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Friday, February 23, 2007

Yggdrasil




Yggdrasil
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For other uses, see Yggdrasil (disambiguation).

This illustration shows a 19th century attempt to visualize the world view of the Prose Edda.

In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil (Old Norse Yggdrasill, IPA: ˈygˌdrasilː; the extra -l is a nominative case marker) is the "World Tree", a gigantic ash tree, thought to connect all the nine worlds of Norse cosmology. Sometimes it is called Mímameiðr or Lérað. According mythology, Ásgard, Álfheim and Vanaheim rest on the branches of Yggdrasil. The trunk is the world-axis piercing through the center of Miðgarðr (often called Midgard), around which Jötunheim is situated, and below which lies Niðavellir, also called Svartálfheim. The three roots stretch down to Hel, Niflheim, and Muspelheim, although only the first world hosts a spring for Yggdrasil.
Contents[hide]
1 Etymology and alternative names
2 Yggdrasil in the Edda
3 Germanic sacrifices
4 Ragnarök
5 Germanic veneration of trees
6 Parallels
7 Potential origins
8 Modern popular culture
9 See also
//

[edit] Etymology and alternative names
The most commonly accepted etymology of the name is ygg "terrible" + drasil "steed". Yggr is taken to be an epithet of Odin, giving a meaning of "Odin's steed", taken to refer to the nine nights Odin is said to have spent hanging from the tree in order to find the runes. The gallows are sometimes described in Old Norse poetry as the "horse of the hanged." Another interpretation of the name is "terrible horse", in which case the association with Odin may be secondary. A third interpretation, with etymological difficulties, is "yew-column", associating the tree with the Eihwaz rune ᛇ
Fjölsvinnsmál, a poem in the Poetic Edda, refers to the World Tree as Mimameid (ON: Mímameiðr, "Mímir's tree" ). Most probably, the tree is also identical to Lærad (ON: Læraðr) a tree whose leaves and twigs reach down to the roof of Valhalla and provide food for the goat Heiðrún and the stag Eikþyrnir that both live on the roof.

[edit] Yggdrasil in the Edda
Three roots supported the trunk, with one passing through Niflheim, one through Jotunheim and one through Hel. Beneath the Asgard root lay the sacred Well of Urd (Urðabrunnr), and there dwelt the three Nornir, over whom even the gods had no power, and who, every day, watered the tree from the primeval fountain, so that its boughs remained green. Beneath the Jotunheim root lay the spring or well of Mímir (Mímisbrunnr); and beneath the Hel root the well Hvergelmir ("the Roaring Cauldron").
In the top of the tree was perched a giant rooster, or more often an eagle named Vidofnir, and sitting upon its forehead was a hawk named Vedrfolnir (Old Norse: Veðrfolnír). The Niflheim roots of Yggdrasil were gnawed at by a dragon, Níðhöggr. Ratatosk, a squirrel, scurried up and down the tree between Níðhöggr and the eagle, forwarding insults between them. There were also four stags feeding on the leaves of Yggdrasil: Duneyrr, Durathror, Dvalin, and Dainn.

This illustration from a 17th century Icelandic manuscript shows Yggdrasill with the assorted animals that live in it.
The name Yggdrasil, interpreted as "Odin's steed," is taken to refer to Odin's self-sacrifice described in the Hávamál (although the tree is not explicitly identified as Yggdrasil):
I hung on that windy tree for nine nights wounded by my own spear.
I hung to that tree, and no one knows where it is rooted.
None gave me food. None gave me drink. Into the abyss I stared
until I spied the runes. I seized them up, and, howling, fell.

[edit] Germanic sacrifices
The Germanic custom of hanging sacrificial victims from trees was probably in reference to this myth (see also Human sacrifice, Tyr). In 1950, the preserved corpse of the so-called "Tollund Man" was found in a peat bog in Jutland. The excellent level of preservation made it possible to deduce that he had been ritually hanged and respectfully consigned to the bog, not more than a hundred yards from where a ritually hanged woman had been found some decades previously.

[edit] Ragnarök
Yggdrasil is also central in the myth of Ragnarök, the end of the world. The only two humans to survive Ragnarök (there are some survivors among the gods), Lif and Lifthrasir, are able to escape by sheltering in the branches of Yggdrasil, where they feed on the dew and are protected by the tree.

[edit] Germanic veneration of trees
Yggdrasil apparently had smaller counterparts as the Sacred tree at Uppsala, the enormous evergreen of unknown species that stood at the Temple at Uppsala and Irminsul, which was an oak venerated by the pagan Saxons and which was said to connect heaven and earth. The Old Norse form of Irmin was Jörmun and interestingly, just like Ygg, it was one of Odin's names. It appears, then, that Irminsul may have been representing a world tree corresponding to Yggdrasil among the pagan Saxons.
Germanic cultural fondness for tree symbolism appears to have been widespread, with other patron trees such as Thor's Oak appearing in surviving accounts (8th century) and Ahmad ibn Fadlan's account of his encounter with the Scandinavian Rus tribe in the early 10th century, describing them as tattooed from "fingernails to neck" with dark blue "tree patterns."

[edit] Parallels
Many people have discussed the parallels between Odin's self-sacrifice in search of knowledge and the Crucifixion, particularly as Odin, like Jesus, was pierced with a spear before death.[citation needed] However, while surviving texts may have possibly been influenced by Christianity, the myth certainly has pre-Christian origins. There are other apparent parallels between Norse Mythology and Christianity: a slaying and resurrection (Baldr) and an apocalyptic battle at Armageddon (Ragnarok).

[edit] Potential origins
It has been proposed as an explanation for the World Tree myth that the Cirrus clouds – to a ground standing observer appearing to be virtually stationary on the sky – was imagined to be the branches of a gigantic tree, turned seemingly pale the same way that far away mountains do. Accordingly, rain was held to be the dew dropping from the World Tree. Two old German synonyms for clouds, Wetterbaum and Regenbaum (meaning Weather Tree and Rain Tree), are said to attest to this hypothesis.

[edit] Modern popular culture
Main article: Yggdrasil in popular culture
Although depictions vary widely, Yggdrasil is generally portrayed in modern popular culture as a large tree with great power.

[edit] See also
Axis mundi
Banyan
Irminsul
Maypole
Thor's oak
Sacred grove
World tree
Fleur de lys
Palmette
Níðhöggr
Boktai

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