Norse mythology describes the universe as a fascinating cosmos with many intriguing worlds. But one of the most interesting elements of the Norse cosmos is not a world at all, but the Rainbow Bifrost Bridge.
An enchanted bridge created by the gods, it connects the worlds of the Aesir gods and men, allowing the gods access to care for and protect their mortal creations. But it is also a vulnerability in the defenses of Asgard, and so must be guarded at all times. The Norse gods chose Heimdallr to fulfill this important task.
The Bifrost Bridge always plays an important role in modern re-imaginings of Asgard and the Norse gods. But let’s take a look at the original Rainbow Bifrost Bridge, as it is described in the Prose Edda and other sources.
According to Norse mythology, the Norse cosmos comprises nine worlds, all of which are descreet. They sit among the roots and branches of Yggdrasil, the mighty world tree that is the glue of the universe.
Movement between these different worlds is not easy, and not all beings are capable of doing it. For example, Odin’s eight-legged steed Sleipnir is one of the few beings with the power to move easily between the worlds.
The Aesir gods live in Asgard (the fortress of the Aesir), but Odin, in his role as a creator god, also created Midgard, the middle fortress, and populated it with mankind. But mankind are mortal beings with inferior power and strength to the gods and the giants (jotun), and so Odin realized that the Aesir must take responsibility for protecting these beings from the chaotic forces of the jotun.
Therefore, Odin created the Bifrost Bridge from the elements of Fire, Water, and Air in order to give the gods an easy way to move freely between Asgard and Midgard.
The Bifrost Bridge is called the rainbow bridge, as the name “Bifrost” can be interpreted as meaning “fleetingly glimpsed rainbow” or “shaking and trembling rainbow”.
The Prose Edda, a thirteenth-century text that draws on earlier sources, describes the bridge as an unstable rainbow that touches the Earth from the Heavens, which suggests that the Vikings also imagined the bridge as a rainbow.
Perhaps, whenever a rainbow appeared in the sky, the Vikings believed that the gods were passing over the bridge.
It has also been suggested that the rainbow shape of the bridge is meant to represent the Milky Way, which would have glimmered in the dark night sky during Viking times.
But the gods were not the only beings to pass over the bridge. It was also the Bifrost bridge that allowed the souls of warriors who died bravely on the battlefield to pass from Midgard to Asgard, where they lived in Valhalla, the hall of Odin. There the dead are destined to feast until they are called on to fight again in the final battle of Ragnarok.
But, while the Bifrost Bridge provided safe passage between Asgard and Midgard, it also represents a weak point in the defenses of Asgard. The gods did fortify their realm in order to protect it against the jotun.
So, the Aesir gods need to be vigilant about watching the bridge, and therefore assigned the god Heimdallr as its guardian.
Heimdallr’s name probably means “he who illuminates the world”, which is probably a reference to him shining in some way as he is often described as the “brightest” of the gods.
He may have been one of the many sons of Odin, and is said to have had nine mothers, the daughters of the sea giant Aegir, also known as the nine waves. They nourished him on the power of the Earth, the water of the Sea, and the heat of the Sun, making him one of the strongest beings in existence (probably only behind Thor and Odin).
His extraordinary parentage left him with many incredible attributes.
Heimdallr is said to require less sleep than a bird, and he can see for over 100 leagues in light or darkness. His hearing is so good that he can hear the grass growing in the meadows and the wool growing on sheep.
He is also described as having the power of foresight, which caused one author to say that he is one of the Vanir gods, among whom this trait is more common. But this would throw the other assertions about his parentage into question.
As the protector of the bridge, Heimdallr lives in a stronghold called Himinbjork, which means sky cliffs. It sits exactly where the Bifrost Bridge intersects with Asgard.
As well as fighting off enemy threats himself with his flashing sword and his steed Gulltoppr, when threats descend on Asgard, he sounds his horn Gjallarhorn, which can be heard throughout the Norse cosmos.