It is ironic that the mythology of Ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome are more familiar to many people that the ancient stories of the Norse, Anglo-Saxon and Germanic races which are the ancestors of a huge portion of the people in Northern Europe, America and Australasia. This article looks at the Universe as these peoples saw it – as Nine Worlds.
The World Tree -Yggdrasil
The universe was formed around and supported by a huge tree, Yggsdrasil or the World Tree. Amongst its branches and roots there were Nine Worlds which were separate but connected by various means. Gods and other creatures could travel from one world to another.
This was the home of the Aesir. The Aesir were a family of gods and goddess. After a war against the other race of gods, the Vanir they became the dominant race. The chief god was Odin/ Woden. For more on the gods you can read an articles about the Gods and another about their symbols. The gods and goddesses built magnificent mansions in Asgard. One of these was Valhalla where men who had died in battle could feast with Woden and fight each other until the end of the world when they would ride forth for their last battle.
There is more than one way to reach Asgard but one way is to use Bifrost – the Rainbow Bridge, built from water, air, and fire. The god Heimdall is the bridge’s guardian, and has a magical sword to fight intruders. Bifrost connects Asgard to Midgard and probably other worlds. Asgard is surrounded by rivers and another way in is to cross the rivers that separate it from other worlds.
The word heim means home. Vanaheim is therefore the home of the OTHER branch of gods: the Vanir. Â The Vanir had mastery over sorcery and magic. In ancient times the Aesir and the Vanir fought a great war. The Aesir won. After the war three Vanir went to live at Asgard. Freyja, her twin brother Freyr and their father Njord. Nobody understood sorcery better than Freyja. Odin/Woden learnt a lot about magic from Freyja.
This was the home of the Jotuns, or the giants and it is a mountainous place. Midgard was supposed to have been created from the body of the first Jotun, named Ymir. The Jotuns and the Aesir were constantlyat war with each other. However that did not mean that attachments and love affairs did not also occur. Both Thor and Odin had Jotun lovers and two of the Vanir also married a Jotun. The god, Loki was a Jotun who was adopted by the Aesir and lived in Asgard but eventually betrayed the gods. The river Ifingr, which never freezes, separates Asgard from Jotunheim.
NIflheim was a dark land of mist and ice. It was one of the two parts of the universe that pre-dated life. Life was formed when Ice from Niflheim met fire from Muspelheim.
Hel, a gloomy and grey world was the lowest of all the nine worlds and was the home of the dead and ruled by Loki’s daughter, also called Hel. Humans who died from old age or illness were sent to Hel. It was not seen as a realm of punishment but rather a waiting place before their spirits were reborn and returned to Midgard. Getting to Hel is difficult. It is surrounded by a river crossed by a bridge guarded by a giant. There is a tall wall around it and a gate. the dead can get in easily but getting out is not so easy. A giant dog, Garm prevents the dead from leaving.
Alfheim was the home of the light elves and was close by Asgard. Beautiful creatures, they had a role as the equivalent of guardian angels in Norse Mythology. Its inhabitants are usually friendly to gods and humans although they would take revenge if badly treated.
These are another two worlds who are sometimes blended together and sometimes considered separately.
Svartalheim was the home of the drow or dark elves who lived under the ground. Theses were hideous and many believed that dark elves were responsible for nightmares and so another name for dark elves was ‘mare’. If the suns rays touched a dark elf they immediately turned into stone.
Nidarvellir this was the home of the dregar or dwarfs. They too lived under rocks and in caves but were masters of craftsmanship. The dregar constructed many of the artefacts of for the gods such as Odin’s spear, his magical ring, Thor’s hammer and belt of strength. The dwarfs also turned into stones if they were exposed to the sun and had a mischievous side.
Muspelheim was the other original part of the universe and was the land of fire, populated by fire elementals, fire spirits or giants and ruled over by Surt. During Ragnarok, the end of the world, Surt will attack Asgard with a flaming sword, turning it into an inferno.
Midgard is OUR world – the home of humans. Midgard seems to be in the middle of the Nine worlds and all of the other races stray here from time to time and interfere. That is where all the tales come from. Tales of elves and dwarves and giants, tales of the dead and tales of the gods visiting our world and manipulating events.
In my Dark Ages Historical fiction, The Amber Treasure and its sequel, Child of Loki these beliefs and the new Christian ones appear and have influences on the characters and their world.
Shield Maiden (Book 1 of the Nine Worlds Series is a children’s historical fantasy set in a 7th Century England where the myths and legends are true.