On The Indo-European Symbolism Of The Ash Tree – And The Ensuing Origins Of The Spear-Race Of Man

Often in the course of work, we begin writing about one topic – only to find that it has serious and substantial bearing upon another. Thus was the case when I sat down to pen “WORLD-SPEAR”, looking at the iconic weapon of the Sky Father. I’d known that there would be significant salience for the Ash Tree in terms of such a weapon – but I had genuinely not anticipated just how far this would go. In the manner of Yggdrasil, it turned out to have subtle yet sublime implications that reached out and touched upon other areas of the Indo-European-isphere as well. 

For in addition to its linkage to the Weapon of the Gods, in addition even to its strength as the Axis Mundi of All Creation (but, then, in a way I repeat myself) – we had also seen it come back around tied to the Consort of the Sky Father (something which finds parallel expression in relation to Jord – Frigg in Nordic source material upon the subject), and even to the Origins of Indo-European Man. 

But let us begin with the relevant extract from “On The World-Spear of the Sky Father – Trishula, Gungnir, Pinaka” : 

“It may also be possible to ‘triangulate’ an additional support for this in the ‘Western’ Indo-European mythologies if we consider the confluence of the Nordic World-Tree Yggdrasil as an Ash, and the well-renowned usage of the Ash tree for spear-crafting. This turns up in Old English, wherein ‘Aesc’ (‘Ash [Tree]’) is a kenning for ‘Spear’, as well as being the name for the Anglo-Saxon iteration of the Ansuz rune. It is also seriously prominent in Greek custom and mythology (for example, the famed Spear of Peleus, as produced by Chiron, Hephaestus, and Athena, and wielded to such great effect by Peleus’ Son, Achilles), to the point that they appear to have had a specific adjective relating to the Ash-usage in question – Eummelies [‘Good-Ash’], in reference to the prominent man’s spar. Entirely uncoincidentally (to my mind, anyway), we also find Poseidon appearing in relation to this as well – being romantically linked to the nymph Melia (‘Ash Tree’). Which echoes the pattern we have identified elsewhere of the Sky Father deific (and yes, yes Poseidon is one – see my previous works such as SWEAR BY THE SEA, SWEAR BY THE STARS, SWEAR BY THE SKY – On The Mytholinguistics Of Varuna Neptune Ouranos, for instance; and remember that for the Proto-Indo-Europeans, the Sky was also a kind of Sea) having a female partner that is closely aligned with the element which comprises the World-Spear. So, Shiva’s Parvati (Mountain) in relation to the World-Mountain as Trishula; Brihaspati’s Vak (‘Sacred Speech’ – and regarded as an in-universe expression of Rta, Herself; also specifically identified in RV X 125 as being the force which makes Rudra’s Bow work – the ‘bending’ which turns it from a stave into an arch, presumably by acting as the bowstring and thusly producing the sacred ‘Humkara’ sound (which can also mean a bowstring’s twang) when fired) in relation to the Bow and Rta-Bow-String; the both ‘Mountain’ AND ‘Tree’ symbolism of Odin’s Partner; and so on and so forth.

The direct mention of Yggdrasil providing the wood which forms Gungnir, I have regrettably not been able to track down much further than Wagner (who, despite his undeniable enthusiasm and potent-ial inspiration, is not exactly a primary nor authoritative / authentic source) … but off the basis of the above evidence, it would seem to be a fairly reasonable and plausible continuance of the typology.”

But let us now turn to that most intrinsically human concern – the Origin of Man. 

The Nordic account, of Ask & Embla, we have already mentioned. We shall return to it in due course. 

It is the Greek notion – wherein the Race of Bronze, Bronze Age Man, has origins amidst the Ash, that we shall highlight here. Per Hesiod in ‘Works and Days’: 

“Or if you will, I will sum you up another tale well and skilfully–and do you lay it up in your heart, – how the gods and mortal men sprang from one source […]

Zeus the Father made a third generation of mortal men, a brazen race, sprung from Ash-Trees (Meliai); and it was in no way equal to the silver age, but was terrible and strong. They loved the lamentable works of Ares and deeds of violence; they ate no bread, but were hard of heart like adamant, fearful men. Great was their strength and unconquerable the arms which grew from their shoulders on their strong limbs. Their armour was of bronze, and their houses of bronze, and of bronze were their implements: there was no black iron. These were destroyed by their own hands and passed to the dank house of chill Haides, and left no name: terrible though they were, black Death seized them, and they left the bright light of the sun.”

That use of “Meliai” there is potentially meant in something of a ‘double sense’ – not only the Ash Trees in their literal and direct rendering, but the Meliai of Whom we have already met a rather prominent member: Melia, the Wood-Nymph Consort of Poseidon. Or do I perhaps mean Melia, the Wood-Nymph Consort of Apollo. Or do I perhaps mean Melia, the Wood-Nymph Consort of the Deity Inachus. In all cases, the pairing of God and Ashen Wood-Nymph produces a line of kings – a Nation. Interestingly, in each of these instances, the resultant progeny of half-God half-Ash humans are Twins (or, at least, closely paired brothers). Progenitor Twins we might perhaps suggest – that is to say, ‘refractions’ or ‘echoes’ of the literally foundational Myth of the Indo-European Man [and c.f our ongoing ‘Sons of the Sun’ series for more upon that – in particular the perhaps surprising linkage of the River/Ocean God in the paternal role therein]. 

There is, to be sure, some back-and-forth within the ancient Greek sources as to whether the Meliai of Hesiod’s Bronze Age Origins are intended to just literally and directly mean the Ash Trees, or also the Ash-Tree Nymphs as well. Certainly, the ‘figurative’ rendering of the Men of Ash has quite some currency – the warlike nature of the Bronze Age Man being reflected in the strongly significant utilization of the Wood of the Ash for the Spear-shaft and the Chariot-axle. However, as applies certain of the specific Meliai we have aforementioned above, it is evident that the resultant role in the Origins of Man is not intended to be temporally affixed to the Hesiodic Bronze Age – as these Nymphs were still regarded as the Mythic Mother(s) of peoples, such as the Thebans, that were still very much around in the Current Age for the high-Classical Greeks. 

The ‘Warlike’ association is also not simply one for the Sons of said Nymphs, either – as the Meliai are also depicted as Themselves harbouring martial enthusiasm and proficiency, joining the Army of Dionysus at the behest of Rhea in Nonnus’ Dionysiaca. Meanwhile, the ‘Nurturing’ or ‘Maternal’ aspect to the Ash-Nymphs is also borne out via Their role looking after the Infant Zeus upon Crete, where He is fed upon the Honey (‘Meli’ – also connected to the Ash-Sap) and the Milk of Amalthea. An undertaking considerably availed via the vigorous performance of a shield-clashing war-dance by the Kouretes so as to disguise the cries of the newborn Zeus from Kronos’ hearing. It is vaguely possible that this last incidence may have some parallel with the interpretation of a particular verse of the RigVeda for Indra, the Son of the Sky Father, being hidden away and nurtured by another maternal figure than Earth, and given Soma in order to strengthen Him (the opposition to Kronos of Zeus perhaps reflecting the Feud of Indra and Tvastr). Although I must emphasize that this does not establish an Indra-Zeus parallel … as Zeus Pater is quite patently Dyaus Pitar, and this merely reflects the curious manner in which the Greeks’ “Mess-O-Potamia” deviation from the underlying Indo-European mythic typology has brought together elements of the Striker/Thunderer deific with the Sky Father as applies Zeus in particular. It should also be noted that, whilst logical in light of various Vedic verses, this interpretation for RV IV 18 as featuring another ‘surrogate’ maternal figure for Indra, is contestable. More upon that, perhaps, at some other juncture-in-time.

But let us return from there to Askr and Embla, and thence perhaps begin to establish a broader Indo-European typology. 

There are two slightly differing versions of this tale found amidst the Eddic canon – that of the Voluspa (which is far more brief), and that of the Gylfaginning. 

The Voluspa account is significantly interesting for our purposes, as it portrays Ask and Embla as, effectively, being found by the Gods involved, and thence invested with the relevant, salient qualities that make Them actually human in a meaningful sense. One of which is, implicitly, a connexion to Orlog – the Cosmic Law, although in this sense also interpreted as ‘Fate’ or ‘Destiny’ – which these two are described as previously lacking. 

Predictably, in light of what has gone before, the Voluspa proceeds immediately from its mention of Ask and Embla … to the discussion of a certain Ash Tree. Yggdrasil the Mighty. Which, of course, also has Three Maidens closely associated therewith. It is important to note just how direct the equation of terminology is here – “Ask ok Emblu örlöglausa” when talking about Askr and Embla … “Ask veit ek standa, heitir Yggdrasill” when speaking to the species of Yggdrasil. This is unlikely to have been coincidental, and instead reflects the fundamental linkage of Indo-European Man to the Axis Mundi, the immanency of Cosmic Order, to this world. Indeed, I should even go so far as to suggest that in the Voluspa rendering of the episode, the ‘naming’ of Ask and Embla to make this connectivity clear (indeed, to grant this connectivity-proper in the first place) is something that should take place as part of the ‘investiture of qualities’ undertaken by The Gods to these mythic progenitors. Certainly, we have quite some precedent elsewhere in the Nordic canon for the Soul proper to become imparted to a child only when the Naming and Acknowledgement by the Father has taken place. 

This immanency of Cosmic Order represented by the Ash Tree as Axis Mundi is then semi-directly stated by the next verse of the Voluspa – wherein it is the carving upon the Tree by these Ash-Maidens that grants ‘Life’ and that essential ‘Orlog’ to Man: “þær lög lögðu, þær líf kuru / alda börnum, örlög seggja.” “Log”, it would seem, represents “Law” both linguistically as well as illustratively (and I make no apo-log-y for that pun).

Meanwhile, the Gylfaginning account is somewhat different – 

“And Hárr answered: ‘When the sons of Borr were walking along the sea-strand, they found two trees, and took up the trees and shaped men of them: the first gave them spirit and life; the second, wit and feeling; the third, form, speech, hearing, and sight. They gave them clothing and names: the male was called Askr, and the female Embla, and of them was mankind begotten, which received a dwelling-place under Midgard.”

Some of the qualities imparted match up directly. Others do not. Although even where there is divergence, it is quite clear that there is a close relationship between the investitures in question. But the main difference we have that is saliently relevant for our purposes, is between the Voluspa account’s presentation of the Trio of Gods (and yes, also, which Trio of Gods – Odin is the main crossover between both) as finding Ask and Embla and thence exerting work upon them in order to turn them into the Ask and Embla proper … and the Gylfaginning’s presentation of Ask and Embla being carved or otherwise worked from two trees found in the course of the Gods’ wanderings. 

Although as I have suggested, this seeming difference is perhaps not all that significant. And is nevertheless potentially readable in concert – as the reasoning for Ask and Embla being almost ‘lifeless’ and vaguely ‘inanimate’ prior to the intervention of the Gods in the Voluspa being their still being trees, as per the Gylfaginning. 

The point is, this Nordic presentation of the Origins of Man accords in a fundamental sense with what is found in those various Greek sources aforementioned. It should be noted that there is some degree of divergency, too – two Ash-formed humans as a couple, rather than the Ash-Woman or Women as Mother. But it is nevertheless quite directly stated that it is from the Ash that we descend – and from the Ash which Man is given ‘Lif’.

Something which may have further implications given the similarly ‘woody’ (re-)origins of Humankind post-Ragnarok via Líf and Lífþrasir – and the potentially corresponding line in Fjölsvinnsmál describing the role of the Tree of Mimir (which likely also refers to Yggdrasil, as does the Hoard-Mimir’s Wood from whence Líf and Lífþrasir) in facilitating the birth of Men. “Ashes to Ashes”, it would appear, takes on an entirely different meaning when considering the Lif-Cycle of Germanic Man. 

Now, in terms of a potential Indo-European reconstructive typology, I believe that the most likely and plausible manner to bring together these elements above-mentioned (plus various others from the Sons of the Sun series detailing more directly the Mythic Origins of Indo-European Man), is provided via the under-acknowledged saliency of the Earth Mother deific, the Mountain Queen deific, in relation to Trees (as seen, in the Nordic canon, via the Lokasenna’s specification of Jord as having “branches” for arms). I have covered this but briefly in “Bharat Mata And The Indo-European Deific of National Identity”, as well as in slightly more depth and detail of explication in “World-Spear” – however it is now time to address the matter, the Mata, quite directly. 

As we have seen, the figure of Yggdrasil as Axis Mundi is closely correlate with the Mountain formulations found elsewhere in the Indo-European world view. It is correlate also with the Chariot-Axle (or Tree) mentioned in this sense in the Vedas, and with the Spear-Shaft of the Trishula of Shiva. I believe that it is also correlate in just the same manner and for exactly the same reasons, with the World-Pillar that is the immanent Axis of Cosmic Order (Rta, Orlog) in our universe. Which, per the well-renowned Hindu theology upon the topic (as well as Greek and even Roman materials that we can further cite in support), is also embodied in the Great Goddess – the Sky Father’s (fiercely militant) Wife and Consort. Otherwise known as the Earth Mother. And with the figurative and linguistic parallels between various forms and terms for forms of Tree and Mountain also being of quite direct relevancy here. 

It has long been my contention that the interpretation of Indo-European ‘Origin of Man’ myths have tended to bowdlerize or otherwise euhemerize particular details in pursuit of political or other impact. And, in the relevant portion for us here, around the maternal origin of the Human race or the loka-lized tribe or nation in question. So instead of seeing the direct maternal linkage of the Indo-European Man to the Divine Wife of the Sky Father, we tend instead to see this obfuscated. We find some already-extant human woman in some cases (such as, with the Roman iteration, the excellently named Rhea Silvia – ‘Mother Earth Wood/Forest’), the daughter of another God in others, a certain Serpentine quasi-Demon in yet still more (and yes, we shall speak more about Her in due time!). As we have already discussed, there is a perhaps (un)surprising prevalency for the Wood-Nymphs of the Ash to fulfil this role in various corners and quarters of the Greek mythology. Both in terms of the ‘Mother of the Race’ element, as well as the more direct ‘Consort of the Deity’ element. 

If we should step back and apply our critical, comparative-Indo-European analytical perspective to these myths – we begin to see that they are, in point of fact, actually one and the same for the most part. Although with various details altered dependent upon who’s telling them and why. 

The general outline of the underlyant Indo-European myth, therefore, should read something along the lines of the following:

The Sky Father does indeed fashion the First of Men from the Wood of the World-Tree … in the same manner that any human child is born and comprised of the flesh of his Mother. For the Mother Goddess is both Earth and Tree and Law. And we are Her Children. 

Truly, when the Anglo-Saxons referred to the Vikings as Æsclings, it was a name well-chosen. For not only does the conventionally-interpreted meaning of the term as ‘Men of the Spear’ [i.e. ‘Geir-man’, from whence, potentially, ‘German’ – ‘Geir’ meaning ‘Spear’] and their bellicose nature which the English were often upon pointedly the wrong end of; but it also recollects the Germanic folk-origin as the descendants of Askr – the Ash.

And, though they knew it not – the ultimate underlying divine origins of Indo-European Man, when the Ash is considered in its full mythic typology. I now suspect that it is utterly no coincidence just how closely the terms for the Ash are with the terms for the Sire(s), the Begetting God(s) – the Aesir, or Asura in its older sense (never to be confused with “A’Sura” – which means opposite-to-shining and refers to demons); as well as the Sanskrit “Asu”, referring to the Breath of Life imparted to Man by Odin – Vayu-Vata.”

Certainly, the three Nordic senses for “áss” are most relevant here – as “Aesir” [‘God’/’Progenitor’/’Sire’], as the aforementioned Rocky ridgeline of the Mountain, and also as the key beam which supports a structure or upon which hangs a sail. For, in concert with the Spear-Tipped myth of the Sky Father and the saliency of the World-Mother-As-Wood , it becomes sharply evident that the linguistic resonancy, the mythic resonance of these terms is not mere humanly coincidental. 

Rather, it is the figurative importance of the Ash which pertains in various ways to them all. 

Not for nothing have I often been known to figuratively translate the Name of a particular appearance of the Indo-European Mother Goddess known amongst the Hindus as Shakambhari [‘Bringer of the Shoots of Green Growth’, and re-immanency of Cosmic Order] … as ‘Bringer of the Spear(s)’. 

The ‘Spears’ in question, it would seem, are also Us [Proto-Indo-European: “Os”]. 

2 thoughts on “On The Indo-European Symbolism Of The Ash Tree – And The Ensuing Origins Of The Spear-Race Of Man

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