Ratatosk, the Cosmic Squirrel

For a good long while, I was a homeschooler. We, once upon a time, belonged to a homeschool co-op. And all the Moms and Dads taught different things. One of the classes I taught was Norse Mythology. I wanted something different than Greek or Roman myths, and Norse Myths were something I knew decently well, so I chose that.

The class was geared towards 3-6th graders, so the focus was on a lot of the earthier aspects, armpits, and giants peeing in a river to sweep Thor away, and cow tongues licking the Gods into existence. But one of the stories talked about Yggdrasil, the tree of life. It cuts through the 9 different realms and is part of all of them. There are many creatures and beings that are attached to the tree. The Norns care for it, the Celestial Stags eat from it and, according to some stories, stream dew from the tree's leaves down their antlers to all the rivers of the Realms. On the top of the tree is the Cosmic Eagle (unnamed) that is so large and mighty, a hawk name Veorfolnir roosts on his head. The Cosmic Eagle is often said to use his wings to create the winds of the world (though this is another eagle in some places) and is thought to be wise.

Down below all of that, at the three roots of Yggdrasil, sits the dragon Niddhogr. He gnaws at the roots of the tree, and when he eats through them, it will be one of the many signs of Ragnarock.

But my imagination was caught by the description of the Cosmic Squirrel, Ratatoskr. His function is to take messages from the Eagle (often interpreted to be nasty gossip) down to Niddhogr and then return with the dragon's reply.

There are many interpretations of Ratatosk by scholars, some say that he has a dastardly purpose, as a small cosmic creature he has little power, so he tries to make Nidhoggr destroy Yggdrasil. Some connect him with Heimdall, others with Rati. Some choose to consider him symbolic of the mortality of Yggdrasil.

Whatever he actually is, the idea of a squirrel scrambling up and down the tree taking messages, and in many stories getting them wrong either on purpose or because he's a squirrel, caught me. I had this image of a giant dog-sized squirrel (he's cosmic!) with bright red fur and long ears just racing up and down.

In my head, he was a cheerful and prideful beastie, and so my first Norse Tale (Tail) was born.

The Poetic Edda gives us just one verse about him. Only one.

1797 Amos Simon Cottle in Icelandic Poetry “The Song of Grimnir”**


The Squirrel who with nimble skill,
Sports thro' the ash of Yggdrasil,
The mandates of the Eagle brings,
That plumes aloft his spreading wings,
To where Nidhogger[1] far beneath,
Coils in many a shining wreath.

And from that, later scholars expanded a bit upon him, but never by much.

So, I gave him his own adventure. A Cosmic Squirrel needed a Cosmic quest.

It's one of my favorite stories that I've ever written, and when I publish the 10 story collection of Norse Tales (Solveig the Troll and the Nine Norse Tails) I hope everyone loves the proud little squirrel as much I do!

**There are many interpretations of this text, I like this one because while older, it has more flair than some more recent ones.