Scholar examines roots of Yggdrasill

Norwegian author Maria Kvilhaug views Norse myths anew, in English-language book


Photo: Public Domain
“The Ash Yggdragsil,” The world tree and some of its inhabitants, illustration by Fredrich Wilhelm Heine, 1866.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Yggdrasill, from the Old Norse, is a gigantic, mythical ash tree that interconnects the nine realms of Norse cosmology. It was first mentioned in writing in the Prose Edda, a 13th century narrative of Norse mythology by Icelandic historian, poet, and politician Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241). Since then, much scholarly study has been devoted to the intertwined stories of the Edda and the importance of Yggdrasill in them.


Book cover: The Seed of Yggdrasill

In this century, Norwegian factual prose and fiction author Maria Kvilhaug has specialized in Norse mythology with the aim of conveying its many interpretations to today’s readers. Her latest book, The Seed of Yggdrasill, was published last year. Like the gigantic, mythical ash tree, the book is a 712-page giant that weighs 4.4 pounds. The 15-page bibliography at its end reflects the working way of an academic, which she is; her previous published work on Norse mythology was her University of Oslo master’s degree thesis, The Maiden with the Mead: A Goddess of Initiation Rituals in Old Norse Mythology, published in 2009. In 2016, a smaller book, The Poetic Edda: Six Old Norse Cosmology Poems, illustrated her approach, with the original Old Norse texts alongside a new translation and interpretation of them.

Kvilhaug has also published four novels, The Hammer of Greatness, My Enemy’s Head, The Hel Rune’s Claim, and A Twisted Mirror, parts of a sequel about the lives of the Oseberg priestesses, so named because they had been buried in 834, early in the Viking Age, on a ship in a mound at the Oseberg Farm near Tønsberg on the west bank of the Oslo Fjord (the ship is on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo; studies of it continue to this day; see “Viking ship cannabis conundrum,” The Norwegian American, Jan. 29, 2016:

Maria Kvilhaug

Photo courtesy of Maria Kvilhaug
Author Maria Kvilhaug

Befitting for a writer on historical matters, Maria Kvilhaug traces her lineage back to a large burial mound called Kvilhaug (literally “rest mound”), as it was a favored resting place on walks on an island in Rogaland County. According to family legend, there were two farms near that mound, one wealthy, one for serfs. All Kvilhaugs descend from one of the two farm families, but Maria doesn’t know which is the root of her lineage.

Perhaps less fitting for an academic, she has zigzagged between pursuits. At age 21, she left home to spend four years in England earning a bachelor’s degree in art. Then she lived a while in Oakland, Calif., before moving to the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. During her four-year stay there, she pursued remote education at the University of Oslo, focusing on Hinduism and Norse mythology. She earned a master’s degree in 2004 and then spent a year in Portugal, researching and writing on Old Norse myths. An eccentric career thus far, but her books are all the more interesting for it.

Latest book: The Seed of Yggdrasill, Helsinge, Denmark, Whyte Tracks Publishing, Third edition, May 1, 2017.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 9, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.