Recently on my journey for knowledge, I have been seeing the Yggdrasil mentioned, pictured, referenced, aluded to.. For some reason, it seem sto be a reoccuring theame in my life and journey. So I decided to do some reasearch, and see what it is that is trying to be taught to me. Fair warning: when I delve into researching something, I tend to ramble, and wind on. This is a VERY long post. Get comfortable..
The Celtic Tree of Life is a very popular symbol today. Many people are attracted to it, as a tree is a symbol of nature. In Gaelic, the tree of life is called “crann bethadh.”
The tree of life has several meanings connected to it. First, let us look at its most obvious image: the tree itself. Trees alone symbolize a life source. As a living thing, it supports other life. It offers shade and shelter. Trees house animals and spirits and their wood is used to build human homes. Some trees grow fruit and nuts to eat. The wood from a tree can be used to fuel a fire for warmth. Trees have always had many purposes for humans. In ancient times, the lands the Celts inhabited were covered with trees.
Each species of tree also has meaning. Significant trees to the Celts are the Ash, Hazel, Mistletoe, and others. The oak tree is a tree commonly associated with the Celts and Druids. The oak is a very large and strong hardwood. It has deep roots and expansive branches. It is a symbol of strength and durability. Trees are appreciated for their spiritual significance as a symbol of the Other World. People feel trees establish a connection to the earth and mystical realm.
Trees also go through seasonal changes. The Celts often acknowledged the cycles of life. The birth, death, and rebirth of a living thing was something they respected.
The mystic qualities people feel for trees extends into modern time. Today, Celtic people participate in rituals involving trees. They tie strips of cloth to the branches of “Wish Trees.” As the cloth rag decays, the ailment for which it was placed goes away. Coins are also sometimes inserted in the bark of trees as an offering. Through this offering, a wish would be granted for each coin given. This often happens at the location of a clootie well.
The Celtic tree of life is often a tree with interwoven branches and roots. The roots symbolize the connection to the Other world, and are the foundation of the tree. The trunk that joins the roots to the branches can be understood to be the mortal world. The branches that stretch up to the sky suggest the connection to the universe.
The Celtic Tree of Life symbol is one that represents strength, long life, and wisdom. It represents the connection to the earth, the spirit world, and the universe. It is a symbol that endures time.
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil (/ˈɪɡdrəsɪl/; from Old Norse Yggdrasill, pronounced [ˈyɡːˌdrasilː]) is an immense tree that is central in Norse cosmology. It was said to be the world tree around which the nine worlds existed. Its name is generally considered to mean "Ygg's (Odin's) horse".
Yggdrasil is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. In both sources, Yggdrasil is an immense ash tree that is central and considered very holy. The gods go to Yggdrasil daily to hold their courts. The branches of Yggdrasil extend far into the heavens, and the tree is supported by three roots that extend far away into other locations; one to the well Urðarbrunnr in the heavens, one to the spring Hvergelmir, and another to the well Mímisbrunnr. Creatures live within Yggdrasil, including the wyrm (dragon) Níðhöggr, an unnamed eagle, and the stags Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór.
Conflicting scholarly theories have been proposed about the etymology of the name Yggdrasill, the possibility that the tree is of another species than ash, the relation to tree lore and to Eurasian shamanic lore, the possible relation to the trees Mímameiðr and Læraðr, Hoddmímis holt, the sacred tree at Uppsala, and the fate of Yggdrasil during the events of Ragnarök.
The generally accepted meaning of Old Norse Yggdrasill is "Odin's horse". This conclusion is drawn on the basis that drasill means "horse" and Ygg(r) is one of Odin's many names. The Poetic Edda poem Hávamál describes how Odin sacrificed himself to himself by hanging from a tree, making this tree Odin's gallows. This tree may have been Yggdrasil. Gallows can be called "the horse of the hanged" and therefore Odin's gallows may have developed into the expression "Odin's horse", which then became the name of the tree.
Nevertheless, scholarly opinions regarding the precise meaning of the name Yggdrasill vary, particularly on the issue of whether Yggdrasill is the name of the tree itself. In the Prose Edda the tree is usually not just called Yggdrasil but askr Yggdrasils. Old Norse askr means "ash tree" and according to the inflectional system of Icelandic language askr Yggdrasils means "Yggdrasill's ash". Icelandic has the best preserved inflectional system of the Norse languages and the Prose Edda was also written in old Icelandic. These etymologies do though rely on a presumed but unattested *Yggsdrasill.
A third interpretation, presented by F. Detter, is that the name Yggdrasill refers to the word yggr ("terror"), yet not in reference to the Odinic name, but rather as Yggdrasill as the "tree of terror, gallows". F. R. Schröder has proposed a fourth etymology according to which yggdrasill means "yew pillar", deriving yggia from *igwja (meaning "yew-tree"), and drasill from *dher- (meaning "support").
In the Poetic Edda, the tree is mentioned in the three poems Völuspá, Hávamál, and Grímnismál.
Völuspá - In the second stanza of the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá, the völva (a shamanic seeress) reciting the poem to the god Odin says that she remembers far back to "early times", being raised by jötnar, recalls nine worlds and "nine wood-ogresses" (Old Norse nío ídiðiur), and when Yggdrasil was a seed ("glorious tree of good measure, under the ground"). In stanza 19, the völva says:
An ash I know there stands,
Yggdrasill is its name,
a tall tree, showered
with shining loam.
From there come the dews
that drop in the valleys.
It stands forever green over
In stanza 20, the völva says that from the lake under the tree come three "maidens deep in knowledge" named Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld. The maidens "incised the slip of wood," "laid down laws" and "chose lives" for the children of mankind and the destinies (ørlǫg) of men. In stanza 27, the völva details that she is aware that "Heimdallr's hearing is couched beneath the bright-nurtured holy tree." In stanza 45, Yggdrasil receives a final mention in the poem. The völva describes, as a part of the onset of Ragnarök, that Heimdallr blows Gjallarhorn, that Odin speaks with Mímir's head, and then:
the ash, as it stands.
The old tree groans,
and the giant slips free.
In stanza 137 of the poem Hávamál, Odin describes how he once sacrificed himself to himself by hanging on a tree. The stanza reads:
I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.
In the stanza that follows, Odin describes how he had no food nor drink there, that he peered downward, and that "I took up the runes, screaming I took them, then I fell back from there." While Yggdrasil is not mentioned by name in the poem and other trees exist in Norse mythology, the tree is near universally accepted as Yggdrasil, and if the tree is Yggdrasil, then the name Yggdrasil directly relates to this story.
Grímnismál - In the poem Grímnismál, Odin (disguised as Grímnir) provides the young Agnar with cosmological lore. Yggdrasil is first mentioned in the poem in stanza 29, where Odin says that, because the "bridge of the Æsir burns" and the "sacred waters boil," Thor must wade through the rivers Körmt and Örmt and two rivers named Kerlaugar to go "sit as judge at the ash of Yggdrasill." In the stanza that follows, a list of names of horses are given that the Æsir ride to "sit as judges" at Yggdrasil.
In stanza 31, Odin says that the ash Yggdrasil has three roots that grow in three directions. He details that beneath the first lives Hel, under the second live frost jötnar, and beneath the third lives mankind. Stanza 32 details that a squirrel named Ratatoskr must run across Yggdrasil and bring "the eagle's word" from above to Níðhöggr below. Stanza 33 describes that four harts named Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór consume "the highest boughs" of Yggdrasil.
In stanza 34, Odin says that more serpents lie beneath Yggdrasil "than any fool can imagine" and lists them as Góinn and Móinn (possibly meaning Old Norse "land animal"), which he describes as sons of Grafvitnir (Old Norse, possibly "ditch wolf"), Grábakr (Old Norse "Greyback"), Grafvölluðr (Old Norse, possibly "the one digging under the plain" or possibly amended as "the one ruling in the ditch"), Ófnir (Old Norse "the winding one, the twisting one"), and Sváfnir (Old Norse, possibly "the one who puts to sleep = death"), who Odin adds that he thinks will forever gnaw on the tree's branches.
In stanza 35, Odin says that Yggdrasil "suffers agony more than men know", as a hart bites it from above, it decays on its sides, and Níðhöggr bites it from beneath. In stanza 44, Odin provides a list of things that are what he refers to as the "noblest" of their kind. Within the list, Odin mentions Yggdrasil first, and states that it is the "noblest of trees".
Prose Edda - Yggdrasil is mentioned in two books in the Prose Edda, in Gylfaginning and Skáldskaparmál. In Gylfaginning, Yggdrasil is introduced in chapter 15. In chapter 15, Gangleri (described as king Gylfi in disguise) asks where is the chief or holiest place of the gods. High replies "It is the ash Yggdrasil. There the gods must hold their courts each day". Gangleri asks what there is to tell about Yggdrasil. Just-As-High says that Yggdrasil is the biggest and best of all trees, that its branches extend out over all of the world and reach out over the sky. Three of the roots of the tree support it, and these three roots also extend extremely far: one "is among the Æsir, the second among the frost jötnar, and the third over Niflheim. The root over Niflheim is gnawed at by the wyrm Níðhöggr, and beneath this root is the spring Hvergelmir. Beneath the root that reaches the frost jötnar is the well Mímisbrunnr, "which has wisdom and intelligence contained in it, and the master of the well is called Mimir". Just-As-High provides details regarding Mímisbrunnr and then describes that the third root of the well "extends to heaven" and that beneath the root is the "very holy" well Urðarbrunnr. At Urðarbrunnr the gods hold their court, and every day the Æsir ride to Urðarbrunnr up over the bridge Bifröst. Later in the chapter, a stanza from Grímnismál mentioning Yggdrasil is quoted in support.
In chapter 16, Gangleri asks "what other particularly notable things are there to tell about the ash?" High says there is quite a lot to tell about. High continues that an eagle sits on the branches of Yggdrasil and that it has much knowledge. Between the eyes of the eagle sits a hawk called Veðrfölnir. A squirrel called Ratatoskr scurries up and down the ash Yggdrasil carrying "malicious messages" between the eagle and Níðhöggr. Four stags named Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, and Duraþrór run between the branches of Yggdrasil and consume its foilage. In the spring Hvergelmir are so many snakes along with Níðhöggr "that no tongue can enumerate them". Two stanzas from Grímnismál are then cited in support. High continues that the norns that live by the holy well Urðarbrunnr each day take water from the well and mud from around it and pour it over Yggdrasil so that the branches of the ash do not rot away or decay. High provides more information about Urðarbrunnr, cites a stanza from Völuspá in support, and adds that dew falls from Yggdrasil to the earth, explaining that "this is what people call honeydew, and from it bees feed".
In chapter 41, the stanza from Grímnismál is quoted that mentions that Yggdrasil is the foremost of trees. In chapter 54, as part of the events of Ragnarök, High describes that Odin will ride to the well Mímisbrunnr and consult Mímir on behalf of himself and his people. After this, "the ash Yggdrasil will shake and nothing will be unafraid in heaven or on earth", and then the Æsir and Einherjar will don their war gear and advance to the field of Vígríðr. Further into the chapter, the stanza in Völuspá that details this sequence is cited.
In the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, Yggdrasil receives a single mention, though not by name. In chapter 64, names for kings and dukes are given. "Illustrious one" is provided as an example, appearing in a Christianity-influenced work by the skald Hallvarðr Háreksblesi: "There is not under the pole of the earth [Yggdrasil] an illustrious one closer to the lord of monks [God] than you."
In the days of the Celts, Northern Europe was covered with forests so thick it was said a squirrel could hop from branch to branch from one end to the other without touching the ground. Italy was covered from coast to coast with dense woods of oak, elm and chestnut; the great Hercynian forest rendered Germany impenetrable in Caesar's time; Scotland was clothed with the magnificent Caledonian, Ireland with oak-woods, the whole of Southern England with the ancient trees of Anderida.
In this environment, it is no wonder the forest was perceived as the matrix of a tribe's sustenance, culture and spirituality. A food-store of nuts, berries and game, a pharmacopeia of medicines, wood supply for shelter and the kindling of sacred fires – the forest was all of these to the early Celtic peoples.
When a tribe cleared the land for a settlement, they always left a great tree in the middle, known in Ireland as the "crann bethadh," or Tree of Life, that embodied the security and integrity of the people. Chieftains were inaugurated at the sacred tree, for, with its roots stretching down to the lower world, its branches reaching to the upper world, it connected him with the power both of the heavens and the worlds below. One of the greatest triumphs a tribe could achieve over its enemies was to cut down their mother tree, an outrage punishable by the highest penalties.
For trees not only provided earthly sustenance: they were regarded as living, magical beings who bestowed blessings from the Otherworld. Wood from the nine sacred trees kindled the need-fire that brought back the sun to earth on May Eve; tree names formed the letters of the Ogham alphabet which made potent spells when carved on staves of yew; rowan protected the byre; ash lent power to the spear’s flight.
An early tale of the founding of Ireland tells how a giant came from the Otherworld bearing a branch on which grew apples, nuts and acorns at the same time. His name was Treochair (Three Sprouts)and he shook the fruits onto the ground where they were taken up and planted in the four corners of Ireland, with one in the center, where they grew into the five sacred trees, great Guardians of the land.
Because trees have their roots in the unseen world of spirit, they are doorways into that world. That most magical of Celtic trees, the oak, derives its Gaelic name, (Old Irish daur, Welsh derw) from the Sanskrit word duir, that gives us "door." Many scholars believe that the Druids, who worshipped within sacred groves, derived their name from this word, combined with the Indo-European root wid, to know, becoming the "Wise Ones of the Oakwood."
Old ballads sing of those who have entered the Otherworld by the door of a sacred tree. Thomas the Rhymer, a bard who lived in 13th century Scotland, sat under the famous Eildon tree, and was taken away by the Queen of Elfland. The Eildon tree was a hawthorn, sacred to the faeries as most bards know, including modern poet Kathleen Raine who wrote:
A hundred years I slept beneath a thorn,
Until the tree was root and branches of my thought,
Until white petals blossomed in my crown.
In a number of early Irish tales of initiation into the mysteries of the Otherworld, the hero must carry a branch of a sacred tree. For, in keeping with other Indo-European traditions, at the heart of the Otherworld stands the World Tree, the axis mundi, from which the branch comes. In The Voyage of Bran, Son of Febal, the chieftain Bran is walking a little way from his palace when he hears the sweetest, most unearthly music he had ever heard. He is lulled to sleep by the sound of it, and wakens to find in his hand a silver branch of an apple-tree covered with white blossoms. That night a beautiful woman appears in the palace, dressed in shining clothes. She holds the company entranced with songs of her island country, in the heart of which grows an ancient apple-tree whose blossoms forever fall like snow on the plain below while birds sing sweet melodies in its branches. She invites Bran to sail over the western seas and join her there, for the silver branch has unlocked for him "magic casements/opening onto perilous seas of faery lands forlorn."
In Cormac's Adventures in the Land of Promise, Cormac is a High King of Ireland, who holds court at Tara.. One day when he is looking out over his domain, he sees a strange warrior approaching, bearing a silver branch on which hang three golden apples. When the branch is shaken, music rings out of such sweetness that it soothes all hearts, and lulls the sick to sleep. The warrior tells Cormac that he comes from "a land wherein there is nought save truth and there is neither age nor decay nor gloom nor sadness nor envy nor jealousy nor hatred..."
The branch leads Cormac into the heart of the Otherworld, although in this story, the World Tree is not represented by an apple-tree, but by nine magical hazels that border a well. Cormac’s vision of this sacred center is perhaps the most powerful to be found in Celtic mythology because it embodies the central teachings of this wisdom tradition:
"Then he saw in the enclosure a shining fountain, with five streams flowing out of it, and the hosts in turn drinking its water. Nine hazels of Buan grew over the well. The purple hazels dropped their nuts into the fountain, and the five salmon which were in the fountain severed them and sent their husks floating down the streams. Now the sound of the falling of those streams was more melodious than any music that men sing."
At the heart of the Celtic Otherworld, the spiritual source of all life is discovered in the ecology of trees and water. No static image here, the deepest Mystery dances with life and motion, and many interchanges take place: water flows, nuts fall, the salmon leap. Where the waters emanate from hidden depths below the earth, the tree of life rises towards the power of the sky. The gushing well and its cluster of hazel trees show that this a place where the mysteries of earth converge with the heavens to form a dynamic interplay of the opposites. Where water suggests the potential for life on earth, the tree makes life manifest.
Throughout the ages seekers of truth—poets, philosophers, rulers and other pilgrims of the spiritual quest—have made the perilous journey to this sanctum. For the sacred nuts dropping from above to meet with the gushing waters below unite heaven and earth. The salmon in the well act as intermediaries—fishy priests!—by cracking the nuts. In the threefold shamanic universe, they make the knowledge of the upper and lower worlds available to our middle world, which is why seekers desired above all things to eat the Salmon or Hazelnuts of Wisdom.
A walk in any forest reveals the archetypal pattern of trees and water made palpable in the natural world, where they are partners linked in the dance of life. Streams and rivers are primary carriers of seeds while flood and rain soften the earth for their bed. Water moistens the seed-case, then unlocks the dormant powers of growth within so that they unfurl into sprouts. Swirling rivers carry minerals down from mountains to nourish their roots. One tree in full foliage may consume a ton of water a day.
Likewise, trees are guardians of water and soil. Their roots ensure that water from rain or snow is allowed to seep gradually into the earth. On deforested land, storms create terrible damage to the land as they remove topsoil, choke watersheds and cause floods. Paradoxically, this usually creates water shortages later in the drier season, because there is no reserve to keep springs, streams and rivers supplied. Wildlife, of course, suffers, too: The clear-cutting of forests in the Pacific North-West is destroying salmon-rearing habitats, and where the trees no longer form a shady canopy, water temperatures are rising and killing fish and insects in the rivers.
The sacred ecology of trees and water is enshrined all over the Celtic landscape, where hundreds of holy wells bordered by guardian trees still dot the countryside today – living temples where people have come for centuries to drink or bathe in the waters and leave a votive offering torn from their clothing on overhanging branches. Even today, the number of ragged pieces of material hanging from trees are testimony that pilgrims still follow the old tracks that lead to that mysterious beckoning water with its magical promise—of healing, of foretelling the future, of granting a wish. They still come because even the muddiest pool, choked with weeds or trampled by cattle, evokes the half-submerged memory of the Well of Wisdom, while the branches of the most spindly tree still seem to sway to winds that blow in another world.
This archetype is universal, found in the earliest of religious texts: the Rg Veda and the Upanisads of Ancient India. In Judeo-Christian traditions also, the same pairing is found in the description of the garden of Eden:
And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it
was parted, and became into four heads. (Gen. ii. 9-10)
Tree and water converge at the center of the world’s beginning, and also at its end, for the same image appears in St. John’s vision of the Heavenly City in Revelations:
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal,
proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river,
was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded
her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the
It is clear, then, that the archetypal ecology of tree and water is rooted in the most ancient religious traditions of the world, and one whose branches reach into our dreams today, both waking and sleeping. On the physical level, it serves to remind us to pay attention to the interconnectedness of the living world, if life on earth is to thrive. Within the psyche, water and tree represent the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the Self: the wellspring of the soul that nourishes the creative force within each of us that "drives the green fuse through the flower," to bloom and set seed in our own lives, so that we too become a door leading into many realms.