The Nine Worlds

Foreword

Norsemen believed that the world was divided into Nine Worlds (Níu Heimar). Of course this is only a list of the Nine Worlds, not an accurate description, so there aren’t so many details about every single Word. The cosmic tree Yggdrasill has its rotts in each of the Nine Worlds, but it seems that it takes energy from only three of them (Niflheimr, Múspellsheimr and Jǫtunheimr). “Filled by the Nine Worlds” is also an idiomatic expression which means “Have a friendly fate”.

1. Manheimr – World of the Men

The most common name of Manheimr is Miðgarðr, or Middle Earth, and is the world of the mortals, ours. It is called “Middle Earth” because the soul born in Goðheimr (see below) and then go to Miðgarðr, to complete their existence in a mortal body.

2. Goðheimr – World of the Gods

Often confused with Ásgarðr, which actually is an its city, is the realm of the Æsir, and of all the gods (but the Vanir have a their own world, where they can follow their different traditions, see below). In Goðheimr there are several regions, such as Ásaheimr and Þrúðheimr, and several cities, villages, palaces, halls, terrains; such as Ásgaðr, the Valhǫllr, Válaskjalfr, Fensalir, and so on.

3. Vanaheimr – World of the Vanir

It’s the World of the gods Vanir. Vanir have a their own world detached from Goðheimr because they have some traditions and manners “incompatible” with the Æsir, and because this they had also war with them, at the beginning of time. After the peace, all the Vanir are welcome to the Æsir, but they can’t follow their traditions and manners in their lands, such as marry between relatives.

4. Álfaheimr – World of the Elves

Álfaheimr is situaded above Goðheimr and is the World of the High Elves, or Bright Elves. No man has ever set foot there, and only few gods did it (e.g. Óðinn and Mímir). It’s mentioned only two times (Grímnismál and Gylfaginning) in all the Norse texts, so we can’t know very well what did norsemen knew or believed about this World.

5. Svartálfaheimr – World of the Dwarfs or the Dark Elves

Situated below Manheimr (Miðgarðr), it’s the World of the Dwarfs. The Old Norse word for “dwarfs” is “dværgar” (plural of “dvergr”), but often they were called “svart álfar”, which means “dark elves” (literally “black elves”). Like Álfaheimr, we know little about Svartálfaheimr, apart from the fact that there live mainly the dwarfs, but also elves which refused the light or that have been banished from their realm. Enourgh, during Ragnarǫk, when the houses of the gods will be painted with the blood by Garmr and Fenrir, the dwarfs will moan, helpless, in Svartálfaheimr, beucause it is situated below Miðgarðr (and so, far below Goðheimr) and so blood and bones from the Ragnarǫk’s war – will rain upon them.

6. Helheimr – World of Hel

It’s the domain of Hel, goddess of the underwolrds, daughter of Loki. It’s the deepest of the Nine Worlds, because situated even more below Svartálfaheimr. The only access point to Helheimr is the Gjallarbrú, a golden bridge over the extrem chill river Gjǫll; guarding this bridge is Garmr, the infernal hund. To Helheimr go the souls which committed serious crimes (murder, treason, a.s.o.) but also who is died without honor or by illness (as the god Bardr, died without honor).

7. Níflheimr – World of the Cold Mist or Ice

Situated North to Miðgarðr, is a wasteland before the access point of Helheimr. In facts, half of Níflheimr is under Hel’s government, task gived her by Óðinn in person. The other half is always in wasting and in Norse conception it was much similar to Lapland (which at the times was almost all unexplored). The word “nifl” doesn’t have a direct translation in English; it indicates the frozen mist (as well as “hjarn” indicates the frozen soil). The word for the “common” fog is “þoka”.

8. Jǫtunheimr – World of the Giants

Situated East to Miðgarðr, is the place where jǫtnar, the giants, dwell and gather. The biggest city is Útgarðr. Here goes often Þórr, because he hates giants, and he wants always to challenge them. Moreover, the giants often succeed in enter to Goðheimr and even in Ásgarðr, and they take their war booty in Jǫtunheimr, reason that it’s thought that many of the lost treasures are located there.

9. Múspellsheimr – World of the Fire

Situated South to Miðgarðr, it’s the counterpart of Niflheimr, the World of Ice (see above), dwelling of Surtr and the fire giants. Loki, as god of the fire, often goes there, and in facts during Ragnarǫk he will reach the war from Múspell, leading the army of the giants. From a burning spark of Múspellsheimr the gods created the Sun and all the stars. With the name “sœnar Múspells” (sons of Múspell) are often called not only the fire giants who there dwell, but also that men who obtain what they want by deception and who love to act behind the shoulder.


Sources

Heimskringla, Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, and countless folk songs, legends, poems, artworks and books which, if listed, would occupy more digital space than the entire note.

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