The purpose of this particular page is to give those who lack a good degree of familiarity with the cosmological stomping grounds of the Norse deities, and the other races of beings they regularly interact with in the myths, a crash course on the subject. I will endeavor to make this page as succinct and to the point as possible, giving only the basic information that one may require to fully understand and appreciate the complete otherworldly milieu in which the Norse deities operate within.
It should first be noted that much of the original myths as written down before and during the Age of Vikings in Europe was lost, and what survived was in certain cases rewritten by Christian monks of Scandinavian heritage who sought to preserve this literary tradition of their culture after the fall of Northern Paganism, albeit adding Christian-inspired conceits to the material. The remains of the original poetic versions of the myths were ultimately collected into a volume known as the POETIC EDDA. In the 13th century, these poems were reworked by the writer, historian, and mythographer Snorri Sturluson reworked into standard prose narrative for the first time in the PROSE EDDA (also called the YOUNGER EDDA), where some of his own ideas and interpretations embellished the surviving myths. It is from these sources that the bulk of what is today known about Norse mythology stems.
The cosmic geography in which the Norse deities dwell encompasses nine realms of interconnected realities that are often referred to as the Nine Worlds. These realms are all linked together by the various branches of the cosmic ash tree referred to in the myths as Yggdrasil (illustrated in the painting at the top of this page). Asgard was connected to Midgard (the Earth) by a rainbow-hued bridge called Bifrost. The Nine Worlds of the Norse cosmology are the following:
1. Asgard--the realm inhabited by the great majority of the Norse deities, and ruled by Odin and Frigga. Most of the deities have their own palace, and it's the original home of the war-loving Aesir tribe. Asgard is described in the myths as an amazing and majestic realm of towering spires and palaces of gold and silver situated within a remarkable city. It is surrounded by miles and miles of enchanted woodlands, rivers, and seas, which are populated by a large number of life forms, many of them analogous to Earth creatures, such as dogs, cats, and horses, and others unlike anything natural to the biological fauna of Earth, including dragons and various types of sea serpents. This realm is also the original home of the Aesir, one of the two tribes of deities who merged into a single tribe, the Asgardians. A special section of Asgard called Valhalla is inhabited by the souls of heroic and virtuous mortals who followed the Norse path, and these honored dead, known collectively as the Einerjar, are ruled by Odin and Freya (each of whom rules over half of these fallen heroes).
2. Vanaheim--former home of the Vanir, a tribe of peaceful but powerful fertility deities, that went to war with the Aesir of Asgard and eventually achieved peace with them, merging and intermarrying with this other tribe, and making their home with them in Asgard. Vanaheim, like Asgard, is a spectacular realm that is dotted with vast, unspoiled forests and bodies of water, all of which are inhabited by nature spirits and equivalents of Earth animals.
3. Alfheim--the realm of the Light Elves, once ruled by the Norse god Frey in his youth (who since migrated to Asgard). The light elves are the enchanted, shape-shifting beings of great magickal power who were known to the Celtic people as the faerie folk, or fays, and Alfheim is simply another word for the twilight realm known in Ireland and Scotland as Faerieland.
4. Svartalfheim--the home of the Dark Elves, an offshoot species of the inhabitants of Alfheim, who have been known to people in the Western world as goblins, bogarts, and many other names.
5. Midgard--this word, meaning "Middle Realm," is the Asgardian name for the Earth dimension, which is the material manifested world of humanity that we mortals inhabit. As we all know, our realm operates under a set of physical laws recognized by science, but the quantum nature of our reality enables mortals of varying skill to wield energies that can be drawn from the other, magickal realms comprising the Nine Worlds (and beyond).
6. Jotunheim--the realm of the Jotun, or Giants, a third tribe of humanoid beings of great magickal power to rival the Aesir and Vanir who never made peace with either of these other two tribes, and are considered their sworn enemies. This realm is distinguished by an extremely cold, snow-capped tundra and huge mountain ranges.
7. Nidavellir--rocky realm characterized by miles of caves whose whose lower levels are inhabited by the diminutive and elusive race of humanoid beings known as the Dwarves, where they maintain their forges that they sometimes use in the service of the deities, and occasionally for a few select mortals.
8. Helheim (or Hel)--this is the twilight realm of the common dead, the souls of those mortals and deities living under the purview of the Norse cosmology who were neither truly heroic nor truly evil, and are ruled by the death goddess Hela, where her great palace resides. Helheim (not to be confused with the Hell of Biblical legend) is described as having a gray, barren, and bleak landscape.
Niflheim--this frozen reality of endless snowscapes is the bitter realm of the dishonored--i.e., evil --dead, the relatively small number of mortal souls of those people who were truly and remorselessly malicious or murderous while alive. It's described in the legends as being an extremely cold, frozen landscape of endless night. The souls confined to that realm are subject to frequent hardships and tortures, and also fall under the rulership of the death goddess Hela. Niflheim is the former home of Ymir, the primal frost giant, and the birthplace of the later race of giants whom he spawned during the early history of the Nine Worlds. Niflheim may also be the same dimensional plane as the afterlife realm sometimes referred to as Winterland, where a small number of Wiccans fear that the most malign amongst their number may dwell at least temporarily following their mortal demise.
Though the above two realms of the dead are technically two separate realms, they are most often considered to be "one" of the Nine Worlds since both are afterlife realms ruled over by Hela.
9. Muspelheim--this is the realm of unending fire, possibly a manifestation of chaotic energies. It is inhabited by a little known race of dangerous warrior beings called the Fire Demons (or simply called demons), which may be a sub-species of the differently described demons of Judeo-Christian lore, and are ruled by the ancient, incredibly powerful giant fire demon Surtur (described in some sources as a renegade, supremely powerful member of the Jotun race).
In addition to the above nine realms of reality, it would be useful to know of the various races of beings that inhabit these dimensional planes, and who are all described in the Norse myths.
The gods and goddesses--the deities are described in the myths as humanoid beings of usually great physical attractiveness (by human standards; though in reality, they may lack any substantial form that humans would recognize, and merely take human form temporarily so as to provide a relatable frame of reference when interacting with humans either in the material realm or via the dream state, or within a state of altered consciousness). Their major differences from the human race is the incredible degree of magickal power and weaponry they wield, and their great longevity, as they age incredibly slowly in comparison to mortals (though they are not truly immortal in the same sense as the Greek deities are). There are various tribes of deities throughout the multiverse, and two of them--the warrior deities known as the Aesir of Asgard and the fertility deities known as the Vanir of Vanaheim--merged into a single tribe following a stalemated war, and most of them subsequently made their home in Asgard.
2. The light elves--these powerful enchanted beings, described in the myths as humanoid and reverent to the more powerful deities, are the same beings described in Irish legend as the faerie folk or fays, and they inhabit the realm of Alfheim. There appears to be a great variety of sub-species of etheric beings related to the elves, and most are characterized by a vulnerability to iron and cold steel.
3. The dark elves--similar in power and appearance to their cousin species, the light elves, but described in the myths as darker in skin and (sometimes) disposition, they appeared to have a less reverent relationship with the deities and inhabited a different realm (possibly a sub-realm) known as Svartalfheim. They tend to share a vulnerability to iron and cold steel along with their 'light' cousins. They may be similar or identical to beings known in common folklore as goblins and bogarts.
4. The dwarves--this race of diminutive humanoid beings, much smaller in stature, and much less physically attractive by human standards, than the deities and the light elves of the Nine Worlds, live underground throughout the rocky realm of Nidavellir (possibly a sub-realm of Asgard). Although they are generally reclusive and often shun contact with the other races, the benevolent ones amongst their race do have a generally good working relationship with the deities. Masters of the forge and controllers of the wealth to be found on and within the earth, the dwarven race is responsible for producing a large number of the fantastic weapons and items owned by the deities, including Thor's battle hammer Mjolnir and Freya's enchanted necklace Brisingamen. Their major weakness is said to be sunlight, as they cannot be exposed to it without turning into stone, according to the legends; this is the major reason they are forced to dwell in caves and underground, and can emerge onto the surface only at night or briefly in the day during particularly overcast conditions. There are likely several sub-species of dwarves, just as there are many such sub-species of elves, and one such sub-species of the former may be kobolds, along with any other etheric being who lacks the typical elvin vulnerability to iron and actually works with the metal, but who has a great vulnerability to sunlight instead, and thus lurk in caves, mines, or subterranean environments.
5. The giants (or Jotuns)--another tribe of humanoid beings of magickal power comparable to that of the Aesir and the Vanir, this race has never been at peace with the other two divine tribes that merged to form the deities of Asgard, and the giants are frequently at war with them. Though generally gigantic in stature, they are master shape-shifters and can alter their size (while retaining their full strength), which they frequently do to closely and intimately interact with the deities, mortals, and other races in the Nine Worlds. A few of the deities--Loki, Skadi, and Saga--are full-blooded members of the giant race with permanent human-sized stature, and amongst the few of their tribe to be welcomed within the ranks of the deities as one of them.
6. The trolls--a race of brutish, slow-witted, but physically powerful semi-humanoid entities who inhabited some of the distant regions of Asgard, they are described in the legends as malicious and violent beings who hate all of the other races of the Nine Worlds, and are also considered enemies of the deities who were frequently slain in battle by Thor and the other warrior deities amongst their number.
7. The fire demons (or muspeli)--only a little is known of these beings, who are described in the myths as dangerous warriors under the control of the incredibly huge, powerful, and anti-life demon Surtur. They existed in the fiery realm of Muspelheim, whose entry portals leading to Asgard were sealed off ages ago when Surtur launched an attack on the godly realm that was repulsed by the three initial members of the Aesir--Odin and his two brothers Vili and Vey, with the latter two evidently sacrificing their physical aspects to seal the portal, conferring their power to Odin.
8. The human race (i.e., mortals)--that's us, a race of limited, fully corporeal humanoid beings of very short lifespan and an even shorter span of youth who inhabit the material realm of Midgard (Earth), which is under the protection of the thunder god Thor. Despite our limitations, we are known to have great potential, on both an individual and collective level, to transcend our commonly accepted limitations to potentially become peers of the deities. Our physical and spiritual evolution is of great interest to the deities, and they watch over and influence us in a manner similar to how parents strive to do the same with their children.
Also of note are a few singular entities relevant to the Nine Worlds:
Jormangand the Midgard Serpent--one of the three monstrous progeny of the Trickster deity Loki and the giantess Angrboda (his siblings are the Fenris Wolf and Hela, both of whom have their own pages elsewhere on this shrine), this being is perhaps the king of all dragons, rivaling the cosmic Sumerian dragon Tiamut in size and power, as upon reaching full adulthood Jormangand became so huge that he is able to literally encircle the entire planet Earth in his coils. He is said to reside in etherial form within the oceans of Midgard, and he is foretold to battle his arch-nemesis, Thor, during the cataclysmic battle of Ragnarok, where both die in combat with each other. The Midgard Serpent encountered Thor on two other occasions in the surviving myths prior to Ragnarok. He can evidently change size so as to shrink to a much smaller but still incredibly formidable level of strength and weight, and his venom is so lethal that not even the deities can withstand contact with it.
Nidhogg--another powerful and evil dragon in Norse mythology, he resembles a traditional Western dragon in appearance and sits near one of the roots of Yggdrasil, constantly gnawing away at it, and guards the nearby enchanted Spring of Hvergelmir. He is said to frequently trade insults with a sentient being in the form of an eagle who sits atop the world tree, with a squirrel known as Ratatosk delivering these insults back and forth between the two.
Surtur (or Surt)--a vastly powerful fire demon of cosmic scope, towering well above the highest skyscraper in height (but presumably able to attain smaller sizes at will), carrying a sword seemingly composed of quasi-solidified fire, Surtur is the absolute ruler--and possibly the progenitor--of the malicious race of fire demons that inhabit Muspelheim. His origin was never described in the surviving myths, nor that of the race of demons that he ruled. Surtur launched an assault on the realm of Asgard early in its history, when it was ruled jointly by the first three deities, the brothers Vili, Vey, and Odin. After a tremendous battle, the three siblings managed to drive Surtur and his demonic forces back into Muspelheim and seal the portal leading into Asgard, but apparently at the cost of Vili and Vey's independent existences, forcing them to confer their essence--and therefore their power--to Odin, so he could effectively rule the fledgling race of deities on his own. According to prophecy, at Ragnarok--the cataclysmic 'Twilight of the Gods'---Surtur's access to Asgard will be restored by the giants, as they conduct a final climactic battle with the deities. The one weapon that was said to be capable of destroying Surtur, Frey's enchanted sword, was previously given up by the latter god as a dowry to win the hand of his giantess wife, Gerda. As a result, Frey was forced to battle Surtur with an alternate weapon composed of a buck's antlers that proved inadaquate to the task, and as a result he perished in battle with the mighty Surtur. The victorious Surtur then went on to envelop the Earth in torrents of the fiery energy from his native realm that he wielded. The final fate of Surtur is not recorded in the surviving myths, but he evidently did not survive the culmination of Ragnarok. Surtur appears to be one of many beings in mythology who was a personification of fire, based on the pervasive fear that humanity possessed of the destructive power of this natural phenomenon.
Garm--this enormous, massively powerful dog was a classic member of the hellhound archetype, and as with many of his brethren throughout the realm of world folklore, he served as a guardian entity. Like Cerberus, his three-headed canine counterpart in Greek mythology, Garm guarded the entrance into the realm of the Nordic underworld, allowing anyone entrance but devouring anyone who attempted to leave. As such, he was under the control of Hela, the goddess of the dead. Snorri Sturluson stated in the PROSE EDDA that Garm was loosed upon the deities during their climactic battle with the giants at Ragnarok, where the monstrous canine battled the war god Tyr, with both perishing as a result. Some modern scholars speculate that Sturluson may have added Garm's role to the original myth of Ragnarok, because his presence during this cataclysmic end event was not mentioned in the surviving poetry that Sturluson gathered together to create the PROSE EDDA, and that it was actually the giant wolf Fenris, not Garm, who was Tyr's archenemy; this theory would appear to indicate that the original, lost version of the myth may have had Tyr battling Fenris to mutual destruction instead.
It should finally be noted that certain symbols have become a major part of the Norse mythos, and thus deserve a mention here.
The most prominent of these are the runes, a series of symbols that not only form an ancient alphabet known as the Futhark, but also can be used for divinitory purposes in a manner similar to that of tarot cards or I Ching coins. According to the myths, Odin went through nine days of extreme torturous hardship while being hung upside down from a tree without food and water in order to learn the secret of the runes, which granted him a large measure of his power upon earning knowledge of the universal mysteries they represent. The goddess Freya is said to have acquired the secret of the runes without the extreme trial that Odin endured to gain them. The runes appear to be symbols that somehow tap into the collective consciousness of humanity in an as yet undetermined manner, and not only allow prediction of likely alternate futures if used properly, but can also be used in spellwork to tap into the hidden forces of the universe that the symbols are representative of. They can also be used in this capacity as protective symbols. Each rune particularizes a different aspect of everyday life of the universe as experienced by people during the time these symbols were created, with some of them directly connected to one of the deities. There are many books available for study of the runes, with three of the best written in contemporary times being FUTHARK: A HANDBOOK OF RUNE MAGIC by Edred Thorsson, A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO THE RUNES: THEIR USES IN DIVINATION AND MAGIC by Lisa Peschel, and TAKING UP THE RUNES: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO USING RUNES IN SPELLS, RITUALS, DIVINATION, AND MAGIC by Diana L. Paxson (all of which are available on Amazon.com).
A final symbol of Norse mythology that I will mention here is the Valknut, a mysterious symbol of power that resembles three interconnecting triangles. The Valknut would appear to symbolize the aspect of the universe that manifests within the human psyche in the form of a triune source of power and spiritual resonance, which is also seen in the form of the Holy Trinity in Christianity and the Triple Goddess of Wicca.