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Asgard Norse Mythology

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Ásgarðr (in Norse, often anglicized as Asgard) is in Norse mythology the home of the Æsir, separate from the world of mortals, Miðgarðr. Originally the world we call Ásaheimr was called Godheimr (home of the gods), but, as was the case with Miðgarðr, early researchers confused the word for “gods” with that of its main caste, and Godheimr became Ásgarðr in most sources.

Yggdrasil and the 9 realms

According to Norse Mythology, the cosmos was divided into 9 kingdoms. At the center of the universe was the mighty world tree Yggdrasil, from which the nine realms extended.

YGGDRASIL

The Icelandic writer Snorri (1179-1241) divided the 9 worlds as follows:

Asgard – Realm of the Aesir, connected to Midgard by the rainbow bridge Bifrost

Alfheim – Realm of Elves

Hel – Realm of the dead for disease or old age, and then of the majority of the population

Jotunheim – Realm of Giants and Ice Giants

Midgard – Realm of Humans, between Asgard and Jotunheim

Muspelheim – Realm of Fire, the fire giant Surtr, and the forces of chaos in his service

Nidavellir/Svartalfheim – Dwarf kingdom below the earth

Niflheim – Realm of ice, snow and fog near Muspelheim

Vanaheim – Realm of the Dwarves

yggdrasil

In the time before time, when nothing existed, there was only the Yggdrasil tree and the void. There is no mention of who or what created the great tree of the world, but all nine kingdoms existed near or on its roots. It seems to have grown out of the misty void of Ginnungagap, surrounded on one side by the scorching Muspelheim and on the other by the icy Niflheim. At some point, the fires of Muspelheim began to melt the ice of Niflheim and two entities emerged from the realm of mist: the giant Ymir and the cow Audhumla. Audhumla fed by licking the ice, and soon brought forth Buri, the ancestor of the gods. Buri had a son (it is not mentioned how) named Borr, who joined forces with the giantess Bestla (she also appears out of nowhere). Bestla gave birth to the first among the gods: Odin, Vili, and Ve. While this was happening, Ymir gave birth to the giants through the process of autogamy (self-fertilization). While he slept, a male and female were born from his left armpit, and a son from his legs; these were the ancestors of the giants. Odin and his brothers killed Ymir, and the giants all drowned in his gushing blood, except for Bergelmir and his wife who escaped on a raft: they later begat all the giants who would be the sworn enemies of the gods. After the death of Ymir, Odin, Vili and Ve dragged his body into the void of Ginnungagap, where they shaped the world with the parts of his body, and later, the first man (Ask) and the first woman (Embla) from two trees. At this same stage, it seems, the nine kingdoms were also created.

It is believed that originally Asgard was part of the world of humans, but the writer Snorri places it in the heavens, connected to Midgard thanks to Bifrost, the rainbow bridge.

Asgard and Bifrost in Otto Schenk's interpretation of Wagner's drama Das Rheingold

Asgard is the home of the Aesir, the gods that form the majority of the Norse pantheon: they fought with other gods known as Vani, then declaring peace and exchanging hostages in order to maintain it. So, although Asgard is primarily the home of the Aesir, some of the Vanir live there, just as there are Aesir in Vanaheim.

The creation of Asgard

Asgard is the name used to indicate the kingdom of the Gods, a city built by the gods themselves.

The gods first created a huge workshop, then they placed a furnace and forged a hammer, a pair of tongs and an anvil, the prototypes of the tools used by man.

With these tools, they built in the center of Asgard a majestic dwelling, the largest of all the divine citadel: Gladsheim, the “abode of joy”. Inside they built a huge hall supported by golden columns and they placed thirteen thrones, one for each of the gods. For the goddesses was raised another palace, called Vingolf.

The lord of Asgard and of all the Gods is Odin and has as wife Frigg, with whom he generates several children. However, in Asgard each deity has lands and dwellings that reflect its characteristics. For example, Odin resides in Valaskyalf, “rock of the slain”, which recalls the macabre activity of the god, patron of the dead in battle.

Thor, the strongest of the Gods, endowed with an exquisitely human strength, is the lord of Thrudvangar, “paths of power”, where stands the palace Bliskirnir, “the shining one”, which with its 540 rooms is the largest in Asgard.

At the borders of Asgard, near the Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that connects the divine citadel to the world of mortals, stands the residence of Heimdall, the guardian who has the task of watching over the divine possessions.

The Gods Aesir and Vanir

The Norse mythology has a very interesting feature: its pantheon provides for the coexistence of two different divine lineages, the Aesir and the Vanir.

The Aesir (Æsir), the Gods and Goddesses who live in Asgard, symbolize a stratified pantheon related to sovereignty, wisdom and war: they are warrior deities, and Odin is their leader.

Their power was contested by the Vanir, representing fertility and fecundity. The Vanir are more ancient, live in a land called Vanaheim and are great experts in witchcraft and magical practices, such as divination.

Both lineages have some characteristics purely human: in addition to being brave, possess many weaknesses, can often be jealous and vengeful, and can die and grow old. The Norse Gods are in fact subject to aging, and only by eating the magical fruits of the Goddess Idun, wife of the God Bragi, they can keep young.

One day came to Asgard a seductive woman, Gullveig, a witch expert in sowing discord among the gods: soon corrupted with greed and corruption the souls of the gods, the pillars of morality and honor. It was therefore decided to condemn the witch to death. Gullveig, however, was part of the gods Vanir, who demanded the immediate return. Odin knew that not listening to this warning would lead to war, but the behavior of the witch had to be punished. The gods erected a funeral pyre, bound the witch and set her on fire, but only after three attempts the flames consumed her body.

The fire gave the Vanir a pretext to attack the Aesir. Both factions fought furiously, but the fate of the war remained in constant balance, testifying to each other’s valor. One day, however, using the power of their magical arts, the Vanir managed to destroy the mighty walls of Asgard. Tired of a fratricidal war that had led to this ruin, the two families then made a peace treaty and exchanged hostages. The Aesir sent Mimir and Hoenir among the Vanir, who handed over Njordhr and his son Freyr. In order to seal their pact, the representatives of the Aesir and the Vanir brought a wineskin and spat into it, sealing the peace with their divine saliva. From the jar was born Kvasir, the wisest creature in the universe, living testimony of the divine agreements.

The truce was immediately put to the test by the Vanir: they often asked advice to the wise Hoenir, who, however, agreed to answer only if he could consult with Mimir. One day, tired of always having to wait for the two Aesir to consult each other before talking, the Vanir beheaded Mimir. Odin, filled with contempt and grief, went to the kingdom of the Vanir, had the head of the god delivered and, back in Asgard, sprinkled it with magical herbs, stopping the process of decomposition and preserving the wisdom. Since then, in times of need, Odin often converses with the head of Mimir, asking for advice on how to behave.

Asgard is represented as a divine city with high towers, surrounded by a great wall. The palace in which these gods dwell takes the name of Válaskjálf and inside it is positioned the throne on which Odin sits, accompanied by Frigg, his celestial wife. The palace has a majestic room on whose walls are placed shields and parts of armor. Another of the palaces in Asgard is Valhalla which, according to Norse tradition, houses the souls of warriors who died valiantly in battle; the warriors who are killed during the clashes, wake up and return to the “warriors’ paradise” to feast during the night.

The fortification of Asgard

The walls surrounding Ásgarðr were built by a giant (often identified as an ice giant), who was to receive Freyja and the sun and moon as his bride in return. This was as long as the work was completed within six months and without any help from outsiders. Svadilfari the giant’s horse, was allowed to be used by the gods, but this particular horse was an exceptional worker, and could run twice as fast as his master.

Svadilfari and his Master

Svadilfari and his Master

To avoid honoring the agreement, Loki lured the giant’s magic horse away, transforming himself into a mare. The work was not completed in time and the gods, therefore, evaded payment. Thor killed the giant and when Loki came out of the forest he gave birth to Sleipnir, the best of all horses, which became the steed of Odin.

As we said, Asgard is the residence of Odin, king of the gods. Odin, is not only the father of Thor, but is the father of the gods and the main deity of Germanic religion and mythology. He who will lead, according to legend, gods and men against the forces of chaos in the last battle, when there will be the end of the world called, Ragnarök. And God will be killed by the wolf Fenrir, only to be avenged by Viðarr who will tear his jaws open after putting his foot in his throat. (a legend just far from the reality of the bible by the way!). An important temple dedicated to Odin, stood in Sweden in the county of Uppsala 70 km north of Stockholm where there is also one of the largest cathedrals, in Gothic style, of northern Europe, as well as being the site of a royal castle of the sixteenth century. In the temple where the Swedish monarchs were crowned, in February every nine years, human sacrifices took place and the bodies were then hung on the branches of the sacred forest near the temple. A ritual long 9 days, involving all Swedes, Christians, not to participate, paid by law a tribute.

So Asgard can be said for sure to be in a cold place? Indeed, even in the animated series of “The Knights of Asgard” it is a cold and icy place. The Knights of Asgard appear in two anime series: the Knights of Zodiac and Saint Seya – Soul of Gold (the less known series in which the golden knights, after having just died to break down the wall that separates Pegasus and his companions from the Elysian Fields, are reborn in their own bodies but in a different place, in Asgard for a battle parallel to the one against Hades that involves Athena and the others). The knights of Asgard are the warriors who protect Odin and the priestess Ilda of Polaris by also wearing armor (called Robe, robes of the god). In the Soul of Gold series, the knights of Asgard, are appointed by the new and mysterious priest Andreas and, unlike the first, draw their additional strength from their land thanks to Yggdrasil

Conclusion

All nine realms coexisted, working together, and would do so until the day of Ragnarok. Independent of the Nine Realms, dwelling together in the roots of Yggdrasil, were the Norns – the fates – who wove the fates of humans and gods. Like the Three Moires of ancient Greece, or the Seven Hathors or the god of fate Shay (Shai) in the religion of ancient Egypt, the decisions of the Norns were final and no one could oppose them. The world and the nine kingdoms would be destroyed, and no one could stop it.

The Ragnarok would begin with a hard winter of ice and snow, with the arrival of the fire giant Surtr, who would consume the world in flames at the same time when the Midgard serpent would be released, shaking the waters around Midgard until the whole earth would be submerged; meanwhile, the great wolf Fenrir would be released from his chains, devouring the sun. The rainbow bridge Bifrost will break and collapse, as Yggdrasil trembles and the gods prepare for the final battle to preserve the order of the world they shaped from the forces of chaos. The gods will lose, and they are aware of this when they go into battle, but some of them will survive the final conflict: a new world and a new order of kingdoms will arise from the ashes of the old.

This was the vision of the Norse religion: one could be certain of death and the loss of loved ones, but afterwards, there was something else. This vision applied to the individual soul as well as to the whole earth and all that composed it. What this “something else” remained a mystery – there are no references to what the new world will be like after Ragnarok – but there was always hope for a new beginning and the continuation of life in other realms after loss and death.

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