Is Heimdallr a Tree?

O.K, so…I have this theory about Heimdallr and Yggdrasill, and I’d like to test it out on you guys and see what you think. I’m sure other people out there have written much more complete and well-thought-out versions of this idea, but when I tried an internet search to find them what I mostly discovered is that there are a lot of role-playing games featuring Norse Gods out there.

Anyway, I just read the theory that the name Heimdallr means ‘World Tree’ or ‘World Pillar’. The meaning of Heimdallr’s name is not clear – it could also mean ‘He Who lights up the World’. But His by-name Hallinskidi means ‘the leaning split log’ or ‘the forward-leaning staff’, so that would seem to lend weight to the Yggdrasill interpritation. He is also associated with Yggdrasill for various reasons, most of which I’d never thought of until right now (because to be honest, I spend pretty much all of my time thinking about Loki, Sigyn and Hel. Other Deities? Who are They, then?)

The book I’m reading spelled out most of the links for me – namely Óðinn and humans. We all know that Óðinn is closely linked to Yggdrasill; He died on ‘that windy tree’, and the name Yggdrasill is usually understood to mean ‘Óðinn’s horse’. Óðinn  is also mentioned as being Heimdallr’s Father. Maybe Óðinn somehow brought out of Yggdrasill the aspect that is Heimdallr, or some similar act of ‘Fatherly’ creation?

Humans are linked to trees in general because the first man and woman were created from wood that had washed up from the shore, and also because the human survivors of Ragnarok survive by hiding in ‘Hoddmimir’s wood’. Heimdallr is linked to humans because of that time He called Himself Rig and went around getting real friendly with some human ladies. The creation of humans, trees and Heimdallr. More links.

Then I suddenly remembered that Heimdallr is said to have *nine* Mothers; Gjalp, Greip, Eistla, Angeyja, Ulfrun, Eyrgjafa, Imdr, Atla and Jarnsaxa. Now, how many Worlds circle Yggdrasill? I know a popular understanding is that Heimdallr’s Mothers are the nine daughters of Aegir and Ran, but Their names are Himinglaeva, Dufa, Blodughadda, Hefring, Unn, Hronn, Bylgja, Drofn and Kolga. Could it not be that Gjalp, Greip et al had some connection to each of the nine Worlds that is now lost to us? If – and I’m just playing with ideas here – but if Óðinn brought the aspect of Heimdallr out of Yggdrasill (or something along these lines), it could explain how the heck one kid can have nine Mothers; they were the women who cared for Him, and maybe also His Mothers in a sort of mystical way if He is Yggdrasill and each lady is associated with one of the nine worlds. Yggdrasill does seem to require nourishment, provided by the Nornir. Maybe the Tree, whilst supporting and bringing structure to the Worlds, also *needs* the Worlds.

I have some more links. Heimdallr’s the watchman of the Gods, and Loki – during a big, fat row which is probably best left forgotten – mentions the fact that Heimdallr always has a muddy (or possibly wet) back. The idea is that this means Heimdallr does His watchman stuff by the trunk of Yggdrasill, which the Nornir pour water and loam over to heal and nourish; presumably splashing Heimdallr somewhat in the process. I know this might seem like a tenuous link, but there’s also the concept of guardian (or farm) trees, which protect/ed families and were/are in turn protected and given offerings. Heimdallr would be, like, the ultimate farm tree.

Then I started to think about Heimdallr and Loki. Hmm, a tree and fire…And They’re ‘destined’ to kill one another at Ragnarok, right? Has a certain logic to it, I guess. But then I remembered the idea that Loki was born when lightning hit a tree – He’s a forest fire, something seemingly devastatingly destructive yet actually vital to the health and growth of the forest (assuming it happens naturally, and not because some idiot thought it would be funny to set something on fire, or was too lazy to put their campfire out). We’re told that a fresh new World rises up after the destruction of Ragnarok, just like what happens after a forest fire. So is Loki and Heimdallr killing each other like a fire burning down a forest and then burning itself out – kinda encapsulating the whole of Ragnarok? Heimdallr represents order, after all – even if He isn’t the Tree providing structure for the universe, He is thought of as having set up the basic structures of society (in ye olde days if not necessarily now). Ragnarok is the destruction of the established order. Another link?

I’m just playing with ideas here. I’m not a scholar; this could be complete and utter nonsense for all I know. But it makes sense to me, and I wondered if any of you had any ideas you could add or if you know of any flaws to this idea. Links to articles would also be great! I look forward to hearing from you 🙂


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