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The Norse cosmology, called also the Asgardian cosmology,[1] is the universe of the Norse pantheon. It is a form of World Tree cosmology,[2] with the realms connected by the great ash Yggdrasil.

The Norse worldview often describes their cosmology as the "nine worlds", although the exact definition of those nine worlds has not been strictly defined.

Planar cosmology[]

The Norse cosmology consists primarily of three planes: Midgard, the world of mortals; Asgard, the home of the gods; and Niflheim, the realm of the dead. The three realms are connected by the massive World Tree Yggdrasil, whose three roots grow to each of the planes.

Midgard[]

The Material Plane, called Midgard, consists of a great circle of land surrounded by ocean. It is divided into four main realms:

  • Mannheim, the land of humans. They inhabit the areas inland. Mannheim is protected from the godlike giants of Jotunheim by a great wall, said to have been made from the eyelashes of the great giant Ymir, from whose body Odin build the world. Some lesser mortal giants are known to inhabit Mannheim.
  • Jotunheim, the land of frost giants. Here the giants inhabit the inhospitable coast of Midgard. The World Tree Yggdrasil plants one of its three roots here. Beneath it is the well of Mimir.
  • Nidavellir, the land of the dwarves.
  • Svartalfheim, the land of the dark elves, who are called also the Svart Alfar.

Asgard[]

Asgard is the plane of the gods. It is located above Midgard, closest to the branches of the tree Yggdrasil. The tree has one of its three roots in Asgard, beneath which is the well of Urd, where the gods meet each day, and where the Norns tend the tree.

Each of the gods has their own grand hall in Asgard, and each is a place of legend in its own right:

  • Valhalla, the grand hall of the einherjar. Heroes who fall in battle are taken to join the einherjar, where they fight by day to train for the battle at Ragnarok, and return to life by night to feast. Odin rules over this hall.
  • Valaskjalf, Odin's seat of authority. His High Seat, Hlidskjalf, allows him to see any place in the known realms. None other than Odin and Frigga may sit there.
  • Bilskirjir, Thor's hall.
  • Briedbalik, Balder's hall.
  • Glitnir, Forseti's hall, a grand courtroom of silver and gold.
  • Sessrumnir, Freya's hall, where female heroes and half of male heroes who fall in battle are taken.
  • Fensalir, Frigga's hall.
  • Himinborg, Heimdall's hall, beside the bridge Bifrost.
  • Ydalir, Uller's hall.
  • Gimli, a great hall where the gods are prophecied to live in peace after Ragnarok.
  • Gladsheim and Vingolf, communal halls where the Aesir gods meet.

Asgard is subdivided into other realms, including:

  • Thrudvangar, the region where Thor keeps his hall.
  • Vanaheim, home to the Vanir gods.
  • Alfheim, home of the light elves, or Lios Alfar, and the realm where the god Frey holds his hall.
  • Vigrid, the field where the gods will fight the giants at Ragnarok.

Niflheim[]

The icy lower world, wherein resides Hel, the land of the dead. Those who died unheroic deaths are sent here. Hel is encircled by the river Gjoll, which flows from the underground spring Hvergelmir. The entranceway to Hel is a cave called Gnipahellir, and guarded by the monstrous hound Garm.

Above Hvergelmir grows one of the three roots of the World Tree, Yggdrasil. The serpent Nidhoggr chews here at its roots.

The ruler of Hel is the goddess also named Hel, who judges the dead at her hall, Eljudnir.

Muspelheim[]

Muspelheim is the land of the godlike fire giants. It is unknown how exactly it connects to the other realms of the world, or how travel between them can be made, if at all. No known root of Yggdrasil makes its way into that volcanic land.

The Norse cosmology presented in Deities and Demigods (3e) (2002) contradicts the Great Wheel cosmology. According to Planescape Campaign Setting, A DM Guide to the Planes (1994), p.64, Muspelheim is the second layer of the Outer Plane Ysgard, and Nidavellir is the third. Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods, is on the first layer of Ysgard, also simply called Ysgard, and Jotunheim is also on this first layer.

Travel between planes[]

The bridge Bifrost connects Asgard with Midgard. It is a grand construction of every color of light, and the people of Midgard say that the rainbow in the sky is the bridge Bifrost.

The Plane of Shadow connects Midgard with the underworld Niflheim.

The Astral Plane and Ethereal Plane both connect Midgard to the Plane of Shadow. Unlike the Great Wheel cosmology, there are no Outer Planes.

The valkyries, shieldmaidens of the Norse pantheon, carry the heroic dead of Midgard to Asgard abord grand winged seeds. All female heroes, and half of male heroes, are taken to Freya's hall Sessrumnir; the other half of male heroes are taken to Odin's hall Valhalla.

According to Planescape Campaign Setting, A DM Guide to the Planes (1994), p.45, which describes the Great Wheel cosmology, Yggdrasil's branches also lead to countless other planes, including several Outer Planes and every world where the Norse gods are worshiped or known. Travel between worlds via Yggdrasil is possible.

History[]

Origins of the world[]

In an ancient time before the birth of the first gods, the world was an empty void, called Ginnungagap. To the south lay the burning land Muspelheim, and to the icy north Niflheim. The elven rivers Elivagar flowed from Niflheim, slowly depositing a layer of ice across the Ginnungagap.

In time, the heat of Muspelheim melted the ice into mist. From the mist sprang the massive frost giant Ymir. Sweat from his body formed the giant cow Audhumla, who licked the ice until she uncovered the man Buri. Audhumla's milk fed Ymir and his offspring, who were the first giants.

From the descendants of Buri and the giants came three brothers, the first of the gods known as the Aesir: Odin, Vili, and Ve. They turned on the massive Ymir and slew him. Ymir's blood drowned all of the frost giants, except Bergelmir, progenitor of all living frost giants.

Odin and his two brothers built the earth from Ymir's flesh; the rocks and gravel from his bones and teeth; his blood the lakes and sea; his skull the earth's sky; his brains the clouds; and his hair the world's plants. The sparks from Muspelheim were thrown in to the sky and became the stars.

End of the world[]

The destruction of the Norse world is already foretold in legend.

In the final battle, called Ragnarok, the fire giant god Surtur will burn down the entire known world, march on Asgard and crush the Bifrost bridge beneath the feet of his army. Heimdall will sound his horn, Gjallahorn, to alert the gods and call them to battle.

Most of the gods and giants will be slain in battle upon the field of Vigrid. Loki and the wolf Fenrir will side with the giants. Odin will be slain by Fenrir, only to be avenged by his son Vidar. Frey will fight Surtur empty-handed. Heimdall will slay Loki, but will die of his wounds. Thor will face the World Serpent, Jormungandr, but he too will be slain.

The Norse gods accept their fate bravely, knowing that destiny cannot be changed.

However, the gods believe that Ragnarok is not the end of all things, but the beginning of a new world. Several gods will survive into this new world: the brothers Balder and Hod, Thor's sons Modi and Magni, and Odin's sons Vali and Vidar. They will live together in peace at the great hall Gimli.

Publication history[]

Original D&D[]

The Norse pantheon was first detailed in Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976), which named some of the realms of the Norse gods.

AD&D 1st edition[]

Although the Norse-inspired plane of Gladsheim appeared in Manual of the Planes (1e) (1987), the World Tree cosmology was not mentioned.

AD&D 2nd edition[]

An alternative version of the Norse cosmology as it fits into the Great Wheel was detailed in various AD&D Planescape sourcebooks, including On Hallowed Ground (1996), which described the Norse pantheon, and Planes of Chaos (1994), which described the realm of Ysgard.

D&D 3rd edition[]

The primary source on the Norse world cosmology is Deities and Demigods (3e) (2002), p.163-202.

D&D 5th edition[]

The Norse World Tree cosmology is mentioned in the Dungeon Master's Guide (5e) (2014), p.44.

Creative origins[]

The Norse cosmology originates in the mythology of the Norse peoples of the Viking Age. The primary surviving written works in the Old Norse language consist of the Poetic Edda, which records mythology composed in a traditional poetic meter; and the Prose Edda, a later record by Snorri Sturluson of mythic poetry, written at a time when the popularity of that art form was waning.

The version of the Norse cosmology appearing in Dungeons & Dragons shares some differences with the original recorded mythology. Many of the original historical sources are ambiguous or incomplete, leaving much room for D&D's writers to speculate or re-interpret in a manner convenient for Dungeons & Dragons.

References[]

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