The Nine Realms
9 months, 19 poets and writers, 23 Artists, 3 composers, 1 Viking boat
a magical reworking of Norse Mythology for contemporary audiences
(the realm of fire)
Here we are in the middle of April, with the deadline for the poetry and writing for the 6th realm Helheim Thursday 16th April. I shall be posting out the remaining Nifelheim poems this week and then Helheim the week after. This month we are outlining the realm of Muspelheim. The deadline for all writing, poetry and mp3s for this realm is Monday 11th May.
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 Muspelheim
Mentions of Muspelheim and Surt/Surtr are sparing within The Poetic Edda and The Prose Edda, and primarily, it seems, centred around Ragnarök
Muspelheim was to the North of Ginnungagup, the large chasm at the beginning of the world, where Surt/Surtr, ‘the swarthy one’, the fire god, stands guard with a flaming sword. It is where the Gods, as the world was created, scattered sparks across the sky as stars (Allan: 34). Muspelheim is fire; and the land to the North, Niflheim, is ice. The two mixed and created water from the melting ice in Ginnungagap. The sun and the stars originate from Muspelheim. The residents of Muspelheim are known as the eldjötnar (“Fire Giants“). They are also known by other names in Eddic poetry, such as the Múspellssynir (or Múspellsmegir — “sons of Muspell”) and the Rjúfendr (from rjúfa — “to break, tear asunder”, Destroyers of Doomsday). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muspelheim
In The Prose Edda In chapter 4 the Gylfaginning, the enthroned figure of Third tells Gangleri (described as King Gylfi in disguise) that the flaming region existed prior to Niflheim, and is impassable to those who are not born to the realm. To protect Muspelheim Surt/Surtr is stationed at its frontier.
Surt with flaming sword
Surt/Surtr plays a major role in the tra.jectory towards Ragnarök, through his battles against the Æsir, fighting particularly with Freyr. The fire that Surt engenders engulfs the Earth in its final moments of existence (before it is reborn).
Norse Academic Simek says that “in Iceland Surtr was obviously thought of as being a mighty giant who ruled the powers of the (volcanic) fire of the Underworld”,
Surt/Surtr is mentioned twice in the The Prose Edda particularly the Völuspá, where a völva (a Seer) states that Surt/Surtr will come from the south with flames, carrying a bright sword:
- Sutr ferr sunnan
- með sviga lævi:
- skinn af sverði
- sól valtiva.
- Surtr moves from the south
- with the scathe of branches:
- there shines from his sword
- the sun of Gods of the Slain.
- Dronke (1997:21).
There are few details given about the fight between Surt/Surtr and Freyr in the Völuspá .The poem focuses more on how Odin is to be killed by the wolf Fenrir. However, it is mentioned that Surtr will go to battle against “Beli’s bane”, a kenning for the god Freyr, who slew the giant Beli.
You can find the whole Völuspá here
3. Ragnarök and Surt/Surtr
Bifrost Is Shatterred
According to the Ragnarök predictions in the Gylfaginning, the sons of Muspell , the fire giants, will break the Bifröst bridge, signalling the end of times:
In the midst of this clash and din the heavens are rent in twain, and the sons of Muspell come riding through the opening. Surtr 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. The sons of Muspel direct their course to the plain which is called Vigrid…. The sons of Muspel have there effulgent bands alone by themselves.
You can find the whole of the Gylfaginning here
The story goes that Surt/Surtr will come via land and ride over Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, to Asgard. Here the armies of the gods and giants will meet for one last battle. It is where Surt/Surtr remains until the end, and once Heimdallr and Loki fight ( killing one another), Surt/Surtr flings fire over the world so that both men and gods will perish in an overwhelming sea (Ellis Davison: 38).
The sun becomes dark. Earth sinks in the sea.
The shining stars slip out of the sky.
Vapour and fire rage fiercely together,
till the leaping flame licks heaven itself
Sinmara by Jenny Nystrom
Is a female who is often considered to be a companion of Surt/Surtr. A mention of her can be found in the poem Fjölsvinnsmál (The Sayings of Fjölsvinnr) where she is said to have a weapon called Lævateinn which is considered a kenning for a sword, ‘damage tree’. Her name, mara, may be linked to”(night-) mare”, and the two figures together can be seen as quite a powerful combination.
Here is a section from Fjölsvinnsmál:
- Benjamin Thorpe’s translation:
- 26. Tell me, Fiölsvith! etc.
- whether there be any weapon,
- before which Vidofnir may
- fall to Hel´s abode?
- 27. Hævatein the twig is named,
- and Lopt plucked it,
- down by the gate of Death.
- In an iron chest it lies
- with Sinmoera,
- and is with nine strong locks secured.
- Henry Adams Bellows translation:
- 41. Svipdag spake:
- “Now answer me, Fjolsvith, the question I ask,
- For now the truth would I know:
- What weapon can send Vithofnir to seek
- The house of Hel below?”
- 42. Fjolsvith spake:
- “Lævatein is there, that Lopt with runes
- Once made by the doors of death;
- In Lægjarn’s chest by Sinmora lies it,
- And nine locks fasten it firm.”
Themes, Relevance and Questions:
Life, Death, heat and renewal:
Interestingly, many connections have been made between Ragnarök and Christian Notions of Judgement Day. Fire and burning have played a large part in many religious ceremonies and rites for 100s of years. A cycling of conflict, punishment and then renewal. Fire keeps us warm, but equally fire is volatile and chaotic if untamed. Surt/Surtr and Muspelheim could be seen as a symbol for that volatility, and when they reach Asgard- might meets might!
There is something very intense and dynamic about heat, about flames. There can be warmth and comfort, but if fire gets out of control there can equally be searing, skin burning, pain. Surt/Surtr and fire are what we have at the end of the world just before the new world begins. The new world begins not with ease, but through a clash of force, devastation and power.
Exploration Point: Take a look through The Prose and Poetic Eddas and track how fire is used within the stories. Are there any patterns? What symbolism does it have?
Things of Interest:
1. The Road To Asgard: BiFrost:
2. Three videos about Jesse Byock’s (the translator of the Penguin Classic edition of The Prose Edda) multi-disciplinary research which combines the sagas, history and archaeology
Optional Poetry and Writing Prompts:
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Established by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and is a ten-and-a-half line form, a sonnet but three-quarters the size. Hopkins’ poem Pied Beauty is an example.
The rhyming scheme is abcabcdbcdc or abcabcdcbdc.
See here for more details.
Writing Word Prompts: Tormentors, Unfinished, Moment, Burst, Climb, Universal, Destiny, Helmet, Hearts
To confirm, the deadline for all writing, poetry and mp3s for the Muspelheim realm is Monday 11th May 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
Dronke, Ursula (Trans.) (1997). The Poetic Edda: Volume II: Mythological Poems. Oxford University Press.
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
Simek, Rudolf (2007) Dictionary of Northern Mythology,Translated by Angela Hall. D.S. Brewer
Sturluson, S. (2005) The Prose Edda, Penguin Classics, tr. Jesse L. Byock