If you’re someone who’s fascinated by the deep lore of Norse mythology, then you’ll love a tattoo of Yggdrasil (also called the World Tree, or Tree of Life). Unlike the other portrayals of the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil is a tree of cosmic proportions. It’s a tree of universal scale and is central to all of Norse mythology.
Perhaps you’re familiar with Yggdrasil because of its fascinating depictions in modern pop culture such as in the hit movie series Thor by Marvel Studios and 2018’s Game of the Year, God of War.
But if these don’t ring a bell, then I highly encourage you to check them both out. Despite the radical curve in artistic direction, both adaptations still manage to keep a healthy relationship with the source literature.
In both’s depictions of Yggdrasil, the tree has retained its status as a cosmic presence—and with good reason. Everything within the realm of Norse mythology literally revolves around Yggdrasil. We’ll get to that later. But it’s because of the rich lore behind this awesome tree that makes it such a meaningful—and pretty badass—tattoo.
In this article, I’ve compiled 20 of the most meaningful, stylish, and detailed Yggdrasil tattoos on the World Wide Web, along with a quick review of the rich lore behind this magical tree. If any of the pieces catch your eye, I made sure to credit each artist so you can see more of their work or message them directly. Feel free to check them out!
Because Yggdrasil is tied to so many other depictions of the Tree of Life, it has come to symbolize many things in addition to those originally intended by the ones who wrote Norse mythology. Here are some of the strongest symbolisms it carries.
Very detailed Yggdrasil tattoo featuring a Celtic knot, by Patrick Dreyer. (@tattoobypat on Instagram).
Most Tree of Life tattoos like Yggdrasil are illustrated as an expansive network of branches and roots held together by a unifying trunk in the center of the piece. This phenomenon that occurs in the tree’s branches, where each one spreads into its own fractal, represents the interconnection of all things.
Blackwork Yggdrasil forearm tattoo with Norse runes, by Katharina Dörner. (@kathze242 on Instagram).
This is the reason why ancestral diagrams such as the ones we use for family trees or the ones used in biology to mark the lineage of each individual species to their ancestors, are illustrated as trees.
Detailed Yggdrasil upper arm tattoo featuring the symbol for the Nine Worlds, by Pernille Jensen. (@inkbyshay on Instagram).
Each group branches ever outward, separating itself from its own ancestors and merges into the descendants of others. But despite this, everyone and everything roots to a single ancestor—in this way, one is all and all is one. This represents the interconnection of all things.
Detailed black and grey Yggdrasil forearm tattoo with a triforce at the base, by Andre Leibersperger. (@al_rocko_tattoo on Instagram).
In Norse mythology, this is clear in the way the entire cosmos is connected by Yggdrasil, the world-tree. It is what connects the Nine Worlds with each other, and everything that exists in them.
Extremely intricate Yggdrasil back tattoo, by Tonje Kathrine Stifoss. (@tonjekathrines on Instagram).
Mortality & Immortality
I admit it’s unusual how Yggdrasil can represent both of these ideas at the same time, but this is evident in the stories found in the Old Norse sources.
This minimalist Yggdrasil tattoo uses geometric symbols to symbolize the tree branches and roots, by Rompeolas Studio. (@rompeolas_studio on Instagram).
Trees are known to be long-living, with some trees lasting up to 300 years old. Even in situations that would challenge the tree’s longevity, nature still finds a way. And even when a tree dies or is cut down, its seeds will sprout and grow into more trees, just as strong. This represents immortality and longevity.
Yggdrasil upper arm tattoo with a legendary Norse blade, by Robin Adriaenssens. (@summers_end_tattoo on Instagram).
In Norse mythology, however, there are many animals that live on Yggdrasil’s roots, trunk, and branches. And each one, for survival, lives off of the tree. Serpents at the base of Yggdrasil gnaw at its roots while four legendary stags graze on its leaves.
A design which leans more towards the life aspect of Yggdrasil, by Blackmoor Tattoo Shop. (@blackmoortattooshop on Instagram).
Now, despite Yggdrasil being a tree of cosmic scale which seemingly cannot be felled, the way that these animals nibble at its roots and leaves implies otherwise. Perhaps this seemingly immortal tree, like all things that live, is mortal after all.
Using Celtic knots to symbolize Odin with his two wolves Geri and Freki in blackwork style, by Blue Root Tattoo. (@blueroottattoo on Instagram).
This represents the concept of mortality—how all things must inevitably die—memento mori. Although rather grim, beauty can still be found in this seemingly pessimistic statement. It points out that stressing over the petty day to day things is pointless because death is inevitable. It points out how much more worthy it is of our time to appreciate life rather than stress over it.
An Yggdrasil sigil with Algiz, the Norse symbol for life, by Tattoo-Planet Breidenbach. (@tattplanbrb on Instagram).
Now, although we have already established the mortality of Yggdrasil, one of its best qualities is its strength. In its lifetime, before the inevitable cataclysmic destruction of the entire cosmos brought forth by Ragnarok, the World Tree, Yggdrasil has still managed to keep the cosmos together.
Yggdrasil with a compass on its trunk, by Wendigo Ink. (@wendigoink on Instagram).
The multitude of animals slowly nibbling away at the World Tree did very little to make Yggdrasil tremble. Its mighty bulwark would not be penetrated even when deluged by vicious creatures. For this reason, Yggdrasil is a symbol of strength and resilience.
Another design that makes use of Celtic knots and the symbol of the Nine Worlds forming the shape of a skull or the face of Odin, by Andre Santos. (@andresantostattoo on Instagram).
Getting your Yggdrasil tattoo
A lot of the people that get a tattoo of Yggdrasil are usually fond of Norse mythology in general. Some have dug into the meat of its more modern adaptations in pop culture (like Marvel Studios’s Thor or 2018’s God of War) and have immersed themselves in the original lore.
Some depictions, on the other hand, are actually pretty accurate, leaning more towards realism than fantasy unlike the ones I mentioned above. The Vikings TV series (2013) is one that takes a more realistic approach. It tells the story of Viking society in a historically accurate fashion, and Norse mythology frequently makes its way into the plotlines and the characters’ backgrounds and beliefs.
Minimalist take on Yggdrasil showing the interconnection of the world, by Natasha Shevchenko. (@natka.tattoo on Instagram).
If you’re fond of Yggdrasil and haven’t tried these, I highly recommend you do. The role of Yggdrasil as a cosmic presence is highlighted very well in most depictions, and they usually take a unique perspective that you might be able to incorporate into your tattoo’s design.
A creative, cartoonish take on Yggdrasil, by InkTroll_tattoos. (@inktroll_tattoos on Instagram).
Now, the placement of your tattoo should depend on the size and complexity of the design that you choose. Evidently, larger, more complex pieces are more suitable when placed on the more spacious parts of your body such as your chest or back.
The symbol of the Nine Worlds appears on the trunk of a seemingly dead Yggdrasil, by Nadz. (@nadz_hydradad on Instagram).
There are also some smaller, minimalistic designs that you can opt to place on tighter spaces like your forearm or calf. These are usually the designs that don’t incorporate too many elements so the tattoo doesn’t end up looking crowded.
Odin hangs from Yggdrasil after stabbing himself with his spear, Gugnir, in an act of self-sacrifice, by ZELE Tetoviranje. (@zele.tetoviranje on Instagram).
But if you’re up to it, there are many ways to personalize your Yggdrasil tattoo. You can work with your tattoo artist to help you conceptualize a design that’s unique only to you.
A beautiful Yggdrasil sleeve, by Black Star Studio. (@blackstarstudio on Instagram).Some of the more common elements associated with Yggdrasil tattoo designs are runes, particularly Younger Futhark and Elder Futhark, which are the official names of the alphabetical systems used by the Vikings.
An illustrative Yggdrasil tattoo with roots interlocking to form a Celtic knot, by Farbstation Ben. (@farbstation_ben on Instagram).
Using the runes, you have the ability to personalize your tattoo by inscribing words or phrases that you value on a personal level. Often, though, the Viking runes are used to indicate the names of each of the Nine Worlds which Yggdrasil connects (more on this later!).
by Diego Favaretto. (@diihfavaretto on Instagram).
Something I don’t see too often incorporated into Yggdrasil tattoo designs are other notable characters in Norse mythology such as Odin, the ruler of Asgard, Heimdall, the ever-vigilant guardian of the Bifrost Bridge, or Nidhogg, the evil serpentine dragon at the bottom of Yggdrasil, bent on pulling the cosmos back into chaos.
If you look hard enough, there are plenty of characters from Norse mythology that, at some point in time, have interacted with Yggdrasil. And they often come with interesting backstories themselves.
A beautiful minimalist Norse tattoo filled with all sorts of Norse symbols like Odin’s two ravens (Huginn and Muninn), the symbol Valknut (three interlocked triangles), and the symbol for the Nine Worlds, by Gabriel Nolandy Teliê. (@tattootelie on Instagram).
In any case, how you personalize your Yggdrasil tattoo is entirely up to you. You could take some of the elements you see in one of these pieces into another, or you could conceptualize an entirely new design with your artist based on your readings.
Honestly, reading more into Norse mythology was an undertaking that I’ve come to enjoy myself, and perhaps you will too. In the following section, we’ll go through a quick review of the lore involved with Yggdrasil in Norse mythology.
The lore behind Yggdrasil
Yggdrasil is commonly known in the English language as the World Tree or the Tree of Life. Obviously, Yggdrasil is nothing like our typical tree. Its name is derived from Yggr (one of the god Odin’s many names, meaning “terrible”) and drasill (meaning “horse”). This means it was called “Horse of Odin”. Read on and you’ll understand why.
You see, in Norse mythology, the universe is divided into the Nine Worlds. The one world that gets mentioned most frequently in mass media and literature is most probably Asgard, the world of the Aesir tribe of gods and goddesses. It’s the world from which familiar beings like Thor and Odin hail.
Hel is mistakenly thought of by some as the Norse counterpart of the more well-known Hell of Christianity, although the former is probably closer to Greek mythology’s Underworld, the realm of the dead, ruled by Hades.
Because Hel and Hell coincidentally share homonymous names, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that the two locations are the same. But, apart from them both being described as realms of the dead, the similarities most likely end there.
Christianity’s Hell is a place where the dead are sent to as an eternal punishment after they have been judged for immoral and impious behavior. It’s frequently described as a horrific fiery cavern engulfed in an ocean of flames.
Norse mythology’s Hel is nothing like this. At least not in any of the Old Norse sources. Yes, it was a place where the dead ended up, but the factors that determined why they would end up here rather than in another afterlife realm (there were several afterlife realms) were unclear. What is clear is that neither morality nor piousness determined whether a soul would be sent to Hel. It was neither a reward nor punishment.
Our world, called Midgard, is the world of humanity, while the others, too many to mention, are worlds where beings like dwarves, giants, and elves reside. All of these Nine Worlds are held in the branches and roots of Yggdrasil. In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the connector that brings together all that exists.
Yggdrasil is also known to house various other beings and creatures on its stout branches and roots. Constantly gnawing on its roots lurk several serpents/dragons—foremost of them is the evil dragon Nidhogg. Their goal is to fell the tree by gnawing on its roots, bringing chaos to the Nine Worlds.
It has three roots, separately planted in Midgard, the world of humanity, in Jotunheim, the world of the giants, and in Hel, the underworld. Underneath the tree is a well called the Well of Urd.
On its upper branches, an unnamed eagle perches, along with a squirrel named Ratatoskr (meaning “Drill-Tooth”) who scurries up and down the trunk of Yggdrasil, delivering the insults of the dragons’ to the eagle and vice versa. Meanwhile, four stags—namely Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, and Durathror—graze on its leaves.
Trees are known to be long-living organisms, which is why other depictions of the Tree of Life are known to represent longevity or immortality. But in the case of Yggdrasil, the way its branches, roots, and leaves are nibbled away little by little by the creatures mentioned above—this represents its mortality, and that of the cosmos which depends on it.
In any case, it can be seen how vital the image of the great world-tree was to the Norse worldview. If you want to learn more about Yggdrasil or the deeper lore behind Norse mythology, visit this link.
It’s no wonder this tattoo is so popular among people of the modern age. The symbolism and lore associated with Yggdrasil is just so deep and unique that it’s hard to ignore. The culture of the Vikings is an interesting topic, and I urge you to learn more about them if you want to understand your Yggdrasil tattoo deeper. And hopefully, the stories in this article gave you some ideas on how to personalize your design by incorporating elements based on the mythology itself.
Did you enjoy these Yggdrasil tattoo designs or are you looking for more inspiration? Check out the following links to see more designs from talented artists.