View Full Version : Cosmology and the Soul: The Nine Worlds

Tuesday, November 1st, 2005, 05:59 PM
The ancient Northern Europeans did not see a simple universe with a heaven above and a hell below. Instead they saw a complex of other planes and enclosures interconnected with our own. According to the Eddas, these planes or worlds were born when the realm of fire, Muspellheimr, in the south moved north to meet the realm of Niflheimr in the south. They met in what is known as the Ginnungapap "the yawning void." From this union sprang forth two beings Ymir the primeval giant and Audhumla, the primeval cow. By licking the ice, Audhumla made a new being appear, Buri. From Buri sprang Borr who married Bestla, who gave birth to Woden, Willi and Wéh. They slew Ymir and from him created the Nine Worlds and the World Tree that supports the worlds.

Although the Nine Worlds are linked by the World Tree, they by no means lie near each other, for there are hills, valleys, mountains, and even rivers between them formed by the bark of the tree. Beyond the Nine Worlds are unknown worlds resting in the Śtgard "that outside the enclosure". Each world as well as the World Tree and the Well of Wyrd are described below with the Old Norse name followed by the Anglo-Saxon version or an Anglo-Saxon reconstruction where possible.

Yggdrasil/ *Éormensyll

Yggdrasil, also known as the Irminsul in Old Saxon (the Anglo-Saxon reconstruction being Éormensyll) is the World Tree and holds all the known worlds and rises out of the Well of Wyrd. It is often spoken of as an ash, though it was thought to have needles like a yew and also bore fruit. More likely than not the tree cannot be compared to any mortal species of tree, but may, indeed be a combination of them all. The World Tree gives the universe its infrastructure. The Nine Worlds rest within its branches and due to this the World Tree often serves as a pathway for travel between the worlds.

Niflheimr/ *Nifolham

Niflheimr "the misty home" was thought of lying in the metaphysical north of Mišgardr below Hell. It is a world of pure cold or ice, shrouded in mist. From it flowed the rivers into Ginnungagap at the beginning of time that now flow into Hvergelmir, a part of the Well of Wyrd. It is believed that the Nibelingen (MHG) or Niflungar (ON) of the Sigurd myth may have originated there.


Įsgaršr literally means "enclosure of the Ése (Ęsir)" or "enclosure of the gods." It is possible it was also called Heofonrķce in Anglo-Saxon, but there is no way to prove this definitely. Įsgaršr is centered on a higher plane above Midgaršr and can be reached through several means. Chief is Bķfrųst or Įsbrś, the fiery rainbow bridge that links the world of men to the realm of the gods. It can also be accessed from Hell by Gjallarbrś "the resounding bridge." One can also reach Įsgaršr through the Myrkvišr the "mirk wood" which separates Įgaršr from Mśspillheimr. Finally there are the rivers which flow around Įgaršr and these Thunor (Thor) must cross as he is too heavy for the bridges.

There are many halls in Įgaršr; Valaskjįlf of Woden, Bilsskirnir of Thunor, Fensalir of Frige, Vķngolf (AS Wyngeard) of the goddesses, Glitnir of Forseta and Valhųll (AS *Węlheall) of the fallen heroes.


Jųttinheimr was home to the Jųtnar (AS Eotenas) or ettins, the giants. Traditionally it is seen as north of Midgaršr. In Eotenham lie the fortresses of the ettins. Within its borders also lies the Jarnvišr or the "iron wood."

Alfheimr/ *Ęlfham

Alfheimr is the home of the elves and was given as a gift to the god Fréa for his first tooth. It was thought of as a place of great beauty, as were its inhabitants. Many believe it lies near Įgaršr.


Midgaršr is the realm of Man and is thought of lying in the center of the Nine Worlds. It is surrounded by a vast ocean and about it lies a wall built by the gods to protect it. Several variants of the name survive, amongst them Middenerd and Tolkien's Middle-Earth.


Mśspellheimr is a region of pure fire ruled by the ettin Surtr. Others like him inhabit the realm and are the closest thing to evil incarnate that can be found in Northern European mythology.


Hel is the lowest of the Nine Worlds besides Niflheimr resting below the World Tree. It is not at all a bad place, parts of it are an afterlife paradise while other parts are seen as dark and gloomy. Unlike the Christian purgatory, it is not an abode of punishment, but simply a resting place for the dead. It may be reached by the road Helvergr "the Hell way" or "Highway to Hell" if you like, a river of blood called Gjųll, or a cave called Gnķpahellir. Hel's gate called Helgrind or Nįgrind is guarded by the ettin woman Modgud and the hound Garmr.

Below Hel and in a northern part of it lies the mansion of the goddess of death Hel. It is called Elvišnir "misery" and is surrounded by a wall called Fallanda Forad "falling peril." Still deeper is Kvųllheimr, a place of punishment for the wicked. Within it is Nįstrųnd/*Nįstrand "corpse strand" a dwelling made of adders for which there may be an Anglo-Saxon term in Wyrmsele "snake hall." Here the evil dead are sent to forever have burning poison drip down upon them.


Svartįlfheimr is the home of the Svartįlfar, the black elves. Their identity is unclear though a few believe them the same as the Dokkįlfar or "dark elves." Still others hold they are the dwarves of Norse mythology. It is thought of as a subterranean region and folk tales suggest it can be accessed through caves in Midgaršr.


Vanaheimr is the home of the Wena (Vanir) the second family of Gods of which Fréa and Fréo are members. It is thought to be west of Midgaršr and like Įgaršr is said to have many mansions.

Uršarbrunnr/ *Wyrdesburne

Uršarbrunnr or the Well of Wyrd lies at the base of the World Tree. There lies the dwelling place of the Norns as well as the thing stead or assembly area of the Gods.

The various directions given in the above descriptions should not be thought of as literal directions. They come down to us from many sources and we can not be certain of their accuracy. Certainly Earthly directions would have little bearing on what are essentially metaphysical planes bordering our own. Still, it may be that these directions may give some idea of where the planes lie in relation to each other and which may be closest to our own.

Source (http://www.ealdriht.org/cosmo1.html)

Sunday, July 2nd, 2006, 04:36 PM
Modern Christian thought has the soul being a single entity somewhat divorced from the human body. The ancient Heathens did not see the soul this way, for them the soul was composed of many parts, each with a different function, and intimately tied to the mortal body during life. In the "Voluspa" from the Elder Edda, we are told Woden and his brothers gave man ųnd or divine breath, wód or moods/emotions, lį or appearance, and likr or health. These gifts are paralleled in the Anglo-Saxon Dialogue Between Saturn and Solomon where God is said to have given man žang or thought, ęšungem or divine breath, and modes unstadalfęstenss or unsteadfast moods. Finally, a twelfth century poem in Middle High German states God gave man muot or mood and a&aethem or divine breath.

Research of the various ancient Northern European tongues reveals that the soul can be broken down roughly into: 1) The Lich or body 2) The Hyge or high, the intellect 3) The Mynd or memory 4) The Willa or will 5) The Ęžem or the breath of life, the "silver cord" 6) The Hama or the skin of the soul 7) Orlęg or one's personal wyrd 8) Męgen or one's personal energy 9) The Fetch or one's personal guardian spirit 10) The Mód or the emotions. 11) The Wód.

The Lich

The lich or in Old English lic is the human body, and it, like other parts of the soul requires special treatment. One should get plenty of exercise and eat the right foods. Humans are naturally omnivorous, that is they eat both meat and plants. It is for this reason we have incisors or canine teeth which are designed to tear meat as well as molars to gnash hard grains. One should keep in mind though that most meat on the market today is loaded full of fat that ancient man did not see in his diet. It is best for that reason to choose carefully what meats one eats. As for plants one should eat a variety of plant foods and not eat too much of one thing. One should be certain to eat a variety of green vegetables, nuts, and berries. For those that prefer a vegetarian diet, foods that are high in protein such as nuts and some types of beans should be eaten regularly. As for physical appearance, one should try to keep their hair long as the ancient Heathens held that one's power resided in the hair, thus kings and nobles always wore long hair. Nails on the other hand should be kept trimmed as the ship of the evil dead used to assail the gods' realms at the twilight of the gods is made of the untrimmed finger nails of corpses.

The Hyge

The high or in Anglo-Saxon hyge is the intellect, that part of the soul which rules rational thought. Its dominion is that of the "real world." While the hyge seems to rule the rational part of Man the ancients may have also felt it ruled some emotions. The word hyge itself is related to words meaning "to love" or "to care for." The idea of the hyge being connected to the thought of "caring" isn't quite far fetched. Caring is after all, an active emotion, that is it is one that requires deeds be done. "To care for" one's sick mother requires some activity after all, and it may be the ancients thought "caring" required some form of rational thought. The memory in the ancient soul structure is also linked to words for love, although this is in a more romantic sense. The difference could be between love that is of one's own free will, that of the hyge, and one that is innate, that of the mynd.

The Mynd

The mynd is the memory and all functions surrounding it. This includes all that has been learned, memories of one's life, and one's ancestral memory or instinct. Like the hyge, the word mynd is related to words meaning "to love," though of a far more romantic variety. Many of the words dealing with the human mind and loving or caring seem to have evolved with the sense of "keeping one in mind." That is the memory or mynd is linked to words meaning "to love" because one's loved ones will be ever present in the memory. Similarly the hyge is related to words meaning to care for, as one will actively think of one's loved ones often. These ideas of remembering or thinking about those we love or care for or even have been kind to us is deeply ingrained in the Germanic culture. The phrase "thank you" evolved from a sense of "I will think of you" meaning the kind act would be remembered. Heathen scholars have yet to explore these possibilities, the link between active rational thought and emotions such as caring or loving.

The Willa

The will is the source of voluntary self assertion or determination. Its is the ability to "wish" something into being by sheer desire, and be in control of one's self and one's wyrd. It is related to words meaning "to wish or desire " and deals primarily with what one wants instead of necessarily what one needs. However, unlike the hyge or the mynd, it is not linked to any words meaning "to love" or "to care for," strange for that part of the soul which rules self initiative and desire.

The ęšem

The ęšem is the breath of life, it is the animating principle of the body and is what links the body to the rest of the soul. It is roughly the equivalent of "the silver chord" of some philosophies. Without the ęšem the soul would separate from the body and leave. At death, the ęšem dissolves setting the soul free to fare to the afterlife. Another term for the ęšem is the ealdor, which also refers to the life span of a man as well as eternity. Yet another term is blad which means "breath or spirit," and like ęšem refers to ancient beliefs involving the idea of the breath of life as the soul of a man.

The Hama

The hama is an energy/matter form surrounding the soul that protects it outside the body. It is roughly analogous to the skin of the body. The hama looks like the body it belongs to although very powerful creatures can shape shift their's. The hama is the "ethereal image" of any ghosts one might see. It is the hama that keeps the soul's energies from being dispersed when the body fares forth. After death the hama may be referred to as the scinn or scinnhķw.

The Orlęg

The orlęg is one's personal wyrd. It is an individual's "law." The Orlęg contains all the events of one's life and their consequences. These events and their results further determine the results of one's future actions. It is tied to one's fetch and regulates the amount of one's męgen.

The Męgen

męgen is the spiritual energy possessed by every living creature and thing in the universe. męgen like wyrd exists on many levels. There is the męgen of the individual, that shared by the family, and that shared by entire nations. męgen is expended in everyday life with the deeds we do. How much męgen one has is regulated by Wyrd and based largely on our deeds. When one commits an evil act, they incur a debt known in Anglo-Saxon as a scyld "debt, or obligation." Failure to pay this debt results in a loss of męgen equal to the amount of męgen lost from the evil act. Thus theft of a piece of jewelry would result in a loss of męgen from the thief equal to the amount of męgen contained in that piece of jewelry. męgen can be earned through the doing of good deeds, that is the doing of deeds that benefit others or the community.

The Fetch or Fęcce

The fetch, or in Anglo-Saxon fęcce, is one's guardian spirit and is said to appear as an animal resembling one's disposition or as a member of the opposite sex (which if corresponded to Jung's theories on the animus and animia would resemble one's true love). If the fetch is seen as an animal, it will always been seen in that form unless the spell caster wills it to shape change. In ancient times fetchs were generally seen as wolves, bears, cats, hawks, eagles, sea faring birds, and livestock (horses, pigs, cattle, etc.). Its form can sometimes be seen by those with second sight. It is the fetch that usually controls the allocation of one's męgen in accordance with one's wyrd. The fetch also records one's actions in one's wyrd. Fetchs are said to flee the wicked in the Eddas.

The Mód

The mód is the self. In many ways it is the "totality of being," the cognizance of an individual or state of being. It is a concept that is very difficult to understand because of the vast array of uses of the word in the ancient Northern European languages. The reason for this complexity probably lies in how the early Northern Europeans viewed the world.

In modern thought there are two ways of viewing things. The objective view is one that always views things for what can be scientifically proven about them. It tends to be rational and materialistic in the way it views things. Most of the Western world uses objective viewing. Alongside objective viewing, the West also practices activism or the tendency to submerge one's self in the physical or material world. In the West, thus materialism exists as the main drive in life. A second way of viewing things belongs to the great Eastern culture of India. Subjective viewing views objects for the emotions they can evoke. Usually cultures that practice subjective viewing also practice quietism or rather they tend to submerge themselves in their own thoughts and not the physical world. These differences in Western and Eastern thought have resulted in the East as seeing only psychic reality or "the reality of the mind" while the West sees only "the material world."

Neither sets of views seem to have been held by the ancient Northern Europeans. They seem to have believed in a metaphysical reality or "psychic reality" as much as they did a physical reality or material reality. As such, they probably viewed everything both objectively and subjectively while practicing activism in both forms of reality. This would account for such a large part of the soul as the mód with its multitude of uses for both the intellect and the emotions. The mód is most likely a reflection of the integrated self, one that can both view things subjectively and objectively.

The Wód

The wód is the seat of the "passions" or those emotions that bring about inspiration. The wód is the providence of Woden, and many believe its power comes directly from him. The wód is responsible for a higher state of being edging on the divine and can only be defined by such words as enthusiasm, agony, and ecstasy. It is responsible for poetic inspiration, "madness," and the berserk rage. It most closely resembles the modern principle of the daimonic as described by psychologist Rollo May. Failure to integrate it into the rest of the soul can result in a myriad mental illnesses, if one uses May's theories as an example. Successful integration on the other hand can result in artistic genius or simply a well balanced sense of being. Strangely enough, the wód, was gave to Man by Willa, the god of the will, and therefore self control.

Collectively the soul minus the fetch is known as the feorh, gęst, or sawol in Anglo-Saxon There are many other terms in the Elder Tongues for each of the soul parts as well. The lich can also be called the hręw; the ęšem, the ealdor. The other terms have related words as well, but these are often more obscure. There is much we still do not know about ancient Heathen soul lore, and the above information is by no means complete. We have little idea what such terms as sefa, angiet, and oršanc refer to. Whether they are synonyms for the other terms, or other parts of the soul we do not know. However, what knowledge we do have on ancient soul lore will lead us to learning more about how our souls are constructed, and why we do the things we do. The soul is intimately tied to Wyrd, and no study of the soul would be complete without one of Wyrd and concepts concerning good and evil also.

Source (http://www.ealdriht.org/soul2.html)

Monday, June 30th, 2008, 11:01 AM
Norse cosmology


Norsemen visualized the universe as nine worlds: three sets of three, on three different "levels". To the modern mind, the Norse description is not self-consistent. No matter, it didn't seem to bother the Norse mind at all.
At the top was Įsgarš, the home of the Ęsir. Each of the gods and goddesses had their halls here, enclosed by the stone wall built by the giant mason. Also on this level was Vanaheim, home of the Vanir, the deities with whom the Ęsir fought the first war, which ended in a draw. In addition, Alfheim was located on this level, the home of the light elves. None of the surviving literature describes the relationship between the light elves and the Ęsir, except to note that they were regularly in one another's company.
The middle level contained Mišgarš, the middle world inhabited by men. It was surrounded by an ocean so vast that "to cross it would strike most men as impossible". Jörmangandr, the terrifying world serpent, lay on the floor of the ocean. Jötenheim, the land of the giants, lay outside Mišgarš to the east, in Śtgarš, the outer world. To the north lived the dwarves in Nidavellir and the dark elves in Svartalfheim. Connecting Mišgarš to Įsgarš was Bifröst, the rainbow bridge guarded by Heimdall.
The lower level contained Niflheim, the world of the dead. Hel ruled here. The ninth world was Muspellheim, land of the fire giants, which can't be located precisely, except to say that it was to the south.
The axis which unites the three levels and the nine worlds is the world tree Yggdrasill. Yggdrasill is an ash tree with no known beginning and no known end; it survives Ragnarök. The tree has three roots. One is in Įsgarš, and under this root is the Well of Urš, guarded by the three Norns. Here, the gods meet in council every day. The second root is in Jötenheim, next to the spring of Mķmir, whose waters are a source of wisdom. Óšin drank from the spring of Mķmir at the cost of one of his eyes. The third root descends to Niflheim, next to the spring of Hvergelmir, the source of eleven rivers.
Yggdrasill sustains many animals which live in and near the tree. The serpent Nķdhögg lives near the spring of Hvergelmir and gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasill. Deer and goats live in the branches and eat the tender young shoots of the tree. On the topmost branches sits an eagle with a hawk perched between its eyes. Ratatosk the squirrel runs up and down the trunk carrying insults from the serpent at the roots to the eagle at the top.
Despite the abuse Yggdrasill receives, it is sustained by the Norns. They draw water from the well and "besprinkle the ash so that its branches will not wither or decay". The tree drips dew so sweet that the bees use it for making honey. And Yggdrasill will provide shelter at Ragnarök for the only man and woman to survive the holocaust and flood.