The Norse Legend of the World Tree – Yggdrasil

Mythological Yggdrasil

In 1643 a Bishop called Brynjolf Sveinsson was given forty- five pieces of vellum containing poetry and prose from the heart of ancient Northern European indigenous culture. This collection is called The King’s Book (the Codex Regius in Latin). It is thought to have been written around 1270. Between 1270 and 1643 the manuscript was hidden from public view, presumably to protect it from being destroyed by the new religion which arose from Rome. Who the family was that protected this manuscript for over three hundred years we don’t know, and nor do we know their tradition, but we can be sure that it would have been a treacherous secret to bear safely through the medieval centuries. The Bishop did not himself keep the manuscript; instead, he offered the collection as a gift to the King of Denmark. There it remained in Copenhagen until 1971, when it was returned to Iceland.

Codex Regius (The King's book) of Eddaic Poems and Flateyjarbok

Codex Regius (The King’s book) of Eddaic Poems and Flateyjarbok ( Wikimedia Commons )

Warships had to transport the manuscript across the sea, as a plane journey was seen as too risky – such was the preciousness of the papers. It is not surprising: these vellum papers represent the few written remains of our indigenous past of Northern Europe.

When we open these old scripts we find at the heart of the Norse mythology contained within a symbol as archaic as campfire: the World Tree, Yggdrasil.

I know that an ash-tree stands called Yggdrasil,
a high tree, soaked with shining loam;
from there comes the dews which fall in the valley, ever green, it stands over the well of fate.
(Seeress’s Prophecy)

The most satisfactory translation of the name Yggdrasil is ‘Odin’s Horse’. Ygg is another name for Odin, and drasill means ‘horse’. However, drasill also means ‘walker’, or ‘pioneer’. Some scholars would argue that the name means ‘Odinwalker’. In some parts of the manuscript, Yggdrasil and Odin seem to be one and the same.

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