Asatru and Trees in Norse Mythology
Asatru and Trees in Norse Mythology
While easy to overlook, trees served a profound place in the myths of the Northern tribes. They were used for both utility and spiritual purposes. Symbolical meaning was also embedded in the myths. Today, trees still develop a sense of mystery within, carrying the mind to enchanted places beyond the ego. Modern society still carries vestiges of spiritual traditions involving trees, most notably, the Christmas tree and the Yule log.
Had it not been for the advance of the industrial era, and the great harvesting of trees on the planet, we would still have many of nature’s oldest creations. In the mountainous regions of Northern California, the bristlecone pine tree stands erect, towering over the landscape. This tree is Nature’s great warrior, having fought against the modern era for over 5,000 years. Look at any lumberjack phto during the 19th century and you will see, North America was covered in these ancient living beings. Most trees now are less than 100 years old and it will take generations to repopulate the land as it was before the era of industrialization.
The greatest use of trees lies in its symbolic use for esoteric purposes. Every tree has three distinct features including the roots, the trunk, and the branches that extend into the heavens. The roots of the tree dig deep into the subterranean earth. They draw from the ground the nutrients required for survival. This structure also serves as the foundation that will provide a solid base against the approach of winds and storms. From there, the trunk stands above the ground, moving the nutrients ever upward into the branches and canopy. The canopy draws nutrients from the sun, and extends its glory into the heavens. This article will explore the spiritual aspect of Asatru and Trees in Norse Mythology.
For those who honor the mythos of the North,Yggdrasil is perhaps the most well-known symbol of all. The tree itself is called the world tree. Upon Yggdrasil exists 9 worlds; distinct in their nature and with a variety of beings that inhabit them. Yggdrasil, which is the backbone of our nine living worlds, is watered by three holy wells. Each well is unique and offers its own particular kind of nourishment.
Underneath the first root of the great Yggdrasil exists Urd’s well. This well is known to perpetually water the tree keeping. In return Yggdrasil is nourished and kept fresh and young. The second well also nourishes this tree, except with a different kind of substance. Wisdom is fed into the tree by this well. This is the Mímisbrunnr or Mimir’s Well. A final well also feeds the roots Yggdrasil. This well is known as Hvergelmir, Here, however, it is said the Jotun serpent, or dragon, Nidhog dwells. This serpent-beast constantly gnaws at the great root and will in the end eat through it. The cataclysm will be great and the tree will no longer be able to balance itself upright. This event will occur at Ragnarok.
Yggdrasil is also present in other mythologies of the world. It also plays a central role in Russia and is known as the Russian World Tree.
The Oak Tree
The Oak tree is one of the most common trees found in the Northern Hemisphere. Its presence stretches from The continental United States, all the way to the shores of China. It is one of the most concentrated trees in Britain. The oak is known for its slow growth, but ability to live for a very long time. For the early European settlers, Oak trees were used for dwellings as far as 7,000 years ago in the British Isles and more than 9,000 years ago in the Germanic continent.
The scientific name of the Oak tree is Quercus. This species of trees contains over 600 different types that comprise of deciduous and evergreen varieties. The most common oaks are known as the Penuculate and the Sessile Oaks. They are profoundly known for their production of acorns. These are only produced for four decades in the entire lifespan of the oak. However, by the time it reaches this age, the oak can be an astonishing 70 feet in height. Records indicate some oaks have lived to see 800 years, extending well into the Anglo-Saxon era. . The tree’s ability to regenerate itself is perhaps one of the most stunning abilities it contains.
There is a large array of uses with Oaks, even extending deep into the deep history of old Europe. In the ancient days,, boundaries were marked between wood to be harvested and those not to be harvested. Trees were lopped for fodder and wood for fires. Acorns were also harvested to feed livestock. People were also known to consume acorns in a variety of meals during hard times of famine or disaster. Wood from the oaks were used in the construction of homes and different vessels. From one oak tree, the production of 20 tons of wood can be harvested. The wood was used because of its ability to endure long periods of time.
Oaks are typically the largest tree in any area. There great height means they are the frequent victims of lightning strikes. This naturally resounds in our minds as connecting the Oak Tree with Thor. Names developed from these places, such as Thundersley in Essex (meaning the grove of thunder). Interestingly enough, the significance of the oak tree was not just known to the Germanic tribes. Oak Seer is another name for the word druid. Etymologically speaking, druid comes from an old Indo-European word known as duir, meaning an oak tree. The word door is also derived from duir. The connection is also found in oaks traditional belief in being associated with protection, another meaning to the word duir.
The Oak Tree and the Ac Rune
Oaks were certainly known for their heartiness. The poetry of the North often calls warriors “The Oak of Battles.” The Ac rune in the Anglo-Saxon Futhark is doubtless related to the oak. The Anglo Saxon Rune Poem goes as follows:
Ac is for the sons of men on Earth
A feeder of the flesh, often travels,
Over Gannet’s bath, the ocean tests
Whether the ac keeps good faith.
The Oak Tree has further associations in the English Traditions. It is closely related to Robin Hood and is known as the major tree in the Sherwood Forest. This is also associated with Herne, who according to legends, hung himself from an oak in the Windsor Forest. The acorns on the oak represent the feminine power contained within. The word acre derives from the word acorn, showing its relationship to the field and femininity.
The Oak Tree is a perfect symbol that displays the strength of masculinity and virility. It is a powerful symbol in the mythos, was constantly used historically, and can serve the modern revival of an ancient ethos.
The Ash Tree in Norse Mythology
Another common tree found in the woods of the Northern Hemisphere is the Ash Tree. It shares its name with the first male human known as Ask. He was created from the wood washed upon the shore by Odin and his brothers. Embla, the first woman in Norse mythology has a name derived from the Elm Tree, who was also created in the same fashion. The Ash tree is also known to be the species of Yggdrasil.
The Ash tree produces a seed known as the ash key. This seed is oblong in its shape, and has wings that slow the fall towards the ground. It is said that collecting these seedlings can bring about luck and even love. According to the folk lore, they also serve as a powerful way to ward off witchcraft and dark magic. Healing properties were also associated with the Ash. Its sap was used to protect newborns from illness, and it was said to sit in the gap of the trunk could also heal any illness. The Ash tree was also used for divination and omen-reading. If a tree did not produce the seeds during a season, there was massive fear about an incoming disaster. In medieval days, it was said that demons lived in these trees as well.
Another interesting ability of the Ash tree is its ability to change its own sex. These trees do not live as long as oak, but have been recorded to sustain a live span well over 200 years. The foliage on the canopy of the Ash is not as dense as that on the oak, and thus it is often surrounded by other plants and shrubs on the forest bottom.
While the oak is known to be sturdy, the Ash wood is much stronger. For this reason, the old Anglo-Saxon warriors chose the tree to craft their shields, spears, and handles from. It was not chosen for structures because of its sensitivity to rot quickly. Like all other hardwoods, the ancient people used the lumber to burn in their fires. It was highly cultivated for this purpose as it is not as slow growing as the Oak tree.
The Ash tree seems to share a relationship with Odin as well. If the Anglo-Saxon warriors chose this tree for their spears, it would be a safe assumption to say the magical spear known as Gungnir was also crafted from this material. The dead were also cremated with the charcoal of an Ash tree. Odin also hung himself on the great Ash tree known as Yggdrasil.
Aesc The Ash Tree Rune
The 26th Anglo Saxon rune is also associated with the Ash tree. The rune-poem reads;
Aesc is very tall, dear to men,
Strong in foundation, holds its place properly
Through many men fight against it.
The Birch Tree in Norse Mythology
The Birch tree is known to be associated with youthfulness. It is also a symbol of renewal and regeneration. After a wild fire, Birch trees are the first to sprout and replace the shrub-land after the bare ground is replaced with foliage. The wood from this tree is not good for timber. It was primarily used for household items in the ancient days. Its charcoal was used for gunpowder with the advent of guns in the 14th century. As you can see in the picture, the birch tree is less hardy than then Oak or the Ash tree.
The Birch tree is also said to be connected to the powers of female divinity and is thus called “The Lady of the Woods.” Other cultures outside the Germanic tribes also associate this tree with the female spirit. A Russian folklore tale describes that the Mother of God could also be seen on top. Another story also depicts a woman who emerged from the birch and made a farm girl dance for over 3 days. The female steward’s reward was a load of birch leaves which were soon transmuted into gold. The Birch wood goddess is said to be the cleanser of the planet. She sweeps away the cobwebs of the Earth with her Birch broom. This allusion is directly related to the use of birch in the production of household items as mentioned above.
The Beorc Rune and the Birch Tree
The Birch Tree also corresponds with a rune that is depicted in all versions of the futharks This rune is known as Berkana, Beorc, and Bjarkan as named by the elder, English, and Younger Futharks. For consistency sake I will only mention the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem:
Beorc is fruitless, yet bears
Shoots without seeds, is pretty in its branches
High in its spread, fair adorned
Laden with leaves, touching the sky.
Beorc, relating to the Birch tree is definitely related to the female divine powers. It has been claimed that the shape of the rune itself resembles that of a pregnant woman. The breasts are swollen for feeding, and the belly containing the life of a child. Beorc is also related to the name Berchta, a Teutonic goddess. There are lots of other interesting associations between the Birch tree, the Beorc rune, and other female beings that are discussed in Master of the Runes.
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