“An ash I know that stands, Yggdrasil it’s called.The Poetic Edda, Seer, 19.1
A tall tree, drenched with shining loam;
From there come the dews which fall in the valley,
Green, it stands always over Urd’s well”
In Norse Mythology, the Yggdrasil is a World Tree, that is the axis of 9 worlds. The Nine Worlds include Asgard, the home of the Gods (Aesir); Vanaheim, the home of the Gods (Vanir); Ljóssalfheim, home to the Light-Elves; Muspell, the primal world of heat; Niflheim, the primal world of cold; Midgard, the world of humans; Jotunheim, the home of the giants; Svartalfheim, the home of the Dwarves or Dark-Elves; and Hel, the world of the dead.
Spiritually, the World Tree can be seen as an important metaphor. The mighty Yggdrasil represents the totality of the universe; like a tree, the universe is regarded as a living thing. At the foot of this mighty tree, there is a well, whereby 3 women called the Norns sit and draw water from it to nourish this tree. So, picture each of us as our own tree. At the foot of our tree, lies our well. Here, the Norns draw the tree’s nourishment each day; where the water is poured onto the roots, it travels up and through the limbs and leaves of the tree, until it falls as dew back down into the well again.
The 3 Norns are called Urd, Verdandi and Skuld. They have been represented as fate; Urd is past, Verdandi is present and Skuld is future. More accurately though, Urd is all that has come before, and is waiting to have it’s effect in our present; Verdandi is the immediately reality in our present that Urd before, has given birth to; and Skuld is what must come to pass because of the force of the past and present being carried forward into the future.
Going back to the metaphor, we must imagine the water in our well as sacred. Imagine the dew drops as a deed; if it is negative, whether it’s something you didn’t do or a negative action, it falls down into the well and mixes into the water of all the deeds you’ve done before. The deed is done and cannot be taken back, as it is already mixed into the well, along with all our previous good deeds. These drops create our Orlog, which is the future we store up for ourselves by our present deeds. So, our past deeds have potential consequences, and these are waiting to manifest in our present.
The Norns draw this water using urns, so each urn is a mixture of the past deeds they find in the water with layers of Orlog inside. The urn itself is our Wyrd, which is the force of our past as it is active in our present. It is not Wyrd itself that controls our destiny- our past is inescapable, however, our destinies are not. Our Wyrd is water that is nourishment for our tree – it is how the tree (us) works on its Wyrd that makes its fate.
The fate of the tree is not based on our Wyrd alone, but also by our Hamingja, which is described as the fullness of our spirit (will, nature, courage). Hamingja is what makes us who we are, is it the spirit that makes the tree alive, just as humans are alive. The stronger your Hamingja, the more you can shape the effects of your Wyrd into your will. The deeds cannot be removed from the well, but you can alter the effect of a negative deed both by exercising your Hamingja and by laying good deeds into the well.
Although each of us is an individual, we do not exist in a vacuum. When we associate with another person, we share the water of our well. So it may be important to bear this in mind; be careful of how you mix your Wyrd.
Within this Norse spirituality, you can notice that all things that come our way are neither rewards or punishments sent by the Gods, they are the inevitable consequences of events, affected by the actions of individuals and the collective. Wyrd is one’s position in life; one’s limitations and possibilities. It is something that cannot be altered or undone – we can either be passive and let ourselves be defeated by our own tragedies, or we can creatively deal with the situation we find ourselves.
– The Poetic Edda, translated by Carolyne Larrington
– Heathen Handbook by Woden’s Folk Kindred
– Essential Asatru by Diana L. Paxson