The Ash

Ash twig and bark.

I know that for many of you, the time for working with ancestors has past. For me, it’s just begun. Winter is a stark reminder of the past. Not the recent past. The ancient past.

So much depended on trees for shelter and warmth. They had to stay warm and dry for many long dark nights, hoping they’d saved enough food and firewood.

We frequently burn white ash for heat. It is one of the most common fast-growing trees of NE Ohio, but most of the larger trees are dying and need to be removed before they fall.

A large dying White Ash Tree infected with the Emerald Ash Borer
Michael hunter [CC BY-SA 4.0 (

Why are they dying? Because somehow the emerald ash borer stowed itself away and immigrated to North America. The relationship between native ash trees and native ash borers was balanced. The borers bored through the ash trees without eating too much and the ash trees lived. But the emerald ash borer doesn’t know when to stop.

It’s pretty easy to be annoyed at recent ancestors about these kinds of environmental changes. But the ash tree has older stories.

Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1845-1921). [Public domain]

As I move the wood, here and there, getting warmed by it each time, I consider the ancient tree, Yggdrasil. A great tree grows at the center of the worlds, connecting them with its roots. Many sources suggest this tree was an ash.

Mimir watches as Odin drinks from the Well of Urd.
Robert Engels (1866-1920). [Public domain]

Yggdrasil is the source of three wells or springs: the Well of Urd (Fate), the Well of Hvergelmir (the Bubbling Cauldron or the Roaring Kettle), and the Well of Mimir (a giant who held the knowledge of the cosmos). When Ragnorak (perhaps a Nordic version of the Apocalypse) shakes the great tree, destroying the worlds, Yggdrasil will endure and bring new life. The ash is the tree of life.

Yggdrasil is where Odin made two great sacrifices. He gave his eye to Mimir for a drink from the Well. A drink that would impart the knowledge of the cosmos. Thus, the ash is also the tree of knowledge.

The Three Norns and Yggdrasil
Signed “H. L. M.” [Public domain]

Three Norns (Fates) live beneath Yggdrasil. They represent the past, present, and future. Odin makes his second sacrifice by wounding himself with his own spear, then hanging himself upside down. He stares into the Well of Urd for nine days before he sees symbols carved into wood. These are the runes, the great archetypes that provide insight into the ways of the world. The runes are a gift from the ancestors.

Making ash runes.

Finally, after warming myself many times, I watch the flames lick the the pale wood. I consider the gift of Fire. The Ancestors stared into Fire for many thousands of years: wondering, imagining, and telling stories of how Fire came to be in the hands of the people.

However, the gift of Fire is a story for another day.

Burning a Yule log at BLD farm.