Hello, and welcome to the first part in our 10 part series of “Realms of The Norse”. As some of you may have been able to conclude today we are going to focus specifically on Yggdrasil. Initially, it was kind of a struggle for me to decide where to start in this series, or even what order to post about each of the realms of the Norse. I knew from the beginning I wanted to include a post very specifically about Yggdrasil. The reason is that according to all the lore, and mythology out there regarding Yggdrasil and in my personal belief again based on everything I have ever read this mighty ash tree ties all the Norse realms together.
The Poetic Eddas Words of Yggdrasil
Within the Poetic Edda Yggdrasil is mentioned and discussed on 3 separate occasions or three different poems. Those poems include Völuspá, Hávamál, and Grímnismál. Let’s start with the first mention of Yggdrasil in the Völuspá.
It’s in the second stanza that a seeress (völva) recalls a memory from the “early times”, being raised by jötnar as well as the nine worlds and when Yggdrasil was but a seed. In stanza 19 the seeress says:
An ash I know there stands,
Yggdrasill is its name,
a tall tree, showered
with shining loam.
From there come the dews
that drop in the valleys.
It stands forever green over
In stanza 20, the seeress or the völva says that from the lake under the tree come three “maidens deep in knowledge” named Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld. The maidens “incised the slip of wood”, “laid down laws” and “chose lives” for the children of mankind and the destinies (ørlǫg) of men.In stanza 27, the völva details that she is aware that “Heimdallr’s hearing is couched beneath the bright-nurtured holy tree.” In stanza 45, Yggdrasil receives a final mention in the poem. The völva describes, as a part of the onset of Ragnarök, that Heimdallr blows Gjallarhorn, that Odin speaks with Mímir’s head, and then:
the ash, as it stands.
The old tree groans,
and the giant slips free.
Let us take a closer look at what the Hávamál has to say about Yggdrasil.
There really was not much regarding Yggdrasil in the Hávamál but none the less it was mentioned and I wanted to make sure it was pointed out.
So if you take a look at the Hávamál and in stanza 138, Odin describes that he once sacrificed himself to himself by hanging on a tree. The stanza reads:
I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.
In the next stanza, Odin goes on to describe that he had no food or drink as he looked down. He took up the runes. Yggdrasil was not mentioned by name in this poem. While there are other trees that exist in Norse mythology, it’s generally and universally accepted that Yggdrasil is the tree in this story.
In the Grímnismál, Odin (disguised as Grímnir) gave a young Agnar with nordic cosmological lore. Yggdrasil was first mentioned in this poem in the 29th stanza. Odin stated that, because the “bridge of the Æsir burns” and the “sacred waters boil,” Thor must wade through the rivers Körmt and Örmt and two rivers named Kerlaugar to go “sit as judge at the ash of Yggdrasill”. In the stanza that follows, a list of names of horses are given that the Æsir ride to “sit as judges” at Yggdrasil.
In stanza 31, Odin says that the ash Yggdrasil has three roots that grow in three directions. He details that beneath the first lives Hel. Under the second live frost jötnar. And beneath the third lives mankind. Stanza 32 gives details of a squirrel named Ratatoskr. He must run across Yggdrasil and bring “the eagle’s word” from above to Níðhöggr below. Stanza 33 describes four harts named Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór. These harts are also known as the stags below. They consume “the highest boughs” of Yggdrasil.
In stanza 34, Odin says that more serpents lie beneath Yggdrasil “than any fool can imagine”. He lists them as Góinn and Móinn. Of which he described as the sons of Grafvitnir, Grábakr, Grafvölluðr, Ófnir, and Sváfnir. Odin adds that he thinks will forever gnaw on the tree’s branches.
In stanza 35, Odin says that Yggdrasil “suffers agony more than men know”, as a hart bites it from above. It decays on its sides. Níðhöggr bites it from beneath. In stanza 44, Odin provides a list of things that are what he refers to as the “noblest” of their kind. Within the list, Odin mentions Yggdrasil first, and states that it is the “noblest of trees”.
Commonly it’s accepted that the tree of life or the world tree referred to as Yggdrasil translates as follows:
Ygg – Terrible
Drasil – Steed
Yggdrasil – Terrible Steed
This explains why some think often of Yggdrasil as being Odin’s Horse. As such, the name of the tree itself alludes to the mythic episode. Stories which can be found to be elsewhere, of Odin’s self-sacrifice upon an enormous ash tree (undertaken for initiation into runic magic). Though the name could also be interpreted more broadly as a “terrible horse,”.
There are a lot of sources out there that indicate that Yggdrasil is under constant suffering. This breaks my heart, but I also know that mighty ash as it has been described can not be helped by a mere mortal like me. All I can do is the best I can to keep our planet clean and safe by doing my part. Yes, I believe not littering and recycling when I can help. But I also know that Yggdrasil’s suffering goes well beyond that.
How The Mighty Ash Suffers
To start with Níðhöggr one of many lindworms. He is otherwise known as a serpentine Norse dragon and is believed to have been born and raised there. Níðhöggr survived by eating and chewing on the roots of the mighty ash tree Yggdrasil. Níðhöggr hopes to damage Yggdrasil to a point of being able to topple it.
In addition, there are four stags who have come to be called Dain, Dvalin, Duneyr, and Durathror. They move about in the branches of the World Tree. As they do they devour the tree’s foliage. It is said to be positioned with their necks arched as they consume the leaves. The color of the four is a reddish color.
Remember even though these are the only things notably pointed out that damage Yggdrasil there are many more creatures and things that cause damages to this mighty ash tree, as stated by Odin himself.
How Yggdrasil Relates To The 9 Realms
There are 9 realms according to Norse Mythology. According to the stories, Yggdrasil ties the 9 realms of the Norse together through various branches and roots of the tree. Those realms include the following, however keeping in mind some of the names are debated among scholars of which I am not. The exact locations in reference to the tree have never really been clearly mapped out. Unless Odin himself comes before us and says “Hey, here is a map!”, we will never know.
There Are Lots Of Resources Available
Not only are there a lot of resources available on a huge assortment of websites out there, but we have a pretty significant digital library. You can find a lot of the information contained in this post as well as previous posts and potentially future posts. We encourage you all to take advantage of these tools as we provide them to you our members free of charge.