Yggdrasil - the caring tree
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a world of ice and a world of fire and a dark, dark gap in between. As the ice world and fire world came closer together, the ice became water and the fire became steam and life began. An ash tree grew around it all and it was the tree of all life. It was called Yggdrasil.
Yggdrasil had three strong roots. The first root held a world of gods. The second root held a world of giants, the constant enemies of the gods. And the third root held a world of darkness, cold, mist and ice.
Within each world was a magic well. In the world of the giants was the well of wisdom. And in the world of ice was a well from which eleven rivers flowed. The well in the world of the gods, was the well of destiny. This is where the gods met daily and where all kinds of love came from. In this well was everything that has ever happened or ever will. The waters of the past and the present flowed round and round the living tree, until it gathered on its leaves like dew drops and as it fell, a new present was made.
The well of destiny was also the home of three wise magical women called the Norns. Their names were Past, Present and Future and they weaved human lives into an endless tapestry of life on a magic loom. They were the guardians of the tree, and so they were the protectors of all the life in the universe. Every morning, they collected the dew from the leaves and poured it back into the well for the magical swans who swam there.
In the world of giants, the well of wisdom was cared for by a giant called Mimir, who was the wisest being in all the cosmos. Every day, Mimir drank from the well.
The third well, in Niflheim, the misty world, was the oldest of them all, and the source of eleven rivers. Inside the well live a great number of snakes, and the well is guarded by the dragon who is always chewing on the poor tree’s roots.
All life, everywhere, and of every kind, depended on this tree. Some creatures
loved it. Some creatures cared for it. And the gods did everything they could to keep it well. But of course, some creatures were just spiteful and wanted to harm it - even though its destruction would mean the end of their own lives. Some creatures didn't even realise the tree was there at all. But it was always there, alive, caring for and connecting them all.
So what kind of life depended on the tree? There was a magic goat and a magic stag who both ate its leaves but they also gave it gifts. The goat made a honey beer called mead for all the brave human soldiers, and the stag gave it water from its antlers. And at the bottom was the dragon I just mentioned, called Nidhogg, who was always biting the tree to try and destroy it, and a gossiping red squirrel who told Nidhogg what everyone else was up to. But if Nidhogg was at the roots of the tree, at the very highest branches lived an eagle called Wind-Witherer who would give the squirrel rude insults to take down the tree to Nidhogg.
And what kinds of worlds did the tree support? There was fiery Muspelheim where Fire Giants lived and icy Niflheim - full of Frost Giants. There was Asgard, the home of the gods, which I have mentioned before when we hear about Thor and Odin and Sif and Loki. There was Midgard - our Earth, which sat in the middle of the universe. The only world that was visible to human eyes. But as some of you know, there was a rainbow bridge that reached between Asgard and Midgard, called Bifrost.
The giants lived in Jotunheim - a place of forests and mountains and harsh landscapes. They wanted the end of the world, to tip it over and ruin everything for everyone. In Vanaheim lived another set of gods called the Vanir, but not much was ever written down about them so we know very little. In Alfheim, you would have found Light Elves, brighter than the sun, like fairies or angels. In Svartalfheim lived the underground dwarves, making amazing things from metal, like Thor’s hammer or the boat you could put in your pocket. And in Hel was every human, good or bad, after they died.
But mythology is never all jolly, is it? We always have to have a big fat problem. And Yggdrasil has lots of big fat problems, very much like the trees around us do today.
As you know, Yggdrasil held all the nine worlds, and all the wells, and all our destinies. The gods were always scared about the end of the world, an event which they called Ragnarok, a word which means “the fate of the gods”. The gods knew that one day, the world as they knew it would end, and then start all over again, just as the waters of past, present and future moved around the tree itself - just as the conkers and the leaves fall from the trees and rot and feed the tree so it can grow fresh leaves and chestnuts the next year.
The giants were always trying to bring down the gods, and Loki was always doing things that were not just mischievous but bad. And one day Ragnarok came, a terrible battle between the gods and the giants, but eventually, it was over. And Yggdrasil had hidden human beings inside itself and the world grew green and strong yet again. Because as long as there are creatures who care for Yggdrasil, it will protect and care for the world, because everything is connected and it all gets back into balance in the end.
This is our last Story Circle before the holidays, so we’re going to make our own caring trees to take home. You can give them to your family for Valentine's Day to show them you care, or you can keep it on your wall to remind yourself about how you are cared for and of the things you care about.
Yggdradsil was the old Icelandic care tree - but you can put anything and anyone you like on yours!
The worlds could be people you care about.
You can have wells and rainbow bridges and magic creatures. You can have dragons you will overcome, and kind creatures to protect everyone.