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Yggdrasill and the divine ‘food chain’
By Andrea Maraschi
Published Online (2014)
Introduction: In my last article I analysed the role of food in Old Norse mythology for what concerned the creation of the cosmos. I thus made use of excerpts from the two versions of the Edda (prose and poetic) featuring the questions that king Gylfi, disguised as an old man by the name of Gangleri, asked High, Just-as-High and Third. They told him about the cow of creation, Audhumla, from whose udders sprang four rivers of milk which fed the first created being: the giant Ymir. She also gave birth to the ancestor of the gods, Buri, by feeding herself on the salty stones of Ginnungagap.
Therefore, it’s quite evident that, in Old Norse culture, food had a deep symbolic meaning within the context of the creation of the universe. This was true for its destruction as well. High said that Ragnarok, the end of the world, would be announced by Fimbulwetr, the great winter. The wolf Fenrir would eventually be set free and would swallow the sun and deavour Odin; but still, two humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, would be able to survive by hiding in Hoddmimir’s wood, where they would live on the morning dew («The morning dews | for meat shall they have») and finally repopulate the world.
Nevertheless, the role of food in the Eddas is not limited to such examples.
One of the better-known images Old Norse mythology has passed down to us is, without a doubt, that of the ash Yggdrasill: the holy place of the gods. There, as High said to Gangleri, each day the Nordic deities held their courts.
The worshipping of trees and other natural entities, such as springs and stones, was a peculiar trait of germanic and northern cultures in the Middle Ages. Christianity had to face it and, sometimes, accept and metabolize it. Its more elegant and significant expression was the world tree, which on its own, was at the origin of a fantastic food chain.