tree of life

Norse Mythology: Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life

In pre-Christian Scandinavia, Norse mythology refers to the religion, beliefs, and stories of the people who settled in Iceland, where the majority of written sources for Norse mythology originated.The Norse gods are mythological characters from 9th-century Northern Germanic tribes’ traditions. Poems were used to pass down these stories until the Eddas and other medieval literature were created, which was in the 11th and 18th centuries. Although some of the poems in the Poetic Edda convey whole narratives, the majority of them assume that their audience was familiar with the mythical backdrop. There were a total of 10 poems about gods and roughly 19 were about heroes.

History

The Yggdrasil is a sacred ash tree or better understood as the tree of life. In Norse mythology, this tree was symbolic of life, death and rebirth. It is believed that the tree is the holiest part of the land, centred on the cosmos. Its branches extend to heaven and have roots deep into the ground. No one has reached its end.

The tree is ‘famously’ known due to Odin’s (The One-eyed, All father of Norse mythology) sacrifice. His sacrifice was based off the desire to know everything. As well as to gain wisdom and knowledge of others’ worlds. Alongside this, he wanted to be able to understand the runes. These were 24 symbolic letters that were created for their alphabet. The runic alphabet is similar to the hieroglyphics .This had brought him to the decision to hang himself on the tree for 9 days and 9 nights. As a god, he basically sacrificed himself, to himself.

Its crazy to think of in that regard. The emphasis on sacrifice to gain a desire is seen to have been highly respectable. This is said because Odin even sacrificed an eye. The sacrifice was made with the intention of being able to see everything in the world. During the time of sacrifice, Odin was also wounded by a spear in his chest. It was also done by him.

After his sacrifice, he had visions and was given secret knowledge. He was able to cure the sick, calm storms, turn weapons against his attackers and make women fall in love. He could even render dangerous troll women as harmless. This was all done with a single look.

The Yggdrasil bares nine different worlds or realms. These are Asgard, Elfland, New moon, Midgard/Earth, Realm of the Giants, Home of the Vaniar, Mist World, Realm of Fire and Hel.

Yggdrail Example of various realms found in Norse mythological universe. Credit: Pinterest

Creatures in Norse Mythology

There are several different creatures that have made the Yggdrasil their home and as much as it may be one, they each play a particular role. First is the eagle named Vedrfolnir. It is used as a symbol of strength and bravery. Although this may be the case, the eagle is also a disguise that is used by Odin. More so, birds were seen as communicators between heaven and earth as they were used to identify given signs. This implies that the eagle in particular is knowledgeable about many things.

The strength of the eagle, Vedrfolnir, is astonishing as it has the ability to flap its wings and create storms, massive winds and even earthquakes that are carried throughout the tree, affecting each realm. Vedrfolnir is also often tormented by the serpent at the roots of the tree. This is intended to keep Vedrfolnir angry so that he destroys the tree faster, as this is the serpent’s intention as well.

Not only is the serpent the eagle’s tormentor, but also Ratatosk, the squirrel. Ratatosk is the middle man between the serpent and the eagle, carrying messages between the two, to ensure that they are both provoked. Ratatosk is basically full of gossip.

Next, Nidhogg, a dragon-like serpent that chews at the base of the tree in hopes that it can fall over. Another serpent that is wrapped around the base of the tree is Jormundgand. This is a wolf-like serpent that bites its own tail and it is said that Ragnarök will occur when the serpent stops biting at its tail.

Despite all the damage that is done to the Yggdrasil, it has a natural healer. They are known as Norn. Norns are impressive beings that are believed to be more powerful than the gods themselves, as they have the ability to control fate and create many things too. They heal the Yggdrail using sand and water, to which is enough to restore the damage done.

 

1. Asgard

Home of the Aesir

Asgard is a home to the dwelling gods of Norse Mythology or more commonly known as the home of Thor. Unlike Earth, Asgard is a relatively flat piece of land that floats within space. There are no seasonal identifiers. However, there are parts that are purely summer and others winter. Alternatively, time is not kept when referring to day and night, yet light differences still occur. Gravity on Asgard is much denser than on earth, implying that matter is much heavier in comparison to Earth.

It is also the location of Valhalla and connects to the earth by the rainbow Bridge, Bifrost. Asgard is similar to Mount Olympus in the Greek Myths. The bridge was guarded by a god named Heimdall. Heimdall is known for his astonishing ability to see great lengths, even hear grass growing in the meadow. His weapon of choice was a horn that he used to summon or alert the gods about the beginning of Ragnarök.

Seeing as Asgard is a home to the gods, it is also believed to be the central meeting point for them all. Here, they would meet up for discussion of various occasions and upcoming events in the real world.

Asgard the center of Norse Mythology for the gods. Credit: Pinterest

2. Alfheim

Realm of the Bright Elves

Alfheim is ruled by the Vanir god Freyr. Freyer is the god of the sun and rain, virility, fertility and the patron of bountiful harvests. There isn’t much of a difference between the Asgard and Alfheim realms apart from the lifestyle. It is believed that there had been war between the Vanir gods living in Alfhiem and those in Aesir in Asgard.

The war was sparked due to the issue of incestuous marriage practices that were carried out by the Vanir gods. The winning party was the Aesir and, as a result, they took many Vanir hostage. Some, however, were willing to move to Asgard after the war. It was believed that the Freyer and his twin Freya were married too until they relocated to Asgard.

Moreover, the creatures of Alfheim were differentiated by two races, the light and dark elves. There is a striking contrast between the two in both appearance and behaviour. The Light Elves, or Ljósálfar, had the completion of the sun. They were beautiful, delicate looking, almost similar to fairies and lived in the forest or close to heaven. They also had the ability to see fate.

The Dark Elves, or Dökkálfar, were pitch black, small, mean and moody. Dark elves lived underground and some with the dwarfs and giants. They mostly dabbled in black magic and their moods were prioritized as they helped with small offerings of food or handy work. It was believed that they made Thor’s hammer and Freya’s necklace.

Alfheim. Credit: Pinterest

3. Jotunheim 

Realm of the Giants

Jotunheim is the home of two types of giants. They are the rock and the frost giants. It is described as harsh and fairly difficult to live in. This is because of the dark, dense forests and intimidating appearance of the mountains. The giants live on fishing and hunting as the lands fertility is not good. They are also isolated and incapable of crossing realm due to the river that divides their land from Midgard and Asgard. The river also flows all year round, which adds to this difficulty.

The giant realm is ruled by Jottun chieftains. Jottun Chieftain, is described as a 3-feet tall, brown-skinned, short, stalky, pot-bellied beast with a hammer-like weapon of choice to cause the most destructive damage. He is perceived as intelligent and although he is known for his taunting laugh and grunts on the battle field, he is able to speak.Surtr commanded a race of fire giants that lived in Muspelheim. They would attack and burn the planet at Ragnarök, as enemies of the gods and mankind.

Giant Realm Credit: Pinterest

4. Midgard (Earth)

Realm of the Humans

Midgard was created by Odin and his brothers after they had killed the naturious giant Yimir. His blood was used to create the oceans, and his flesh was utilized to create the land. Yimir’s skeleton was a mountain, his teeth were cliffs, and his hair was a forest. Additionally, his brains were dispersed around this new globe, forming clouds. The gods also tasked four dwarves with holding Ymir’s skull above the globe in order to create the sky. They were given the names Nordri, Sudri, Austri, and Vestri (North, South, East and West), which corresponded to the points of the compass. The sun, moon, and stars were created by catching dispersed sparks in the skull. The ocean is also a home to the tail biting serpant Jormundgand. Seeing as Jormundgand circles around Midgard, he is seen to be responsible for the waves of the ocean.

The first humans to be made were Ask and Elma. These two are responsible for Earth’s population. With that, Odin and his brothers saw how fragile the humans were and chose to protect them. This was done by using Ymir’s eyebrows to fence them off from the other realms.

Earth. Credit: Pinterest

5. Muspelheim

A fire-giant or the forces of chaos

Surtr commanded a race of fire giants that lived in Muspelheim. They would attack and burn the planet at Ragnarök, as enemies of the gods and mankind. Surtr’s weapon of choice is a flaming sword. Not all that creative has he technically lives in a world of fire.

Interestingly enough, the fire of Muspelheim and the cold of Niflheim had joined at the start of time to become Ymir, the giant whose body was used to construct the world. The sun, moon, and stars in the sky were created by sparks from the domain of fire.

Surtr and his Flaming Sword. Credit: Pinterest

6. Niflheim 

Realm of Ice and Mist

Niflheim is known as the northern land of the realm, which is made entirely of ice and frost.  It is the contrast between Muspelheim and its heat and fire.

Hel, the goddess of the dead, subsequently made Niflheim her home. In this frozen realm, her subjects, the rotting wraiths who had been sinners and criminals in life, lived.

Inside Niflheim, there was a well known as Hvergelmer, from which several streams known as the Élivágar ran. Svol, Gunnthro, Form, Finbul, Thul, Slid and Hrid, Sylg and Ylg, Vid, Leipt, and Gjoll were their names. The poison that ran inside these streams hardened and turned to ice when they had gone far enough from their source in Niflheim. When the ice finally melted, rain poured down and froze into rime. Ginnungagap, this ice began to pile itself across the primeval emptiness. As a result, the northern part of Ginungagap became thick with ice, and storms began to form.

Niflheim. Credit: Pinterest

7. Nidavellir 

Realm of the Dwarves

Nidavellir is ruled by a king named Hreidmar. It is seen that Hreidmar is not only the king, but also a really powerful magician. Hreidmar’s story revolves around his revenge after his son was killed. When he had avenged the life of his son , it had been done under the circumstance that he would be repaid in gold, which would be able to fill the skin of the man he had skinned. Loki was also involved and gave Hreidmar a cursed ring, but he didn’t listen. In the end, Hredmar was then killed by his two other sons, all because of the curse of the ring.

Another name for Nidavellir was Low Fields or Dark Fields. This was because dwarves are underground inhabitants who are expert smiths and crafters. As a result, Nidavellir or Svartalfheim was most likely envisioned as a complex, underground mining and forge complex.

Hreidmar on his Throne in Norse representations. Credit: Pinterest

8. Vanaheim 

Realm of the Vanir

Vanaheimr is a place related to the Vanir, a set of gods who are known for their fertility, knowledge, and ability to see into the future. Freyja was the leader of this realm.

There are immense woods, pastures, and planes across the realm. Other races have settled there, including Rock Trolls and Ogres. The “remains of Vanaheim” or “abandoned city of the Vanir” are the ruins of massive, mountain-sized fortresses and citadels scattered throughout the realm.

Vanaheim illustration in Norse art. Credit: Pinterest

9. Hel 

Realm of those who died of illness or old age and then of most people

Hel was the name of the world of the dead at first, but it was eventually changed to signify the goddess of death. Hel was one of Loki’s children, and her dominion was thought to be located to the south and north. It was known as Niflheim, or the Dark World, and it appeared to be divided into numerous areas, one of which was Náströnd, or the Corpse Shore. A fortress lay to the north, filled with serpent venom, where murderers, adulterers, and perjurers were tortured while the dragon Nidhogg drank their blood. Those who died in combat were thought to go to the god Odin, who resided in Valhalla, rather than to Hel.

The entrance to Helheim, also known as Hel, is enclosed by a towering fence, and the river Élivágar runs directly next to it. The Corpse-gates are Hel’s gates, and they’re in the Gnipa cave, where a dog named Garmr, which means Hellhound, howls whenever fresh people come.

The dragon Nidhogg is constantly nearby, nibbling on one of Yggdrasil’s roots, and when it hears the dog howling, it rushes into the cave to drain the blood from all the dead people, turning them entirely white.

Garmr, a true Norse horror and threat for the gods. Credit: Pinterest

Conclusion

Now, having known the little depths of meaning behind the tree of life, how does it make you feel? Would you still gift it to someone or for yourself?

At least now there can be some understanding behind this brilliance of the tree before thinking of it as a tattoo.

 

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