The Yggdrasil of Surrey

The Crowhurst Yew
The Crowhurst Yew

Most places worth visiting in Britain you won’t find in a guidebook but through word of mouth.  Beverley Angel, a modern Tatiana, mentioned a hot woodland tip as we sat next to each other in the Elsinore pub in Whitby: there’s an ancient tree in Surrey where one could have a dinner party–inside–and it’s right off the M25.

The 4,000 year old Crowhurst yew, complete with fey door in the side, is the locale of many a childhood fantasy, a physical manifestation of the collective subconscious.  Despite arguments that most ancient yews in Britain are in fact medieval, the tree seems to live forever, its bark molten with anthropomorphic parts: the faces, arms and hands of creatures that are born and die, echoed in the graves which the poisonous branches shelter.

A yew-fairy/crone silhouetted in the trunk of the tree
A yew-fairy/crone silhouetted in the trunk of the tree

One would have to work hard to deny the suggestion of spirits, fairies and ancestors there.

The Yew is a symbol of the mythological world tree, rooting two worlds to each other. It’s the tree of the emigrant, the immigrant, the in-between-one.  It doesn’t matter how old the tree literally is, or whether the stories it suggests are factual.  It is doing  allegorical work in real time, in a real place.

Image from 1875
Image from 1875

Many Christian churches in England have been built on sacred pagan sites.  Some say the church intended to siphon the energy of these places or contradict their power.  The 12th Century St. George’s church and surrounding graveyard belongs to the yew now, and serves as a metaphor for this island as I’ve found it: the Christian history dominating a pagan past that is so strong it can’t be subsumed, and in many ways the two live side by side in a mysterious alliance.  The sprouted staff of the pilgrim saint is also the neo-pagan ogham wand.

No one can prove the age of this tree yet–written records don’t go back far enough and the insides of yews fall alway as the tree ages, leaving no rings to cout.  The wooden eyes of this giant, older than history, will keep its secrets.

4 thoughts on “The Yggdrasil of Surrey

  1. Ygdrasill was the enchanted ash, sacred to Woden, whose roots and branches in Scandinavian mythology extended through the universe.
    The ash is the tree of sea-power, or of the power resident in water; and the other name of Woden, ‘Yggr’ from which Ygdrasill is derived, is evidently connected with hygra, the Greek for ‘sea’ (literally, ‘the wet element’).
    (Graves, Robert. The White Goddess. Faber & faber, 1948, 1952).

    The lote-tree (the leaves of which were also used to preserve dead bodies fromc orruption) appears in The Holy Quran as being a tree in Paradise, the tree about which the Prophet had said that it was so big and huge that if a rider travels in its shade for one hundred years, he would not be able to cross it.’ (Bukhari, Mohammad bin Islamel. Sahih Bukhari).

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