Mythic Transformations: Tree Symbolism in the Norse Plantation

Mythic Transformations: Tree Symbolism in the Norse Plantation

By Andrew McGillivray

Master’s Thesis, University of Manitoba, 2011

The four stags of Yggdrasill. From the 17th century Icelandic manuscript AM 738 4to, now in the care of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland.

Abstract: This thesis explores tree symbolism as interpreted from a selection of Old Norse poetic and prose mythological sources. The primary poetic sources include the Eddic poems Vǫluspá, Hávamál, Grímnismál, Vafþrúðnismál, Lokasenna and Baldrs draumur. Selected fragments from these poems are arranged and analyzed with particular attention to the symbol of the tree. Fragments are also selected from Gylfaginning of Snorri’s Edda, and are explored alongside the poetic sources.

The focus topics progress from a description of the tree at the beginning of time, as the spatial structure of the mythic cosmos, the object of sacrifice, weapon of death, material of mortal creation, instrument of fate and, finally, source of rebirth after the cosmic destruction. The aim is to observe the transformation of the symbol of the tree both spatially, within the Eddic cycle, and temporally, as the prose accounts drawn from Gylfaginning are believed to be younger than the mythological poems. The abstract concept of the book is developed in relation to the symbol of the tree, and as the thesis progresses the relationship between tree, book and human is developed that ultimately seeks to mobilize the dynamism of such associations. The hopeful outcome undertakes to provide some insight into the human condition.

This thesis is also theoretical and two important sources are applied to the poetic subject: the socio-philosophical work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, along with the psychoanalytic interpretations of Carl Gustav Jung. Both of these voices address the symbol of the tree and its significance for the human condition, which, when considered alongside the close analyses of the textual fragments approach what is common to the tree, the book and the human, but also discerns where the three points diverge.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Manitoba


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