The Nine Realms
9 months, 19 poets and writers, 22 Artists, 3 composers, 1 Viking boat = a magical reworking of Norse Mythology for contemporary audiences
(the realm of the dead)
Here we are in the middle of February, with the deadline for the poetry and writing for the 4th realm Nidavellir today! I shall be posting out more Jotunheim poems this week and next week, and then we’ll be onto Nidavellir. This month we are outlining the realm of Nifelheim, and the deadline for all writing, poetry and mp3s for this realm is Thursday 12th March 2015.
These monthly posts will draw from a range of primary and secondary source materials and focus on selected gods, themes and stories that circle around the highlighted realm. They will not attempt to cover everything, and writers can embrace any other stories and characters within their writing which is not covered. Month by month we will be building our own magical, contemporary norse world whilst exploring the themes of POWER, NATURE and RELIGION. The project’s overall intention is to embrace orality, translation, storytelling and rhythm all of which are inspired by the origins of the oral tradition of the Norse Sagas.
I may well put out little mini-posts intermittently focusing on orality and poetic form as necessary.
What is presented below is designed to inspire, present basic information and offer a starting point for individual creativity within the project inspired by the themes, characters and spirit of the myths and stories.
1. A brief Overview of Nifelheim
Nifelheim means ‘Mist World’ and lies to the North of Ginnnungagap, the huge void from which the world grew. It originally had 9 frozen rivers attached to it and was filled with ice, frost and snow. The rivers bubbled up from a cauldron called Hvergelmir and their waters flowed into Ginnungagap.
In the guise of three men Odin gives a lesson in norse mythology to Gylfi (the earliest recorded king of Scandinavia).
It was many ages before the earth was shaped that the Mist-World [Niflheimr] was made; and midmost within it lies the well that is called Hvergelmir, from which spring the rivers called Svöl, Gunnthrá, Fjörm, Fimbulthul, Slídr and Hríd, Sylgr and Ylgr, Víd, Leiptr; Gjöll is hard by Hel-gates.
The Prose Edda, Section III of Gylfaginning, in translation by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (1916), p. 16.
Nifelheim was said to be a nine day ride northwards and downwards from Midgard. At its centre was a towering place called Hel, whose gates were protected by a female of the same name. She is described in a variety of ways (pending on the source): as a half black-half-white she-monster and as a half living flesh and half rotting cadaver. There is also a distinction between Helheim and Nifelheim: men pass through Hel to die in Nifelheim (Crossley-Holland: xxi).
Nifelheim is also mentioned as the final destination of the jötunn who was killed by Thor after he had built Asgard:
Now that the Æsir saw surely that the hill-giant was come thither, they did not regard their oaths reverently, but called on Thor, who came as quickly. And straight away the hammer Mjöllnir was raised aloft; he paid the wright’s wage, and not with the sun and the moon. Nay, he even denied him dwelling in Jötunheim, and struck but the one first blow, so that his skull was burst into small crumbs, and sent him down below under Niflhel [Niflheim].
The Prose Edda, Section XXXIV of Gylfaginning, in translation by Brodeur (1916), p. 55.
Rather than staying in Nifelheim the dead could also pass on to Nastrond/Náströnd* (the strand of corpses), where men must wade in poisoned streams before being cast into the Hvergelmir (cauldron) to feed Nidhogg the dragon. These ideas have affected Christian notions of fate and wickedness (Allan: 133).
*See Things of Interest below
Two other sorts of beings were said to come from Nifelheim the Hrímthursar, known as the Frost Giants (or Rime-Giants) and the Niflungar (“children of the mist”), a group of people who were treasure-seekers and hoarders. They are also known as the Nibelungs.
Gylfi and Odin
2. Gylfi’s Education:
Gylfi meets ‘The Mysterious Three’ men mentioned above in Asgard, where, in search of wisdom, he questions them. Each of the three men sit on a throne and guard the gates of Valhalla. The three are known as: Jafnharr (Equally High), Harr (High) and Thridi (Third). He is unaware that the three are in effect incarnations of Odin.
a. Ice and Flames:
Odin (disguised as Thridi/Þriði) tells Gylfi that Ymir was formed when the ice from Nifelheim (Niflheimr) coalesced with the flames from Muspelheim (Muspelheimr), and thus began the creation of the world:
Just as cold arose out of Niflheim, and all terrible things, so also all that looked toward Múspelheim became hot and glowing; but Ginnungagap was as mild as windless air, and when the breath of heat met the rime, so that it melted and dripped, life was quickened from the yeast-drops, by the power of that which sent the heat, and became a man’s form. And that man is named Ymir, but the Rime-Giants call him Aurgelmir; […]
The Prose Edda, Section VII of Gylfaginning, in translation by Brodeur (1916), p. 17.
b. The Second Root:
Talking of the world tree Yggdrasill, Jafnhárr (Odin) tells Gylfi that Jotunheim (Jötunheimr) is located under the second root, where Ginnungagap once was:
The Ash is greatest of all trees and best: its limbs spread out over all the world and stand above heaven. Three roots of the tree uphold it and stand exceeding broad: one is among the Æsir; another among the Rime-Giants, in that place where aforetime was the Yawning Void; the third stands over Niflheim, and under that root is Hvergelmir, and Nídhöggr gnaws the root from below.
The Prose Edda, Section XV of Gylfaginning, in translation by Brodeur (1916), p. 27.
Angerboda and Jormundgand
c. The Story of Hel and Loki:
Gylfi is then told the story of how Loki had created Hel via his relationship with giantess Angerboda (‘she who offers sorrow’). Hel was the third daughter of this partnership and was sister to Fenrir (the eldest) and Jormungand (the second child, and a huge serpent). Hel’s looks and grim demeanour were particularly disturbing to the Asgard gods. When the gods then heard that Loki had fathered these children, they felt that the three should best be captured. A group of gods gathered and went to Jotunheim to capture the siblings. They tied up Angerboda and took Hel to be cast into Niflheim by Odin (Crossley-Holland: 33). :
Hel he cast into Niflheim, and gave to 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. She has great possessions there; her walls are exceeding high and her gates great.
The Prose Edda, Section III of Gylfaginning, in translation by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (1916), p. 16.
In this way, Hel became the mistress of the world of the dead including all those in the nine realms who died of disease and old age. Odin stipulated that she had to share out all her food with whoever came to her.
You can find the entire version of the Gylfaginning here.
Fafner seizes Freyja
or Frost Giants
When Ymir was formed out of the primeval chaos of Ginnungagap a procreative sequence was instigated: out of Ymir’s armpits grew his son and daughter, and his two feet gave birth to another son (a six headed monster). Ymir’s son and daughter and the six headed monster created what is known as the Hrimthursar (the name given to the frost giants who populated Nifelheim). The gods, however, debated this latter scenario, saying that the Hrimthursar’s origins stem from Buri (the grandfather of Odin. Vili and Ve) instead. The story goes that when Odin killed Ymir, all his blood/water flooded Nifelheim and killed all the frost giants (jötnar). Nearly all the giants were killed barring one: the giant Bergelmir and his wife. Together they repopulated the earth:
From Ymir’s flesh the earth was formed, and the rocks from out of his bones; the sky from the skull of the ice-cold giant, and the sea from his blood.
Orchard, translated by Andrew (2010). “Vafthrúdnismál”. The poetry of the Elder Edda. London: Penguin Classics
Themes, Relevance and Questions:
Morality, Wickedness, Religion: In the creation of Hel we can almost see embodied in her a metaphor for moral choice: who is bad and who is good. She has the power to cast men into to Nifelheim, or into to Náströnd or to stay in Hel. She is one of the main figures (along with the Aesir and Vanir gods) in norse mythology who controls morality. The idea of moral rectitude and fate is put in place here. The themes of which you can also see flowed into Christian doctrines (Allan: 133).
Exploration Point: What type of morality is shown within the Eddas? How is the harsh, dark morality balanced? Through nature? Through mysticism? Through play within language?
Things of Interest:
1. Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (1881-1971. author of the famous 1916 edition of The Prose Edda):
Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur 1916 ed
Brodeur, born in Franklyn Massachusetts, USA, was given the Royal Order of Vasa for his services to Scandinavian culture from the government of Sweden. He was also forward-thinking in terms of his politics. He was one of three members of the Berekely Communist Faculty Group. Brodeur also initially refused to sign the loyalty oath as required by the state in 1949. He ultimately did decide to sign and continue the fight from within.
W. E. Farnham and A. E. Hutson, Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, English; German: Berkeley: 1888-1971: Professor of English and Germanic Philology, at Calisphere, University of California Libraries, retrieved February 22, 2012
You can read more about him here:
Click to enlarge the images
Náströnd (shore of the corpses) is a place in Hel where Níðhöggr the dragon resides eating the corpses and sucking their blood. It is the place where those guilty of murder, adultery and oath-breaking (which the Norse considered the most terrible of crimes) go. Within the shores stood a castle filled with serpents.
From the Völuspá in The Poetic Edda:
- Sal sá hón standa
- sólo fiarri,
- Nástrǫndu á,
- norðr horfa dyrr.
- Fello eitrdropar
- inn um lióra.
- Sá er undinn salr
- orma hryggiom.
- Sá hón þar vaða
- þunga strauma
- menn meinsvara
- ok morðvarga
- ok þannz annars glepr
- Þar saug Níðhǫggr
- nái framgengna,
- sleit vargr vera.
- Vitoð ér enn, eða hvat?
- Völuspá 38-39, Dronke‘s edition
- A hall she saw standing
- remote from the sun
- on Dead Body Shore.
- Its door looks north.
- There fell drops of venom
- in through the roof vent.
- That hall is woven
- of serpents’ spines.
- She saw there wading
- onerous streams
- men perjured
- and wolfish murderers
- and the one who seduces
- another’s close-trusted wife.
- There Malice Striker sucked
- corpses of the dead,
- the wolf tore men.
- Do you still seek to know? And what?
- Völuspá 38-39, Dronke’s translation
3. The Nine Worlds of the Ygdrassil:
4. The three children of Loki:
A brief overview:
Optional Poetry and Writing Prompts:
Epistolary poems come from the Latin “epistula” for “letter,” and are poems that literally read as letters. They directly address a subject matter or person. They can be intimate, colloquial or formal and measured.
See here for more details.
Writing Word Prompts: Blood, Insignificance, Guilt, Serpents, Ice, Fear, Judgement, Brittle
To confirm, the deadline for all writing, poetry and mp3s for the Nifelheim realm is Thursday 12th March 2015.
Thank you so much for your interest.
Allan, T (2010) Vikings, The Battle at the End of Time, London: Watkins Publishing
Crossley-Holland, K (1993) The Penguin Book of Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings, London, Penguin Books
Ellis Davidson, H.R. (1990) Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, Penguin Books
Hollander, L.M. (1996) tr. The Poetic Edda, Austin: University of Texas Press
Larrington, C. (1996) tr. The Poetic Edda, Oxford University Press
Sturluson, S. (2005) The Prose Edda, Penguin Classics, tr. Jesse L. Byock