The ancient Northern Europeans did not see a simple universe with a heaven above and a hell below. Instead they saw a complex system of multiple planes and enclosures interconnected with our own. According to the ancient Eddas, these planes or worlds were born when the realm of fire, Muspelheim, in the South moved north to meet the icy realm of Niflheim in the North. They met in what is known as the Ginnungapap “the yawning void.” From this union sprang forth two beings Ymir the primeval giant and Audhumla, the giant primeval cow. By licking the ice, Audhumla made a new being appear, Buri. From Buri sprang Borr who married Bestla, who gave birth to Odin, Villi and Ve. These three brother Gods slew Ymir and from him created the Nine Worlds and the World Tree that supports the worlds. Although the Nine Worlds are linked by the World Tree, they by no means lie near each other, for there are hills, valleys, mountains, and even rivers between them formed by the bark of the tree. Beyond the Nine Worlds are unknown worlds resting in the Útgard “that outside the enclosure”.
THE NINE WORLDS of the NORSE GERMANIC COSMOS (In descending order):
In each of these realms there are specific Psychological-Spiritual elements in operation. All of these worlds symbolize the various psychological, physical, universal principles and functions on different levels. These are briefly outlined below each realm in Red.
It is important to note that the various directions given in the descriptions of the various nine worlds should not be thought of as literal directions. They come down to us from many sources and we can not be certain of their accuracy. It is certainly clear that Earthly directions would have little bearing on what are essentially metaphysical planes bordering our own. Still, it may be that these directions may give some idea of where the planes lie in relation to each other and which may be closest to our own.
In the Germanic spiritual tradition, Yggdrasil is the cosmic World Tree or “Tree of Life”. It is a gigantic tree that rises out of the Well of Wyrd (“Destiny”) and gives the universe its basic infrastructure which binds together all of the Nine worlds of the universe. These Nine Worlds rest within its roots or branches and due to this the World Tree often serves as a conduit for travel between the worlds. Yggdrasil is often spoken of as an ash, though it was thought to have needles like a yew and also bore fruit. More likely than not the tree cannot be compared to any mortal species of tree, but may, indeed be a combination of them all.
The name Yggdrasil literally means the ‘Steed of Yggr’ i.e. the horse of Odin, since Yggr ( “Terrible One”) is one of Odin’s many names. This name refers to the nine nights Odin is said to have spent hanging from the World Tree as a self-sacrifice in order to find the Runes, as described in the Havamal (although the tree is not explicitly identified as Yggdrasil):
“I hung on that windy tree for nine nights wounded by my own spear.
I hung to that tree, and no one knows where it is rooted.
None gave me food. None gave me drink. Into the abyss I stared
until I spied the runes. I seized them up, and howling, I fell.”
The gallows are sometimes described in Old Norse poetry as the “horse of the hanged.” and the Germanic custom of hanging sacrificial victims from trees was probably in reference to this myth. In 1950, the preserved corpse of the so-called “Tollund Man” was found in a peat bog in Jutland. The excellent level of preservation made it possible to deduce that he had been ritually hanged and respectfully consigned to the bog, not more than a hundred yards from where a ritually hanged woman had been previously found.
Another interpretation of Yggdrasil, with some etymological difficulties, is “yew-column”, associating the tree with the Eihwaz rune.
Fjölsvinnsmál, a poem in the Poetic Edda, refers to the World Tree as Mimameid (“Mimir’s tree”). Yggdraisil is also known as Lerad (ON: Læraðr) a tree whose leaves and twigs reach down to the roof of Valhalla and provide food for the goat Heiðrún (“Heatlth Rune”)and the stag Eikþyrnir (“Thorny Oak”) that both live on the roof.
Three roots supported the trunk, with one passing through Asgard, one through Jotunheim and one through Helheim. Beneath the Asgard root lay the sacred Well of Urd (“Fate”), and there dwelt the three Nornir, over whom even the gods had no power, and who, every day, watered the tree from the primeval fountain so that its boughs remained green. Beneath the Jotunheim root lay Mímisbrunnr, the spring or well of Mimir (“Memory”); and beneath the Helheim root the well Hvergelmir (“the Roaring Cauldron”).
Ásgard, Álfheim and Vanaheim rested on the branches of Yggdrasil. The trunk was the world-axis piercing through the center of Midgard, around which Jotunheim was situated, and below which lay Nidavellir or Svartálfheim. The three roots stretched down to Helheim, Niflheim and Muspelheim, although only the first world hosted a spring for Yggdrasil.
On the top of the World tree perched a giant eagle, (with a hawk upon its forehead named Vedrfolnir (“wind breather”), who blew the winds over the worlds with his mighty wings. The Niflheim root of Yggdrasil are gnawed at by the dragon Nihogg (“Vicious Blow”). The messenger of the World Tree (and thus between the worlds) is the squirrel Ratatosk who scurried up and down the tree between Nidhogg and the eagle, forwarding insults between them. There were also four stags feeding on the bark of Yggdrasil: Duneyrr, Durathror, Dvalin, and Dainn.
Yggdrasil is also central in the myth of Ragnarok, the end of the world. The only two humans to survive Ragnarok (there are some survivors among the gods), Lif and Lifthrasir, are able to escape by sheltering in the branches of Yggdrasil, where they feed on the dew and are protected by the tree
“The bellowing fire will not scorch them;
it will not even touch them,
and their food will be the morning dew.
Through the branches they will see a new sun burn
as the world ends and starts again.”
Yggdrasil apparently had smaller counterparts as the enormous evergreen of unknown species that stood at the Temple at Uppsala and Irminsul, which was an oak venerated by the Heathen Saxons and which was said to connect heaven and earth. The Old Norse form of Irmin was Jörmun and interestingly, just like Ygg, it was one of Odin’s names.
Rain was held to be the dew dropping from the World Tree. Two old German synonyms for clouds, Wetterbaum (Weather tree), and Regenbaum (Rain Tree) are said to attest to this.
Urðarbrunnr or the Well of Wyrd lies at the base of the World Tree. There lies the dwelling place of the Norns as well as the thing stead or assembly area of the Gods. The Well of Urd is from Norse Mythology as the well in Asgard which fed one of the roots of the Yggdrasil. Also near the well in a hall are Three Norns (or Nornir) that tend the well – Urd (“Fate”), Verdandi (“Present”), and Skuld (“Future”), the Germanic Goddesses of fate. They weave the destiny of all who live into the tapestry of fate by the root of the great tree, and attend to the needs of the Yggdrasil.
Alternative names & spellings:
Irminsul, Mimameid, Lerad, the World Tree
The walls surrounding Asgard were built by a Hrimthurs ( Frost Giant ) in return for which he was to receive in payment the hand of Freya in marriage and the sun and the moon. This was agreed provided that the work was completed within six months. In order to avoid the payment, Loki lured away Hrimthurs’ magic horse, Svadilfari, by transforming himself into a mare and luring the horse away. The job was not completed on time and the gods evaded the payment.
The guardian of Asgard is Heimdall. The plain of Idavoll ( “the splendor plain” ) is right in the middle of Asgard and is where the Aesir meet for discussions on important issues. The gods met in a hall called Gladsheim and the goddesses met in a hall called Vingolf. They also met daily at the well of Urd, located beneath Yggdrasil.
Ásgarðr literally means “enclosure of the Æsir” or “enclosure of the gods.” Ásgarðr is centered on a higher plane above Midgard and can be reached through several means. Chief is Bífrøst or Ásbrú, the fiery rainbow bridge that links the world of men to the realm of the Gods. It can also be accessed from Hell by Gjallarbrú “the resounding bridge.” One can also reach Ásgarðr through the Myrkviðr the “mirk wood” which separates Ágarðr from Múspillheimr. Finally there are the rivers which flow around Ágarðr and these Thunor (Thor) must cross as he is too heavy for the bridges.
Asgard; the abode of the Aesir, who preside over this highest of the Norse worlds, symbolizing the highest levels of consciousness. The realm of Self-Consciousness: The Higher Self, or what the ancient Norse called Hamingja.
Asgård, Åsgard, Asgarðr, Ásgardr, Asgardr.
Bifröst is the rainbow bridge leading from the realm of the mortals Midgard to the shining realm of the Gods; Asgard, The Gods and Goddesses travel Bifrost daily to hold their councils under the shade of the tree Yggdrasil. Built by the Æsir, the bridge itself is the rainbow and its guardian is the god Heimdall. The red color of the rainbow was the flaming fire, which served as a defense against the giants. The bridge is destined to be destroyed at the end of the world, Ragnarök.
Bifrost, Asbru, Asbru Bridge.
THE HALLS OF ASGARD:
Valhalla (“Hall of the Slain”) is one of the halls belonging to Odin, the home for those slain gloriously in battle, who are welcomed by Bragi and escorted to Valhalla by the Valkyries. It has five hundred and forty doors, walls made of spears, a roof made of shields and benches covered with armors. It is said that there is room enough for all those chosen, and finding a place in there is much easier than entering. Those who do not get to Valhalla or one of the other halls of the Gods or Goddesses end up in the home of the dead, Helheim, a place beneath the underworld, Niflheim.
In addition to the Valkyries, the Einherjar warriors and a rooster named Gullinkambi (“golden comb”) live there.
Bliskirnir (“Lightning Crackle”) is the hall belonging to Thor. Bliskirnir is the Largest of all the halls in Asgard.
Breidablik (“Broadly Glittering”) is the hall belonging to Baldur, where nothing impure is allowed to enter.
Fensalir (“Marsh Hall”) is the hall belonging to Frigga. Here reside the souls of children.
Folkvang (“field of the host”) is the hall belonging to Freyja. Here resides half of the souls of the chosen slain the other half going to Odin’s hall Valhalla.
Gladsheim (“Bright Home”) is the hall belonging to All of the Gods and Goddesses where they have their thrones.
Glitnir (“Shinning Hall”) is the hall belonging to Forseti.
Himinbjorg (“Heavens Mountain”) is the hall belonging to Heimdall.
Noatun (“Ships Enclosure”) is the hall belonging to Njord.
Sokkvabekk (“Sinking Brook”) is the hall belonging to Saga.
Thrudvangar (“Power Plain”) is the Realm in Asgard that is the home to Thor and his Hall Bliskirnir.
Valaskjalf (“Promontory of the Slain”) is one of the halls belonging to Odin. Valaskjalf is the ancient home of the Aesir. On top of Valaskjalf is Odin’s high seat Hlidskjalf (“Gate Tower”), from which Odin sits and can see everything that transpires in the 9 worlds.
Vingolf (“Wine Hall”) is the hall and beautiful sanctuary belonging to the Asynjur (female Aesir). This hall is the dwelling place where Odin assigns the souls of the noble & righteous in Asgard.
Ydalir (“Yew Dales”) is the hall belonging to the archer God Uller.
Álfheim (Old Norse Álfheimr – ‘Elf home’) is the realm of the Álfar ‘Elves’. It was sometimes called “Ljossalfheim“: “the home of the bright elves”. It was thought of as a place of great beauty, as were its inhabitants. It lies near Ásgard. This was a region of forest and meadow, sea and islands; a pleasant and sunny place where dwelt the Elven peoples.
The Elven race are not drastically different than Humans; they are somewhat taller, much more nobly proportioned, very fair to look udpon and live longer.
The eddic poem Grímnismál describes twelve divine dwellings beginning in stanza 5 with:
Ydalir call they the place where Ull
A hall for himself hath set;
And Álfheim the Gods to Frey once gave
As a tooth-gift in ancient times.Alfheim is the home of the light elves and was given as a gift to the infant God Fréyr when he got his first tooth.
Snorri Sturluson in the Gylfaginning relates as the first of a series of abodes in heaven:
That which is called Álfheim is where the peoples called Light-elves [Ljósálfar] dwell; but the Dark-elves [dökkálfar] dwell down below the earth, and they are unlike in appearance, but by far more unlike in nature. The Light-elves are fairer to look upon than the sun, but the Dark-elves are blacker than pitch.The account later, speaks of a hall called Gimlé and the southernmost end of heaven that shall survive when heaven and earth have passed away, explains:
It is said that another heaven is to the southward and upward of this one, and it is called Andlang (Andlangr ‘Endlong’) but the third heaven is yet above that, and it is called Vídbláin (Vídbláinn ‘Wide-blue’) and in that heaven we think this abode is. But it is believed that none but Light-Elves inhabit these mansions now.Ljossalfheim; realm of light ‘elves’ – Luminous Spiritual Power; the domain of the Ego and Intuition/High Q
Vanaheim is the home of the Vanir. It is located close to Asgard, on one of the highest levels of the universe. The Vanir were generally the more benevolent groups of gods and Goddesses of agriculture and nature, as opposed to Æsir, who were warlike and passionate. Freyr, Freya and Njord are the three chief members of the Vanir. Like Ásgard, Vanaheim is said to have many mansions. Vanaheim is referred to as Njord’s birthplace and where he will return at Ragnarok. This seems to imply that Vanaheim will not be affected by Ragnarok.
Vanaheim; home of the Vanic gods: the Earthly deities of Fertility and Individuation
Midgard is the realm of the humans in Germanic Mythology. Pictured as being placed somewhere in the middle of Yggdrasil, Midgard means “the realm in the middle”, or Middle-earth.
In Norse Germanic mythology, the name Miðgarðr became applied to a fortress in the middle of the Universe, and Mannheim “the home of men” was used to refer to the entire world. It is surrounded by a vast ocean which is impassable, and about it stands a wall built by the Gods to protect it. This ocean is inhabited by the great sea serpent Jormungand, who is so huge that he encircles the entire world, biting his own tail.
Midgard is depicted as an intermediate world between heaven (Asgard) and hell (Nifelheim or Hel). Thus it is part of a triad of upper realm (Heaven), middle realm (Earth), and the lower realm (Underworld). It was said to have been formed from the flesh and blood of the frost giant Ymir, his flesh constituting the land and his blood the oceans, and was connected to Asgard by the rainbow bridge Bifrost, which is guarded by Heimdall.
As the son of the Earth Goddess, Thor is the self appointed warder who protects the folk of Midgard and Asgard against the menacing beings who seek to destroy our world.
According to legend, Midgard will be destroyed in Ragnarok, the battle at the end of the world. Jormungand will arise from the ocean, poisoning the land and sea with his venom and causing the sea to rear up and lash against the land. The final battle will take place on the plain of Vigrond, following which Midgard and almost all life on it will be destroyed, with the earth sinking into the sea.
The concept of Midgard occurs many times in Middle English (as Middel-erde). The name middangeard occurs half a dozen times in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, and is the same word as Midgard in Old Norse. The name was popularized in the form Middle-earth by J. R. R. Tolkien, a noted Old English scholar. He drew heavily upon many Germanic concepts in his fictional works.
Midgard is the home of Mankind, guarded and sustained by the Thunder god Thor. Psychologically Midgard would be associated with self-consciousness, i.e. the conscious realm: the thought of our waking days. This realm represents the Self and Super Consciousness – The Path of Genetic and Spiritual Evolution: Individuation: the Synergy of Darkness and Light, Fire and Ice.
Midgard (The common English transliteration of Old Norse Miðgarðr), Midjungards (Gothic), Middangeard (Old English) and Mittilagart (Old High German), from Proto-Germanic *medja-garda (*meddila-, *medjan-, projected PIE *medhyo-gharto), is an old Germanic name for our world, the places inhabited men, with the literal meaning “middle enclosure”. In Middle English, the name became Middel-erde and resulted in the modern name Middle-earth. Mannheim. The association with earth (OE eorðe) in Middle English Middel-erde is by popular etymology; the continuation of geard “enclosure” is yard.
Jotunheim is the realm of the giants. From here they menace mankind in Midgard and the Gods in Asgard (from whom they are separated by the river Iving. The chief city of Jotunheim is Utgard. Gastropnir, home of Menglad, and Thrymheim, home of Thiazi, were both located in Jotunheim, which was ruled by King Thrym.
Traditionally, Jotunheim is seen as north of Midgarðr. Within its borders also lies the Jarnviðr or the “iron wood.”
Jotunheim; home of giants – the domain of Force/Might
Utgard is the main stronghold of the giants in Jotunheim. King of this realm is Utgard Loki, a very powerful and devious giant featured in several of the sagas concerning Thor.
Utgards translates as “The world outside the enclosure”; the world of giants, sometimes the evil dead, and other frightful beings. A clear distinction is made between Asgard/Midgard, which gods and humans share, and Utgard; normally the divider is seen as a river or ocean.
Múspellheimr is the realm of fire and home to the Fire Giants, who are ruled by their master Surtur (“Black One”). Other Fire Giants like him inhabit the realm and are the closest thing to evil incarnate that can be found in the Northern European religion. It is the land of fire in the south and the land to the north, Niflheim is ice. The two mixed and created water from the melting ice in Ginnungagap. Sparks from Muspelheim created the planets, comets and stars. The meaning of the name Muspilli is not certain; it may be “destruction of the world through fire”. The belief in the fiery destruction of the cosmos, and the association of it with the name “Muspilli,” is probably very early. The Muspilli fire-giants, led by Surt, are destined to break through to fight against the gods at Ragnarok. Other than this, we know little of them for they hardly appear in the Norse sources.
Muspellheim; home of elemental fire- True Will/Psychosynthesis – The Divine Flame
Niflheim(“Mistland”) is the realm of ice and cold. It is located north of Ginnungagap and there dwells the Rimtursir( Ice Giants ), hrimthursar and here is also Helgardh located. Niflheim is ruled by the goddess Hel, daughter to Loki by a giantess, personally appointed by Odin to rule over Niflheim. Half of her body is normal, while the other half is that of a rotting corpse. Niflheim is broken into several layers. One level is designed for heroes and gods, where Hel would preside over the festivities for them. Another is reserved for the elderly, the sick, and those who are unable to die gloriously in battle and enter Valhalla. The lowest level somewhat resembled the Christian version of Hell, where the wicked live forever. Niflheim is quite low on the overall order of the universe. It lies beneath Yggdrasil’s third root, near the river Hvergelmir (“bubbling boiling stream”) and the sunless hall Nastrand (“corpse strands”).
Niflheim, the “world of mists” and primal ice was thought of lying in the metaphysical north of Miðgardr below Hel. It is a world of pure cold or ice, constantly shrouded in a dense mist. From it flowed the rivers into Ginnungagap at the beginning of time that now flow into Hvergelmir, a part of the Well of Wyrd. It is believed that the Nibelingen (MHG) or Niflungar (ON) of the Sigurd myth may have originated there.
Niflheim; home of mist – Evolutionary Impulse/Entelekinesis
Svartalfheim is the land of the svartálfar (“black elves” – the light elves lived in LjossAlfheim) or dökkálfar (“dark elves”), that are said to reside in this underground realm. They, like the trolls, are often correlated with the dvergar (“dwarves”) and their home is often considered to be the same as Nidavellir (“The Dark Fields,”), the underground of Midgard
Many folk tales suggest it can be accessed through certain caves in Midgarðr.
Svartalheim; realm of dark ‘elves’ – Telluric Power
Hel is the abode of the dead, ruled over by it mistress Hella. Hel is the lowest of the Nine Worlds besides Niflheimr resting below the World Tree. It is not at all a bad place; parts of it are an afterlife paradise while other parts are seen as dark and gloomy. Unlike the Christian purgatory, it is not entirely an abode of punishment. The majority of it is simply a resting place for the souls of the dead. It is thronged with the shivering and shadowy specters of those who have died ingloriously of disease or in old age. Helheim is also home to dishonourable people who have broken oaths. Helgardh is cold and low on the overall order of the universe.
Hel is said to be reached by the road Helvergr “the Hell way” (or “Highway to Hell” if you like), a river of blood called Gjøll, or a cave called Gnípahellir (“Overhanging cave”). Hel’s gate is called Helgrind (“Hel’s gate”) or Nágrind (“Corpse gate”) and is guarded by the giant woman Modgud (“War Frenzy”) and the Hel’s giant hound Garmr.
The doors of the hall are said to be set in the south, away from Asgard which lies to the north. The hall is surrounded by a river called Gjoll (“scream”), which is freezing cold and has knives flowing in it. The only way across the river is over a bridge guarded by a giantess. It is said that if a living person steps on the bridge, it rings out as if a thousand men walk across it, yet the dead pass without a sound.
Below Hel and in a northern part of it lies the mansion of the goddess of death Hel. It is called Elviðnir “misery” and is surrounded by a wall called Fallanda Forad “falling peril.” Still deeper is Kvøllheimr, a place of punishment for the wicked. Within it is Nástrønd/*Nástrand “corpse strand” a dwelling made of adders for which there may be an Anglo-Saxon term in Wyrmsele “snake hall.” Here the evil dead are sent to have burning poison drip down upon them. Helheim is said to be a hall with a roof woven from the spines of serpents which drip poison down onto those who wade in the rivers of blood below. The people who dwel in the halls are given nothing but goats urine to quench their thirst.
Hel; the underworld of darkness and dissolution, chaos and the realm of the ancestors. This realm is associated with the Collective Unconscious, and represents unity with Nature and communion with the ancestors.