Yggdrasil - The World Tree of Norse Cosmology

artistic representation of Yggdrasil world tree of life norse cosmology

The geographical centre of the cosmos

In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil (also known as the World Tree) is a giant ash tree which links and shelters each of the nine realms. The name Yggdrasil translates from ancient Norse to “The Terrible One’s Horse”, referring to Odin, indicating just how powerful and terrible the Vikings perceived him to be.

According to the poem Grímnismál, Yggdrasil has three main roots: one planted in Midgard, the world of mankind; one in Jotunheim, the world of the giants; and one in Hel, the underworld. At the base of the tree lie three wells, one for each of its three roots; the well of wisdom, Mimisbrunnr, guarded by Mimir. The well of many rivers, Hyergelmir. And the well of fate, Urdarbrunnr, guarded by the Norms.

Its mighty trunk is the geographical centre of the Nordic cosmos, with its branches and roots holding the nine realms together. The wellbeing of the cosmos is intrinsically tied to the wellbeing of Yggdrasil. It was prophesised that when the tree trembles, it is the sign that Ragnarok has come and the destruction of the universe is imminent.

There are numerous animals who inhabit Yggdrasil, such as Vidofnir (a tree snake) who gnaws at the tree’s roots. A dragon named Nidhogg who lurks around the base of the tree. Ratatoskr (a squirrel with swift teeth) a notorious gossip who scurries up and down the trunk, conveying the dragon’s insults to an unnamed eagle perched in the upper branches and vice-versa. Four stags, Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duratror, gallop across the branches of the tree and eat the buds. They represent the four winds.

As amusing and warming a thought it may be, of this small horde of animals living off the tree, they hold a more profound significance. The small but continual nibbling of Yggdrasil, little by little, represents the tree’s mortality and by extension, the mortality of the cosmos. For more information on Yggdrasil and all things related to Norse mythology, check out this incredible well of knowledge!