Yggdrasil, the World Tree

Yggdrasil (pronounced ‘IGG-dra-sill’) is the name of the magnificent ash tree connecting the nine worlds of the cosmos together in Norse mythology, often referred to as a ‘World Tree’. Yggdrasil’s massive trunk rises out of the geographical center of the universe from three enormous roots digging deep into the underworld with wide branches stretching out over the heavens. These roots and branches hold worlds such as Asgard in the heavens or Hel in the underworld together. The well-being of the universe depends on Yggdrasil and when it trembles signaling the arrival of Ragnarök, it is destined to bring the cosmos crashing down into the sea when it dies. The Aesir, the primary pantheon of Nordic gods, would assemble at the base of it every day and considered it sacred.

The World Tree
A depiction of Yggdrasil.

The Celtic World Tree is known as The Tree of Life, which many believed to be an enormous oak. The root of the tree was thought to be a doorway into realm of the Fae Folk, or the Otherworld, making it possible to travel between the two. In fact, the Celtic word for oak is ‘daur’, which is the origin of the word ‘door.’ Trees were sacred to the Celts and their varied tribal cultures reflected this, with druids acting as priests, teachers, bards and judges.

While the species of tree may vary between cultures, surviving descriptions of it were eerily similar. The roots penetrated deep into the underworld while the branches stretched across the heavens covering the cosmos. Each believed the ancient tree contained the wisdom of the ages and possessed mystical powers able to bestow blessings upon the people. Several communities kept a sacred tree at the center of their village or place of worship with the practice being particularly common among the Celts.

The concept of a World Tree, a massive life-giving tree at the center of the universe, is a common motif throughout many different religions, but despite varying interpretations the role of the tree remains the same. In almost every instance the tree is a manifestation of the elements of nature (earth, air, fire, and water) coming together in perfect harmony to maintain the balance necessary to sustain life. The Celtic portrayal of the Tree of Life is, in my opinion, the perfect representation of this balance and alongside the Norse concept of Yggdrasil, inspired much of the world-building behind my stories.

According to Norse mythology Midgardr (“middle enclosure”), or Midgard to English speakers, is the realm where mortals live. Although invisible to humans Yggdrasil intersects the physical world, holding it in its proper place among the other worlds. In the universe I’ve created Yggdrasil also grows at the center of the realm of Midgardr however the humans in my stories live in another realm. My depiction of Midgard has similarities with the Otherworld of Celtic myth such as Annwn in Welsh mythology or Tír na nÓg in Irish mythology (also called Mag Mell or Emain Ablach among other names).

Brigid Celtic Goddess
Brigid, Celtic goddess of Spring.

In the beginning of this universe, which I call Antumnos (“other world” in ancient Gaulish), Yggdrasil grows tall forming the realm of Midgardr around its roots, and creating a balance between the physical elements, allowing life to flourish.

The manifestation of this Balance is the earth goddess Gaea who creates the world of Ollon for mortals. Gaea gives birth to mankind through two children, a daughter named Nema and a son named Ahlmenn. They are the first humans from which the race of Menn are born. The tribes formed of their descendants paid homage to both children and their mother, learning of Yggdrasil from their teachings and passing it on through the generations. A culture formed around these druidic teachings, building the backbone of a people known as the Gaelesians whose influence can be seen throughout the history of Ollon.

I hope this brief blurb offers a glimpse into the setting of my stories and illustrates how I’ve used Yggdrasil to maintain a central role in creating life and maintaining balance in the universe. If you’re interested in reading more check back from time to time. I hope to write additional posts about the lore and history behind the world of Ollon as time permits.