Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Nordic mythology conceived of the world as having at its centre the ash tree Yggdrasil, whose branches stretched over Heaven and Earth. It had three roots, one passing into the realm of the Gods (Asgard), one into the realm of the Frost giants (Jotunheim), and one into the underworld (Niflheim). Near each root lay a fountain, the one in Heaven being the fountain of Urd, tended by the Norns, from which Yggdrasil was watered daily. Near the root in Jotunheim was the fountain of Mimir, the source of wisdom: Odin paid an eye to drink from it. And near the root in Niflheim was the fountain Hvergelmir, source of Rivers. The gods had an assembly place beside the tree where they met daily to dispense justice, and the goat Heidrunn, who browsed in the branches of the tree, provided milk for Odin's warriors. In the topmost branches perched an eagle, who warned the gods of attacks by Giants. The tree itself was subject to constant attacks: stags roamed the branches eating green shoots, while the Serpent Nidhögg gnawed at the underworld root. Yggdrasil thus linked the worlds of gods and men and giants, as well as the underworld. Similar ideas are found in the Mythologies of North and Central Asia, Finland and Siberia, and seem to have links to Shamanism, in particular to shamanic journeying. Odin himself is said to have acquired mystic knowledge while hanging for nine days upon the tree – an image used by Guy Gavriel Kay in his Fionavar Tapestry series. [KLM]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.