Yggdrasil Design As a Big Part Of The Norse Spiritual Cosmos

Yggdrasil Design As a Big Part Of The Norse Spiritual Cosmos

- in Tattoo Meanings
1948
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Yggrasil

Yggdrasil originates from Old Norse Yggdrasill and is the mighty tree whose trunk rises at the geographical center of the Norse spiritual cosmos. The rest of that cosmos, which includes the Nine Worlds, is arrayed around it and held together by its branches and roots that connect the numerous parts of the universe. Due to this, the well-being of the galaxy depends on the well-being of Yggdrasil. The trembling of the tree signals the arrival of Ragnarok, the destruction of the universe.

Yggr (“Terrible”), the first element of Yggdrasil’s name, is considered as one of the countless names of the god Odin and indicates how powerful and fearsome the Vikings perceived him to be. The second element is drasill, which means “horse.” According to this, Yggdrasil’s name which stands for “Horse of Odin,” an allusion to the time when the Terrible One sacrificed himself to find the runes. The tree was his gallows and bore his limp body, which, according to the Norse poetic imagination, is metaphorically described as a horse and a rider.

In Old Norse literature, Yggdrasil is commonly thought to be an ash tree, but at other times, it’s said that no one knows the species to which the magnificent tree belongs.

In the words of the Old Norse poem Völuspá, Yggdrasil is described as “the friend of the clear sky, “so tall that its crown is above the clouds. The heights of the tree are snow-capped like the tallest mountains, and “the dews that fall in the dales” slide off of its leaves. Hávamál further says that the tree is “windy,” surrounded by frequent, fierce winds at its heights. No person can say where its roots run, and this is because they stretch down to the underworld, which no one (except shamans) can see before he or she dies. The tree is the place where the gods hold their daily council.

Various animals are said to live among Yggdrasil’s stout branches and roots. Around its base lurk the dragon Nidhogg and several snakes, which gnaw at its roots. There is an eagle that perches in its upper branches, and a squirrel, Ratatoskr (“Drill-Tooth”), scurries up and down the trunk conveying the dragon’s insults to the eagle and vice versa. Furthermore, four stags – Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, and Durathror – graze on the tree’s leaves.

Besides how amusing some of these animals and their activities may be, they hold a more profound significance: the image of the tree being nibbled away little by several beasts represents its mortality, and along with it, the dying of the cosmos that depends on it.

In the Old Norse sources, there are vivid but contradictory accounts of the number and arrangement of the roots and wells beneath the base of Yggdrasil’s trunk.

In the poem named Grímnismál, Yggdrasil possesses three primary roots: one planted in Midgard, the world of mankind; one in Jotunheim, the world of the giants; and one in Hel, the underworld.

However, Snorri Sturluson, in his Prose Edda, states that there are three wells beneath the tree, one for each of its roots. In his opinion, the Well of Urd is not below Yggdrasil, but actually, it’s in the sky, and the root that grows out of it bends upward into the air. The Well of Urd is the place where the gods hold their daily council meetings. The second well is recognized under the name Hvergelmir and serves as the body of water beneath the second root, which stretches into Niflheim, the world of primal ice. This is the root that Nidhogg chews. The third well is that in possession of the wise being Mimir, and it and its origin lie in the realm of the giants.

Snorri was probably introducing an artificial systematization of his invention that didn’t exist in the Viking Age. Nevertheless, some of the elements he includes may have been drawn from legitimate sources that are now lost to us. For example, there were times when Yggdrasil was called Mímameiðr, “Post of Mimir,” which demonstrates that there was some particular connection between Mimir and the tree – and surely also the well that’s frequently mentioned in connection with Mimir.

But how are the Nine Worlds arranged around Yggdrasil? The Old Norse sources never revealed to us – and, for that matter, they never told us which worlds comprise the Nine in the first place. Because there was a lack of systematization or codification that characterizes all of Norse mythology and religion, and the tolerance for fluidity, ambiguity, and even contradiction that it implies, it’s doubtful that there was ever a “map” or diagrammatic image of the Nine Worlds and their arrangement in which the entire pagan Norse believed.

Nevertheless, there are some clues in the sources that allow us to create a tentative and partial schema of where some of the Nine Worlds would have been generally thought to be located. It seems that they have been arranged along two axes, one vertical and the other horizontal. The vertical axis correlates to Yggdrasil’s trunk, with Asgard in the highest branches, Midgard on the ground at the tree’s base, and Hel underground amongst the tree’s roots. The horizontal axis is based on the distinction that the Vikings made between the innangard and utangard. According to that, Asgard is right over the trunk of the tree, Midgard around the trunk (and therefore in the “middle” on both of these axes), and Jotunheim surrounds Midgard and thereby be that much more distant from the trunk.

Nevertheless, it is evident to us how vital to the Norse worldview Yggdrasil was felt to be by the number of earthly trees the Vikings treated as representations of the great world-tree.

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