Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Yggdrasil, the World Tree

Posted by Fredsvenn on June 12, 2015


Human Odyssey

Prehistoric circle dated to same summer as Seahenge neighbour

Seahenge, which is also known as Holme I, was a prehistoric monument located in the village of Holme-next-the-Sea, near Old Hunstanton in the English county of Norfolk. A timber circle with an upturned tree root in the centre, Seahenge was apparently built in the 21st century BCE, during the early Bronze Age in Britain, most likely for ritual purposes.

Seahenge was a prehistoric monument located by the village of Holme-next-to-the-Sea in East Anglia. The circular enclosure was constructed during the early Bronze Age (2050 BCE), a period that saw an increasing adoption of agriculture and domesticity in Britain.

The posts surrounding the enclosure were made of oak, a wood which was sacred to the Indo-Europeans. However, its most noticeable feature was the great trunk that sat at its centre. Encoded within the structure of this ancient monument was a the theme of inversion; the large tree stump had been turned upside down, most likely for ritualistic purposes.

The Indo-European believed the roots of the world tree acted as a gateway to the underworld, a realm where souls departed too after they left their corporeal form. Is it possible that the wooden alter was used by the druids to help guide tribal souls to their resting place in the underworld?

It is likely this enclosure was used as a mortuary for excarnation (the removing of flesh from dead bodies to produce a skeleton). Druids and shaman used such sites following the death of an important person, where their body would have been laid out on the upturned stump so birds and animals could pick the bones clean. These bones would then have been removed for burial elsewhere.

This suggests that Seahenge may have been used to prepare the dead for their journey to the underworld, just as the Egyptian priests practiced mummification to ensure the immortality of their pharaohs. If this were the case, it would imply the ancient people of Britain was far more advanced with their rituals and customs than has previously been believed.

Trees have been revered as sacred monuments since the prehistoric era. Our ancestors may well have been inspired by their annual cycle of decay in the autumn followed by a luscious rebirth in the spring. To the primitive mind, these trees became symbols of life, death and rebirth.

There was one tree in particular which achieved mythical status throughout all world cultures. It is known today as the ‘World Tree’ and according to our ancestors, it was truly epic in scale. Its branches were said to reach as high as the heavens, while its roots plunged deep into the abyss of the underworld. Because of their association with celestial realms, these trees were regarded by many priests as gateways to other dimensions.

• Yggdrasil was said to connect middle earth (Midgard) to eight other realms (some made of fire and ice, others of darkness and light)
• The World Tree of Mesoamerica was seen as a gateway (aka axis mundi) connecting the planes of the Underworld and the sky with the terrestrial world
• The ‘Sky Tree’ from Hungarian mythology had a series of branches which reached out to seven worlds. Each branch was said to touch the sun, the moon, the clouds and other celestial spheres.
• The Dawn Tree from Baltic mythology was depicted with a golden trunk, copper roots and silver leaves. The trunk represented life in the present, while the past was embodied in its roots (life that has passed). The branches, however, represented future choices yet to be made

It should be noted that in nearly all depictions of the ‘World Tree’, a great serpent is said to reside at its base. These serpents typically guard a forbidden knowledge which only a select number of mortals have ascertained:

• It was Adam and Eve who attained wisdom by eating fruit from the tree of Knowledge (Judaism/Christianity)
• It was under the Bodhi tree that the Buddha was said to have gained enlightenment (Buddhist mythology)
• The Kabbalah represents the tree of life (the other legendary tree of Christian mythology). Legend says that to learn the secrets of this mystic tree is to know the secrets of life itself
• The Druids were priests of the natural world whose name was said to mean ‘knower’s of the oak’ (Celtic mythology)
• The Cosmic Tree of Latvia was a highly symbolic image. It was said to hold birds in its branches (enlightenment), mammals at its base (instinct) and serpents in its roots (wisdom)

The most common theme found in world mythology is the ‘Tree of Life’ which is said to both create and prolong life. In many cases, our ancestors believed that these great trees gave birth to the Gods and even to to humanity itself. Many pilgrims have searched for this mythical tree throughout the ages, but only the most worthy have been able to find it:

• In Tengrinism, it is said that humans were descended from Trees, as well as other spirit entities and lesser gods who lived for hundreds of years.
• A tree of life belonged to the Goddess Iusaaset who was said to have conceived the lineage of Egyptian Gods through the trees life giving properties
• The Kalpavriksha tree from Vedic mythology was said to produce an abundance of life giving fruit for those who wished for it

Yggdrasil, the World Tree

In the beginning of the Norse cosmos, there existed an eternal Void, known as Ginnungagap. Out of this nothingness sprang Yggdrasil, a huge Ash tree. Its newly emerging branches held two primordial worlds; Niflheim, a world of ice & frost, and Muspellheim, a realm of molten fire.

When a spring erupted from Nifelheim (known as Hvergelmir), it created a river which crossed the void into Muspellheim. Here, the hot air scorched the freezing river creating a new world, known as Jotunheim, land of the giants.

From this bloodline of primordial beings came Odin, Vili and Ve, who despised the father of giants who ruled his people with malice and brutality. When the chance came, the brothers slew the frost giant, and from his body they created Midgard, a world of mortals. Surrounding this realm they placed a great ocean which nourished the roots of the great tree.

Yggdrasil grew ever higher, forming a new realm called Asgard, which is located on the highest branch of the world tree. This was where Odin, king of the Aesir would take his people to settle a new civilisation. It was said this race of gods brought culture and technology to the world of mortals via a great causeway called Bifrost.

Bifrost was a burning rainbow bridge, connecting Midgard (the world of mortals) with Asgard. This colourful overpass emerged from Himinbjörg, a mountain hall guarded over by the ever-vigilant Heimdall. This watchmen of the gods kept an eye on the mortals below, making sure no giants breached their homeland.

As Yggdrasil continued to grow, a new land emerged on one of its branches called Vanaheim. It was a land full of luscious forests and wild meadows. From this primal wilderness emerged a race of gods known as the Vanir. This tribal people lived near the coast, ruled by Njörðr, a seafaring god who loved wealth and magic, a trait common among his people.

A great tension broke out between the Vanir and the Aesir resulting in a long winded war. It eventually ended in a stalemate, so many of the gods sent their families as hostages to the opposing tribe to help bring them closer together. Njörðr’s son, Freyr, was placed in charge of Alfheim, homeland of the Elves. This class of god-like beings were said to be “more beautiful than the sun.”

These elves were also linked to another realm far below the Earth. Legend says a tribe from Alfheim were exiled from their homeland many eons ago, and eventually sought refuge with the dwarves of the underworld. These subterranean beings had build their homes around the roots of Yggdrasil, carving a network of labyrinths, mines and forges for their empire. They called it Niðavellir, and the elves, who skin eventually became black as night, called it Svartalfar.

All the beings of Yggdrasil, mortals, gods, dwarves and elves would eventually die, and their souls were destined for several realms. If the Aesir died valiantly in battle, they would find rest in Valhalla, for all others, Helheim was their inevitable destination. This dark and gloomy abode resided at the tip of Yggdrasil’s deepest root. This afterlife was ruled over by Loki’s daughter Hel, a strange being who was half black and half flesh-coloured, characterised by a gloomy, downcast appearance.

There are a number of sacred creatures which live within Yggdrasil. this includes the monstrous wyrm Níðhöggr who gnaws at the roots of Nifelheim, weakening the great tree of Yggdrasil. This frost dragon was also known for eating the corpses of the Nifelheim when found guilty of murder, adultery and oath-breaking.

Atop the highest branches of the world tree is perched a great eagle and his hawk companion Vedrfolnir, who sits between his eyes. The two stare deep into the Norse cosmos, perhaps representing insight and awareness.

Ratatosk is a squirrel who runs up and down the world tree to carry messages between the unnamed eagle and Níðhöggr the wyrm. This mischievous critter is said to stir trouble between the all knowing eagle and the world hungry dragon.

Among the branches of the Great Ash tree live four stags known as Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór. These ravenous beasts eat the branches of the World Tree, perhaps representing the four seasons. When they eat too much, winter ensues, when they are full, the leaves grow thick and lush in the midst of summer.

Perhaps the most important guardians of Yggdrasil are the three Norns (witches) who lives at the well Urd (below Midgard). Their names are Urd “past”, Verdani “present” and Skuld “future”. These three hags are the goddesses of fate, who spend most their time spinning the threads of life, deciding the fate of every human, animal and god. Every day the Norns will also carry water from Urd’s well, and pour it over Yggdrasil. The water from the well is of vital importance to keep the tree green and healthy.

It is the Norns who foretold Ragnarok, the twilight of the Gods and the fall of Yggdrasil. It is said that Ragnarok will begin when the wolf, Fenrir, son of Loki, breaks free of his imprisonment. This will lead to a chain reaction of events including the Midgard snake Jormungandr rising from the sea and a wolf (known as Skoll) devouring the sun, and his brother Hati, eating the moon, plunging the earth into darkness. The stars will vanish from the sky.

Everything will come to a head in a huge battle that draws in all the races of the nine worlds. It will conclude with Surter, king of the fire giants, setting fire to the great Yggdrasil. The nine worlds will burn, and friends and foes alike will perish, culminating with the earth sinking deep into the abyss of the sea.

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