Yggdrasil

29 Apr

In the Germanic spiritual tradtion, Yggdrasil is the cosmic World Tree or “Tree of Life”. It is a gigantic tree that rises out of the Well of Wyrd (“Destiny”) and gives the universe its basic infrastructure which binds together all of the Nine worlds of the universe. These Nine Worlds rest within its roots or branches and due to this the World Tree often serves as a conduit for travel between the worlds. Yggdrasil is often spoken of as an ash, though it was thought to have needles like a yew and also bore fruit. More likely than not the tree cannot be compared to any mortal species of tree, but may, indeed be a combination of them all.

The name Yggdrasil literally means the ‘Steed of Yggr’ i.e. the horse of Odin, since Yggr ( “Terrible One”) is one of Odin’s many names. This name refers to the nine nights Odin is said to have spent hanging from the World Tree as a self-sacrifice in order to find the Runes, as described in the Havamal (although the tree is not explicitly identified as Yggdrasil):

“I hung on that windy tree for nine nights wounded by my own spear.
I hung to that tree, and no one knows where it is rooted.
None gave me food. None gave me drink. Into the abyss I stared
until I spied the runes. I seized them up, and howling, I fell.”

Three roots supported the trunk, with one passing through Asgard, one through Jotunheim and one through Helheim. Beneath the Asgard root lay the sacred Well of Urd (“Fate”), and there dwelt the three Nornir, over whom even the gods had no power, and who, every day, watered the tree from the primeval fountain so that its boughs remained green. Beneath the Jotunheim root lay Mímisbrunnr, the spring or well of Mimir (“Memory”); and beneath the Helheim root the well Hvergelmir (“the Roaring Cauldron”).


Ásgard, Álfheim and Vanaheim rested on the branches of Yggdrasil. The trunk was the world-axis piercing through the center of Midgard, around which Jotunheim was situated, and below which lay Nidavellir or Svartálfheim. The three roots stretched down to Helheim, Niflheim and Muspelheim, although only the first world hosted a spring for Yggdrasil.

On the top of the World tree perched a giant eagle, (with a hawk upon its forehead named Vedrfolnir (“wind breather”), who blew the winds over the worlds with his mighty wings. The Niflheim root of Yggdrasil are gnawed at by the dragon Nihogg (“Vicious Blow”). The messenger of the World Tree (and thus between the worlds) is the squirrel Ratatosk who scurried up and down the tree between Nidhogg and the eagle, forwarding insults between them. There were also four stags feeding on the bark of Yggdrasil: Duneyrr, Durathror, Dvalin, and Dainn.

Yggdrasil is also central in the myth of Ragnarok, the end of the world. The only two humans to survive Ragnarok (there are some survivors among the gods), Lif and Lifthrasir, are able to escape by sheltering in the branches of Yggdrasil, where they feed on the dew and are protected by the tree

“The bellowing fire will not scorch them;
it will not even touch them,
and their food will be the morning dew.
Through the branches they will see a new sun burn
as the world ends and starts again.”

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6 Responses to “Yggdrasil”

  1. Jeffrey Beesler April 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Just stopping by via the A-Z Challenge. I really enjoyed that poem at the end of the piece. And it’s cool how there are so many myths out there on how the universe was formed and such.

    • Retro RPG April 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

      Mythology is fascinating… we seem to have a need for it.
      Thanks for stopping by… I’ll check your profile for a blog site and visit it 🙂

  2. Craig A. Glesner April 29, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

    Neato stuff. I had keep forgetting those interesting notions the ancient people had about the Universe.

    Thanks.

    • Retro RPG April 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

      myths are powerful… we have modern reinterpretations of them and are constantly doing the work of mythopoesis, as the great Professor Tolkien did.

  3. Bard April 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    Another great legend-and-lore-filled post. I always learn something new from these — for example, I did not know there were (would be?) any survivors of Ragnarok. Also loved the mapped-out version of the image. Very cool.

    • Retro RPG April 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

      hey Bard 🙂
      I figured out that if I try and post comments in Firefox to your blog, they don’t usually go through. If you don’t see comments from me, I probably made them and they went to the Nether Regions 😉

      Thanks for you comments, as always.

      I think it is cool that 2 humans are the only survivors… where will the gods come from next? or will there even be any? I figure the 2 may be the seed of both humanity and gods, is another possibility. Mythology is great game material and mind food!

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