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In the beginning of the Norse cosmos, there existed an eternal Void, known as Ginnungagap. Out of this nothingness sprang Yggdrasil, a huge Ash tree. Its newly emerging branches held two primordial worlds; Niflheim, a world of ice & frost, and Muspellheim, a realm of molten fire.
When a spring erupted from Nifelheim (known as Hvergelmir), it created a river which crossed the void into Muspellheim. Here, the hot air scorched the freezing river creating a new world, known as Jotunheim, land of the giants.
From this bloodline of primordial beings came Odin, Vili, and Ve, who despised the father of giants who ruled his people with malice and brutality. When the chance came, the brothers slew the frost giant, and from his body, they created Midgard, a world of mortals. Surrounding this realm they placed a great ocean which nourished the roots of the great tree.
Yggdrasil grew ever higher, forming a new realm called Asgard, which is located on the highest branch of the world tree. This was where Odin, king of the Aesir would take his people to settle a new civilization. It was said this race of gods brought culture and technology to the world of mortals via a great causeway called Bifrost.
Bifrost was a burning rainbow bridge, connecting Midgard (the world of mortals) with Asgard. This colorful overpass emerged from Himinbjörg, a mountain hall guarded over by the ever-vigilant Heimdall. This watchmen of the gods kept an eye on the mortals below, making sure no giants breached their homeland.
As Yggdrasil continued to grow, a new land emerged on one of its branches called Vanaheim. It was a land full of luscious forests and wild meadows. From this primal wilderness emerged a race of gods known as the Vanir. This tribal people lived near the coast, ruled by Njörðr, a seafaring god who loved wealth and magic, a trait common among his people.
A great tension broke out between the Vanir and the Aesir resulting in a long-winded war. It eventually ended in a stalemate, so many of the gods sent their families as hostages to the opposing tribe to help bring them closer together. Njörðr’s son, Freyr, was placed in charge of Alfheim, the homeland of the Elves. This class of god-like beings was said to be “more beautiful than the sun.”
These elves were also linked to another realm far below the Earth. Legend says a tribe from Alfheim were exiled from their homeland many eons ago, and eventually sought refuge with the dwarves of the underworld. These subterranean beings had built their homes around the roots of Yggdrasil, carving a network of labyrinths, mines, and forges for their empire. They called it Niðavellir, and the elves, who skin eventually became black as night, called it Svartalfar.
All the beings of Yggdrasil, mortals, gods, dwarves, and elves would eventually die, and their souls were destined for several realms. If the Aesir died valiantly in battle, they would find rest in Valhalla, for all others, Helheim was their inevitable destination. This dark and gloomy abode resided at the tip of Yggdrasil’s deepest root. This afterlife was ruled over by Loki’s daughter Hel, a strange being who was half black and half flesh-colored, characterized by a gloomy, downcast appearance.
There are a number of sacred creatures which live within Yggdrasil. this includes the monstrous wyrm Níðhöggr who gnaws at the roots of Nifelheim, weakening the great tree of Yggdrasil. This frost dragon was also known for eating the corpses of the Nifelheim when found guilty of murder, adultery, and oath-breaking.
Atop the highest branches of the world tree is perched a great eagle and his hawk companion Vedrfolnir, who sits between his eyes. The two stare deep into the Norse cosmos, perhaps representing insight and awareness.
Ratatosk is a squirrel who runs up and down the world tree to carry messages between the unnamed eagle and Níðhöggr the wyrm. This mischievous critter is said to stir trouble between the all-knowing eagle and the world hungry dragon.
Among the branches of the Great Ash tree live four stags known as Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór. These ravenous beasts eat the branches of the World Tree, perhaps representing the four seasons. When they eat too much, winter ensues, when they are full, the leaves grow thick and lush in the midst of summer.
Perhaps the most important guardians of Yggdrasil are the three Norns (witches) who lives at the well Urd (below Midgard). Their names are Urd “past”, Verdani “present” and Skuld “future”. These three hags are the goddesses of fate, who spend most their time spinning the threads of life, deciding the fate of every human, animal, and god. Every day the Norns will also carry water from Urd’s well, and pour it over Yggdrasil. The water from the well is of vital importance to keep the tree green and healthy.
It is the Norns who foretold Ragnarok, the twilight of the Gods and the fall of Yggdrasil. It is said that Ragnarok will begin when the wolf, Fenrir, son of Loki, breaks free of his imprisonment. This will lead to a chain reaction of events including the Midgard snake Jormungandr rising from the sea and a wolf (known as Skoll) devouring the sun, and his brother Hati, eating the moon, plunging the earth into darkness. The stars will vanish from the sky.
Everything will come to a head in a huge battle that draws in all the races of the nine worlds. It will conclude with Surter, king of the fire giants, setting fire to the great Yggdrasil. The nine worlds will burn, and friends and foes alike will perish, culminating with the earth sinking deep into the abyss of the sea.
This article was written by Simon E. Davies. Contributor at Ancient-Code.com