Oct 13, 2012

The holy tree of Bosnia- Tisovina (Taxus baccata)

Until today the tree cult has been preserved in Bosnia, where specific trees, like linden (tilia platyphyllos) or Tisa, Tisovina (Taxus baccata) occupied a central place. The belief in magical powers of trees is not a product of monotheism but that of the old pagan times when nature was much more appreciated and respected by the humans. 

The yew tree has been regarded as a sacred tree that has prophylactic characteristics which protect man from evil spirits, black magic and spellbound eyes. For that reason it is the tree that has the most superstitious followers. Perhaps the best indicator of its popularity is more than a hundred topographic names across the entire Bosnia and Herzegovina such as Tisova Kosa, Tisovac, Tisovina, Tisovo Brdo, Tisov Do, etc. As the oldest larch tree in Bosnia, the one near Olovo, in Bukov Dol (Bukova valley), is considered to be over a hundred years old.

Its magical characteristics it earned by an array of natural occurrences such as the location in which it grows. Because the places are hard to reach the Bosnian people believe that Tisovina tree has some divine qualities. Besides the tree is wild grown and durable which further strengthens such beliefs. According to folk belief, fairy's gather at the place where the yew tree grows which clearly points at the old pagan cult of tree worship.

The long history of Bosnia is marked by the yew tree since the farmers, throughout history, appreciated it because it hinted at man's connection with nature. Small pieces of wood were placed in punctured horns of animals in order to protect them from evil and illnesses. The farmers regarded possessing a larch staff as a great treasure which they used to drive their oxen or if they possessed a plough made out of yew. Taxus baccata is called the lucky tree and can be seen in the wallets of many Bosnians, because of financial prosperity, or in red linen bags which are carried by the people as small amulets. Taxus baccata is also a child's amulet whose purpose is to protect the child from spellbound eyes and prevent eventual disease and evil.

Yew is a poisonous tree. In the ethnological records of the National Museum of BIH there were records of cattle poisoning which fed across the forests and also some shepherd poisoning, who accidentally ate the sour fruits of the yew tree. Besides the Bosnians, the old peoples also knew about its poisonous characteristics. From Cesar's book "About the Gaelic Wars" he claims how the old people believed in the supernatural powers of the yew tree but that they also warned of its poisonous characteristics.

Even though it was popular, the prophylactic powers of the yew tree were almost its doom at one period in time. Namely, the people, not caring about the forest regulation rules, started cutting down the trees in order to make amulets out of it and also various other items such as dishes, spoons, boxes, fences, etc. But this time too the tree showed that it can not only protect others but also itself. Among the people an ominous belief started to spread, namely if a yew tree  is cut down in someone's yard, he or she shall suffer a horrible fate. This lead to a ban on logging.