From: "The Religion of the Northmen" by Rudolph Keyser, Professor of History, University of Norway.

All living Nature is represented in the figure of the Ash Yggdrasill. The name is uncertain, but seems to be best explained by the term Yggs, as Odin's horse, chariot, or seat. (1) The living world was regarded as moved and guided by the Divinity, which had its seat therein, as the Spirit in the body. The name in this sense fully coincides with the spirit of the Old-Norse poetry: and the myth of Yggdrasill appears to be throughout a poetic allegory.

The World-tree grows up from three roots. The one shoots from Hvergelmir, the primeval source of matter in the Abyss; the second from Jötunheim, from the depths of the raw material forces of the world; the third from the celestial abodes of the Æsir, from the source of the spiritual World-life. The figure agrees with the theory of creation. In the top of the tree sits an eagle, doubtless the symbol of Spirit or Life; at its root in Hvergelmir lies Niðhögg, the Dragon of Darkness and Death; but the squirrel Ratatösk (2) runs up and down the trunk bearing malignant words between the Eagle and the Dragon; contending powers are active in Nature, and deceitful wickedness creeps in with the slanderous tongue through human life and disturbs its peace. "The Ash Yggdrasill," says an ancient poem, "endures more hardships than any one knows; the harts bite off its branches, its trunk decays, and Niðhögg gnaws at its root." The living creation consumes Nature's nourishing power; its productions dry up and die when their time has come; and what is worst of all, the element of evil gnaws continually at its deepest root. But the trunk of the tree is sprinkled over with the sacred, purifying waters of the celestial fountain, and Yggdrasill, with all its sufferings, stands forever green; the life of Nature is sustained and renewed by the providence of the Celestial Powers. Here again the main idea is the grand struggle which goes through the World-life, the struggle between Spirit and Matter, between Good and Evil, between Life and Death.

Beneath that root of the World-tree, which shoots up from the Jötun's home, there is a well, called, after its watcher, Mímir's Well, in which Wisdom or rather Knowledge, lies concealed. The name Mímir signifies The Knowing. (3) The Jötuns, being older than the Æsir, looked deeper than they into the darkness of the Past. They had seen the beginning of the Æsir and of the World; they foresaw in like manner their downfall. Concerning both these events the Æsir had to go to them for knowledge---an idea which is expressed in many places in the old mythic lays, but nowhere more clearly than in the Völuspá, where a Vala or prophetess, fostered among the Jötuns, is represented as rising up from the deep, and unveiling the Past and the Future to gods and men. It is the Wisdom of that deep, therefore, that Mímir keeps in his Well. Odin himself, the God of Heaven, must obtain it from him; he goes thither in the night season, when the sun, the Eye of Heaven, has gone down behind the borders of the earth, unto the Jötun World. Then Odin penetrates the secrets of the Deep, and his eye is pledged for the drink he receives from the Well of Knowledge. But in the glory of morning dawn, when the sun rises again from the Jötun's World, the Watcher of the Well of Knowledge drinks from his golden horn the clear mead which flows over Odin's pledge. Heaven and this lower World impart their wisdom to each other mutually. (4)

The proper contrast to the fountain Hvergelmir in the lowest depths of the abyss, is the Urðarfount in Heaven, with whose sacred waters the Tree of the World is sustained. It is guarded by three maidens, three superior beings, whose names are Urður, Verðandi, and Skuld---the Past, the Present, and the Future (5)---and takes its name from the first and highest of them. These beings are called Nornir. (6) They are the Goddesses of Time and Fate; the former is distinctly expressed by their separate names; in the latter character no doubt their general name was given them. As Goddesses of Time they are sustainers of Yggdrasill. Time and earthly life are considered inseparable, therefore the Norns are also the Directors of Life and the Dispensers of Fate. For mankind they are the Goddesses of Birth, and Skuld, the youngest, as Valkyrja, is also a Goddess of Death. Their messengers attend man through life; they are said to spin his Thread of Fate at his birth, and to mark out with the limits of his sphere of action in life.

"They laid down laws,
They selected life
For the Children of Time---
The destinies of men."

says the Völuspá of the three great Norns. Their decrees (lög) are inviolable Destiny (orlög), their dispensations (sköp) inevitable Necessity (nauðr).

The relation between these beings and the Æsir is but obscurely stated in the Asa Mythology. It appears to represent the Norns as being fostered among the Jötuns and independent of the Æsir. The judgment seat of the Æsir is near the Urðar fount; hence their decrees are passed under the supervision of the Norns. The Æsir themselves must bow before the lwas of the Norns; they were also limited by Time,---they were born and were to die. However, the relation between Time and Eternity, Divinity and Fate, was to the Asa worshipers, as to many other heathen people, only a dark riddle which they, indeed, dared to ponder upon, but could not solve. It formed a germ of self-contradiction in their Mythology which might well call far deeper thinkers to look beyond the perishable Æsir, and betrays, though indistinctly, the traces of a purer religion which the people had inherited.

The Myth of Yggdrasill, taken as a whole, is one of the sublimest in the Asa Mythology. It evinces clear and profound thought, which has seen through the inmost essence of the Æsir faith, and compresed its whole doctrine into one grand image.

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1. Yggr, one of Odin's names, signifies: the Terrible, Fear-inspiring, or also the Meditative; drasill or drösull, from draga, to draw, to bear. F. Magnusen also has ý, cogn. with úr, moisture, rain; whence yg, ygg, was formed, hence it would signify the bearer of rain, or the bearer of Odin.

2. Probably from rata, to find the way, to come, to go; and taska (Germ. Tasche), a pocket or pouch. The Running Pouch may express the capacity of a tale-bearer or mischief-maker.

3. Evidently the same word as the AS. meomer, skillful, knowing; mimerian, to keep in memory; and cogn. with the Lat. memor. The special signification of the word was doubtless "Skilled in the Past."

4. From an indistinct and sensual understanding of this myth, Odin was usually represented as one-eyed.

5. Urðr and Verðandi, substantive forms of verða (Germ. werden; AS. weorðan), to become. The former corresponds to the part. past, vorðinn, or orðinn, completed; the latter to the part. pres. verðandi, becoming, happening. Skuld, the coming, is from skuld, the part. past of skulu (Swed. skola; AS. sculon); pres. skal (Swed. skall; Dan. skal; AS. sceal; Engl. shall); past. skyldi (Swed. skulle; Dan. skulde; AS. sceolde; Engl. should). The name signifies also, duty, obligation (Dan. Skyld), and thus denotes her character as Goddess of Death. The AS Wyrd, was, like Urðr, a Fate or Destiny, from which is derived the later English term weird, as "The Weird Sisters."

6. Some trace a connection between the word Norn and snera or nera, an older form of snua, to twist, to twine; and thus find it to express the agency of the Nornir, as the beings who spin the thread of Fate.

Ask veit eg standa,
heitir Yggdrasill,
hár baðmur, ausinn
hvíta auri;
þaðan koma döggvar
þær er í dala falla,
stendur æ yfir grænn
En ask vet jag stånda,
Yggdrasil heter den,
ett högväxt träd, begjutet
med ljus gyttja.
Dädan kommer daggen
som i dalarna faller.
Evigt grön står asken
över Urds brunn.
An ash I know stands,
Its name is Yggdrasil,
An immense tree, covered over
By the white sand.
Thence come the dew
That falls in the valleys,
It stands ever-green
Above the well of Urdal.
Eine Esche weiß ich,
heißt Yggdrasil
Den hohen Baum netzt
weißer Nebel;
Davon kommt der Tau,
der in die Täler fällt.
Immergrün steht er
über Urds Quelle

An eagle sitteth on Yggdrasil's limbs,
whose keen eyes widely ken;
'twixt his eyes a fallow falcon is perched,
called Vedhrfolnir, and watcheth.

Ratatosk the squirrel is called which runneth ay
about the ash Yggdrasil:
the warning words of the watchful eagle
he bears to Nidhogg beneath.

Four harts also the highest shoots,
ay gnaw from beneath:
Dain and Dvalin, Duneyr and Dyrathror.

More wyrms do lie the world-tree beneath
than unwise apes may ween:
Goin and Moin, which are Grafvitnir's sons,
Grabak and Grafvolluth;
Ofnir and Svafnir ay, I fear me,
on that tree's twigs will batten.

The ash Yggdrasil doth ill abide,
more than to men to is known:
the hart browsing above, its bole rotting,
and Nidhogg gnawing beneath.