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by Nokki Nollason February 23, 2020 7 min read

What do we really know about Norse mythology? Thor, Odin, Loki, Ragnarok, are mostly just what is shown to us through Marvel movies and series about the Vikings.

The thing that we see in cinemas and on TV are just a small fraction of what that incredible Nordic mythology is made of. What we are going to talk about in this article is little known to the general public. We are going to talk about a very special tree. Just as the sun is the center of our galaxy, so is this tree the center of the whole Nordic mythology.

All stories in Norse mythology are related to and dependent on the tree.  So, now we bring you the story about the Viking Tree of Life called Yggdrasil (Askr Yggdrasilsin Old Norse).

Yggdrasil – the Tree of Life

Yggdrasil the Norse Tree of Life

Yggdrasil the Norse Tree of Life

As always, we will start from the beginning, and from the origin of the very name of that extraordinary Nordic Tree of Life, Yggdrasil.

We all know that Odin has many names. One of those names is Ygg or Yggr, and that represents the meaning of the first part of the name of Yggdrasil. The second part of the name has the meaning horse (drasill in Old Norse). So, these two words connected give meaning to Yggdrasil - Odin's horse.

The Importance of the Viking Tree of Life

The importance of the Norse Tree of Life is so great that it cannot be described with words. However, we will try to cover the most significant aspects. From the Well of Urd, a pool whose infinite depths are home to the most powerful creatures and forces in the entire cosmos grows Yggdrasil. One of these mighty creatures are the Norns, the three maidens who determine the fate of all beings in the universe. By carving runes into Yggdrasil's trunk, the Nornes shape the destiny of all beings throughout the Nine Worlds.

The Norns are known as Wyrd (the past), Verdandi (the present), and Skuld (the future).

In some literature on Nordic mythology, it is stated that Yggdrasil belongs to the family of ash. Still, other sources say that it cannot be determined for sure to which tree family Yggdrasil belongs. So, as you can see, it is complicated to determine which tree family Yggdrasil belongs to.

What we know for sure, though, is that its mighty trunk runs through the center of the Norse mythological universe. The rest of it, including the Nine Worlds, extends through its roots and branches, which connect different parts of that cosmos with one another.

Because it connects all the worlds together, the very existence of the entire cosmos depends on the well-being of the Tree of Life.

At the top of the branches of this Nordic Tree of Life is Asgard, the home of the Gods, where Odin the All-Father oversees and rules them all.

In the end, when Yggdrasil begins to tremble, it will mark the beginning of Ragnarok and the destruction of the entire Norse universe.

Let's not forget Yggdrasil's influence on our lives. It is so significant that part of Viking Jewelry, both throughout history and today, bears the markings of this tree, often along with runes.

Odin Hanging From Yggdrasil and Discovery of the Runes

Sitting on his throne at Asgard, Odin often watched the Nornes. He was amazed by their powers and knowledge. As Odin was insatiable and eager for knowledge and power, he decided to master the runes himself.

Runes, whose home is the Well of Urd, where also Nornes live, appear to no one but those who prove themselves worthy of such astounding abilities and insights. To become worthy, Odin stabbed himself with his spear, and then from a branch of Yggdrasil, he hung himself.

For nine long days and nine long nights, Odin hung from the Tree of Life. He strictly forbade other Gods from approaching him and granting him any aid.

Many shadows live in that mystical Well, and one of those shadows were the runes he was looking for. Odin looked down at those shadows, continually calling for runes to appear. Without a single sip of water, while he was continually bleeding from a wound he inflicted on himself, Odin came to the edge of life and death.

As a result, at the end of the ninth night, Odin, still looking down, slowly began to discern the runes in those shadows. The runes accepted his sacrifice and revealed themselves to him, not only in their physical form but with all the secrets that lie within them.

With this newfound knowledge of how to handle the runes, Odin became one of the most powerful beings in the entire Nordic cosmos. The runes showed him how to heal wounds, both physical and emotional, to make weapons of his enemies worthless, to wake up the dead, and many other things alike.

Here is another amusing anecdote about this story. Some historians identify the tale of Odin hanging from Yggdrasil with Jesus on the cross. As an illustration, here are some similarities between them: 

  • First: Both, Jesus and Odin were pierced with spears,
  • Second: For the whole time of their suffering, they didn't seek any aid,
  • Third: They both sacrifice themselves for a higher cause,
  • Fourth: Jesus was on the cross for three days, and Odin hung from the tree for nine days (or 3x3 days).

Given these points, the question is, whose story is older, and it is up to you to decide.

Inhabitants of the Nordic Tree of Life

Norns Wyrd, Skuld, and Verdandi Norse Mythology

Norns Wyrd, Skuld, and Verdandi Norse Mythology

Countless creatures are living among Yggdrasil's strong branches and roots. The dragon Nidhogg is lurking around the base of the Tree of Life, as well as several snakes, which always bite its roots. One unnamed eagle resides on its upper branches. The dragon Nidhogg and the eagle are considered to be bitter enemies.

Another important inhabitant is a squirrel Ratatoskr. Ratatoskr is continuously running up and down Yggdrasil, delivering messages between the worlds. He conveys dragon's insults to the eagle and vice versa. The main reason why the dragon and the eagle always remain in the fight is because of Ratatoskr. He adores gossip, and therefore he continually carries insults between them so that these two never reconcile and that he might enjoy it. We need to mention the four stags Durathror, Duneyrr, Dainn, and Dvalinn that regularly eat Yggdrasil leaves.

As harmless these situations may seem, they have a much deeper meaning. Biting roots, eating leaves, quarreling among the inhabitants of this Nordic Tree of Life is believed to be the evidence of its mortality, and therefore of the mortality of the entire cosmos.

Map of Yggdrasil

Map of Yggdrasil

Map of Yggdrasil 

Yggdrasil is so high that it's top lies above the clouds, and is covered with eternal snow. Among the living (except shamans), no one knows how far its roots reach, as it stretches as far to the underworld, so only the dead can see it. Yggdrasil has three roots, and at the Tree of Life, Gods and Goddesses hold their council every day.

That is what is known. For the very arrangement of the worlds through Yggdrasil, there are different interpretations from several sources.

In Prose Edda, there are three wells, and one root enters each well. The Well of Urdthat we mentioned earlier is not under the tree, but the first root goes up to the canopy and enters the Well, which is in the sky. And in fact, at that well, the Gods hold their daily meetings.

Hvergelmir is the name of the second Well into which the second root enters, and it extends all the way to Niflheim, the homeland of darkness, mist, and primal ice. The third root enters the last Well called Mímisbrunnr and extends all the way to the realm of the giants, Jotunheim.

However, based on the poem Grímnismál, there is only one well below Yggdrasil. It is the Well of Urd, and all three roots enter it. The first root extends all the way to the world of men called Midgard, second extends all the way to the land of giants known as Jotunheim. At the same time, the last enter the underground realm called Hel.

There is no exact "map" of Yggdrasil, because all existing sources, images, and texts, do not have all Nine Worlds fully described in one place. The most common assumptions are that Yggdrasil consists of two axes along which the worlds are arranged.

On a vertical axis parallel to the Yggdrasil trunk, at the top in the canopy, is Asgard, at the base of the tree is Midgard and the underworld, Hel, is between the roots. The horizontal axis can be interpreted in so many different ways that we have decided to leave it up to you to choose the best interpretation for it.

Yggdrasil's Story Recap

We often think we know everything, and in fact, we usually know very little. As the tip of the iceberg is visible, and the rest of it that is numerous times larger, is hidden underwater, so is our knowledge of the Norse universe. Excellent and essential things remain invisible and unknown, and we should try our best to discover them.

Sometimes it is necessary to scratch beneath the tip of that iceberg, and I promise you that you will find all kinds of wonders there waiting for you!

Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, is, without a doubt, one of the most essential entities in Norse mythology. Most people know about it only what is presented to them visually, through comics, movies, or series. 

We hope you loved this story and learned something new by reading this article. If you have any comments regarding Yggdrasil or want to tell us what did you like the most about this story, you can let us know in the comments area below.


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