Ratatoskr: The Mischievous Messenger of Yggdrasil

Deep within the rich tapestry of Old Norse mythology lies a world brimming with gods, giants, and magical creatures. Amidst …

Deep within the rich tapestry of Old Norse mythology lies a world brimming with gods, giants, and magical creatures. Amidst this vivid landscape, we find an intriguing character: Ratatoskr, the squirrel who dwells in the World Tree, Yggdrasil

It  might be easy to overlook this seemingly (and literally) small player in the grand narrative. However, Ratatoskr’s role as a messenger and instigator adds an intriguing dimension to the Norse cosmos. I have to admit that I hadn’t thought much about his goings-on before I dove into this post. However, I believe he does serve more of a purpose than what it might look like at first glance.

Etymology and Origins

Photo Credit: fiendishly_psick

The name Ratatoskr (Old Norse:Ratatöskr), is said to mean “drill-tooth” or “bore-tooth,” perhaps alluding to the squirrel’s propensity for gnawing. Ratatoskr doesn’t hold a very prominent role compared to other mythical beings. However, his presence in Yggdrasil speaks to the diverse array of creatures inhabiting the Norse cosmos.

Animals play an essential role in Norse mythology, often serving as companion spirits or fylgjur, or associated with the gods. As such, Ratatoskr’s role within Yggdrasil reveals the interconnectedness of the mythological world.

Ratatoskr and Yggdrasil

Yggdrasil, the World Tree, stands as a central symbol in Norse cosmology. Its roots and branches connect the Nine Worlds, making it a unifying force in the mythological landscape. Amidst this cosmic structure, Ratatoskr scurries up and down the trunk, relaying messages between the wise eagle perched atop the tree and the evil serpent Nidhogg beneath its roots.

Squirrel running on Yggdrasil
Haukurth on en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the Poetic Edda, the poem Grímnismál stanza 32 features a mention of Ratatoskr:

  1. A squirrel named Ratatoskr | runs there,
    By the ash Yggdrasil;
    The eagles words | he often bears,
    To Nidhöggr below.

The little squirrel is also described in Snorri Sturluson’s Gylfaginning.

“A squirrel, by name Ratatoskr, springs up and down the tree, and carries words of envy between the eagle and Nidhogg.”

The Role of Ratatoskr: Instigator and Gossip

Ratatoskr communicating with eagle
Ludwig Burger (1825-1884)., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While Ratatoskr may appear to be a mere messenger, his role in Norse mythology extends beyond simple communication. This mischievous squirrel delights in sowing discord, often embellishing or twisting the messages it carries between the eagle and Nidhogg. This cunning manipulation exacerbates the animosity between the two creatures, ensuring their ongoing conflict.

Yet, Ratatoskr’s actions have a broader significance. By maintaining the tension between the eagle and Nidhogg, the squirrel inadvertently contributes to the cosmic balance. Its tale serves as a reminder that even the smallest players can have a profound impact on the larger mythological narrative.

Ratatoskr’s unique place in Norse mythology

Wrapping up my exploration of Ratatoskr, the Messenger of Yggdrasil, I have a new appreciation of the squirrel’s unique role in Old Norse mythology. Although small and seemingly insignificant, Ratatoskr plays a critical part in the dynamic interplay of the mythological world. This crafty squirrel reminds us that even the tiniest creatures can have a significant impact on the grand tapestry of stories and legends.

Ratatoskr’s tale captures the imagination, providing a fascinating glimpse into the complexity and interconnectedness of Norse cosmology. As we continue to explore the rich world of Old Norse mythology, we can appreciate the diverse cast of characters that populate its stories, from the mighty gods to the mischievous squirrels.

So, the next time you delve into the enthralling tales of the Norse cosmos, remember the cunning Ratatoskr, scurrying up and down Yggdrasil, sowing discord and maintaining balance, all with a cheeky glint in its eye.

Ratatoskr FAQs

Who is Ratatoskr in Norse mythology?

Ratatoskr is a squirrel in Norse mythology that dwells in Yggdrasil, the World Tree. It serves as a messenger, carrying messages between the eagle at the top of the tree and the serpent Nidhogg at the roots, while also stirring up conflict between them.

What does the name “Ratatoskr” mean?

The name “Ratatoskr” comes from Old Norse and is often translated as “Drill-Tooth” or “Bore-Tooth.” This name may refer to the squirrel’s gnawing habit, which is typical of real-world squirrels.

Why is Ratatoskr important in Norse mythology?

Ratatoskr plays a unique role in Norse mythology as a messenger and instigator of the conflict. By maintaining tension between the eagle and Nidhogg, Ratatoskr contributes to the cosmic balance and demonstrates the interconnectedness of the mythological world.

Does Ratatoskr have any powers or abilities?

While Ratatoskr does not possess supernatural powers like some other mythological creatures, it is known for its cunning and mischievous nature. This crafty squirrel excels at manipulating messages to stir up trouble between the eagle and Nidhogg.

Are there any other animals in Yggdrasil besides Ratatoskr?

Yes, Yggdrasil is home to several other creatures in Norse mythology, including the eagle perched at the top of the tree, the serpent Nidhogg at the roots, and four stags that roam among the branches, feeding on the tree’s foliage.

Featured Image Credit: Ludwig Pietsch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of author


Norse mythology enthusiast, Norwegian and living in Oslo next to a series of old Viking age burial mounds.I am also able to navigate and understand quite a lot of the old Norse texts and I often lean on original texts when researching an article. Through this blog I hope more people, young and old will get to know Norse mythology and the world of the Vikings a bit better.

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