Squirrel Facts (Ratatoskr)

Yggdrasil the world tree

Yggdrasil the world tree.  Wägner, Wilhelm. 1882. Nordisch-germanische Götter und Helden

In Norse mythology, Ratatoskr (Old Norse, generally considered “drill-tooth” or “bore-tooth”) is a squirrel who runs up and down the world tree Yggdrasil to carry messages between the unnamed eagle, perched atop Yggdrasil, and the wyrm Níðhöggr, who dwells beneath one of the three roots of the tree. Ratatoskr is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. Scholars have proposed theories about the implications of the squirrel.The name Ratatoskr contains two elements rata- and -toskr. The element toskr is generally held to mean “tusk”. Guðbrandur Vigfússon theorized that the rati- element means “the traveller”. Vigfússon says that the name of the legendary drill Rati may feature the same term. According to Vigfússon, Ratatoskr means “tusk the traveller” or “the climber tusk.”

I am looking for more information on this character.

Image of Rataoskr from the Edda Oblongata, Icelandic manuscript, 1680
Image of Rataoskr from the Edda Oblongata, Icelandic manuscript, 1680

Here’s a nice map of the Tree’s cosmology:

Map of tree from brimir Le paganisme germanique et scandinave
Map of tree from the blog, Le paganisme germanique et scandinave


Farne Island is home to the Lindisfarne Priory ruins, whose monks in the 7th century created the Gospels, an unusual and exquisite Celtic Christian illuminated manuscript. Birds are rife in the manuscript as well as a cat on the front page, quite unusual in the iconography, according to Aly Wolff-Mills, a student at ITP who did a project expanding the cat into a full-fledged heretic deity.

Here’s some contextualizing drama:

Lindisfarne Abbey
Lindisfarne Castle

St Cuthbert, first animal rights advocate?

Here is an account of the life of St. Cuthbert as told by The Venerable Bede. Cuthbert is a 6th century proto St. Francis figure, famed in his time as a miracle worker. Cuthbert was born in Northumberland circa 634. .. at various times in his life, Cuthbert was a monk, a hermit, and – briefly – a bishop. He lived in the  Lindisfarne Abbey, and died there in 687.
(“The Venerable Bede” was born in 673, in Northumberland, considered a prominent intellect and one of the most prolific writers in this early Christian era).

The Farne Islands are an important locus for sea bird populations (including Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Merlin, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit). While resident there, St Cuthbert instituted special laws to protect the eider ducks and other seabirds nesting there, creating what may have been the first bird protection laws anywhere in the world. Consequently, eider ducks have long been known as ‘cuddy ducks’ (Cuthbert’s ducks) in the Pitmatic dialect as spoken in Northumberland.

Eider or Cuddy Duck
Eider or Cuddy Duck

“Many times birds and animals obeyed him. Once, fasting on a Friday till the late afternoon, as he was wont, a horse found him half a loaf of bread in the thatch of a house. He gave half of the bread to the horse and took the rest for himself. Another time, after he had prayed all night long in the sea, two sea-otters came to warm his feet and dry him with their fur; they received his blessing. Again, after fasting, a large fish was brought to him by an eagle. The fish was cut in two, half for the eagle, half for a family and himself. ‘Learn to have constant faith and hope in the Lord. He who serves God shall never die of hunger’, said Cuthbert. Another time, when he ordered birds who had come to eat barley he had sown to depart, they obeyed him. Ravens were reproved by him and then later brought him lard as a sign of their repentance. ‘What care should men not take to learn obedience and humility’, he said, ‘when even birds hasten to wash away their faults’.”

Ernest-Ange Duez, Saint Cuthbert 1879 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris)
Ernest-Ange Duez, Saint Cuthbert 1879 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris)

Capt. Charles Moore on the seas of plastic | Video on TED.com

Charles Moore is founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, one of the first to trawl the Garbage Patch. He captains the foundation’s research vessel, the Alguita, documenting the largest “landfills” of plastic waste that litter the oceans.

“A yachting competition across the Pacific led veteran seafarer Charles Moore to discover what some have since deemed the world’s largest “landfill” — actually a huge water-bound swath of floating plastic garbage the size of two Texases. Trapped in an enormous slow whirlpool called the Pacific Gyre, a mostly stagnant, plankton-rich seascape spun of massive competing air currents, this Great Pacific Garbage Patch in some places outweighs even the surface waters’ biomass six-to-one.”

Souvenirs from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Photo from VICE TV's piece, Garbage Island.

When I was digging around  for Paradoxical Sleep, I wanted to find out what happened after San Jose’s Guadalupe River, after the South Bay of Northern California.  The whirling gyre of nasty pollution information literally culminated in this vortex: The North Pacific Garbage Patch, an area the size of Texas that’s a confluence of ocean currents, north of Hawaii. Maybe it’s twice the size of Texas: it’s an undulating swirling mass;  it’s a soup of industrial and consumer plastics; some are plastic pellets from manufacturing, small enough to be mistaken for plankton and eaten by marine animals;  lots are large enough to comprise a bounty in a net haul.


Link to page for rest of series.