it. Thankfully, most Eihwaz journeys are ones we do return from, as we can usually move both up and down the trunk, but we always come back a little bit different when we encounter the other worlds.
This death is where Eihwaz comes into the sequence of the runes. It follows the harvest, after we have reaped our rewards we move on. This is the little death of our hero, where he finally leaves the rubble behind that was created in Hagalaz. He knows that there is nothing here for him any longer, and it is time to move on and become a stronger and better version of himself. This is the truest level of healing from trauma, when we no longer hold onto any of it, and are free to move on and become a newer and improved person.
The last bit of imagery that is contained in this painting is that of shadow creatures. These creatures, such as fairies, trolls and dragons, do not exist on physical earth, on Midgard, as we know it. We can only experience and interact with them by extending our consciousness outside of this reality and finding them in their native worlds that lie parallel to ours.
There is no merkstave position of Eihwaz. Death can be seen as negative or positive, but both aspects come at the same time with one another, and death itself is a neutral force.