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English 426B Mythology
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Norse Cosmos.gif

According to the "standard" understanding of Norse cosmology (which in fact is largely an invention of the nineteenth century scholar Viktor Rydberg) the universe comprises three circular disks that are stacked one atop another. Connecting the three planes is the world-tree (or axis mundi), Yggdrassill. The tree's name means "The Steed of the Terrible One," which is a kenning for Óðinn. The world-tree has one root anchored in each plane. Yggdrassill is under constant assault: the lowest root is gnawed away by Niðhöggr, ("Destroyer") and four deer nibble the tree's tender branches. In the upper branches of Yggdrassill sits the eagle, Örnr, whose wings fan the breezes. The squirrel Ratatöskr ("Rat-tooth," but onomatopoetic), races up and down the tree, carrying insults between Örnr and Niðhöggr. The rainbow bridge Bifröst, "The Trembling Way," connects the world of the gods with the central plane.


Norse Top Plane.gif

The upper disk contains the Well of Urðr ("Fate") at the foot of Yggdrassill's root. It also contains the homes of the two groups of Norse gods. One home is Ásgarðr. Áss is the singular form of Æsir, the major group of gods, and garðr is cognate to "yard," a metonymic kenning for "homestead." This plane also contains the home of the second group of gods, the Vanir, in Vanaheimr. Also is found Álfheimr, the "Home of the (Light) Elves."


Norse Middle Plane.gif

The middle plane contains the Well of Mimir at the base of the root of Yggdrassill. It contains the abode of humankind, Miðgarðr. (Garðr is also cognate to "earth," hence the origin of J. R. R. Tolkien's "Middle-Earth.) Outside the abode of humans is Útgarðr (literally "outside the homestead"), the dwelling place of the giants. Also on the middle plane is the Home of the Dark Elves, Svartálfheimr, and Niðvellir, "The Plain of Nothingness," where the final battle will be fought at the world's end.


Norse Lower Plane.gif

In the lower plane, the root of Yggdrassill is gnawed by Niðhöggr; at the base of the root is Hvergelmir, "the Bubbling Cauldron." On this plane are Niflheimr, "Fog-Home," and Hél, named after the goddess of the underworld. (Her name is a hypochoristic that means "The Concealer.") Since Niflheimr is also conceived of as a Land of the Dead, the distinction between the two is not clear.






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