| Magnússon 1825
|| Legis 1829
8. Helheim or Niflhel
3. Jotunheim (east)
4. Vanaheim (west)
5. Niflheim (north)
6. Muspellsheim (south)
4. Nidavellir [?]
8. Hel and
of Yggdrassil have been published, these 4 works contain the primary
to create a list of the nine worlds. Similar lists
appear with little or no variation. Looking at their similarities and differences may
help determine the actual meaning of the phrase "the
All 4 of these lists share the following worlds in
Only the first four are found in the poems of the Elder
Edda. The fifth is unique to Snorri's Edda.
The following worlds, common to all of the lists, appear in
variant forms, suggesting some confusion regarding the exact
form of the name:
||Muspellheim or Muspellsheim
or just Muspell
Ljósálfaheim or just Álfheim
Of these Muspelheim (and its
variants) is unique to Snorri's Edda, and does not appear
anywhere in the poems
of the Elder Edda or skaldic poetry. And while Álfheim appears as a place-name in
the Elder Edda, Ljósálfheim does not appear in either the Elder
or the Younger Edda. It is a term invented and promoted by modern scholars,
to distinguish it from Svartalfheim (a placename
found only in Snorri's Edda), no doubt.
Note too that while the first 3 scholars list Niflheim and Hel (or
Helheim, a name not found in the lore) as distinct worlds, the final list suggests that there
is some confusion in the modern popular imagination whether Hel
and Niflheim are alternate names for the same world. The map of
Yggdrassil published by Marvel Comics presents Hel and Niflheim
(sic Niffleheim) as one world— the world of death— and
adds Nidavellir as another world to round out the nine. Other popular
cosmological maps present Hel and Niflheim as one world, as
conjoined realms, and as independent worlds. Those that combine
the two realms sometimes add Nidavellir, a place name found in
Völuspá, as a separate world. Below I will examine the reasons
for and implications of these choices.
Before doing so, I just want to
point out that in addition to "the nine worlds in the tree", Vafþrúðnismál speaks of "nine worlds" located below
Niflhel, which itself is identified as the lowest or "ninth"
world. The poem Vafþrúdnismál specifically speaks of "nine
worlds" below Niflhel. These are distinct from the "nine
worlds in the tree":
ek heim of
níu kom ek
the runes of Jötuns
I can truly
for I have
worlds I came,
men from Hel.
|So with these things in
mind, let's explore the nine worlds, and see what the
sources actually say. At the end, I will present a list
of the nine worlds, based on the best available
evidence, using the older poetic sources as my primary
sources, and Snorri's later prose retelling as a
First and Second Worlds:
HEL AND NIFLHEL
the verse above that the world known as Hel is distinguished from
Niflhel. Men "die from Hel" into Niflhel. It's a
second death, most likely for the worst of sinners. From
we know that terrible punishments await those who transgress the
heathen moral code in a land "far from the sun" known as the
ná-strands (the corpse-beaches). There condemned men wade in
venom inside a hall braided from serpents' backs. Völuspá
39 informs us that the dragon Niddhögg tarries
there eating nair (corpses).
In agreement with this,
34 says many serpents lie below Yggdrasill, and the
following verse adds that Nidhögg rends Yggdrasill from beneath.
Völuspá informs us that the doors of this hall face north, and a
passage in Saxo Grammaticus' Danish History, book 8, tell
us that this hall can be reached by sailing due north from
Denmark, across dark waters, leaving the sun behind.
Other passages in the Poetic Edda also support this
Baldurs Draumar, Odin rides "to Niflhel", and once
there, as he continues to ride, apparently toward the border
between these two realms, since in Niflhel he
sees a dog with a bloody breast, "coming out of Hel". Long it
howled at the father of spells, as he rode further to "Hel's
high hall". The ground now "thunders" (v. 10)
beneath the weight of a living rider, just as it did when Hermod
crossed this same way on Sleipnir, Odin's own horse
Upp reis Óðinn,
ok hann á Sleipni
söðul of lagði;
reið hann niðr þaðan
mætti hann hvelpi,
þeim er ór helju kom.
Sá var blóðugr
um brjóst framan
ok galdrs föður
gól of lengi;
fram reið Óðinn,
hann kom at
hávu Heljar ranni.
2. Uprose Odin
lord of men,
and on Sleipnir he
laid the saddle;
he rode thence
down to Niflhel.
He met a whelp,
coming out of Hel.
3. It was bloody
about its breast.
It bayed long
at the father of spells:
Forth rode Odin —
the field-way thundered —
he came to
the high hall of Hel.
We cannot be certain if the use of the word Hel in the
last line (hávu Hels ranni) is a a personal name or a
place name— in other words, we don't know whether the hall
belongs to Hel or simply is found in Hel. One thing is certian,
however, the description of the hall in the following verses, as
an opulent, well-adorned hall with sparkling mead served in
goblets prepared for Baldur's arrival stands in stark contrast
to the hall of Loki's daughter, whom Snorri names "Hel" in
Gylfaginning 37. In
Gylfaginning 3, Snorri also distinquishes between the worlds of Hel and
Niflhel, and identifies Niflhel as "the ninth world":
"Hitt er þó mest, er hann gerði manninn ok gaf honum önd
þá, er lifa skal ok aldri týnast, þótt líkaminn fúni at moldu
eða brenni at ösku, ok skulu allir menn lifa, þeir er rétt eru
siðaðir, ok vera með honum sjálfum þar sem heitir Gimlé eða
Vingólf, en vándir menn fara til Heljar ok þaðan í Niflhel. Þat
er niðr í inn níunda heim."
What is most important, he (God) made man and gave him a
spirit, which shall live, and never perish, though the body may
turn to dust or burn to ashes. All who live a life of virtue
shall dwell with him in Gimli or Vingolf. The wicked, on the
other hand, go to Hel, and from there to Niflhel, that is, down
into the ninth world.
Snorri states that Loki's half-livid daughter, whom he names Hel, was given power over
"nine worlds" after she was thrown into "Niflheim" by Odin. In Gylfaginning 34,
kastaði hann í Niflheim ok gaf henni vald yfir níu heimum, at
hon skyldi skipta öllum vistum með þeim, er til hennar váru
sendir, en þat eru sóttdauðir menn ok ellidauðir.
Hon á þar
mikla bólstaði, ok eru garðar hennar forkunnarhávir ok grindr
stórar. Éljúðnir heitir salr hennar, Hungr diskr hennar, Sultr
knífr hennar, Ganglati þrællinn, Ganglöt ambátt, Fallandaforað
þresköldr hennar, er inn gengr, Kör sæing, Blíkjandaböl ársali
hennar. Hon er blá hálf, en hálf með hörundarlit. Því er hon
auðkennd ok heldr gnúpleit ok grimmlig.
he cast into Niflheim, and gave her power over nine worlds,
to apportion all abodes among those that were sent to her: that
is, men dead of sickness or of old age.
great possessions there; her walls are exceeding high and her
gates great. Her hall is called Sleet-Cold; her dish, Hunger;
Famine is her knife; Idler, her thrall; Sloven, her maidservant;
Pit of Stumbling, her threshold, by which one enters; Disease,
her bed; Gleaming Bale, her bed-hangings. She is half blue-black
and half flesh-color (by which she is easily recognized), and
very lowering and fierce.
This description of Hel's hall, the abode of Loki's
daughter, is the exact opposite of hávu heljar ranni,
the "high hall of Hel", seen by Odin in Baldurs Draumar:
"Vegtamr ek heiti,
sonr em ek Valtams;
segðu mér ór helju,
ek mun ór heimi:
Hveim eru bekkir
6. "Vegtam is my name,
I am Valtam's son.
Tell me (news) of Hel,
I remember (events) of the world.
For whom are benches
strewn with rings,
rooms (or benches)
adorned with gold?"
7. "Hér stendr Baldri
of brugginn mjöðr,
liggr skjöldr yfir..."
The Völva said:
7. "Here stands mead,
for Baldur brewed,
bright liquids (lit. 'clear strengths')
a shield laid over..."
Instead of a plate of hunger and a knife of famine in a
dreary hall, Odin sees a rich feast spread for his beloved son.
Loki's daughter is nowhere to be found. Arguably, she does not
appear in the poems of the Elder Edda.
The place-name Niflheim is unique to Snorri's work. The
older Eddic poems instead use the term Niflhel. So, Niflhel,
is most likely the same as Snorri's Niflheim, and one of the nine worlds.
As shown above, he uses the terms interchangably. Being distinct from it, Hel is most likely another world.
Niflhel appears to be a world especially for the wicked dead
(adulterers, murderers, and seducers of other men's wives, and
their ilk), leaving the world Hel for the remaining dead, not
worthy of ascending to Valhalla. According to
Vafþrúðnismál, men die "out of Hel" into "Niflhel". The passage
from Hel to Niflhel is thus equivilent to the passage from
Midgard, the world of living men, into Hel. It constitutes a
In the poems of the Poetic Edda, the word Hel is a
place-name referring to the land of the dead, distinct from
Niflhel. In Snorri's Edda, Hel is the personal name of Loki's
daughter, a terrible being best fit to rule over Niflhel. Snorri
calls her realm Niflheim. This explains the confusion among
scholars regarding the names and natures of these worlds.
In Gylfaginning 4, Snorri introduces
Niflheim as one of two opposing elemental worlds, existing
before the creation of the ordered universe:
Fyrr var þat mörgum öldum en
jörð var sköpuð er Niflheimr var gerr, ok í honum miðjum
liggr bruðr sá, er Hvergelmir heitir, ok þaðan af falla
þær ár, er svá heita: Svöl, Gunnþrá, Fjörm, Fimbulþul,
Slíðr ok Hríð, Sylgr ok Ylgr, Víð, Leiftr. Gjöll er næst
"Fyrst var þó sá heimr í suðrhálfu, er Múspell heitir.
Hann er ljóss ok heitr. Sú átt er logandi ok brennandi.
Er hann ok ófærr þeim, er þar eru útlendir ok eigi eigu
þar óðul. Sá er Surtr nefndr, er þar sitr á landsenda
til landvarnar. Hann hefir loganda sverð, ok í enda
veraldar mun hann fara ok herja ok sigra öll goðin ok
brenna allan heim með eldi.
many ages before the earth was shaped that Niflheim was
made; and at its center lay the well called Hvergelmir,
from which spring the rivers called Svöl, Gunnthrá,
Fjörm, Fimbulthul, Slídr and Hríd, Sylgr and Ylgr, Víd,
Leiptr; Gjöll is nearest the Hel-gates."
first was the world in the southern region, which was
named Múspell; it is light and hot; that region is
glowing and burning, and impassable to foriegners, who
have no holdings there. He who sits there at the border,
to defend the land, is called Surtr; he brandishes a
flaming sword, and at the end of the world he shall go
forth and harry, and overcome all the gods, and burn all
the world with fire.
Before Odin and his brothers
arranged the created worlds, Niflheim, the primordial northern
world of ice, was the natural home of the ancient frost-giants.
Surt ruled over a southern world of fire.
In Skirnismál 25, after Gerd refuses to accept 11 golden
apples and the ring Draupnir, burned on Baldur's breast, Skirnir
draws his sword, the blade he got from Frey, and threatens to
dispatch the giant maid to the underworld. There, Skirnir says, she will dwell among
joyless and subject to "endless horrors" (v. 30). This place is so
he predicts, she will climb a mountain each morning and look toward Hel (v.
27), but there will be no escape.
Naturally this place is identical to Niflheim, the home of the ancient
Skirnir elaborates on the threat.
After he kills her with the sword, instead of a bliss-filled life with the lord of
harvests, Gerd will be wed to a three-headed thurs (31 cp. 35),
but she will never know a man's pleasure (v. 34) for like Ymir,
these giants reproduce asexually. Under Ymir's arm, a man and
maid sprang together; and together his feet begot a three-headed
son. To underscore this point, Skirnir threatens to
carve for Gerd the runes thurs, ergi and othala (cold-heartedness, sexual
deviancy, and burning lust). She finally relents to his
threats and agrees to meet Frey.
together, these statements paint Niflhel (or Niflheim) as a dismal place inhabited by
monsters and dead men. Snorri confirms this view in his
Edda. He calls the primordial world of ice Niflheim. This
appears to be the same realm that the Poetic Edda designates as
Niflhel, after the creation of the nine worlds. Thus, before
Odin and his brothers created the worlds, there existed a world
of ice to the north and a brilliant world of fire to the
south, later guarded by Surt (Soot, Black). Between them yawned
a great abyss called Ginnungagap, into which the rivers of
The Third World:
A SOUTHERN WORLD OF
The primary evidence for a world of fire to the
south is found in
Gangleri mælti: "Hversu
skipaðist, áðr en ættirnar yrði eða aukaðist
Þá mælti Hárr: "Ár þær, er
kallaðar eru Élivágar, þá er þær váru svá langt komnar
frá uppsprettum, at eitrkvika sú, er þar fylgði,
harðnaði svá sem sindr þat, er renn ór eldinum, þá varð
þat íss. Ok þá er sá íss gaf staðar ok rann eigi, þá
hélði yfir þannig, en úr þat, er af
stóð eitrinu, fraus at hrími, ok jók hrímit hvert yfir
annat allt í Ginnungagap."
Þá mælti Jafnhárr:
"Ginnungagap, þat er vissi til norðrættar, fylltist með
þunga ok höfugleik íss ok hríms ok inn í frá úr ok
gustr, en inn syðri hlutr Ginnungagaps léttist mót
gneistum ok síum þeim, er flugu ór Múspellsheimi."
Þá mælti Þriði: "Svá sem kalt
stóð af Niflheimi ok allir hlutir grimmir, svá var allt
þat, er vissi námunda Múspelli, heitt ok ljóst, en
Ginnungagap var svá hlætt sem loft vindlaust. Ok þá er
mættist hrímin ok blær hitans, svá at bráðnaði ok draup,
ok af þeim kvikudropum kviknaði með krafti þess, er til
sendi hitann, ok varð manns líkandi, ok var sá nefndr
Gangleri said: What took
place before the races came into existence, and men
increased and multiplied?
The Har replied, "The rivers
called the Elivogs had come so far from their source
that the venomous yeast which flowed with them hardened,
as does dross that runs from a forge, then it became ice.
And when this ice stopped and flowed no more, then
the vapor arising from the
venom froze into rime, and layer was laid upon layer
everywhere in Ginungagap.
Then said Jafnhar: All that
part of Ginungagap that turns toward the north was
filled with thick and heavy ice and rime, and everywhere
within were drizzling rains and gusts. But the southern
part of Ginungagap was lighted up by the glowing sparks
that flew out of Muspellsheim.
Then Thridi spoke: As cold
and all things grim proceeded from Niflheim, all that
which bordered on Muspel was hot and bright, and
Ginungagap was as warm and mild as windless air. And
when the heated blasts met the rime, it melted
into living-drops, by the power of him who sent the
heat, and took the likeness of a man, who was so named
This place —Múspell or Múspellsheim— is the home of Surt.
Like Niflheim, the place-names for the southern world of
fire are not found in documents older than Snorri's text.
Still, we find evidence for its existence in the Poetic
Edda. Völuspá 52 states:
Surtr ferr sunnan
með sviga lævi,
skínn af sverði
en gífr rata,
troða halir helveg,
en himinn klofnar.
Surt from the south fares
With the bane of branches (i.e. 'fire');
From the sword shines
The sun of the war-god(s).
Rocks dash together
And witches ride,
Men tread the Hel-ways
And heaven is cloven.
As one of the first worlds, Surt's homeland must now be at the very base of the created world structure—
i.e. "buried" under the subsequent created worlds. As a
foundational world, it lurks at the base of the pyramid. For
this reason, the
heathen skald Eyvind refers to it as Surts sökkdalir, Surt's
sunken-dales. It is located in the deep south.
As shown above, the spring Hvergelmir, which waters the
northern root of Yggdrassil, flows out of Niflheim into
Ginnungagap. To the south of the great abyss, we find Surt's
home. In a verse by the newly-coverted Christian skald
preserved in Skáldskaparmál 65, Christ is said to sit in the
judgment seats of the old heathen gods "south at Urd's well" (sunnr
at Urðarbrunni). Thus, it would seem that Urd's warm well, in
which swans swim, is located in the same direction as Surt's
fiery homeland. When Mimir's well Oðrerir, which lies "where
Ginnungagap once was" (Gylfaginning 9) is threatened by the
"mightest winter" (mestum þorra), Urd is appointed
its protector (Hrafnagaldur
Óðins 2) The southern position of Urd's well can be confirmed in another way.
29 warns us why Thor cannot cross over
the Bifröst bridge to join the other gods in their daily journey to Urd's
Körmt ok Örmt
ok Kerlaugar tvær,
þær skal Þórr vaða
er hann dæma ferr
at aski Yggdrasils,
því at ásbrú
brenn öll loga,
heilög vötn hlóa
Kormth and Wormth
and the two Charlocks
Thor must wade
when he goes to court
at Yggdrassil's ash
Because (otherwise) the God-bridge
burn all aflame,
and the holy waters glow.
Should he try to cross Bifröst in his goat-drawn
chariot, the bridge would burn
and the holy waters (or Urd's well) would
boil. Haustlöng's account of Thor's
chariot in flight provides a vivid explanation of why this is
Jarðar sunr, en dunði,
- móðr svall Meila bróður-
mána vegr und hánum.
öll (en) Ullar
(endilág) fyr mági
(grund vas grápi hrundin)
ginnunga vé brinna,
þás hafregin hafrar
hógreiðar framm drógu
(seðr gekk Svölnis ekkja
sundr) at Hrungnis fundi.
And to the game of iron [i.e. 'battle']
The son of
Jörd [Thor], thundered
—Wrath swoll Meili’s brother [Thor]—
Moon’s way under him.
All the hawks’ sanctuaries [i.e. 'skies']
were burning because
of Ull’s stepfather [Thor];
The ground was beaten with hail,
when the goats drew the temple-deity [Thor] in his
forth to meet Hrungnir.
Svölnir’s [Odin's] wife [Earth] split asunder.
In motion, Thor's chariot causes the sky to burn and
the ground below to tremble. Thus, it can
only be ridden through wide-open spaces. If Thor attempted to
his fiery chariot across Bifröst, the delicate span would burn
At Ragnarök, we see that this is precisely what happens.
When Surt arrives from "the south" with the "bane of branches"
[fire]. His men ride with him, and the rainbow bridge breaks
under the weight of riders, causing the horses to swim in the
stream. Fáfnismál 15 says:
er þeir á brott fara,
ok svima í móðu marir.
Bil-röst ['Trembling Way', Bifröst] breaks,
when they depart,
and horses swim in the river.
Grimnismal 21 tells us that this stream is too rapid for the
battle-slain to wade, thus they need the steady road of "Throdvitnir's
fish" (Heimdall's bridge, Bifröst):
fiskr flóði í.
valglaumi at vaða.
Thjodvitnir's fish (Heimdall's bridge, i.e. Bifröst)*
rests in the flood.
seems too strong for
the host of the slain to wade.
*Þjóð-vitnir = "the one with
mighty senses" [i.e. Heimdall]; the phrase is usually
translated as "the mighty wolf" and scholars have struggled to
understand its meaning. The word vitnir, "wolf",
however, literally means "one with sharp senses" [see Sveinbjörn
Lexicon Poeticum vitnir=
ulv egl 'med (skarpe) sanser': wolf literally
'with (sharp) senses']
= metaphorically "a bridge", since a
bridgehead is called a
brúar-sporðr, "bridge's fish-tail."
Here, the atmosphere is concieved of as a mighty river, and the
shimmering bridge is compared to a fish at rest in the stream.
Although the horses of the gods can swim in these 'waters' (i.e.
fly), the bridge is necessary to efficiently cross the heavy
In the poems of the Elder Edda, Surt and his men do not ride
downward from above through a crack in the sky to reach Asgard,
as Snorri describes in Gylfaginning. He likely got this idea from Völuspá 52 cited above.
Instead, they most likely pour out from their sunken volcanic homes, far
below the surface of the earth and ride upward over Bifröst,
the same span that the gods ride down daily to reach Urd's well,
according to Grímnismál
where they sit in judgment of dead men's souls, determining who
can stay in Hel and who must proceed onward to Niflhel. Thus Surt's men ride
in the opposite
direction that the gods normally do, using Bifröst to reach Asgard from Urd's well,
located in Hel near the southern root of the world-tree. On this
occasion, the bow breaks leaving them to
swim in the fierce currents of the atmospheric sea. The
following diagram illustrates this scene:
|Heimdall guards the
northern span, preventing Frost-giants from
||The gods ride from
Asgard to Urd's well daily on the southern span.
At Ragnarök, Surt and his men ride up over this
same span to reach Asgard.
Bifröst forms a complete arc, just as a
natural rainbow would,
with bridgeheads in the north and south of the
Many modern scholars equate Surt's men with Muspel's Sons. This because, Snorri tells us that
they arrive together, through a hole in the sky in Gylfaginning
51. Snorri equates them with the "light-elves" who live in
Gimli! But in Völuspá 51-52,
we find that "Muspel's sons arrive with Loki from the east",
while "Surt arrives with the bane-of-branches ['fire'] from the
According to Völuspá, Surt
and Muspel's sons arrive to the battle
separately, from two different directions.
In contrast to this in Gylfaginning 51, Snorri says that Muspel's sons arrive
with Surt, riding through a crack in the sky. In Gylfaginning
5, he calls the southern world of fire, variously: Múspell, Múspellsheim
('Muspel's world') and Múspellheim ('Home of Muspel'),
as if he was unable to decide on a name for it. According to his
own usage, Múspell seems to be the name of a giant whom
some scholars identify with Surt. In Gylfaginning 43, Snorri says of
the ship Naglfari, built of deadmen's nails, that "Muspel has
it". [En Naglfar er mest skip. Þat á
Múspell.] This ship best belongs in Niflhel.
In Gylfaginning 51, it's almost as if Snorri
portrays Surt and his men
as Christian angels of light who have come to destroy
worship of the old pagan gods. Considering the Christian thrust
of both the Formáli (Prologue) and Gylfaginning, this may have been Snorri's purpose
at the final chapter of Gylfaginning. It cannot, however, have been the
intent of the heathen poet who composed Völuspá.
Remarkably, this interpretation, based on a literal
reading of Snorri's text, led some of the earliest modern
place Muspelheim above Asgard and to
identify Muspel's sons with the light-elves! As an older and more
reliable source of heathen mythology, Völuspá
of lög lýðir,
51. That ship fares from the east:
Muspell’s people will come
over the sea,
and Loki steers.
The monster’s kin [Muspel's people?]
all fare with Freki ['Greedy', Fenrir];
with them on their journey
is Byleist's brother [Loki].
52. Surt from the south
comes with the 'bane of branches';
shines from his sword
the sun of the War-god(s).
We find evidence in Lokasenna 42
and in a German poem titled Múspelli that
the word múspell
is an ancient Germanic word associated with the end times.
Nevertheless, the place-name(s) Múspell, Múspellsheim and Múspellheim are
unique to Snorri's text and may simply be a back-formation of the
tribal names muspels lýðar and muspels sonar, "Muspel's people"
and "Muspell's sons" found in the Poetic Edda. Their
sometimes translated as
"sons (or people) of Destruction". In the Poetic Edda,
the term "Muspel's sons" seem to refer to the packs of
werewolves born of "the old one in the Iron wood" (Völuspá 40)
by Fenrir, Loki's son. They are "Fenrir's
children," wolves. Loki himself brings them to the battlefield by
ship "from the east" to meet the Aesir. In contrast, Surt and his followers arrive over
Bifröst from the south.
Snorri's identification of Surt's men with the Light-elves is
Gylfaginning 17. There Snorri provides more information about the
homes of the Light-elves and the Dark-elves. He doesn't use the
terms Ljósalfaheim (Light-elf Home) and Svartalfaheim (Black-elf
Home) however. Snorri simply says that
Light-elves live in Alfheim, and that Dark-elves live below
ground. He writes:
mælti Gangleri: "Mikil tíðendi kannt þú at segja af
himninum. Hvat er þar fleira höfuðstaða en at
Hárr segir: "Margir staðir eru þar göfugligir. Sá er
einn staðr þar, er kallaðr er Álfheimr. Þar byggvir fólk
þat, er Ljósálfar heita, en Dökkálfar búa niðri í jörðu,
ok eru þeir ólíkir þeim sýnum ok miklu ólíkari reyndum.
Ljósálfar eru fegri en sól sýnum, en Dökkálfar eru
svartari en bik. Þar er einn sá staðr, er Breiðablik er
kallaðr, ok engi er þar fegri staðr. Þar er ok sá, er
Glitnir heitir, ok eru veggir hans ok steðr allar ok
stólpar af rauðu gulli, en þak hans af silfri. Þar er
enn sá staðr, er Himinbjörg heita. Sá stendr á himins
enda við brúarsporð, þar er Bifröst kemr til himins. Þar
er enn mikill staðr, er Valaskjálf heitir. Þann stað á
Óðinn. Þann gerðu goðin ok þökðu skíru silfri, ok þar er
Hliðskjálfin í þessum sal, þat hásæti, er svá heitir, ok
þá er Alföðr sitr í því sæti, þá sér hann of alla heima.
Á sunnanverðum himins enda er sá salr, er allra er
fegrstr ok bjartari en sólin, er Gimlé heitir. Hann skal
standa, þá er bæði himinn ok jörð hefir farizt, ok
byggja þann stað góðir menn ok réttlátir of allar aldir.
Svá segir í Völuspá:
said Gangleri: Great tidings you are able to tell of the
heavens. Are there other remarkable places than the one by Urd’s
Har: There are many magnificent dwellings. One is there called
Alfheim. There dwell the folk that are called light-elves; but
the dark-elves dwell down in the earth, and they are unlike the
light-elves in appearance, but much more so in deeds. The
light-elves are fairer than the sun to look upon, but the
dark-elves are blacker than pitch. Another place is called
Breidablik, and no place is fairer. There is also a mansion
called Glitnir, of which the walls and pillars and posts are of
red gold, and the roof is of silver. Furthermore, there is a
dwelling, by name Himinbjorg, which stands at the end of heaven,
where the Bifrost-bridge is united with heaven. And there is a
great dwelling called Valaskjalf, which belongs to Odin. The
gods made it and thatched it with, sheer silver. In this hall is
the high-seat, which is called Hlidskjalf, and when Alfather
sits in this seat, he sees over all the world.
In the southern
end of the world is the palace, which is the fairest of all, and
brighter than the sun; its name is Gimli. It shall stand when
both heaven and earth shall have passed away. In this hall the
good and the righteous shall dwell through all ages. Thus says
Sal sér hon standa
þar skulu dyggvar
ok um aldrdaga
A hall I
than the sun,
brighter than gold,
mælti Gangleri: "Hvat gætir þess staðar, þá er Surtalogi
brennir himin ok jörð?"
Hárr segir: "Svá er sagt, at annarr himinn sé suðr ok
upp frá þessum himni, ok heitir sá Andlangr, en inn
þriði himinn sé enn upp frá þeim, ok heitir sá
Víðbláinn, ok á þeim himni hyggjum vér þenna stað vera.
En Ljósálfar einir, hyggjum vér, at nú byggvi þá staði."
Gangleri: Who guards this palace when Surt’s fire burns up
heaven and earth?
Har answered: It is said that to the south and
above this heaven is another heaven, which is called Andlang.
But there is a third, which is above these, and is called
Vidblain, and in this heaven we believe this mansion (Gimli) to
be situated; but we deem that the light-elves alone dwell in it
never occurs in the lore. It is a term invented by and carried forward by modern scholars
(beginning with Finnur Jónsson, see below), based on
the term Svartálfaheim found several times in Snorri's Edda. I
shall discuss Snorri's use of the term Svartálfaheim, as the
home of dwarves, below (see "The Last World— Svartálfaheim?")
In Gylfaginning, Snorri says
that the Light-elves live in Alfheim, which he places in the highest heaven, where
the hall Gimli is located.
that Surt's realm "Muspellheim" and Alfheim are higher worlds clearly comes from
Gylfaginning 54's account of the battle of Ragnarök. Here, the
Sons of Muspel arrive with Surt after the sky is rent in two
(inspired by Völuspá 52). As Finnur Magnússon (1825) and Gustav
Legis (1829) illustrate, Snorri's text seems to place
Muspellheim and Alfheim above Asgard. Accordingly Snorri
says that Surt and Muspel's sons ride together through the crack
in the sky, presumably downward from above.
This contradicts the testimony of Völuspá, which Snorri cites as
evidence of his own correctness!
There they ride from opposite directions.
heitir jötunn, er stýrir Naglfari, en Fenrisúlfr ferr með
gapandi munn, ok er inn neðri kjöftr við jörðu, en in efri við
himin. Gapa myndi hann meira, ef rúm væri til. Eldar brenna ór
augum hans ok nösum. Miðgarðsormr blæss svá eitrinu, at hann
dreifir loft öll ok lög, ok er hann allógurligr, ok er hann á
aðra hlið úlfinum. Í þessum gný klofnar himinninn, ok ríða þaðan
Múspellssynir. Surtr ríðr fyrst ok fyrir honum ok eftir eldr
brennandi. Sverð hans er gott mjök. Af því skínn bjartara en af
sólu. En er þeir ríða Bifröst, þá brotnar hon, sem fyrr er sagt.
Múspellsmegir sækja fram á þann völl, er Vígríðr heitir. Þar
kemr ok þá Fenrisúlfr ok Miðgarðsormr. Þar er ok þá Loki kominn
ok Hrymr ok með honum allir hrímþursar, en Loka fylgja allir
Heljarsinnar. En Múspellssynir hafa einir sér fylking, ok er sú
björt mjök. Völlrinn Vígríðr er hundrað rasta víðr á hvern veg.
Fenris-wolf advances with wide open mouth; the upper jaw reaches
to heaven and the lower jaw is on the earth. He would open it
still wider had he room. Fire flashes from his eyes and
nostrils. The Midgard-serpent vomits forth venom, defiling all
the air and the sea; he is very terrible, and places himself by
the side of the wolf. In the midst of this clash and din the
heavens are rent in twain, and Muspell's sons come riding
through the opening. Surt rides first, and before him and after
him flames burning fire. He has a very good sword, which shines
brighter than the sun. As they ride over Bifrost it breaks to
pieces, as has before been stated. Muspell's sons direct
their course to the plain which is called Vigrid. Thither repair
also the Fenris-wolf and the Midgard-serpent. To this place have
also come Loki and Hrym, and with him all the frost-giants. In
Loki’s company are all the friends of Hel.
have thier troops apart, and they are very bright. The plain Vigrid
is one hundred miles (rasts) on each side.
In an apparent attempt to
reconcile his work with Völuspá, Snorri tells us that Gimli
is located in the southern portion of heaven.
Comparing this to his citation of Völuspá, however, we see
that only Surt arrives from the south (verse 52); while in
verse 51, Muspel's sons arrive with Loki from the east.
Völuspá 64 gives no direction for Gimli.
Snorri's understanding of Völuspá's Ragnarök sequence calls
into question his name for the southern world of fire. There
is no reason to call it Múspel, Múspellsheim or Múspellheim,
if Muspel's sons do not dwell there. As noted before, in the
poetic sources, the southern world of fire is simply called
Surts sökkdalir, "Surt's sunken-dales." And, as shown above,
we can safely do away with Ljósalfaheim.
Instead we have Alfheim.
The Fourth World
In Gylfaginning 17, Snorri informs us that only
Light-elves live in Álfheim. Dark-elves he says abide beneath
the earth. He does not use the modern term Ljósálfaheim to designate their home. As confirmation, we
Álfheim as a place-name in
older poetry. It occurs once in the Poetic Edda in
5. The preceding verse, Grímnismál 4, informs us that
Thrudheim, Thor's home in Asgard, lies closest to the Æsir
and the Alfar:
er ek liggja sé
ásum ok álfum nær
en í Þrúðheimi
skal Þór vera,
unz of rjúfask regin
4. Holy is the land,
I see lying
Æsir and Alfar near;
the powers perish.
When Thor travels from Asgard to meet the giant Hymir in
38) gives us some sense of direction:
til Egils kvámu;
took care of the goats,
the splendid horns,
they turned away
On the way from Asgard (located 'up' in the sky) to Jötunheim ('in the east'), Thor stops
and leaves his goat-team and chariot at the home of a person
named Egill. The exact location of Egill the goat-keep’s, house is not stated in the
surviving lore. However, the available clues provide some
indication of where it was thought to be. When Thor leaves his goat-team
behind, safe at Egill's, he heads east on foot toward Hymir's
hall. Hymir, we are told, lives “east of the Elivagor” at “the
edge of heaven.”
"Dwells east of
home is 'east of the Elivagor' (Ice-waves) and we know that Thor
regularly crosses a body of water to enter Jötunheim then Egill's
must be west of these same waters, on the opposite shore as
Jötunheim, on the Midgard-side of the boundary waters.
In the Poetic Edda, the only other Egill we find is the
brother of the famous smith Völund. In Völundarkviða, Völund and
Egil are "elf-princes" and "sons of a Finnish king".
In fact, the Lapps (Saami) are often equated with the elves in
the Icelandic sources. Geographically, Finland is north-east of Scandinavia, and continuing
the same direction one encounters the Arctic Ocean. The mythic
worlds of Jötunheim and Niflhel lie to the east and to the north
respectively. Both lands are inhabited by giants hostile to the
Once in Jötunheim, Thor and Hymir fish for the Midgard
The Snake circles the known world biting
its own tail. His home is the great river which rings the world.
Thor crossed these waters to reach Hymir's, and will flee over
them with Hymir's kettle when he leaves. His belt of strength
gives him the power to "grow as high as heaven" so that he may
wade these waters safely. (See
Ásmegin: Thor's Might and the Belt of Strength)
In Hymiskviða, Thor leaves his goats on the opposite
shore, safe with Egill in Álfheim before crossing over with Tyr,
then he and the giant venture out on the same waters to fish for
the Midgard Serpent. Thus, its head and tail were thought
to lie in the northern Arctic waters. In a poetic metaphor found
these waters are said to be as cold as venom.
in Skáldskaparmál 25, when Thor carries his friend Aurvandill
across these waters in a basket on his back, one of his toes is
left exposed to the venomous liquid. As a result, the toe turns
black from frost-bite. Thor breaks it off and makes a star of
it. Völuspá informs us that at Ragnarök, Thor will succomb to this
same venom, stepping back nine paces before falling.
4 informs us that Thor's home Thrudheim lies closest to the land
of the Aesir and the Alfar. Egill, the "peasant" (bondi) who keeps his goats,
is an elf-prince and the son of a Finnish king according to
Völundarkviða. In Hymiskviða 37 (cp. Gylfaginning 44), we
discover that Egill's home is where Thor gained his servant
Thjálfi, whose very name contains the word alf. For
this reason, he is often identified as such in modern
From the available evidence, Alfheim seems to
be a way-station for Thor on his journey from Asgard to Jötunheim.
Thor leaves his goat-car there and enters the land of giants on
foot, first crossing a great body of water. It should come as no
surprise then that Váfthrúðnismál 16 speaks of boundary waters
located between Jötunheim and Asgard.
deilir með jötna sonum
ok með goðum;
skal of aldrdaga;
íss á á."
river is called Ifing
cuts off the land
the giants’ sons
runs open throughout all time.
that river no ice forms.
Hymiskviða, it is apparent that Hymir lives near the
'river' that circles Midgard. We know this, because he and Thor
go fishing on it, and Thor catches the Midgard Serpent in its
waters. Therefore, it is probable that Elivagor ('Icy-waves') is
another name of Ifing, the river that rings the world. It is
bitter-cold, but never freezes over. Like all
mythic things, it is known by more than one name. This river is
the Arctic ocean. Jötunheim lies beyond its waters (within the
Arctic Circle). From there, the way to Niflhel is "north and
In Saxo Book 8, the adventurer Thorkill
arrives there by ship, sailing due north into the murky
darkness, leaving the sun and stars behind. In real world
geography, these turbulent icy waters were known as The White
Sea, and as Gandvik, the 'Magic-bay'.
Vanaheim: Home of the Vanir
Váfthrúðnismál 16, we discover that at Ragnarök,
Njörd will return to his homeland Vanaheim, westward across the sea.
"Seg þú þat it tíunda,
þú tíva rök öll,
hvaðan Njörðr of kom
hofum ok hörgum
hann ræðr hundmörgum
- ok varð-at hann ásum alinn."
skópu hann vís regin
ok seldu at gíslingu goðum,
í aldar rök hann mun
aftr koma heim
með vísum vönum."
38. Tell me tenthly,
since thou all the origin
of the gods knowest, Vafthrudnir!
among the Æsir´s sons?
O’er fanes and offer-steads
he rules by hundreds,
yet was not among the Æsir born.
39. In Vanaheim
wise powers him created,
and to the gods a hostage gave.
At the world’s dissolution
he will return
to the wise Vanir.
are a powerful clan of gods who once defeated the Æsir
in war (Völuspá 23-24). Their native home is Vanaheim.
We might also assume that Njörd's hall Noatun
(Ship-yard) is located there.
Because the Vanir are a
tribe of gods akin to the Æsir, Vanaheim is typically
placed alongside Asgard in the heavens. However, it is
probably best placed across the western sea from
Midgard, opposite from Jötunheim. Perhaps related to
this, Baldrs Draumr 11 informs us that "Rind bore Vali,"
Baldur's avenger, "in western halls." In contrast,
Odin's avenger, Vidar is born to the giantess Grid, who
lives in the east.
Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Worlds
DOING THE MATH
I believe that the evidence for Midgard, Asgard,
and Jötunheim (the homes of men, gods and giants
respectively) are too well established to
Midgard, the home of Men, is found as a placename in
Völuspá (4, 56), Harbarðsljóð 23, and Hyndluljóð (11, 16), as
well as being attested in various forms in several later Germanic works.
In the Poetic Edda, Asgard appears
as a place-name in Þrymskviða 18 and Hymiskviða 7. In the
skaldic poem Sonnatorrek, preserved in Egils Saga, we are told
that Goðheim ('Home of the Gods') is located above Midgard.
The poet, whose son died young, expresses his hope that Odin has
taken him to Valhalla, "up in Godheim" (es
upp of hóf í Goðheim).
Jötunheim, the home of the Jötuns, is named in a number
of Eddic poems including Völuspá (8, 48), Skírnismál 40, and
Þrymskviða (7, 12, 13, 20, 21, 26, 28). Occassionally, some
illustrations of Yggdrassil will include Utgard, a place-name
found in Gylfaginning, either as a separate world or as a city
in Jötunheim. For example, the map of Yggdrassil in Kevin
Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths (1988) lists Utgard as "a
citadel of the giants" in the world of Jötunheim. Yet, he lists
Asgard as "the world of the gods." Using the logic applied to
Utgard, Asgard might best be described as a "citadel of the
Æsir" located in the world called Goðheim.
Numerous models of the 9 worlds have been
patterned on this illustration.
Based on evidence found in the tale of Utgard-Loki as
told by Snorri in Gylfaginning 45 and 46 and references to the same myth in Harbarðsljóð
26 (compared to Hávamál 12 and 104-110), Utgard is best understood as another name for
Surts sökkdalir, the southern world of fire. Utgard-Loki
appears to be the fire-giant Suttung, also called Fjalar. He
commands Logi (wildfire) and is a master of "eye-spells" (heat
mirages). The fire that consumes the world at Raganrök is known
as Surtarlogi, Surt's wildfire, and the name Suttung may be
interpreted as a condensed form of Surts
ungr, Surt's son. Surts sökkdalir is the only name the
old poems give us for the fiery realm that Snorri calls Muspell.
Snorri calls this same place Utgard later in Gylfaginning.
For reasons that are unclear to me, some accounts of the
nine worlds in modern scholarship identify Utgard as the
underworld. In regard to location, I would tend to agree, placing it directly below
Hel, not for the same reasons, but rather for those which I have
already given above. As one of the
primoridal worlds, "Surt's sunken dales" lies at the very base
of the created worlds. When he destroys the upper worlds with
fire at Ragnarök, his flames burn up the created worlds, leaving
the lower world (the original plain) as a "new earth" in its place. Thus, the fields
that the gods tread upon in their youth (Idavellir, Völuspá 7)
are found again in the "new" world (Völuspá 58). There the
surviving Æsir find the golden game-pieces that their parents
played with in the earliest days. Properly it is Mimir's realm,
"where Ginnungagap once was" (Gylfaginning 9). Thus, the human
survivors Lif and Lifthraisir, emerge from Hoddmimis holt,
"Hoard-Mimir's grove" when the fire subsides.
So without further speculation, I think we can safely name
most of the
nine worlds as found in the surviving lore. In no particular
order, we have:
6. Surts Sökk-dalir (Snorri's Muspell, Muspellsheim,
8. Nifhel (probably also Niflheim)
That brings our count
to eight worlds.
These are the ones that appear by name in the lore. Most
notably, we are lacking a home for the dwarves, and we have an
additional place-name to account for found only in Snorri's Edda,
Svartálfaheim, home of the black-elves.
The Last World
Svartálfaheim, Home of the
In most all of the models of the nine worlds, we
find the world Svartálfaheim, a term found only in
Snorri's Edda. As shown above, instead of Ljósalfaheim, "home of the light-elves", we simply find
of the elves. Snorri
informs us that only "light-elves" live in Alfheim,
but that "dark-elves" (dökk-alfar) live "below the earth."
Noticeably absent from these lists is a home for the dwarves
(dvergr), beings well-known in the lore. Instead we find
Svartálfaheim, home of svart or black-elves (cp.
dökkalfar). Oddly, time and again, Snorri identifies
Svartálfaheim as the home of dwarves. This lack of clarity on
Snorri's part has understandably lead to much confusion in
Because, Snorri says in Gylfaginning 17 that the dökk-álfar (dark-elves)
"dwell down in the earth" and that they are "black as pitch,"
the dökk-alfar (dark-elves) are commonly understood to be
identical with the svart-alfar (black-elves)
in modern scholarship and in turn are commonly interpreted as
dwarves, based on additional statements in Snorri's Edda. This
use of multiple terms for a single class of beings suggests
confusion on Snorri's part regarding the dwarves, or perhaps
that his idea developed as he wrote the text.
Anthony Faulkes in his Glossary to Skáldskaparmál (1998)
remarks "svartálfar are not mentioned in sources older than
Snorri and were possibly conceived of as identical to dwarfs."
Snorri's text supports this view.
Gylfaginning 34, he states:
Eftir þat óttuðust æsirnar, at þeir myndi eigi fá
bundit úlfinn. Þá sendi Alföðr þann, er Skírnir er
nefndr, sendimaðr Freys, ofan í Svartálfaheim til dverga
nökkurra ok lét gera fjötur þann, er Gleipnir heitir.
Then Allfather sent him who is called Skírnir,
Freyr's messenger, down into Svartálfaheim, to certain dwarves, and caused to be made the
fetter named Gleipnir.
in Skáldskaparmál 36:
Þá sendi Óðinn Loka í Svartálfaheim, ok kom hann til
dvergs þess, er heitir Andvari. Hann var fiskr í vatni,
ok tók Loki hann höndum ok lagði á hann fjörlausn allt
þat gull, er hann átti í steini sínum. Ok er þeir koma í
steininn, þá bar dvergrinn fram allt gull, þat er hann
átti, ok var þat allmikit fé. Þá svipti dvergrinn undir
hönd sér einum litlum gullbaug.
Thereupon Odin sent Loki into Svartálfaheim, and he came to the dwarf who is called Andvari,
who was as a fish in the water. Loki caught him in his
hands and required of him in ransom of his life all the
gold that he had in his rock; and when they came within
the rock, the dwarf brought forth all the gold he had,
and it was very much wealth.
If we accept that the dark-elves (dökk-alfar) and the black-elves
Hrafnagaldur Odins 25:
are identical then their home Svartálfaheim must be a
subterranean. Their home appears to be located under the northern
root of Yggdrassil according to
gýgjur og þursar,
under the outermost root
of the noble tree,
went to their couches
ogresses and thuses,
dead men, dwarves,
This verse, however, appears
to distinquish between dark-elves and dwarves. Snorri on the
other hand seems to equate dwarves with black-elves. In Skáldskaparmál 43, after Loki has cut off the golden
hair of Thor's wife Sif, the Thundergod threatens him,
until Loki promises to persuade artisans to replace what he has damaged:
En er Þórr varð þess varr,
tók hann Loka ok myndi lemja hvert bein í honum, áðr
hann svarði þess, at hann skal fá af Svartálfum, at þeir
skulu gera af gulli Sifju hadd þann, er svá skal vaxa
sem annat hár. Eftir þat fór Loki til þeira dverga, er
heita Ívaldasynir, ok gerðu þeir haddinn ok Skíðblaðni
But when Thor learned of
this, he seized Loki, and would have broken every bone
in him, had he not sworn to get the Black Elves to make
Sif hair of gold, such that it would grow like other
hair. After that, Loki went to those dwarves called
Ívaldi's Sons; and they made the hair, and Skídbladnir
Earlier in Gylfaginning 43, Snorri identifies
Ivaldi's sons are dwarves:
Dvergar nökkurir, synir Ívalda, gerðu Skíðblaðni ok
gáfu Frey skipit.
Certain dwarves, sons of Ívaldi, made Skídbladnir and
gave the ship to Freyr.
passages from the eddic poetry, we have reason to believe that
Ivaldi's sons were originally conceived of as elves (Alfar). In
Hrafnagaldur Odins 6, the goddess Idunn is said to be
Dvelur í dölum
Dwells in dales
the curious dis,
of elven kin,
Idunn by name,
In Grimnísmál 5, we learn that Alfheim was given to Frey
upon cutting his first tooth. Thus, the elves are subject to
him. Lokasenna 2 speaks of the Æsir and Álfar gathered in the
hall, when Loki bursts in and insults the gathered gods. Among
those seated inside we find Idunn, as well as servants of Frey
named Byggvir and Beyla. Thus indeed we find Alfar (elves)
mingled with the Æsir in the hall.
I suggest that Snorri's confusion between the "álfar"
(elves) and "dvergr" (dwarves) was likely caused, at least in
part, by the so-called dwarf-list of Völuspá, which contains the
names of both dwarves and elves. This list, however, is not
considered to be an original part of the poem, and is generally
thought to have been interpolated with additional names by
In Gylfaginning 14,
Snorri speaks of the creation of the dwarves, citing Völuspá 10
and 11 as support.
næst settust goðin upp í sæti sín ok réttu dóma sína ok
minntust, hvaðan dvergar höfðu kviknat í moldinni ok
niðri í jörðunni, svá sem maðkar í holdi. Dvergarnir
höfðu skipazt fyrst ok tekit kviknun í holdi Ymis ok
váru þá maðkar, en af atkvæðum goðanna urðu þeir vitandi
mannvits ok höfðu manns líki ok búa þó í jörðu ok í
steinum. Móðsognir var æðstr ok annarr Durinn.
Next, the gods sat in their seats and held
judgment, and minded whence the dwarves had quickened in
the mould down in the earth, even as do maggots in
flesh. The dwarves had first received form and life in
the Ymir's flesh, and were then maggots; but by decree
of the gods had become conscious with the intelligence
of men, and had human shape. And yet they dwell in the
earth and in stones. Módsognir was the first, and Durinn
Immediately following this, Snorri begins reciting the so-called
"dwarf-list" from Völuspá 11-16, a þula which includes
of elves such as Álfr, Gandálfr, and Vindálfr. In the midst of
this, Snorri says: "And these also
are dwarves and dwell in stones, but the first in mould"
(En þessir eru ok dvergar ok búa í
steinum, en inir fyrri í moldu). Yet, in Gylfaginning 15, Snorri clearly distinquishes between elves
and dwarves, citing a verse from the the Eddic poem Fafnismál as
Enn eru fleiri nornir, þær er koma til hvers barns,
er borit er, at skapa aldr, ok eru þessar goðkunnigar,
en aðrar álfa ættar, en inar þriðju dverga ættar, svá
sem hér segir:
segi ek nornir vera,
eigu-t þær ætt saman;
sumar eru áskunngar,
sumar eru alfkunngar,
sumar dætr Dvalins."
There are many norns: those who come to each child
that is born, to appoint his life; these are of the race
of the gods, but the second are the kin of elves, and
the third are the kindred of dwarves, as it is
Most sundered in birth
I say the Norns are;
They claim no common kin:
Some are of Æsir-kin,
some are of Elf-kin,
Some are Dvalinn's daughters."
In Völuspá 14, Dvalinn is said to lead his own band of
dwarves (dverga í Dvalins liði).
Dvalinn is the name of a famous dwarf, best known for spreading
runic knowledge among his people (Hávamál 143). In the same
verse, Dáinn spreads runes among the elves (alfar), suggesting a
separation between the two tribes.
In Völuspá 48, we also find a separation
between the elves and the dwarves in a single verse:
Hvat er með ásum?
Hvat er með alfum?
Ymr allr Jötunheimr,
æsir ro á þingi,
What of the Æsir?
What of the elves?
All Jötunheim resounds
The Æsir are at council;
The dwarves groan
Before stone doors,
Wise in rock-walls
Due to this confusion among dark-elves,
black-elves and dwarves in the Prose Edda, not being shared in
the poems of the Poetic Edda, the place-name
Svartálfaheim as a designation for the home of dwarves is
suspect. Because of the dwarf-list in Völuspá, which includes
the names of elves, it seems likely that Snorri either created
the term "Svart (Black)-elves" or else misunderstood and built
upon the term "Dökk (Dark)-elves" he encountered in some source,
now lost to us. The term svartálfar is unique to Snorri's text
and not found in the older poems. The term dökkálfar also
appears in the Eddic poem
Hrafnagaldur Óðinns 25, but the age
and authencity of the poem is in dispute. Some modern scholars
consider it a modern imitation penned in the 17th century, and
there is no indication that Snorri knew this poem.
Another possible name for the home of dwarves found
in older poetry is Nidavellir (No Moon Plains), a
geographical term used in Völuspá 36. Worthy of remark, in some of the more recent models
which combine Hel and Niflhel into a single world, we also
find the "world" Nidavellir listed among the nine.
However, these maps also frquently include the redundant world
Svartálfaheim. From Völuspá, we learn that Nidavellir contains a
golden hall which is the home of "Sindri's race." Sindri is
the name of a
famous dwarf who created Thor's hammer, with help from his
brother Brokk (Skáldskaparmál 43). Thus, like Svartálfaheim in
the Prose Edda, Nidavellir is inhabited
by artisan dwarves in the Poetic Edda.
Stóð fyr norðan
salr ór gulli
en annarr stóð
en sá Brimir heitir.
On the north there
on Nida-vellir (No Moon Plains),
a hall of gold,
for Sindri’s race;
and another stood
in Okolnir (Not Cold),
the Jötun's beer-hall
who is named Brimir.
Mentioned alongside Sindri's hall, we find the
"beer-hall" of a giant
named Brimir. Earlier the same poem informs us that the dwarves
were created from "Brimir's blood" and "Blainn's limbs." Brimir
and Blainn are commonly taken to be alternate names of Ymir, the
primeval giant whose body was used to create the world. I'd like
to suggest another possibility.
Snorri tells us that the dwarves first grew as maggots
in Ymir's flesh. Thus, Blainn (the Blue One) is likely a poetic
name for Ymir, who was slain by Odin and his brothers and whose
body was used as raw material to build the upper worlds. Brimir, however, seems to be associated with
Mimir. As one of the oldest beings, older than Odin, Mimir must
be one of the first created beings. As such, he could be a son
of Ymir himself. Since Odin is the third generation from Ymir,
Mimir must be among the first or second generations. The choices
are limited. Vafþrúðnismál 33 says us that "a boy and a
girl together" were born under Ymir's arm. As some of
the first beings, Mimir and Urd may well be that boy and girl.
The evidence is simply too slight to base any conclusions on.
The association between Brimir and Mimir is most apparent in
Á bjargi stóð
með Brimis eggjar,
hafði sér á höfði
þá mælti Mímis höfuð
fróðligt it fyrsta orð
sagði sanna stafi.
|On the cliff
with Brimir's sword
a helmet he had on his head;
then Mim's head spoke
wisely the first word
and told true staves.
Odin also speaks with Mimir's head, just before the
battle of Ragnarök in Völuspá 45, and pawns an eye for a drink
of Mimir's well in Völuspá 28. The expression "Brimir's sword"
may be a poetic metaphor meaning "Brimir's head" as Snorri says
a head could be called "Heimdall's sword" since he was killed
with a man's head. If so, then the verse simply says that when
Odin stood on a cliff with "Brimir's sword" (i.e. Brimir's
head), then "Mimir's head" spoke to him wisely. It is not
uncommon in eddic poems to restate the same thing which appears
in the first half of the stanza using poetic metaphor, in the
second half of the stanza more plainly. As it stands Brimir's
blood is associated with Blainn's (Ymir's) limbs as components
in the creation of the dwarves, and the giant Brimir has a
beer-hall in the vicinity of a hall for dwarves. In the same
poem, Mimir is said to drink mead "every morning" from his well,
the same spring in which Odin pawned his eye. The name
Brimir is also directly associated with Mimir's head in
Sigrdrifumal 14, which speaks with Odin, as it does in Völuspá
suggests a liquid. Here it is used in a creative process, along
with "Blainn's limbs" (Ymir's flesh) to create the dwarves. In
poetic language, any type of liquid can be substituted for any
other. For example, in Fafnismál 14, blood is called "the liquor of
the sword" (hjörlegi). I suggest that "Brimir's blood" here refers to
the creative liquid in Mimir's well. Thus Mimir may have had a
hand in the creation of the dwarves. Völuspá 10-11 suggest as
Commentary on Völuspá 10-11).
We have good reason to associate Mimir with the
—Motsognir ('Mead-sucker', 'Mead-drinker') is said to be the foremost or master
of the dwarves in Völuspá 10, taking part in their creation.
—In the same poem, Mimir is said to drink mead each morning from
his well (Völuspá 28)
—Óðrerir is both a name for the poetic mead and for Mimir's mead-well,
from which Odin pawns an eye for a drink. (Gylfaginning, Hávamál, Hrafnagaldur
— The poetic mead is also known as Dvalinns drykkr,
the drink of the dwarf Dvalinn (Skáldskaparmál 10).
—Mime der Alt ('Mimir the Old') is the master of the dwarves in
Germanic mythology. (Þidreks saga af Bern)
—The dwarves are makers of weapons and valueable treasures such
as Odin's spear, Thor's hammer, the ring Draupnir, and Freyja's
—Mimir is the famous keeper of treasures such as
Heimdall's horn (Völuspá 27). In Vafþrúðnismál 44, he is called
Hoddmimir, Hoard-Mimir. The living human beings Lif and
Lifthrasir emerge from his holt, "grove" after Surt's fire has
U manuscript of Gylfaginning 53 says instead that they hid
themselves in Mimis holdi (Mimir's flesh), a
parallel formation to Ymis holdi
flesh), used in Grímnismál 40-41. This suggests a conceptual
relationship between these two ancient giants, both of whom were
So it's no stretch to consider Mimir's realm to be the home of
the dwarves. Gylfaginning 9 tells us that
Mimir's realm is located "where Ginnungagap once was." In
other words, it is situated directly between the southern world
of fire and the northern world of ice which existed before the
creation of the upper worlds by Odin and his brothers.
Ginnungagap was the birthplace of Ymir, and the origin
of all life. Here, when the sparks from the south met the
ice-floes from the north, life quickened from the venomous
drops, developing into Ymir and Audhumbla, the primoridal giant
and the primeval cow, the source of all life. Mimir's well is
located at the physical and spiritual center of all
creation. As such, Yggdrassil is called Mimameiðr, 'Mimir's
Tree' (Fjölsvinnsmál 24). Rising up the trunk of the tree,
we find Midgard and Valhalla in Asgard as other central points
along the vertical axis of the Tree.
In several of the Icelandic
and in Saxo's Danish History Books 1 and 8, we encounter the
Gudmund who is the ruler of the "Glittering-Plains"
(Glæsisvellir). He is a giant and champion of the heathen faith.
His is a rich, fertile country, a neighbor of the realm of the
of Glæsisvellir appears to be a historic memory of the
mythic Mimir, the
treasure-hoarder, Odin's life-long counsellor.
As the physical and
symbolic centre of the universe, Mimir's realm is the DNA of the
entire universe, the seed inside the World-Tree. It is a world
Gylfaginning 9 informs us that Mimir's well
stands where Ginnungagap once was. From this same place, all
life in the universe sprung from its "living drops" (kvikkdroppar). Hávamál assures us that "no one
knows from what root it springs."
His home, Hoddmimis holt is
conceived of as a grove, and serves as the divine archetype of
the earthly sacred grove where men gather in worship.
In this diagram, I believe that Mimir's
realm and the native home of the dwarves should be added as an enclosure within Hel, surrounding
the green dot in the illustration. It is a self-contained biosphere
surrounded by an impenetrable wall.
In Book 1 of
Saxo's History, the hero Hadding sees this place ringed with a high wall,
on a journey to theland "where men must go when they die."
Nothing dead may enter there. His guide wrings off the head of a
rooster and throws it over the wall. The head returns, and
the cock crows, attesting to its resurrection.
Gudrunarkviða II, 23 calls this place
"Hadding's land", as the hero once visited there.
Eiriksaga refers to it as Óðains-akr, the 'Acre of the
Not-dead'. It is an oasis of life within the kingdom of death.
Mimir is its ruler and caretaker. For this reason,
Fjölvinnsmál 20 calls Yggdrasil "Mimir's Tree". His home is
place called "Hel's high hall" in Baldurs Draumar, to which
Baldur comes after death. Inside bright mead is poured out in
goblets awaiting his arrival (cp. Brimir's beer-hall in
Völuspá 36). Only Hermod on
Sleipnir is able to leap the otherwise impregnable wall. Inside,
it is lavishly adorned, quite unlike the bleak hall of Loki's
From there, Völuspá informs us Baldur and
Höður will return, along with the "living men" (mennskir
menn, Grímnismál 31) Lif and Lifthrasir, according to
Mimir is called Hodd-Mimir, Hoard-Mimir. He is known for
keeping treasures, and is a king of the dwarves, the tireless
artisans of Norse mythology.
In Grimnismal 17, this place is referred to as hodd goða, 'the hoard of
the gods', all the rivers of Hel wind round it, making the
place impregnable. As the archetypal 'sacred grove',
Mimir's holt is a physical and spiritual paradise at the heart of
the organized universe. In a sense, it acts as a seed within
Yggdrassil, which will replenish the worlds with new life, after
the fires of Ragnarök have died out.