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Musings: The Nine Worlds...

In Asatru the cosmology is stretched across 9 worlds. These worlds are:

1. Asgard - home to the Gods & Goddesses of the Aesir
2. Midgard - home to mankind
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

Unfortunately, descriptions of the 9 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) . 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 whowrote 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.

So understanding all of that we’re left with the question… what is the layout of these worlds?

Some see it as:
· heaven: asgard, alfheim & Muspelsheim
· earth: vanaheim, midgard, jotunheim
· underworld: niflheim/hel, nidavellir & svartalfheim

But even this is overly simplified and doesn't fit things perfectly.

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.

To me it's like if Midgard is Italy, and Asgard becomes the automonous Vatican City in Rome. We're all "Italians" if you will, and the other worlds surround us like france, switzerland, austria, etc.

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/Hel: 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. Niflheim/Hel of course also has obvious connotations of the underworld.

But really we have these two forces as opposites, and their interaction is where the world was created between. This is no doubt a reason why motifs of fire and ice are prevalent in the Icelandic sources.

On a side note, just as the references of the Nine Worlds don’t all appear in one place, trying to understand how our world was made, our origin and creation stories can be a bit daunting. In Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Norse Myths, his introduction does a wonderful job of taking this little bits of lore that appear here and there… and combining it into a cohesive narrative.


Nidavellir is not one of the nine worlds. It is contained within Svartalfheim.

Niflheim is a separate world. The nine worlds are:
Alvíssmál 14 talks about Nidavellir being distinct from Svartalfheim.

And then in the lore it speaks of Odin sending Hel to Niflheim (Gylfaginning 34), thus Hel the place is part of Niflheim.

But yes, I failed to mention that

and Hel/Niflheim is in contestation based on lore sources alone.

So sometimes the list of the nine worlds is as you listed, and other times it is as I originally listed. Granted, I know your impression is formed by more than lore but also from the experience of your shamanic journeys.

Edited at 2010-04-28 03:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah, and have you ever actually BEEN there? I have. I have the academic background AND i've actually journeyed to the worlds. I know what i'm talking about. Though i don't know why Svartalfheim is the dominant name for that world, when Svartalfheim is a small part of Nidavellir....you'd think it would be the other way around. One could think of it as two distinct nations almost, but still, Nidavellir is the dominant one within that realm.

niflheim and helheim border each other according to the lore (and i'm at the hair dressers now waiting for my appt. so no, i don't have the source in front of me). I think Bauschatz talks about the borderline between them though.