It seems strange perhaps to us nowadays, that our distant ancestors tended to walk with their gods and hold their rituals out of doors. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans did this – the great temples such as the Acropolis were literally houses for the gods. The worship of the gods by the people, the offering of sacrifices etc., took place outside.
Most ancient societies had their own Sacred Groves. Here people and their priests would gather to worship, sacrifice and generally get closer to whatever deity or power they acknowledged. And while the trees have long since disappeared, often chopped down by zealous Christian missionaries, the traces of such sacred groves remain in place names.
For instance, York is thought to have been a Druidic centre, and although York and Yew don’t appear to have much in common apart from their initial letter, the name York derives from Eborakon which was subsequently Romanised as Eboracum. It’s been suggested that these early names derived from a Celtic man’s name Eburos which meant a ‘yew man’. Perhaps it meant a man who had an estate full of yew trees! (At this great distance in time, who knows?) The Anglo Saxons appear to have gone off on a bit of tangent here, and named the place Eoforwic (which some claim means ‘the dwelling of the wild boar.’)
At the famous Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, there were originally a clump of yews known as The Seven Sisters, although few of these now remain. When the first yew fell down in the 17th century, its growth rings were counted to over 1200 meaning that it was around some time before 400AD.
Of course there may well have been other, much older yews around on the site, whose demise was unmarked and whose rings were never counted….
The Yew is a great survivor. 🙂