In the famous myth of the degeneration of mankind, the ash-tree engenders ‘the race of bronze, far different from the race of silver, born of the ash-tree, awe-inspiring and mighty'. Ash was the wood used for spear-shafts and is a metaphor for the weapon itself.
In Scandinavian folklore the ash-tree becomes Yggdrasil, the symbol of immortality and the link between the three levels of the cosmos. It was also a giant and a fertility-god.
Germanic peoples considered Yggdrasil as the World Tree. The universe spread out in the shade of its branches, countless creatures sheltered there and from it all living things derived their being. It was eternally green because it drew the power of life and renewal from the spring, Urd. Yggdrasil drew life from its waters and through them gave life to the universe. This spring was guarded by the Norns, or Fates.
The first of the ash-tree’s three tap-roots went down to the spring, Urd; the second penetrated to Niflheim, the land of frost, to reach the spring Hvergelmir, from whose waters all the streams on Earth were fed; while the third reached to the land of the Giants and to Mimir, the murmuring fountain of wisdom. The Germanic gods assembled at the foot of Yggdrasil, like the Greek gods on Olympus, to administer justice. Amid all the cosmic upheavals in which one universe was destroyed to give birth to a new, Yggdrasil stood firm, unmoved and unconquered. Not flame, nor frost, nor darkness could uproot it. It was a refuge for those who had escaped the cataclysm to repeople the new world. It is thus the symbol of the indestructible continuity of the life force.
In the Baltic Republics the slow-witted or the simple-minded were called ash-trees. The tree itself was held to be blind to what went on around it, so that it did not know when Spring arrived and its branches remained bare. Then, in Autumn, afraid of making a fool of itself once again, it was the first to shed its leaves at one fell swoop.
According to Pliny and Dioscorides the ash-tree was held to put serpents to flight, exercising a kind of magical influence over them so that if a snake had to choose between slithering under the branches of an ash or through the flames of a fire, it would choose the latter. These authors add that ‘an infusion of ash-leaves mixed with wine is a powerful antidote against poison’.
As in the Nordic countries, so the ash is a fertility symbol in Great Kabylia. ‘Taslent, the ash, is pre-eminently the tree for women. They should climb its branches to cut leaves as fodder for cows and oxen and on them should be hung certain amulets and especially those charms to attract men’s love.’ Although it was the first tree to be created, the ash is surpassed by the olive in usefulness. However, this forage-tree is not all sweetness and light; like anything which possesses magical powers, it can be threatening. ‘If a man plants an ash-tree, either a male member of his family will die, or else his wife will only produce still-born babies, since all life- and fertility-forces also embody their opposites - the powers of death and sterility’.