Yggdrasil, The Sacred Tree Of Norse Mythology
Scandinavian cosmology is based on the existence of nine worlds, identified by the suffix -heimr (house, kingdom or world) or by the suffix -garðr (home, courtyard or land) in some cases. Beyond Midgard ("Middle Earth", or the world as we know it) the other eight worlds can be grouped into pairs of opposite principles. Muspelheim is a realm of fire; it is the primitive, wild and unruly energy. It is the primordial Chaos, the womb conceiving a new life. All the warriors who fought heroically go to Valhalla. The eight worlds (except Midgard) are:
- Muspelheim - Fire and heat
- Niflheim - Ice and cold
- Asgard - Heaven
- Helheim – Hell
- Vanaheim - Creation
- Jutunheim – Destruction
- Alfheim - Light
- Svartalfheim - Darkness
All nine worlds are connected to Yggdrasil, the world tree (obviously similar to the tree of life and parallel universes). According to the Scandinavian, the universe consists of three levels: Hell, Home of the Dead, Midgard, Home of Men, and Asgard, Home of the Gods.
Each of these levels is divided into three, resulting in a total of nine worlds, each of which remains in place, holding on to the branches of the World Tree, Yggdrasil.
So, Yggdrasil (also containing three magic wells) itself is divided into three levels:
- The Highest Level includes:
- Alfheim (Home and world of the Light Elves)
- Asgard (Home and world of the Aesir, originally named Godheim)
- Vanaheim (Home and world of Vanir)
- The Medium Level includes:
- Jutunheim (Home and world of the giants)
- Midgard (Middle-earth, home and world of humans, originally named as Manheim)
- Svartalfheim (Home and world of the Dwarves or the Dark Elves)
- The Lowest level includes:
- Helheim (World of Hell, goddess of the underworld, and thus home of the dead)
- Muspelheim (South world of fire and home of the demons and fire giants)
- Niflheim (North world of fog, ice and cold, home of the frozen giants).
Njor / Scadi / Freya / Freyr
Even the Gods are divided into two groups, the Vanir and the Aesir.
The Vanir are the gods of fertility and prosperity and possess great knowledge of magical arts. They are able to foresee and do know what’s in store.
The Vanir included Njor, the god of fertile coastal land, Freyr, the god of male fertility and love, Freya, the goddess of fertility and love, Scadi, the goddess of winter and mountains, as well as Lytir and Odr. The Aesir are the gods of power who possessed the gift of eternal youth but this does not imply their immortality.
The Aesir also included Baldr, the god of beauty, Frigga, the goddess of family and marriage, Heimdallr, the god of guardianship (who also possessed the resounding horn Gjallarhorn), Hod, the goddess of winter, Ydun, the goddess of youth, Loki, the trickster god, Odin, god of wisdom and the Allfather, Sif, the goddess of fertile land, Thor, the god of lightning, Tyr, the god of bravery, Ullr, the god of hunting.
Odin, while the Aesir and the Vanir were still fighting, was looking for power and his quest for wisdom was endless. So, he sacrificed his right eye to the Dragon of Mimir's well so that he could drink from it, so since then he remained one-eyed, but also omniscient while the power of the well gave strong vision to his only eye.
Another similar sacrifice of Odin was that he hung from the World Tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days and nine nights, in order to be able to read the magic runes he had carved on his cane and which he had left at the lower part of the Tree.
The magic of the runes and the power of the fountain granted Odin power, reborning him immortal and dubbing him the leader of all the gods.
How exactly is Yggdrasil structured?
The gods meet under the branches of Yggdrasil. Its roots are in the depths of the Underworld, its trunk passes vertically through the waters, the earth and the human world, thus uniting these three regions. Its branches consisted of the sky and shaded Valhalla.
Asgard, Alfheim and Vanaheim were on the branches of Yggdrasil. Its trunk was the axis of the world passing through the center of Midgard, around which was Jotunheim and under which was Svartalfheim. Its three roots reached as far as Helheim, Niflheim and Muspelheim.
One of these three roots crossed Asgard, one Jotunheim and one Helheim. Beneath the root of Asgard there was the sacred Well of Urd, inhabited by the three Norns, over whom the gods had no power and who watered the tree daily from the primary source. Beneath the root of Jotunheim, the spring or well of Mimir was located and below that there was the well of Hvergelmir, the source of the rivers, the earthly stream of time. The roots were constantly attacked by Nidhogg, the Awesome Dragon/Serpent, which represented the evil forces of the universe.
Odin's warhorse, Sleipnir, is grazing on its leaves and the eagle, Vidofnir, and the snake nesting on its branches, like light and darkness, are constantly at war. The squirrel, Ratatoskr, the troublemaker, was constantly causing conflict between the two forces.
Finally, Yggdrasil plays an important role in the myth of Ragnarok, at the end of the world. The only survivors of Ragnarok, Líf and Lífþrasir, managed to escape by finding refuge in the branches of Yggdrasil, where they feed on the dew and are protected by the tree.
Nowadays, Yggdrasil is being used widely in arts, as a decorative in jewelry, amulets, carvings, paintings and poetry. Other remarkable world trees of other cultures are:
- Egig érő fa, in Hungarian mythology
- Ağaç Ana, in Turkic mythology
- Modun, in Mongol mythology
- Irminsul, in Germanic mythology
- The oak, in Slavic, Finnish and Baltic
- Iroko, in Yoruba religion
- Jianmu, in Chinese mythology
- The Ashvattha, in Hindu mythology