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Yggdrasill

Yggdrasill

In Norse* mythology, a mighty axis, or pole, ran through the universe in which the gods, giants, and heroes enacted their stormy dramas. That axis, around which all life revolved, was the World Tree, a giant ash tree called Yggdrasill.

The myths paint a complex picture of how the universe was structured around Yggdrasill. Sometimes the World Tree is described as running through nine realms, from the shadowy depths of the underworld up to the heavenly abode of the gods. At other times, the trunk of Yggdrasill is said to anchor Midgard, the world of humans, while the tree's three great roots reach down into Jotunheim, the land of the frost giants; Niflheim, the land of mist; and Asgard, the home of the gods.

Although the World Tree offered an avenue of passage from one realm to the next, the distances and dangers involved in such travel were great. The only creature that could run up and down Yggdrasill easily was a squirrel, which carried insulting messages between a fierce eagle perched in the tree's topmost branch and a dragon that gnawed at its root. Yggdrasill existed in a state of delicate balance, being endlessly destroyed and renewed.

underworld land of the dead

The World Tree was closely linked to sources of hidden or magical knowledge. Its name, which means "Odin's horse," refers to Odin* hanging himself from the tree for nine days and nights to learn secret mysteries. Near one root rose a spring whose waters provided wisdom. Odin was said to have traded an eye to drink

* See Nantes and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

this water. Another root sheltered a spring tended by the Norns, three women who determined the fate of all humans.

See also Norse Mythology; Trees in Mythology.

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Yggdrasil

Yggdrasil a huge ash tree located at the centre of the earth, with three roots, one extending to Niflheim (the underworld), one to Jotunheim (land of the giants), and one to Asgard (land of the gods). Although threatened by a malevolent serpent that gnaws at its roots and by deer eating its foliage, the tree survives because it is watered by the Norns from the well of fate.

The name is Old Norse, and apparently comes from Yggr ‘Odin’ + drasill ‘horse’; Odin hanged himself on the tree for nine nights and days to win the runes for humankind.

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Yggdrasill

Yggdrasill (Ĭg´drəsĬl, yōōg´–), in Norse mythology, the great tree of the world. Its branches and roots extended through all the universe—the heavens, the earth, and the underworld. At its top sat an eagle, at its bottom twined a serpent, and between them ran a squirrel breeding discord. It was prophesied that at the doom of the gods the tree would be destroyed. See Germanic religion.

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