Yggdrasil was the great Tree of Life of the Norse people. A gigantic, eternally green Ash tree in the middle of Asgard that covered the entire universe binding the nine worlds, its branches rose above the heavens and its roots buried far into the depths. Yggdrasil had three enormous main roots that ended near an enchanted water source giving it perpetual life. The first rooted to Asgard, the home of the gods and ended near the well of Urd. The second rooted to Jotunhiem, the land of the Giants and ended near the well of Mimir. And the third to Niflhiem, domain of the dead ending near the spring of Hevergelmir.
Under the Norse cosmos there were nine worlds/realms divided into three levels.
Asgard, this was the home of the Aesir gods and goddesses and Odin. Aesir gods were sky gods and were the dominating reign.
Vanaheim, this was the realm of the Vanir gods, an older branch of gods who were the masters of magic, sorcery and predicting the future.
Alfheim, home of the light elves who were considered the guardian angel’s of the Norse.
Milgard, the home of humans and the Bifrost bridge that connected to Asgard.
Jotunheim, the home of the Giants, they were the sworn enemies of the Aesir and kin to Ymir.
Savartlfaheim, the underground realm of the dark elves, they were the weavers of nightmares.
Nidarvellir, the dwellings of the Dwarfs, they lived under rocks and in underground caves. As master craftsmen they gave the Aesir gods many gifts, including the magic ring and Thor’s hammer.
Mispelheim, a region of hot flaming fire ruled and by the giant Surt.
Niflheim, the Land of Dead and ruled by HEL. It was also the home of a dragon named Nidhogg who gnawed on the Yggdrasil root and ate bodies of the dead. All humans who died of illness and old age were sent to this world in their afterlife.
Creation of Yggdrasil
The creation of Yggdrasil is woven into the Norse creation of life when the universe was barren. In the beginning there was the vast chasm of Ginnungagap, bounded by Muspelheim, the land of Fire and Niflheim, the land of Ice and Mist. When fire and ice met, it formed the first Frost Giant named Ymir and a cow, named Audhumbla who gave Ymir her milk for nourishment. Ymir spent most of his days drinking milk and sleeping, then one day, while sleeping he conceived a male and female giant from the sweat of his left armpit.
Audhumbla was a huge cow and was nourished by licking icy salt rocks on the border of the chasm. From her licking a man named Buri grew from the rocks, he was the first god. Buri begat a son named Borr, who wedded the giant Bestla, and they had three sons, Odin, Vili and Ve.
As time passed, Odin and his brothers thought Ymir was reproducing too many giants and they killed him. Upon his death, Ymir’s blood drowned all of the giants he created except one male and female who escaped. Odin and his brothers took Ymir’s corpse to the center of Ginnungagap and created the world. Ymir’s remains transformed into oceans, earth, mountains and sky. His hair formed the grass, trees and the emergence of Yggdrasil.
Myths of Yggdrasil
Yggdrasil in itself was a combination of strength, wisdom and magic, from the golden apples on its highest branches to its three enchanted wells. Early on, Odin sought the wisdom of Yggdrasil by sacrificing himself. He hung himself from Yggdrasil’s branches for nine days and pierced himself with his spear to learn all of the secrets of the runes, on another occasion; he traveled to the well of Mimir where he sacrificed an eye for one drink to gain its wisdom.
Yggdrasil also had a collection of permanent residents. At the bottom of the tree lived the three Norms, the goddesses of fate, Urd (past), Skuid (present) and Verdani (future), most of their time was spent spinning threads of life and determining the fate of every human and god.
In its branches lived four deer (representing the four winds), who ran through the branches and feed on the leaf buds. Other inhabitants included an eagle that lived near the top of the tree, the dragon Nidhogg who lived beneath and a squirrel named Ratatosk. Nidhogg and the eagle were enemies and Ratatosk, who loved to gossip, would run up and down Yggdrasil ferrying their insults between them.
On the uppermost branches of Yggdrasil grew the golden apples of immortality which the gods depended on for their eternal existence. But the fruit could only be cultivated by the purest of heart, the goddess Iduna. Only her pure white hand could make the apples respond, and before all others, they would simply wither away. So every morning she would take her basket to Yggdrasil, gather the apples and serve them to all the gods and goddesses with their daily breakfast. Since she was the only one who knew where the apples grew, she was the object of many conspiracies by Asgard’s enemies. But Odin was aware of these plots and provided protection of Iduna and her apples, until he was outwitted and betrayed by Loki, the trickster.
Loki was in debt to a powerful giant named Thjazi. To gain his freedom, Loki (who was forbidden to taste the apples) promised to deliver Iduna and her apples to the giant. So one day when Iduna was on her way to serve her fellow immortals, she was approached by Loki who exclaimed that another Tree of Life had sprouted overnight and that its golden apples were far superior to the ones she carried. Curious Iduna demanded to see this tree and compare the apples, but once outside the secure gates of Asgard, Loki bound and gagged her, taking her and the apples to Thjazi’s castle. Upon his arrival, Thjazi released Loki from his debt and advised him to run and hide for with the immortal apples the giants will rule the world. Loki fled, but regretted his actions; he returned Asgard and confessed his crime to the now aging and frail gods. Loki vowed to return Iduna, borrowing Mardal-Freya’s falcon cape, he transformed into a falcon and returned to Thjazi’s castle. Once there, he flew into Iduna cell, transformed her into a nut and carried her in his talons back towards Asgard. But Thjazi caught sight of the escape and transformed himself into a black eagle and gave chase. Heimdall sounded their approach to Asgard and with their last bit of strength the gods rolled oil drums to the highest ramparts. Once the falcon past the battlements the oil was lit, a wall of flame shot high into the air bringing down the giant eagle which transformed into the dead body of Thjazi.
Loki presented the nut to Odin, transforming it back to Iduna, who upon seeing the aged gods hurried to the secret Yggdrasil branch. It blossomed in anticipation of her arrival and the apples fell on their own accord into her basket. Iduna doled out the apples and the gods returned to their youthful immortal existence.