The word Asgard comes from the Old Norse word Ásgarðr, meaning Enclosure of the Aesir. Asgard is one of the nine worlds in Norse Mythology, along with Niflheim, Muspelheim, Midgard, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, and Helheim. Asgard is the home of the Aesir, deities of one of two tribes of Norse gods. The other tribe, the Vanir, used to share Asgard but the two tribes fought a long, epic war over their differences and the Vanir were forced to leave Asgard. The two tribes did reach an eventual truce as they joined forces against their common enemy, the Giants.
Snorri Sturluson, author of the Prose Edda, wrote that Asgard was created by the gods after they created Jotunheim (Giantland), Midgard (Middle Earth or home of humanity), the seas, sky, clouds and the Earth. The home of the gods is said to be a giant fortress with walls reaching up into the clouds to protect them from their enemies, particularly the frost-giants.
Asgard is situated in the sky upon the plains of Idavoll, where the gods met to discuss important matters. It was connected to Midgard by a rainbow bridge called Bifrost. The mythical place was invisible and inaccessible to mortal men.
The ruler of the gods, Odin, had his throne in Asgard, in a hall called Valaskjalf. His throne was called Hlidskjalf and it is believed that when Odin sat on Hlidskjalf, he could see the whole of heaven and Earth and everything that happened anywhere! A hall made of pure gold was also situated in the home of the gods. It was called Gladsheim and housed the thrones of Odin and the 12 highest gods. The goddesses’ hall was called the Vingolf or hall of friendship. The gods and goddesses would meet every day and discuss the fate of world at the Well of Urd (destiny), from which the Yggdrasil (the tree connecting the nine worlds) grew.
Asgard also housed Valhalla (the hall of the fallen). Odin granted access to the worthy dead, the majority of whom were esteemed warriors. Here, he feasted and celebrated with the battle heroes. Valhalla was easily recognizable by its rafters formed of spears, and use of shields as roof tiles. According to certain sources, the doors of Valhalla were so wide that 800 warriors could walk through at the same time! A vast river, the Thund, and a barred gate, Valgrind, protected the entrances of Valhalla.
They are one of two clans of Norse gods, the other being the Vanir. The Aesir and Vanir were in conflict for quite some time, leading to the Aesir-Vanir war. Later on, however, they seemed to get along just fine and the Vanir were eventually considered to be a sub-group of the Aesir.
Therefore, depending on the time in which a specific myth is set, the word Aesir may refer to all Norse gods or only to the ones that began as Aesir.
In Norse mythology, there are nine world that various beings may inhabit. These worlds are held in the branches of the World Tree, also known as Yggdrasil. We humans live in Midgard, whereas the Aesir live in Asgard. The Vanir have their own world: Vanaheim.
Although they lived in a different world to humans, they actively ruled over the lives of men. Norse people would call on the different gods who represented specific aspects of life when they needed aid or blessing. There are many stories surrounding the Aesir, such as that of Odin the Allfather coming to Midgard. They would teach people lessons or otherwise influence what happened in Midgard.
The Aesir also acted in other worlds in Yggdrasil, such as Jotunheim, where the ice giants live. One of their most important duties is to keep the ice giants at bay, protecting the worlds from them.
Interestingly, although the Aesir are the principal gods of Norse mythology, they are not the creators of the cosmos. They are, however, the creators of mankind and the worlds within the cosmos.
In the beginning, there were two worlds: Muspelheim and Niflheim. Muspelheim was the realm of fire, while Niflheim was the realm of ice. Between them lay an empty void known as the Ginnungagap. The fire and ice met and filled the gap, and from this event, the first giant, Ymir, was formed. Ymir’s sweat produced further giants, who were the first beings in the cosmos. As the frost melted, the cow Audhumbla emerged to feed Ymir. The cow lived on the saltlicks in the ice. Her licking revealed Buri, the first Aesir, who had apparently been stuck in the ice.
Buri went on to marry a giant, Bestla, so his children Odin (who is the most famous), Vili and Ve were all half-giants. These three brothers decided to end Ymir’s life and, in a rather grisly development, used the various parts of his body to make the world. For example, his blood became the oceans, and the dome of his skull became the sky.
These gods then got around to creating us, the humans of Midgard. The first humans were a male and female pair with the names Ask and Embla. When they had finished jump-starting humanity, the gods decided to give humans their own world, a fenced-off region they named Midgard.
But why did they feel the need to slay Ymir? The most likely reason is that Ymir was a being of chaos, and the Aesir’s purpose is to bring order to the cosmos. That’s also the root of their main struggle with the ice giants, who want to destroy the world during Ragnarok, restoring the primordial chaos of the Ginnungagap.
The number “three” figures prominently in the oracular practices of the ancients. The Three Rune Spread which, according to Tacitus, was already in use 2,000 years ago, is satisfactory for all but the most demanding situations.
With an issue clearly in mind, select three Runes one at a time, and place them from right to left, in order of selection. To avoid consciously changing the direction of the stones, especially as you become familiar with their symbols, you may want to place them blank side up, and then turn them over.
Once you have selected the Runes, they will lie before you. Reading from the right, the first Rune provides the Overview of the Situation; the second Rune (center) identifies the Challenge; and the third Rune (on the left) indicates the Course of Action Called For.
How you happen to turn the stones may still alter the direction of the glyphs to either an Upright or Reversed position, but this too is part of the process. Since only nine Runes read the same Upright and Reversed, the readings for the other sixteen will depend on how you place or turn the stones.
Long before Christianity came to northern Europe, the people there – our ancestors – had their own religions. One of these was Asatru. It was practiced in the lands that are today Scandinavia, England, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and other countries as well. Asatru is the original or native religious belief for the peoples who lived in these regions.
What does the word “Asatru” mean?
It means, roughly, “belief in the Gods” in Old Norse, the language of ancient Scandinavia in which so much of our source material was written. Asatru is the name by which the Norsemen called their religion.
When did Asatru start?
Asatru is thousands of years old. Its beginnings are lost in prehistory, but it is older than Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or most other religions. The spiritual impulses it expresses are as ancient as the European peoples themselves – at least 40,000 years, and perhaps much older.
Why do we need Asatru? Aren’t most people who want religion satisfied with Christianity or one of the other “Established” religions?
People are attracted to the better-known religions because they have genuine spiritual needs which must be filled. People are looking for community and for answers to the “big questions”: What life is all about, and how we should live it. For many people today, the so-called major faiths do not have answers that work. Asatru has answers, but it has not been an alternative for most seekers because they haven’t known about it. Once they realize that there is another way – a better, more natural, more honorable way – they will not be satisfied with anything less than a return to the religion of their ancestors.
Why is the Religion of our Ancestors the Best One for Us?
Because we are more like our ancestors than we are like anyone else. We inherited not only their general physical appearance, but also their predominant mental, emotional, and spiritual traits. We think and feel more like they did; our basic needs are most like theirs. The religion which best expressed their innermost nature – Asatru – is better suited to us than is some other creed which started in the Middle East among people who are essentially different from us. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are alien religions which do not truly speak to our souls.
Why Did Asatru Die Out if it was the Right Religion for Europeans?
Asatru was subjected to a violent campaign of repression over a period of hundreds of years. Countless thousands of people were murdered, maimed, and exiled in the process. The common people (your ancestors!) did not give up their cherished beliefs easily. Eventually, the monolithic organization of the Christian church, bolstered by threats of economic isolation and assisted by an energetic propaganda campaign, triumphed over the valiant but unsophisticated tribes.
Or so it seemed! Despite this persecution, elements of Asatru continued down to our own times – often in the guise of folklore – proving that our own native religion appeals to our innermost beings in a fundamental way. Now, a thousand years after its supposed demise, it is alive and growing. Indeed, so long as there are men and women of European descent, it cannot really die because it springs form the soul of our people. Asatru isn’t just what we BELIEVE, it’s what we ARE.
Wasn’t the Acceptance of Christianity a Sign of Civilization – A Step up From Barbarism?
No! The atrocities committed by Christians, Muslims, and Jews throughout history are hardly a step up from anything. The so-called “barbarians” who followed Asatru (the Vikings, the various Germanic tribes, and so forth) were the source of our finest civilized traditions – trial by jury, parliaments, Anglo Saxon common law, and the rights of women, to name a few. Our very word “law” comes from the Norse language, not from the tongues of the Christian lands. We simply did not and do not need Christianity to be civilized.
You Say That Asatru was the Religion of the Vikings, Among Other Early European Cultures. Weren’t They a Pretty Bloodthirsty Lot?
Modern historians agree that the Vikings were no more violent than the other peoples of their times. Remember, the descriptions of Viking raids and invasions were all written by their enemies, who were hardly unbiased. Both the Islamic and Christian cultures used means every bit as bloody, if not more so, than the Norsemen. It was a very rough period in history for all concerned!
We Keep Talking About the Vikings. Does This Mean That Asatru is Only for People of Scandinavian Ancestry?
No. Asatru, as practiced by the Norse peoples, had so much in common with the religion of the other Germanic tribes, and with their cousins the Celts, that it may be thought of as one version of a general European religion. Asatru is for all European peoples, whether or not their heritage is specifically Scandinavian.
What are the Basic Beliefs of Asatru?
We believe in an underlying, all-pervading divine energy or essence which is generally hidden from us, and which is beyond our immediate understanding. We further believe that this spiritual reality is interdependent with us – that we affect it, and it affects us.
We believe that this underlying divinity expresses itself to us in the forms of the Gods and Goddesses. Stories about these deities are like a sort of code, the mysterious “language” through which the divine reality speaks to us.
We believe in standards of behavior which are consistent with these spiritual truths and harmonious with our deepest being.
How Does Asatru Differ From Other Religions?
Asatru is unlike the better-known religions in many ways. Some of these are:
We are polytheistic. That is, we believe in a number of deities, including Goddesses as well as Gods. We do not accept the idea of “original sin”, the notion that we are tainted from birth and intrinsically bad, as does Christianity. Thus, we do not need “saving”.
The Middle Eastern religions teach either a hatred of other religions or a duty to convert others, often by force. They have often practiced these beliefs with cruel brutality.
We do not claim to be a universal religion or a faith for all of humankind. In fact, we don’t think such a thing is possible or desirable. The different branches of humanity have different ways of looking at the world, each of which is valid for them. It is only right that they have different religions, which of course they do.
Do You Consider the Norse Myths to be True?
The myths are stories about the Gods and Goddesses of Asatru. They are ways of stating religious truths. That is, we would say they contain truths about the nature of divinity, our own nature, and the relationship between the two. We do not contend that the myths are literally true, as history.
What About These Gods and Goddesses? Are They Real?
Yes, they are real. However, just as most Christians do not think their God is really an old bearded figure sitting on a golden chair in heaven, we do not believe Thor (for example) is actually a muscular, man-shaped entity carrying a big hammer. There is a real Thor, but we approach an understanding of him through this particular mental picture.
Do followers of Asatru Pray to Their Gods and Goddesses?
Yes, but not quite the way most people mean by the word. We never surrender our will to theirs or humble ourselves before them, because we see ourselves as their kin, not as inferior, submissive pawns. Nor do we beg and plead. We commune with them and honor them while seeking their blessing through formal rites and informal meditation. Living a full and virtuous live is a form of prayer in itself. Our religion affects all parts of our lives, not just those fragments that we choose to call “religious”.
Don’t You Worship Stones and Trees and Idols?
No. These objects are not Gods, so we don’t worship them. We do sometimes use these items as reminders of a God or Goddess, and we believe they can become “charged” with a certain aspect of the divine energy, but we would never confuse them with the actual deities.
What are the Standards of Behavior Taught in Asatru?
Some of the qualities we hold in high regard are strength, courage, joy, honor, freedom, loyalty to kin, realism, vigor, and the revering of our ancestors. To express these things in our lives is virtuous, and we strive to do this. Their opposites – weakness, cowardice, adherence to dogma rather than to the realities of the world, and the like – constitute vices and are to be avoided. Proper behavior in Asatru consists of maximizing one’s virtues and minimizing one’s vices. This code of conduct reflects the highest and most heroic ideals of our people.
Don’t all Religions Believe in These Things You’ve Just Named?
No. People may honestly believe that this is the case, but examination does not bear this out. They believe in freedom, yet their scriptures say they are slaves to their God. They accept that joy is good, but their teachings laden them with guilt because of some imaginary “original sin”. Their instinct is to understand Nature’s world from verifiable evidence, yet they are trained to believe black is white, round is flat, and natural instincts are evil without question when the teachings of their church conflict with reason or with known facts.
Many of us instinctively believe in the values of Asatru because they have been passed down to us from our ancestors. We want to believe that other religions espouse those values, so we see what we want to see. Most people just haven’t yet realized that the major religions are saying things that conflict with the values we know in our hearts are right. To find northern European virtues, one should look where those virtues have their natural home – Asatru.
What do You Have to Say About Good and Evil?
Good and evil are not constants. What is good in one case will not be good in another, and evil in one circumstance will not be evil under a different set of conditions. In any one instance, the right course of action will have been shaped by the influence of the past and the present. The result may or may not be “good” or “evil”, but it will still be the right action.
In no case are good and evil dictated to us by the edicts of an alien, authoritarian deity, as in the Middle East. We are expected to use our freedom, responsibility, and awareness of duty to serve the highest and best ends.
What Does Asatru Teach About an Afterlife?
We believe that there is an afterlife, and that those who have lived virtuous lives will go on to experience greater fulfillment, pleasure, and challenge. Those who have led lives characterized more by vice than by virtue will be separated from kin and doomed to an existence of dullness and gloom. The precise nature of the afterlife – what it will look like and feel like – is beyond our understanding and is dealt with symbolically in the myths.
There is also a tradition in Asatru of rebirth within the family line. Perhaps the individual is able to choose whether or not he or she is re-manifested in this world, or there may be natural laws which govern this. In a sense, of course, we all live on in our descendents quite apart from an afterlife as such.
We of Asatru do not overly concern ourselves with the next life. We live here and now, in this life. If we do this and do it well, the next life will take care of itself.
Does Asatru Involve Ancestor Worship?
Asatru says we should honor our ancestors. It also says we are bonded to those ancestors in a special way. However, we do not actually worship them.
We believe our forebears have passed to us certain spiritual qualities just as surely as they have given us various physical traits. They live on in us. The family or clan is above and beyond the limits of time and place. Thus we have a reverence for our ancestry even though we do not involve ourselves in ancestor worship as such.
Does Asatru Have a Holy Book, Like the Bible?
No. There are written sources which are useful to us because they contain much of our sacred lore in the form of myths and examples of right conduct, but we do not accept them as infallible or inspired documents. Any religion which does this is deceiving its members about the purity and precision of the written word. The various competing factions of Middle Eastern religions are proof of this. Their conflicting interpretations can not all be correct!
There are two real sources of holy truth, and neither expresses itself to us in words. One is the universe around us, which is a manifestation of the underlying divine essence. The other is the universe within us, passed down from our ancestors as instinct, emotion, innate predispositions, and perhaps even racial memory. By combining these sources of internal and external wisdom with the literature left us by our ancestors, we arrive at religious truths. This living spiritual guidance is better than any dusty, dogmatic “holy book”, whose writings are often so ambiguous that even clerical scholars disagree and whose interpretations change with the politics of the times.
Asatru has Been Described as a “Nature Religion”. What Does That Mean?
We treasure the spiritual awe, the feeling of “connecting” with the Gods and Goddesses, which can come from experiencing and appreciating the beauty and majesty of Nature. Our deities act in and through natural law. By working in harmony with Nature we can become co-workers with the Gods. This attitude removes the opposition between “natural” and “supernatural” and between religion and science.
For us, following a “Nature religion” means recognizing that we are part of Nature, subject to all its laws, even when that offends our Christian-influenced misconceptions. We may be Gods-in-the-making, but we are also members of the animal kingdom – a noble heritage in its own right. Our ancestors and their predecessors prevailed through billions of years of unimaginable challenges, a feat which must awe even the Gods themselves.
Where Did the Universe Come From, According to Asatru?
Our myths describe the beginning of the universe as the unfolding of a natural process, rather than one requiring supernatural intervention. Followers of Asatru need not abandon modern science to retain their religion. The old lore of our people describes the interaction of fire and ice and the development of life from these – but this is symbolic, and we will leave it to our scientists to discover how the universe was born.
What are the Runes, and What do They Have to do With Asatru?
Runes are ancient Germanic symbols representing various concepts or forces in the universe. Taken together, they express our ancestors’ world view. Their meanings are intimately connected with the teachings of Asatru. Our myths tell how Odin, father of the Gods, won them through painful ordeal so that Gods and humans alike might benefit from their wisdom.
How is Asatru Organized?
Asatru is non-authoritarian and decentralized, expressing our love of freedom. While we do have definite tenets, we have little dogma. There is no all-powerful spiritual leader whose word is law, no “pope” of Asatru to dictate truth. No guru or priest has an exclusive direct line to the Gods. The Gods live in you!
Tanngrisrnir and Tanngnjostr were the goats of Thor. They pulled Thor’s chariot across the sky. Everytime Thor crossed the sky with his goat-drawn chariot, there came the sound of thunder.
In Norse mythology, Thor killed his goats for the food. And in the following day, he would resurrect his goats with his Mjolnir hammer.
The symbol of Tanngrisrnir and Tanngnjostr also presented Thor and his presence. The goats symbolised the boundless endless and the masculinity. Modern archaeologists have excavated Viking artifact of the goats (as pictured).
Loki the most complicated Norse character and the giantess Angrboda (“She who Brings Anguish”) had three notorious children. His first son was the Jormungandr the Midgard Serpent, the second daughter was Hel the Queen of Helheim, and the last one was Wolf Fenrir the God of Destruction.
Jormungandr was also known as the Midgard Serpent. He was cast into the deep ocean by Odin the Allfather as a precaution against the Ragnarok. Deep under the ocean laid Jormungandr who quickly grew large enough to encircle the whole Midgard. Jormungandr held his own tail in his mouth. He was the sworn enemy of Thor. These two (Jormungandr and Thor) had encountered each other once before the days of Ragnarok.
As Ragnarok was looming large, Jormungandr raised from the ocean and accompanied Loki’s army to enter Asgard. This Midgard Serpent had his last battle with Thor and got killed by the blow from Mjölnir hammer. Thor, unfortunately, was slain by the venom of the dead Jormungandr.
The only daughter of Loki, Hel, was banished into the land of Helheim located deep under the root of Yggdrasil tree. There, Hel built up her own kingdom of the dead and presided over that place. She was the queen of the deceased and the land of Helheim. According to the myth, if one soul belonged to Hel, without her permission, that soul could not do anything but serve in the land of Helheim. No one could ever interfere with this practice, even Odin the Allfather.
Hel joined the army of the Jotun to battle against Aesir gods. She brought the dead alongside.
Hardly could any villain in Norse myth rival the reputation of Wolf Fenrir. Fenrir was the worst nightmare to the Norse gods because Fenrir was predicted to swallow Odin in Ragnarok. As the gods scared that this scenario would come into being, they decided to raise the wolf by themselves. When the wolf grew up at an incredible speed, they bound Fenrir with a magical fetter. Fenrir then was sent to a middle-of-no-where place until he broke free on the threshold of Ragnarok.
In Ragnarok, Fenrir and his father, Loki, led the giant army to fight against the gods. Fenrir opened his enormous mouth with his jaw stretching from heaven to earth and swallowing anything that hindered him. When battling with Odin, Fenrir gained the upper hand and swallowed the god, proving the prophecy to be true.
Other Children of Loki
Sleipnir – Sleipnir was the result of one-night chase between Loki and a stallion Svadilfari. This happened when Loki wanted to prevent Svadilfari from finishing building Asgard Wall. Loki in disguise as a mare seduced Svadilfari to distract the stallion from finishing its task. As a result, a little horse was brought to life. Sleipnir was his name. And in fact, Loki was the mother of Sleipnir horse. Yes, Loki was the mother! Sleipnir horse then was given to Odin the Allfather by Loki. Sleipnir was a true treasure as he could travel not only on land but also over the sea and through the air. Odin rode Sleipnir into the battle of Ragnarok where he met Wolf Fenrir.
Nari and Vali – these two children of Loki had little material about them. The most well-known tale about these two was in the Punishment of Loki. The ironic story told that Vali in the form of a wolf killed his brother Nari. The gods used the entrails of Nari to bind Loki to the rocks as Loki’s most severe punishment for causing trouble to the gods.
Nidhogg (Norse Níðhöggr) is a ferocious dragon who gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasil, the tree which supports the nine worlds of Norse mythology. This power-hungry monster is sometimes referred to as “the Malice Striker,” an appropriate name given that he rules over dark criminals and is bent on destroying peace and virtue.
Nidhogg is a tremendous dragon. His body is covered in bright scales, and horns erupt from his head. A pair of forelegs, complete with massive claws, help him to rip at the roots of Yggdrasil, but he has no back legs, only a serpentine tail. Beneath his bat-like wings, he carries the corpses of criminals.
His mammoth body can be found twisting through the roots of Yggdrasil, especially around Niflheimr, the cold world from which all the rivers of Midgard spring. Occasionally, he might slither into Hel to visit the dark goddess who some people consider his master.
Balance is extremely important in Norse mythology, and while Nidhogg does represent a ghastly force, he is still important to supporting the balance of Yggdrasil. A great eagle, who represents wisdom and virtue, perches in the uppermost branches of the tree, while Nidhogg, representing chaos and evil, lurks in its roots. The constant tension between the eagle and the dragon is fueled by Ratatoskr, a squirrel who runs up and down the tree ferrying insults between the two enemies. This tension may seem undesirable, but it actually promotes a cycle of growth in the tree of life. After the eagle and the dragon spend the day destroying Yggdrasil in their frenzy to attack each other, the tree is bathed in water from the wells of Urd, which promotes healing and new growth.
In addition to bringing balance to Yggdrasil, the monster also figures in the punishment of criminals. He rules over the dark shores of Nadastrond, to which the corpses of murderers, adulterers, and oath-breakers are banished. A terrifying hall, with walls woven from serpents and a ceiling that drips venom, waits for these criminals, and inside the hall, the dragon chews on their bodies.
Finally, the dreaded dragon has a role to play in Ragnarok, the day when the giants will attack the gods and destroy most of their world. Ragnarok will begin when the dragon finally manages to chew through the roots of Yggdrasil, causing the tree to yellow and the worlds it supports to plunge into a three-year winter. At the end of this frigid and chaotic period, he will fly up from the underworld, carrying dead criminals and leading the giants on an attack against the gods. Ultimately, the he will survive this battle and become the force of evil which balances good in the post-Ragnarok world.
Vanaheim (Old Norse Vanaheimr, “Homeland of the Vanir“) is one of the Nine Worlds that are situated around the world-tree Yggdrasil. As the name implies, it’s the home of the Vanir tribe of deities, who tend to be somewhat more associated with fertility and what we today would call “nature” than the other tribe of Norse deities, the Aesir, who have their home in Asgard.
The surviving sources for our information on Norse mythology and religion, as fragmentary as they are, don’t contain any explicit mention of where exactly Vanaheim is located. The sole clue we have comes from the Lokasenna (“The Taunting of Loki“), one of the poems in the Poetic Edda, which states that the Vanir god Njord went eastward when he went to Asgard as a hostage at the conclusion of the Aesir-Vanir War. Presumably, then, Vanaheim lies somewhere to the west of Asgard.
Some scholars have gone so far as to claim that Vanaheim was invented by the thirteenth-century Icelandic Christian historian and poet Snorri Sturluson. However, there is one authentic and reliable Old Norse poem that mentions Vanaheim by name,so we can be reasonably certain that it was a genuine element of pre-Christian Norse religion.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the sources are completely silent as to what kind of world Vanaheim is. However, its name may contain an indication of the place’s character. One of the primary ways the pre-Christian Norse and other Germanic peoples classified geographical spaces (as well as psychological states) was with reference to their concept of the distinction between the innangard and utangard. That which is innangard (“inside the fence”) is orderly, law-abiding, and civilized, while that which is utangard (“beyond the fence”) is chaotic, anarchic, and wild. This psychogeography found its natural expression in agrarian land-use patterns, where the fence separated pastures and fields of crops from the wilderness beyond them. Of the Nine Worlds, two are innangard spaces: Asgard and Midgard, the world of human civilization. Both of these contain -gard in their names and are depicted as having a fence or fortification surrounding them. The rest of the Nine Worlds’ names end in -heim, and there’s no reference to their being enclosed in any way, which seems to indicate that they’re essentially utangard places. Such a designation is certainly in keeping with the way these places are described in Old Norse literature. Thus, we can infer that Vanaheim, like the Vanir themselves, is somewhat more wild or “natural,” and less “cultural,” than the world of the Vanir’s Aesir counterparts, or even that of humanity.
In Norse mythology, gods and goddesses usually belong to one of two tribes: the Aesir and the Vanir. Throughout most of the Norse tales, deities from the two tribes get along fairly easily, and it’s hard to pin down firm distinctions between the two groups. But there was a time when that wasn’t the case.
The Vanir goddess Freya was always the foremost practitioner of the art of seidr, the most terribly powerful kind of magic. Like historical seidr practitioners, she wandered from town to town plying her craft for hire.
Under the name Heiðr (“Bright”), she eventually came to Asgard, the home of the Aesir. The Aesir were quite taken by her powers and zealously sought her services. But soon they realized that their values of honor, kin loyalty, and obedience to the law were being pushed aside by the selfish desires they sought to fulfill with the witch’s magic. Blaming Freya for their own shortcomings, the Aesir called her “Gullveig” (“Gold-greed”) and attempted to murder her. Three times they tried to burn her, and three times she was reborn from the ashes.
Because of this, the Aesir and Vanir came to hate and fear one another, and these hostilities erupted into war. The Aesir fought by the rules of plain combat, with weapons and brute force, while the Vanir used the subtler means of magic. The war went on for some time, with both sides gaining the upper hand by turns.
Eventually the two tribes of divinities became weary of fighting and decided to call a truce. As was customary among the ancient Norse and other Germanic peoples, the two sides agreed to pay tribute to each other by sending hostages to live among the other tribe. Freya, Freyr, and Njord of the Vanir went to the Aesir, and Hoenir (pronounced roughly “HIGH-neer”) and Mimir went to the Vanir.
Njord and his children seem to have lived more or less in peace in Asgard. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Hoenir and Mimir in Vanaheim. The Vanir immediately saw that Hoenir was seemingly able to deliver incomparably wise advice on any problem, but they failed to notice that this was only when he had Mimir in his company. Hoenir was actually a rather slow-witted simpleton who was at a loss for words when Mimir wasn’t available to counsel him. After Hoenir responded to the Vanir’s entreaties with the unhelpful “Let others decide” one too many times, the Vanir thought they had been cheated in the hostage exchange. They beheaded Mimir and sent the severed head back to Asgard, where the distraught Odin chanted magic poems over the head and embalmed it in herbs. Thus preserved, Mimir’s head continued to give indispensable advice to Odin in times of need.
The two tribes were still weary of fighting a war that was so evenly-matched, however. Rather than renewing their hostilities over this tragic misunderstanding, each of the Aesir and Vanir came together and spat into a cauldron. From their saliva they created Kvasir, the wisest of all beings, as a way of pledging sustained harmony.
Sources: norse-mythology.org, Sons of Vikings, Children of Ash and Elm
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.