There are many many stories about Yew. It's energy is a special one compared to other woods... actually I've used few others that share some of the same characteristics. One being African Blackwood. The wood has such a signature to it that difficult not to notice. I've had Yew in the past and recently was able to acquire just one other piece. It's a gorgeous wood really but I've spoken with some in the past that go to great lengths to avoid anything to do with it. I'm one with the belief that to understand balance, you need to understand both sides of the coin. Whether that be dark/light, positive/negative, diet coke/regular.
You see, like Blackwood, Yew energy is neither here or there or at least hard to pinpoint at times. But unlike the main properties of Blackwood, Yew has more of a connection to Death. And sometimes such a connection, it has even caused it.
Yew can be highly poisonous and there are many stories in reality and folklore about those pretty berries. There are accounts of prisoners using it's seeds to commit suicide while incarcerated. It has been known to cause death to animals. Even, to my knowledge, parts of Yew have been used and formulated into chemotherapy drugs to fight cancer. Yew has been and is seen to some as a tool of Dark Magic and energy. With its poisonous nature, bowls, plates and goblets have been created, given to and used by individuals to provide a negative reaction from a belief that the wood was possessed by dark spirits placed within. For the Harry Potter fans in the room, you'll know that Rowling even used Yew as the wood for Voldemort's wand.
There are myths with Yew that state the wood can hold on to or be possessed with energy not of its own.
Smoke from it if set ablaze can also be used and there are stories that I have heard of that if summoning a spirit during a time that Yew is being burned, the smoke could be captured with the spirit attached. The spirit would then also be held onto until released. We have a strict "no burning Yew" policy at McCormick Wands. To such a degree that even the kept ends of wand cut offs from any lathe work that are typically burned during our large fire at Samhain are kept separate. So, as you can see there is quite a reputation in the Witches world when is comes to this special plant. However...
Despite all of the stories of necromancy, conjuring and death.... Yew is also a powerful symbol of reincarnation. Now although that can be considered negative depending on a few factors, it can also be very positive. A belief that regardless, life will continue on in some way. Yew is highly associated with cycles of life and death. So the negative aspects that one might associate with death and its energies are not without its positives. The fact that not all energies beyond are bad and evil. Sometimes they can be benevolent, protective and warm. Ancestors coming back to help guide, animal spirit companions or simply spirits that wish to help someone. Trees were commonly planted in cemeteries to watch over spirits choosing to reside there, similar to stories about Oak.
Yew has been used for items such as spirit boards, frames for scrying mirrors and pendulums. Needless to say, Yew is an important and special wood that really is a standout from others. As with everything, its how you work with the wood. And always, the balance of energies must be taken into account. Regardless of how positive it might seem, there is always a darker side. I will have an example of one soon enough.