Yggdrasil means the gallows tree. Don’t tell the Unitarians, who put it on their hymnal covers. American Black men already know. I have a friend who has ridden that horse for a lifetime. The more common sentimentalized version sees the tree as sheltering and providing acorns, which is why they call it an oak instead of an ash.

Yggdrasil — Wikipedia


The generally accepted meaning of Old Norse Yggdrasill is “Odin’s horse”, meaning “gallows”.This interpretation comes about because drasill means “horse” and Ygg(r) is one of Odin’s many names.The Poetic Edda poem Hávamál describes how Odin sacrificed himself by hanging from a tree, making this tree Odin’s gallows.This tree may have been Yggdrasil.

Yggdrasil — Norse Mythology for Smart People


The tree was his gallows and bore his limp body, which the Norse poetic imagination described metaphorically as a horse and a rider. In Old Norse literature , Yggdrasil is commonly said to be an ash tree, but at other times, it’s said that no one knows the species to which the magnificent tree belongs. See Ragnarok · The Death of Baldur

The “dark” side of liberal religion is cold as well because it is about death. Perhaps now in this time of famine, drought, and pandemic we should think about it more. Some people want to bring the gallows back.

Two more ghastly historical examples of the use of death to suppression dissension are crucifixion and impaling. When I was in ministry in Saskatoon, I often visited the U of S bookstore. One day I noticed a cluster of books about torture and picked up one to look at it. The effect on me (unconscious) was much like the first time I looked at “The Story of O” which is also about torture. It was Arousal that was also Anxiety because such subjects are stigmatized, forbidden.

The U of S at the time was a little fringy tolerant that way, but I looked around quickly to see whether anyone noticed and put the book down. Later in the day I went back to buy the book, but the whole cluster was gone. I reproached myself for not being bolder just as I reproach myself often for being too bold.

At the moment I’m thinking that given the popularity of horror, we have some kind of interest as a culture, and — in fact, I see that at heart is an issue about community versus individual, one intimidating the other with horror. The only time I’d heard about impalement before was in one of Peter Matthiessen’s adventure books about SE Asia. Following a mountain path, he confronted an example he couldn’t understand at first: a man who had been driven onto a stake with anus as entry point.

“Vlad the Impaler”, an historical person, used the punishment against all populations he didn’t like, including impaling infants with their mothers. There were hundreds of people and they were deliberately located along roads to spread terror. It was probably a quicker death than crucifixion, whose victims were also treated in numbers along roadways — Roman roadways. We’ve only recently realized that these singular deaths were imposed on whole demographic groups. This makes it both “better” and worse. Common.

Today we consider something like crucifixion unique and supremely extreme for individuals we revere, almost inconceivably — art exists showing humans on crosses stretching back over hilltops. It is a mystery why people have adopted crosses as jewelry. No equivalent has developed for impaling. “Game of Thrones” picked up the variation of the cross as an X.

I predict that the gruesomeness will soon be redefined as singular by suppressing reflection about such things. This time the objections will come from the people define God as Love. What will those authorities do about the skeletal and deranged people we see on the news and step over on our sidewalks? We can’t really help knowing, even though the police will drive them out. Vigilantes will kill them. The pandemic will get them if common diseases don’t.

Without fantasies like Christianity, called “religion,” we can hardly bear the original doctrine of the planet which is to destroy all those who don’t fit the ecosystem. Only a fraction of bugs, animals, and reptiles ever survive, but they live long enough to reproduce. That’s the planet’s ecosystem — not any human government.

Our government takes the inevitable deaths imposed by the limits of nature as permission to kill the weak, the dangerous, and the opposition. You must know how many Indigenous people have been hung in numbers — one long gallows with many in the audience — even by such revered authorities as Abraham Lincoln. I don’t know what individual gave the orders to hang the Red River leaders in Canada.

The old delusions continue. “According to a 2011 poll from the Associated Press, nearly eight out of 10 Americans believe in the existence of angels and a 2015 poll showed 72 percent of Americans believe in Heaven and 58 percent believe in the existence of Hell.” Reason is no match for the Old Testament, nor even the Gospels. Both are history, but only the early version has taken root. Now it has escaped the churches and become a Media Truth.


Everyone wants eternal life — but like the dog that chases cars — they have not thought about what they will do with it. They continue to think they can extinguish others, while resurrecting those they care about, like JFK, Jr. or Elvis.

“Yggdrasil is also called Mimir’s tree (Old Norse: Mímameiðr) and Lærad (Old Norse: Læraðr). The idea of a world tree is also present among other Germanic tribes. In Saxony, Germany, the pagans worshipped a tree called Irminsul. This tree was eventually destroyed by Charlemagne during the Saxon Wars in the 8th century.”

A big cottonwood tree grows on my south side between me and the Southern Baptists next door. It is my Yggrdrasil. They are determined to claim at least half of this tree. Recently when I was gone they chain-sawed as much as they could reach on “their side.” They know how I feel about it because I have gone to battle against every pastor who has sponsored the act to show their power.

It’s an aging tree and main parts of it have died. If it falls over on their side, I will laugh. Their fantasy is that they will put a pretty bench under it and then they will be in “Downton Abbey,” British gentry with manor houses. They don’t seem to notice the birds that live in the branches drop poop all the time. So far no carrion birds.


“The name Yggdrasil is a kenning, a mythological metaphor that is described in the Edda poem Hávamál. Yggdrasil is a combination of two words. Yggr, which is one of Odin’s names and means “the terrifier, the one who strikes all”. Drasill basically means “horse”, but in a majestic and ceremonial way. Therefore, the name Yggdrasil means Odin’s horse.

The name should be understood in the context of Odin’s connection with the world tree. Odin who is always in the pursuit of more knowledge, once sacrificed himself on the tree to gain more knowledge.

I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.
— Hávamál stanza 138”



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Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.