Wyrd Designs: Finding Asgard

Wyrd Designs: Finding Asgard July 19, 2010

Sometimes understanding the cosmological map of the Northern Tradition can be most problematic. Unlike Christians, our origin story isn’t neatly laid out in chronological seeming order in a book (like Genesis). To find our origin story and learn of the nine worlds we have to read, compare and contrast the information from multiple references: Völuspá, Grímnismál, Vafþrúðnismál, Alvissmal, etc.

Combine this confusion with the fact that because Christians took up the name for our underworld of ‘Hel’ to use it for their own that many of us today ultimately see in our mind’s eye that Hel, Midgard, and Asgard is more or less synonymous with Hell, Earth, and Heaven. If the Christian God lives in Heaven, then of course the Northern Gods must live in heaven also, they just call it Asgard. Right? Perhaps… perhaps not.

We need to remember that Asgard is not synonymous with the Christian concept of ‘heaven’ rather it simply means the ‘land/yard where the Aesir dwell.’ To further confuse matters the term heaven is also used worldwide to refer to the sky and not just as some sort of holy dwelling for the Divine or for the dead. Many in the Northern Tradition almost seem to take it for granted that Asgard is in the sky.

We need to remember that many of us have a misunderstanding of what Midgard means. It doesn’t automatically mean so much the middle earth between the underworld and a heaven in a top/down orientation, but means the ‘middle yard’ which thus could be located between two other things in a side-by-side orientation… i.e. two other ‘yards’ and those two yards may very well be Asgard and Jotunar (land of the Giants), and NOT necessarily Hell and Heaven as our Western mainstream mindset might first suggest.

In the Northern Tradition the bifrost bridge is described as being a rainbow, and thus we automatically see it as a symbol that connects earth and sky, and thus by association Midgard and Asgard. But while some places in the lore support this connection, other places in the lore such as Grímnismál & Gylfaginning, portray the bridge as what the God’s use to travel between Asgard and Urdabrunnr (Urd’s Well) daily. In fact based on the description found in Gylfaginning, we see portrayed that of the three roots that support the world tree Yggdrasil, one of them is located among the Aesir (and thus by extension Asgard itself). This root extends to ‘heaven’ and beneath it lies Urðarbrunnr. So the root, which is located where the Gods dwell, connects the earth-like, lower, Urd’s Well, to the heaven-like, abode of the Gods. Thus earth and sky may not be connecting Midgard to Asgard, but rather just different levels of territory within Asgard itself. Perhaps more akin to the difference between the Colorado River at the Base of the Grand Canyon, to some of it’s sheer cliffs reaching high plateaus far above.

When we think of the Jotunar, or Giants, what springs to mind for most people are Thor’s stories of battling some of them as the great defender of Asgard and Midgard. Why would Asgard need a wall built around it, if it was up in the sky far away from Jotunar? It makes sense to conceive of the lands as being like countries on a map. Some you share borders with, and others you have to travel via other lands to reach. We also see mention to the bridge as being ‘burning’ and that beneath it at one point are boiling waters that the sons of Muspel (fire giants) cannot traverse. This suggests that the bridge may circumvent–like a massive overpass over the land below–Muspelheim: the primeval home of the ancient fire that intermixed with the ancient ice of Niflheim and created the ‘big bang’ in our cosmology that came about when the first being Ymir came into existence because of the frinction between fire and ice. From Ymir’s body springs the giants, dwarves, humans and gods. Parts of his body are the very firmanent we walk and live upon, and his head is the skull we see above our heads daily.

Anyway there’s some interesting food for thought for some of you!

So what do you think?

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