Crossing Bifrost – The Norse World: Yggdrasil – The World Tree

Happy Saturn’s Day

Today I want to look at the universe from the perspective of Norse Mythology.  Basically, the Norse and Germanic people looked at the universe as one big tree.  I will get into the creation myths of the Norse people later.  Mostly this post is about the world as they understood it; basically, how they thought it was.

Yggdrasil is the central tree of the entire cosmos.  It is a living ash tree and considered as such to be very holy.  Ash being very sacred to pagans.  It is an immense tree that either connects the nine worlds or each part of the tree is the nine worlds depending on the viewpoint.  I can see the theological debates in the Norse people starting with this one.

The tree itself is where everything happens when it comes to the gods and their dealings with other immortals and mortals.   The tree is supported by three immense roots that are each connected and thus fed by three major springs.

The god Odin claims in the mythology to remember when the world tree was small and young. It is also the tree he hung from for nine days to gain knowledge of the runes to aid him in his fight during Ragnarök. Based on how it is described in the ancient sources I would say I would lean toward the idea the world tree connects the nine worlds and probably serves as their skeleton that holds them together. When you also consider that the Bifrost Bridge itself connects the tree to other worlds like Asgard you begin to see this notion as well.

The notion of sacred trees is very strong in a lot of mythology. The idea of a Tree of Life is pretty much central to the three Abrahamic Religions.  Trees that provide life figure prominently in many other mythologies from Ancient Middle Eastern religions to China to Hinduism. The idea of sacred trees is very universal. It is no surprise here to me that the Tree of Life is literally the tree of all life.

For my purposes at this point it is important to establish that the Norse people believed that by traveling the tree one could travel between the nine world.  You could also do this by traveling the Bifrost Bridge, but mostly you see gods and goddesses travel the branches and roots of the tree from one realm to another.  Each of these nine realms or worlds was home to different races and each had a different nature.  as we further look at the Norse World we will look at each of these in detail later.

From a literature perspective, this notion of a world tree still plays prominently. In fantasy, Tolkien’s elves live in such trees and his mythology starts with two trees. This idea of sacred trees is central many other stories. I have used it myself as part of a story involving a dryad, although you can no longer read it.  My point is that this notion of old, living trees being the source of life and central to humanities existence is very human.

I imagine the source of such mythology is when a child asks how long a certain large tree in their life has been there.  Grandmother looks at the child and tells them that she can’t remember a time it was never there. She then tells the story of how she asked the same question of her grandmother and got the same answer. It doesn’t take much to start to believe the tree has always been there and always will be.

In the end, it is said that Yggdrasil will hide the last two survivors of Ragnarök and it and those two survivors will be the seeds of a new world and a new time. The tree lives on no matter what the end of the world scenario plays out as being.

The Rabyd Skald – Wandering Soul, Bard and Philosopher. The Grey Wayfarer.


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