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The Tree that Holds the Universe

Updated: Aug 11, 2021


Asgard where the gods lived, and Midgard where humans dwelled, were not the only realms (worlds) in the universe according to Norse Mythology. There were nine realms in total. All of them were held up by the great tree Yggdrasil (“Igg-dris-ll”). Snorri, the author of the Prose Edda wrote of the tree: “In the time before time, when nothing existed, there was only the tree Yggdrasil and the void.” Instead of a solar system with nine planets orbiting the sun. The Vikings and Norse tribes believed that Yggdrasil held up the nine realms within her branches and roots, creating layers of inhabited places. Although humans had no access to the other realms. Gods and giants were able to travel across the void, or on the branches of the tree, to explore all the realms when they wanted. Odin and his brothers Ve and Vili created most of the realms, using the corpse of the first giant Ymir that they had slain. At least two of the realms were formed before even Odin was created. (read about Odin and his brothers and Ymir here: https://www.thedanishcanadianmuseum.shop/post/friday-february-12th-blog-spot )

As you will see below, not all of the realms are well known, there is more written about Asgard than there is about Nifleheim in the poems. The realms that are listed below might not be accurate, historians have disagreed on names, locations and occupation of the realms over the years, either way here is a brief description of each.



Asgard

Was the realm of the Aesir gods and goddesses, such as Odin, Thor Frigga and Sif. It was also where Valhalla was located. The palace that human heroes from earth were taken to when they died. The realm of Asgard was a paradise, with towering walls guarding it from the giants. It was filled with beautiful things such as fountains, lush greenery, palaces and more to eat and drink than anywhere else.



Midgard Was the realm of humans, or as we call it, earth. Humans were unable to traverse from Midgard to the other realms, not even with the Bitfrost; the rainbow bridge that connected Midgard with Asgard. Heimdall guarded the rainbow bridge and not often were humans allowed to cross, not unless they were dead and carried in by the Valkyrie. Midgard was between Jotunheim, and Asgard, a sort of neutral territory for both the giants and the gods.


Jotunheim Was the realm of the giants. More specifically, the frost giants. Jotunheim was a vast, cold place. It was filled with mountains and fjords. Next to no flat lands were there. Plowing fields was a rare thing, and the always hungry giants relied on meat and mead to fill their bellies.


Alfheim Was the realm of the elves. Light elves to be precise. Translated in English Alfheim means Elfland. Elves were considered to be minor gods, magical beings that were one with nature. They were like nymphs or dryads; keepers of the trees and nature. Alfheim was described as being next to Asgard, and Freya of the Vanir was the ruler of Alfheim. As to what the realm looked like it is unknown, it is not described anywhere, but since elves lived there, it must have been a beautiful place.


Helheim Or known as simply Hel, named after the Queen of the realm; Lady Hel. Helheim was the realm of the dead. It was a gloomy place with no colour or joy. Those that had died in shame, of illness, or old age were sent to Hel’s home instead of Valhalla. It was not a place of torture or torment, like the Christianity hell is depicted as, but it was not a blissful place either.


Muspelheim Was the realm of fire and lava. It was where the fire giants and monsters lived. The place was like a giant volcano. It was absolutely hot, too hot for humans. Muspelheim was ruled by the fire giant Surtr, who was said to be a key player in the final battle Ragnarök, with his blazing sword.


Nidavellir Was the realm of the dwarves, and perhaps dark elves. The dwarves were master craftsmen. They forged many of the gods’ mightiest weapons and tools, including Thor’s Hammer. Dark elves are mentioned in the poems as well, they also were skilled forge workers. So possibly lived along side the dwarves. The land of Nidavellir is not described, just that the dwarves lived under ground, under rock and mountain, so the land might have been mostly mountains and hard things.


Niflheim Was the realm of mist. It was a cold place of ice and snow. No race or being lived on Niflheim, except possibly a dragon hording his gold. It was said to be one of the first realms created from Yggdrasil. The realm is not described with much detail besides mists, snow and ice.


Vanaheim Was the realm of the Vanir. The Vanir were gods, unrelated to the Aesir. They were a more secretive people, and very little is known about them. There was a war between the two people called the Aesir and Vanir war. After peace was declared, the Vanir sent Freya and Freyr to the Aesir in Asgard to keep the peace. The Vanir were described as having more magical and mythical abilities than the Aesir, but that is all we known. Even the description or exact location of the realm is unknown, even to the poets.




Meaning of The Realms Names You might have noticed that the word ‘heim’ was in most of the realms title names. heim is translated from Old Norse to mean ‘home’, or in specific context ‘abode or world’; a place where they live. For example: Jotunheim can be broken down to Jotun–heim. Jotun meaning giant and heim meaning home: giants home or Land of the giants. Midgard and Asgard are two realms that do not have the heim in their name. Instead, they both have ‘gard’. Translated into English, gard could mean enclosure, or a guarded place. So Asgard would be broken down to Aesir–gard, meaning: enclosure of the Aesir, or guarded home of the Aesir.




By Billie Richard


Sources used Websites: Nine Realms of Norse Cosmology - World History Encyclopedia The Nine Realms in Norse Mythology (skjalden.com) Yggdrasil and the 9 Norse Worlds - HeritageDaily - Archaeology News Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds of Norse Mythology - Myth Nerd


Photos used in article are taken from websites above

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