Wyrd Designs – The Nine Worlds

Wyrd Designs – The Nine Worlds October 19, 2010

In Heathenry, our cosmology is comprised of nine worlds. Unfortunately, descriptions of the nine worlds don’t appear all together, but rather stretched out over a variety of sources in the lore (such as: Alvissmal 20, Volupsa 2, Vafþrúðnismál 43, Gylfaginning 34). By lore sources alone we are given two different lists of the nine worlds. This makes it difficult to try to piece together or visualize how these worlds interact with one another.

Adding to this problem are little nuances to translation, as well as the fact some of the information comes from Snorri’s Edda. Snorri was a Christian scribe who wrote things to suit the common modes of literature at the time, i.e. related it to the Christianity and found ways of alluding it to the classics from the Greco-Roman world. In his Edda Thor isn’t a god, but rather an extraordinary man descended of Agamemnon, and Asgard is synonymous as the ancient city of Troy. So unfortunately this means that just because it’s written about in the core lore, we have to take all such depictions with a grain of salt.

Nine Worlds Map by fenix42 on deviantArt.com

The Nine Worlds – Version 1

1. Asgard – home to the Gods & Goddesses of the Aesir, sometimes also called Asaheim
2. Midgard – home to mankind, sometimes also called Manheimr
3. Vanaheim – home to the Gods & Goddesses of the Vanir
4. Jotunheim – home to the giants
5. Alfheim – home to the alfar (elves)
6. Muspelsheim – world of primal fire
7. Svartalfheim – realm of the dark elves, and includes Nidavellir realm of the dwarves
8. Niflheim – land of primal ice and mists
9. Helheim, or Hel – land of the dead
This version (above), which is supported by the lore, is also the one supported by fellow Pantheon blogger, and published author Galina Krasskova in her Exploring the Northern Tradition. This is also the version you’ll usually see listed by most Asatru.

The Nine Worlds – Version 2

1. Asgard – home to the Gods & Goddesses of the Aesir, sometimes also called Ásaheimr
2. Midgard – home to mankind, sometimes also called Manheimr
3. Vanaheim – home to the Gods & Goddesses of the Vanir
4. Jotunheim – home to the giants
5. Alfheim – home to the alfar (elves)
6. Muspelsheim – world of primal fire where Fire Giants dwell
7. Svartalfheim – realm of the dark elves
8. Nidavellir – realm of the dwarves
9. Niflheim aka Hel – primal ice and mists / land of the dead

So now that we have a passing familiarity with these worlds, how do they physically relate with one another?

Unfortunately, this is at best conjecture for there’s not (in my opinion) sufficient evidence to tell us exactly how ancient believers viewed how they all interconnected, and could be visually mapped. Modern believers tend to think of it primarily in a couple of ways.

Some see it as:

  • heaven: asgard, alfheim & Muspelsheim
  • earth: vanaheim, midgard, jotunheim
  • underworld: niflheim/hel, nidavellir & svartalfheim

But even this is overly simplified, and speaks more heavily of Christian symbolism and influence than it most likely does of pre-Christian beliefs.

Others view it as being a North/South arrangement, as conceived by how someone in Northern Europe may have viewed the world… i.e. that the far North as represented by the Artic was conceived as being like Niflheim, and the far south (which geographically to them would be equatorial countries) was represented by Muspelsheim. Leaving Midgard, or Middle Earth in the middle. The other worlds fall in between these three tent poles based on estimations made from the scant details we know of these worlds.

To me I like to think of it as more like “countries” where Asgard & Midgard are part of the innangard (inner yard) and all the other realms are part of the utgard (outer yard), although Muspelsheim and Niflheim are REALLY out there as the penultimate, primal elemental extremes. While this may seem cursorily similar to a North/South view of the worlds, most of the worlds (I’m excluding the extremes of Muspelsheim and Niflheim) could be viewed as being like a spread of countries.

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 then realms that would be viewed as ‘outside’ or utgard such as Jotunheim.

If we were to look at Europe, Midgard could be like Italy, and Asgard becomes the automonous Vatican City in Rome. It’s still connected to Midgard but also a bit apart. Outside of the shared borders of Midgard/Asgard we begin to see the other outside forces. So the other worlds could be arranged relational like France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, etc. are to Italy.

Alot of the cosmology comes to us from Icelandic sources, and if you look at the physical geography of Iceland, it’s a land literally shaped by volcanic fire (it is being split in two by plate tectonics and the mid-Atlantic ridge) and then formed by glaciers that have shaped the terrain. In this I see echoes of Musphelheim and Niflheim: primordial places of Fire & Ice. If I had to describe these places in a manner analogous with our physical word: I see Muspelheim as being magma and the lava below, and ice as being the polar caps and the high mountains where glaciers lie.

It could be entirely possible that one culture in antiquity may have viewed the nine worlds in a specific arrangement as best made sense to them in their geographical location, and another culture may have viewed the map and interrelationships a bit differently due to nuances in their own perspective.

Since there’s no way for us to know for certain how the ancients may have viewed these worlds, the question becomes as modern believers how do you visualize the connections between the nine worlds?

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