I love this artwork of the 9 worlds, “Yggdrasil the World Tree” by Sam Flegal.
For another representation, we have this from Simon E. Davies, which better represents the Norse interpretation of Midgard (Earth) sitting on top of the ocean, Midgard and the Midgard ocean being separate. It also has Midgard situated between Niflheim and Muspelheim, which most of the sources allude to. It’s also a great picture for reference!
Today we’re going on a little tour of each of these 9 worlds as we climb Yggdrasil. Try and collect some tree sap as you go – it’s very valuable!
Helheim is the realm of Hel, Loki’s daughter – born beautiful if viewed from one angle, with the other side of her face rotten, dead and decayed.
She is appointed by Odin to take in the souls of the dead who did not make it to Valhalla or Fólkvangr. It is here that those who died of sickness or old age on Midgard reside after death.
It is a dark, cold and dreary underground realm but hosts none of the torment and suffering that we associate with the Christian “hell” – people living in Helheim are there not for being good or bad and live similar lives to the ones they lived on Midgard. After Baldur’s death, he was found at the seat of honour in Helheim.
Jotunheim is the home of the giants. It’s full of dense, dark forests and mountain ranges and is generally pretty inhospitable and bleak – perfect for the hardy giants. Jotunheim, or sometimes it’s capital, is named ‘Utgard’ which translates to beyond the fence.
In Norse mythology, that which is beyond the fence is seen as wild, chaotic and disorderly. Jotunheim therefore, is a dangerous wilderness, best braved only by courageous Gods such as Thor, who travels there to challenge Útgarða-Loki. The giant, a descendant of Loki, tricks Thor before disappearing beyond the reaches of Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir.
Nidavellir or occasionally Svartalfheim is the home world of the Dwarves. Norse mythology’s Dwarves serve as the inspiration behind many modern depictions including Tolkien’s Dwarves, who too live secretive underground lives forging masterful weapons and craftwork. Not much of their homeworld is described but Völuspá describes a Golden Hall at Nidavellir, and master craftsmen would naturally build impressive halls for themselves so it is within reason to assume Nidavellir is a place with many such grand designs.
Midgard quite simply, is Earth. It is the realm of the humans and the only world that we can see completely; the others being at least partly invisible. It is said to be located roughly halfway up Yggdrasil and is located between Niflheim and Muspelheim (the ice and fire worlds respectively).
It is connected to Asgard by the Bifröst – the rainbow bridge, guarded by Heimdall. Midgard will mostly be destroyed at Ragnarok, when the Midgard Serpent rises from the ocean and poisons the land, the Earth sinking into the sea and wiping out almost all life, only to rise again green and fertile to begin anew.
Muspelheim is a world of fire and heat, present at the dawn of creation. It is home to the fire giants (the sons of Muspel) and their King, Surtur. As always the sources vary and the reliability or ambiguity of the information has to be accounted for but a world of fire has been a mainstay of the cosmology all the way back to its Germanic roots. Surtur will play a prominent role at Ragnarok (in fact prophesied to begin events, leading the sons of Muspel into battle) wielding his huge flaming sword. He is said to be the one who will slay Freyr on the battlefield and his flames setting light to the world.
Niflheim is a freezing world of swirling mists and ice. The Frost Giants are the only beings that can live here, though it is sometimes said Helheim is actually situated under Niflheim, deep underground – the sources aren’t completely clear.
Niflheim was the first world to be created after Muspelheim and when the ice and fire of the two met in the middle of Ginnungagap, the wheels of creation began turning with the forging of the giant Ymir. It is from his body that the world is created.
Alfheim is the home of the elves, a race described as “more beautiful than the sun.” Admittedly, little is known about Alfheim and it is only mentioned twice in the Norse texts. With the long standing perception of the Elves throughout Germanic cultures, it is reasonable to assume it is a land of light and beauty – especially as it is ruled over by Freyr.
Vanaheim is the home of the Vanir Gods, so in a respect is a parallel to Asgard. The Vanir are a tribe of Gods associated with nature and fertility. The fact that we have the name Vanaheim rather than gard (the fence) and therefore inside the fence, we can assume it is a more wild and uncontrolled place than Asgard and Midgard, dominated and overrun by nature.
Asgard is the home of the Aesir, connected to Midgard by the rainbow bridge. It is a civilised, orderly, fortified world located in the sky, in which the Gods Odin, Thor and Loki live.
Asgard is the ultimate model of the innangard (inside the fence), while Jotunheim, the “Homeland of the Giants,” is the epitome of the utangard (outside the fence). Valhalla and Fólkvangr are located within the realms of Asgard, as is the throne of Odin, Hlidskjalf.
I hope you enjoyed the tour. Which world is most interesting to you?