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Book Reviews
The Cult of the Yew
By: Janis Fry / Moon Books / $33.95

Overview: The ancients revered this sacred tree that has existed on Earth for 200 million years - some trees, still alive today, even survived the last ice age. This immortal tree was therefore venerated as the triple goddess of life, death and rebirth, and was believed to be the guardian of our planet.

With climate change threatening our existence, many are now turning to the Tree of Life, identified with the ancient yew, for answers to our predicament.

Through groundbreaking research, Janis Fry answers our modern yearning to make sense of life through a god/dess of Nature that guides our lives and connects us to people and events, to which we are answerable as custodians of life on Earth.

Verdict: As noted, here in The Cult of the Yew: Tree of Life, Mystery and Magic from author Janis Fry, explores the spiritual history of the iconic Yew tree, whilst at the same time, aiming to change how those who read it think and understand life in these times.

Taking the source back as far as one can historically recall, the Yew tree might well be the oldest tree in Britain, for there is one particular Yew tree that sprawls over a churchyard in Wales, and is said to be more than 5,000 years old, according to experts.

While it’s not exceptionally tall, the tree has a wide canopy and dates back to the era of Egypt’s pharaohs. Indeed, recent DNA and ring-count testing not only shows the tree to be over 5,000 years old, but with those facts in mind, it would also make it older than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The yew tree is these days also native to Scotland, which the Druids held sacred in pre-Christian times. They no doubt observed the tree’s qualities of longevity and regeneration. Indeed, drooping branches of old yew trees can root and form new trunks where they touch the ground. Thus the yew came to symbolize death and resurrection in Celtic culture.

But, I digress, for Fry has been endeavoring to spread appreciation and reverence for ancient Yew trees for the past forty years, in one form or another, and thus her passion, her undying, and heartfelt love for trees, in general, shines through like a beacon of hope for them all in this most sumptuous of reads.

Having been aforementioned as being one of the longest living life forms on our planet, here in The Cult of the Yew, Fry blends together the history of the Yew tree with evidence - historical, archeological, cultural, religious, mythological, folkloric, linguistic and scientific - to bring forth a prose of some 450 pages that showcases one very compelling narrative.

A detailed, highly readable and fascinating history of this remarkable tree, that some might well call a biological avatar of immortality, what is told in the Foreword (by Dr. Patrick Curry) is that a culture which fails to honor the Yew, which cannot even see it as anything other than a simplistic tree, is doomed. For the extinction of the Yew and of humanity are inseparable, in a common Necrocene.

Complete with black and white pictures along with Chapter titles such as From Egypt to Eden, The Tree of Life, the Fruit and the Serpent, Nemeton, the First Shrine of the Sacred Tree, Britain’s Lost Yews, and amongst a slew of others, Jesus’ Wand and Magic Fairy Trees, this beautifully illustrated history tells the extraordinary story of the Yew’s role in the landscape through the millennia, and makes a convincing case for the origins of many of the oldest trees; as the markers of some very holy places.

An in-depth look at all aspects of the botany, cultural history, and remarkable mythology of the Yew tree, The Cult of the Yew: Tree of Life, Mystery and Magic showcases just how it is one of the most fascinating and versatile life forms on Earth, botanically rich and intriguing, and culturally almost without comparison.

In closing, this is a highly impressive study of the Yew, and one which reveals that in history, mythology, religion, folklore, medicine, and warfare, the Yew bears timeless, living mystery witness to a deep relationship with mankind.

About the Author - Janis Fry is a leading authority on ancient yews researching them for 40 years. She is guided by the magic of the Yew and is the author of four books. In 2014 she put the Defynnog Yew in Wales on the map as the oldest tree in Britain. She lives in Ammanford, UK.

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