What is Yggdrasil (The Tree of Life)

Yggdrasil, also known as the tree of life and world tree, is often mentioned in Norse films and games. But have you ever wondered what Yggdrasil is and its purpose? 

In this article, we’re going to talk all about Yggdrasil as well as the realms it holds. We’ll also talk about some backstories surrounding the realms and the Ygdrassil itself. 

The Tree of Life

In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is known as the tree of life or the world tree. Yggdrasil was believed to be the centre of the cosmos and it is where the 9 realms reside. 

Its roots are so vast that it reached the deepest realms of Jötunheim, Niflheim, and Helheim. Let’s take a look at the different realms in Yggdrasil as well as who occupies them. 

 Jötunheim

Jötunheim realm is associated with jötnar, also known as the ice giants. The jötnar is known to cause problems for both people of Midgard and the gods of Asgard. 

Jötunheim was ruled by the jötnar king, Þrymr (or Thrymr), who once stole the Mjǫlnir (Thor’s hammer) in order to extort the gods into giving him Freya. 

Niflheim 

In Norse mythology, Niflheim was known as the realm of ice and cold. It is a desolate and shadowy world where the dragon Nidhogg resides. 

Niflheim is the second primordial realm to have formed out of the primordial void known as Ginnungagap (the first being Muspulheim).

It contained the spring Hvergelmir, where the primordial rivers partly responsible for the creation of the other realms began to flow. 

Hel

Hel is the world of the dead and it is ruled by one of the same name, Hel, daughter of Loki. Hel is believed to be inhabited by souls who died without glory. 

Midgard

Midgard is the land of men and women and is protected by an edified wall constructed from the eyebrows of Ymir. In Norse mythology, it is the equivalent of earth.

It was believed that Midgard will be destroyed at Ragnarok. A deadly serpent Jörmungandr, also a son of Loki, will rise from its ocean and spit venom killing everyone but two people who will eventually repopulate the world.

Alfheim

Alfheim is the realm of the light elves, kind and beautiful creatures. 

Svartalfheim 

In contrast, Svartalfheim is the home of black elves. This is where Loki engaged with the sons of Ivaldi, a group of dwarves who created Odin’s spear, to create golden hair after Loki mischievously cut Sif’s golden hair. 

Svartalfheim is also where the gods sought the dwarves' aid in creating the Gleipnir, a binding that could hold Fenrir.

Muspelheim

Muspelheim is the realm of fire. It is the first realm to have emanated from Ginnungagap. It is inhabited by the Fire giants and is guarded by Surtr. 

Vanaheim

Vanaheim is the realm of the Vanir pantheon, a group of deities who were once the rival of the Aesir. This is where the goddess Freyr and Freya reside before they were moved to the Aesir as a truce agreement. 

Its ruler, Njord, is the god of the seas and father of the deities Freyr and Freya. 

Asgard

Finally, the Asgard, the kingdom of the Aesir and home of the chief god, Odin. This is the location of Valhalla where fallen great warriors train and battle each other to prepare for Ragnarok. 

Residents of Yggrasil

Aside from the realms, Yggrasil has residents of its own. A nameless eagle was believed to reside at the branches of the Yggdrasil. He is an arch-enemy of Nidhogg who gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasil. 

Their hatred was exacerbated by a squirrel named Ratatoskr who gets his amusement from delivering insults back and forth. 

Odin’s Sacrifice

Odin was known to be in a relentless pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. And in one of his quests lies a story surrounding the Yggdrasil that attests to that pursuit. 

Odin once hanged himself in one of Yggdrasil’s branches and stab himself with a spear in order to prove himself worthy of the rune’s revelations. He even forbade the gods to not give him any relief. 

Odin hanged there for 9 days and 9 nights until finally, the runes showed up giving him abilities that would allow him to:

  • Heal emotional and bodily wounds
  • Bind his enemies and render their weapons worthless
  • Free himself from any constraints
  • Put out fires instantly
  • Expose and banish practitioners of malevolent magic
  • Protect his friends in battle
  • Raise the dead
  • Win and keep any lover

Final Thoughts

Norse mythology is such a complex world with amusing stories. This article surrounding the Yggdrasil is only an overview of that vast world. 

If you want to learn more about Norse mythology, please check out our other articles. 

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