Völuspá: The Song of the Sybil (W H Auden & P B Taylor Translation)
There really is a meaningful difference between traditions, cosmologies and paths to Truth. A sacred world tree is common to almost all spiritual traditions, such as the Hebrew Kabbalah, the Buddhist Bo-Tree, the trees in the myths of the Egyptian Isis and Osirus, and the Graeco-Roman Cybele and Attis. Native shamans climb a ‘tree’ to heaven and Hindu’s use an inverted tree to explain godly processes.
In Northern Traditions, the sacred world tree is named Yggdrasil ('ig-dre-sil). It is symbolized as an ash (needle-ash/yew) tree. There are five levels vertically with four additional levels (worlds) orbiting the middle level known as Midgard, making a total of nine distinct worlds or energy constructs. The Yggdrasil tree represents the ancient Northern world model of the subjective universe and how it is linked to the objective world of conscious awareness. These are the ’nine lays of power’, and from this comes the energies that affect all life.
A comparative analysis of other world tree models helps to best illustrate the unique characteristics of Yggdrasil. The Kabbalastic Tree of Life is laid out with not one, but three vertical axis with ten worlds hung upon them. God is at the top (kether) and humankind is on the bottom (malkuth). The energy flows from the top trickling down from side-to-side through the other nine worlds ultimately reaching the bottom where humankind resides do to Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden. According to Hebrew cosmology, it is humankind’s task to recover from this ‘fall’ by climbing back up through each of the nine worlds to the godhead at the top.
The Christain cosmology of the Tree of Life is essentially the same, except that Jesus deviated from the Hebrew model by declaring his ‘truth’ of traveling up the neutral middle pillar on the force of faith alone. It was this philosophy that caused the Jewish priesthood to reject Jesus with his simplification of the process eliminating much of the need for complicated priestly interpretations of the ten worlds.
The interpretation of the tree of life and it’s worlds/paths still basically remained the same in Christian and Hebrew cosmologies. Humankind was at the lowest level due to the ‘original sin’ of Adam and Eve, and required ‘salvation’ from some outside force.
Northern cosmology represented by Yggdrasil is extremely different. It shows the manifest physical world in the middle of the tree (Midgard), not at the bottom, with eight worlds or levels of consciousness surrounding it. Midgard is the physical place where all cosmic energies meet in potential harmony. Humankind is viewed as being in it’s rightful place interacting with these nine levels, and is not stuggling to climb up from the bottom. The physical world was created to stage the evolutionary progress of the life force.
The critical difference is that the Northern cosmology is not based on thinking that the physical world is a result of the mythical ‘fall’, thinking that the godhead descended into matter because of a single being (Adam). Northern cosmology does not subscribe to the concept of original sin and our guilt by association, and thinking that we require salvation by particular spiritual dogma to grow towards enlightenment.
The physical world is a natural part of the cosmos and the order of the universe. It is a rightful place for humankind to pursue their spiritual destiny (weird) in a healthy, challenging and guiltless way of life.
The study and understanding of the cosmologies of Yggdrasil is of the utmost importance to the aspiring Runemaster/Shaman. Further discussion and study is encouraged. I have listed links below for further reading. Note that when studying correspondences between runes and realms, do understand that the given runes are matched to the corresponding realms, but each rune is not dominated by the nature of the realm. Even though you want to avoid particular realms, you do not want to avoid the benefits of associated runes in other workings. On the right side bar is 6 diagrams and pictures for further study of Yggdrasil (click on link above them for full sized images). The first diagram is of the Three-Rooted Yggdrasil as portrayed in the Deluding of Gylfi (Prose Edda) from Snorri Sturlason. Please do not attempt to make linear comparisons to this model since his accounts differ between Eddas. It is obvious that he was drawing on some other source or sources that have been lost. The second diagram shows the tri-centric model of Yggdrasil. The third diagram shows the cosmological pattern of the Yggdrasil and it’s relations to different levels of consciousness. The fourth chart lists the nine worlds and and attributes plus runes for each level, from the Denali Institute of Northern Traditions. The last two pictures are beautiful color pictures showing graphic representations of Yggdrasil.
Sources: The Denali Institute of Northern Traditions, Essay #221 The Denali Institute of Northern Traditions, Lesson 14 Völuspá: The Song of the Sybil, Elder Edda, 12th century Northern Magic, Eldred Thorsson, 1998