Category Archives: Symbolism


Tarot is a subject that has only interested me mildly. I enjoy the symbolism of the cards, but that is about it. At some point I bought myself a ‘Crowley tarot’, mostly because the cards that are drawn by Frieda Harris (1877-1962). See the card on the right above.

Some time ago I was reading something and the author kept referring to symbols on the Rider/Waite tarot (second from the right above) but without images. The images for this deck are drawn by Pamele Colman Smith (1878-1951) and designed by the (in)famous Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942). Rider was the company that first published the deck. read more

Squaring the circle

“Squaring the circle” is an expression that I run into frequently, whether in a Hermetic/esoteric or a Masonic connection. Often the first image that pops into people’s minds is this image supposedly of Hermes Trismegistus.

Recently I was reading the book Quadrivrium and ‘squaring the circle’ is mentioned four times, but quite different from the above. According to the authors, a ‘circled square’ (or ‘squared circle’) are a circle and a square with the same area. So the square would certainly be smaller than in the image above, more like this: read more

Fabio Venzi (1961-) esoteric Freemasonry

Recently (late 2019) the new book of Fabio Venzi was published by Lewis Masonic. It is called The Last Heresy and is about the relation between the Catholic Church and Freemasonry. It is an historical book and nothing like the previous two books that were published by the same publisher. It did make me go back to these two titles and since I was noting quotes, I figured I could just turn that into some sort of article that may give you an idea of the ideas of this Traditionalistic Italian Freemason who has been the Grandmaster of the Regulier Grand Lodge of Italy since 2001. read more

Pictish symbols

Is it because the next holiday will be Scotland or some other reason, but I recently find myself fascinated by the so-called “Pictish stones”. The first time I saw the strange Pictisch symbols was about a decade ago in the fascinating book “Noord-Europese Mysterieën En Hun Sporen Tot Heden” (‘North-European mysteries and their traces to the precent’) (1970) by the Dutch author Frans Eduard Farwerck (1889-1969). He displays several stones, but the Golspie stone is the most fascinating. It not only contains (virtually) every Pictish symbol that we know, but also supports Farwerck’s theory about the symbolism. A theory that I have not found on the world wide web yet, so I figured my scribblings might add something to the information about the Pictish stones that is already available on the web, which is not little to begin with.

A little bit of history
When the meanings of the symbols are disputed, even the history of the Picts is! It looks like the Picts were the original inhabitants of Scotland. They must have been around in the first or at least second century CE, because when the Romans invaded the British isle in the third century, the Picts were already a force to take into account. They were not such a large society, but this came later. From about 600 to 800 some people speak about a “Pictish nation”. After that the Picts were troubled by the Viking invasions and overrun (or perhaps they just merged with) the neighbouring Gaelic tribes. After 800 there seem to have been no more Picts.

Thor and Loki in Utgarda Loki, an interpretation

A few months ago I had a little talk about the story of Thor and Loki who travel to Utgarda Loki for a selected group. This little talk took a couple of months in preparation and I have yet to start working on the reworked version of the in depth analysis, but I thought it might be nice for you to show a few aspects of the story here.

The story

The story in short goes that Thor and Loki (for an unknown reason), decide to travel to Utgarda Loki, which is both the name of a kingdom, as the name of its ruler. In the beginning of the story, Thor and Loki need a place to sleep and they find a farm with a family that is willing to let them spend the night. For dinner, Thor slays his two goats and tells the farmer to throw the bones on the skins that Thor laid on the floor. The son breaks a bone to eat out the marrow though. In the morning, Thor takes his hammer, consecrates the goats and they come back alive, one with a limping rear leg. Thor immediately realises what has happened, breaks a fury and threatens to slay the family. Naturally the farmer got scared, offered his excuses and his children as compensation. Thor agrees and he, Loki, Thialfi (the son) and Roskva (the daughter) leave behind the goats and use a boat to cross the ocean.
After coming on the other shore, they start to walk through a big forest and at the end of the day they search for food in vein, but do find a place to sleep: a large hall with a portal as big as the hall itself. When trying to get some sleep, an enormous earthquake and ear-shattering sound wakes our friends in fear and they find a smaller side-hall in which they take shelter. In the morning they find out that both phenomena were caused by a gigantic man sleeping a little ahead and Thor walks towards him with his hammer in his hand. The man awakes and Thor asks for his name, which is Skrymir and Skrymir immediately recognises Thor of the Ases. The party decides to travel together, but our four friends have a hard time to keep up with the giant. As evening falls the giant finds a tree to sleep under and tells Thor to get some from from the knapsack in which everybody put their food together. Thor proves to be unable to open the giants bag though; annoyed and hungry, they also go to sleep. As soon as the giant falls asleep, the loud snoring is back and Thor runs over to him, hitting him with his hammer. The giant awakes and asks if leaves fell on his head. The second time Thor takes his change, he walks towards the giant and hits him again, but again the giant just asks if a bird dropped something on his head. The last time Thor is sure that he will succeed, he takes one step, hits the giant, but again he wakes up with a silly question.
When morning breaks, the parties part, the giant continues North, our friends towards the East. Soon they find a gigantic castle, but are not let in. Fortunately they can squeeze themselves between the bars and they immediately walk towards the drinking hall where king Utgarda Loki has a feast with his subjects. Instead of being greeted and invited to join the meal, our friends are asked which feats they can perform. After this follow three tests. First, Loki has an eating contest again a man named Logi, but Loki looses. After this Thialfi runs three races against a man named Hugi, but loses all three. Then Thor fails to empty a drinking horn, doesn’tmanaged to raise the cat of the king and is forced on a knee when wrestling against an old lady. After this they receive a warm welcome with dinner, sleeping places and breakfast in the morning.
When walking outside, Utgarda Loki tells Thor that he has tricked him. Utgarda Loki was Skrymir and every time Thor tried to kill him, he put a mountain between his head and Thor’s hammer. The man that Loki had his contest with was called “Wildfire” (“Logi”) who not only ate the meat from the bones, but also consumed the bones and the trough on which the food laid. No wonder Loki was no competition here. A similar trick Utgarda Loki has with Thialfi, because “Hugi” as his “thought” and nothing is faster than thought. The horn that Thor tried to empty had it’s tip in the ocean, the cat was actually the Midgard serpent that encircles the entire earth and the old woman was called “old age” (“Elli”) and even Thor can’t fight that. After hearing this, Thor got angry, raised his hammer to smash Utgarda Loki and his men, but suddenly the castle and its inhabitents are gone and Thor, Loki and Thialfi find themselves in an open field.

An interpretation

If the Northern Gods are taken as aspects in the constitution of man, it would not be too strange to say that Loki represents our ego, Thor our will and Odin our higher Self. In this story only the two lower parts take a journey, pretty much as in ‘real life’. Just think about it, how many people live purely by ego and lower desire and how many genuinely spiritual people do you know? The story seems to represent the state that most of us live in. We live our lives by our lower aspects and forgot to bring our Odin.
In the beginning of the story Thor and Loki come from somewhere, but it isn’t stated from where. A quick assumption could lead to the conclusion that they came from Asgard, but that wouldn’t fit too well with the interpretation that I pose here. They do seem to travel to (or through) the world of man, the world of the farmer and his family, but also this is questionable. A strange thing takes place, because the death-and-resurrection ritual of the goats reminds of initiation rites, but why would Thor initiate his own goats? I am not totally sure, but my interpretation is that Thialfi and Roskva receive some kind of ‘indirect initiation’ or perhaps, the lower part of man trades ‘something higher’ (the goats of the Gods) for ‘something lower’ (men). In any case, the scene with the goats seems to have the reason that Thialfi and Roskva become able to travel with the Gods.
After this two very obvious initiation themes occur. The group travels over the waters and a thick forest, so they obviously go to another world. This becomes clear as soon as they meet Skrymir and even more so when they arrive in Utgarda Loki. My first idea when I read this story, was that the lower part of man travels to a world of illusion, of Maya as the Eastern term goes. They are obviously blinded by something, because it is pretty obvious that they are in a world of illusion, Loki tries to eat faster than a man who is named “Wildfire”, but not for a second he realises that “Logi” may actually by wildfire. The same goes for Thialfi and “Hugi” (“memory” remember Odin’s raven) and Thor with “Elli” (“old age”). It is so obvious that there is something fishy going on, but they don’t see it.
I think this very much applies to our own situation. We don’t see how often we are smacked around the ears with ‘something higher’ without seeing it. We no longer realise that there is more than what we can see, feel, smell, touch, etc. We live in a world of illusion, and take it for being reality. As soon as we would realise the truth, all illusion would disappear and something beautiful would be left (a green field with flowers!).

This is –of course- a rather simple explanation of a story with many layers and themes. Maybe another time I will go a bit more in depth, peel off some layers, dissect some scenes or names, but here you have your first proof that the stories from the Eddas are not just enjoying stories, but much more can be found in them. Myths can be examples or explanations or even guides. Perhaps it is nice to use this one story for different approaches to show you how to work with these texts.


On my article about Irminsuls I get comments which are mostly questions about the Externsteine. Since it would be silly to put the information and images in the comments under that article, I decided to make a separate piece about the Externsteine. Nothing in depth, but with a few images that you might not have seen yet. Most images are from a book that I also reviewed, so I probably make copyright violations. Risking that, here some images and short information. I have visited the Externsteine several years ago, probably before I had a digital camera, so nothing here is mine.

In the article that I mentioned I wrote a few things about the Externsteine. Please go there for the starting information.

The Externsteine are strange natural rockformations which were obviously regarded sacred by the ancient inhabitents of the area. There are several very interesting elements to them.

“Felsenschiff” or “rock ship”

Apparently a natural form in the rocks in which people see (or have seen?) a ship. I don’t have further information about it.

“Torbogengrab” or “arch-gate-grave”.

On the ground you can see this grave with noone in it. Too small for a person of today too. Note the Odal rune on the left top of the photo. If you take the Externsteine to be a mystery place, this is the ideal place for the symbolic death part of the rituals.

This is the temple or altar on top of one of the stones. At midsummer the sun shines through the hole when it rises. Just like Stonehenge and other ancient sites, this is specifically built for midsummer celebrations.

The previous photos are taken from the internet, now I’m going to steal from the book that I mentioned in the beginning. The writer gives a drawing of the stones on which is marked what can be found where. “Rots” is simply “rock” in Dutch. A is the rock-grave, B the “sacristy”, C and D a worked out cave, E the famous carving of the crucifix, F the “podest” (??), E the “sacrellum”, G the bridge between two rocks, I the “hanging Odin” and J the “Wackelstein” (I don’t recall that one).

Here we have a figure in which people see a hanged God, Odin (who would have been named Wodan at the place!) for some. I guess it is a natural wearing in which you could see a figure.

This is of course the most famous part of the Externsteine. It is said that the bottom part is an ancient carving and that the crucifixion scene is carved on top of it to Christianise the heathen sacred place.

The little known “runic sign” from the inside of the cave that is called the “cathedral”. It looks like an inverted Egyptian Ka-symbol. If it were runes, it would be a combination of two Elhaz/Man runes. Interesting nonetheless!

Last but not least, a photo of the inside of the sactuary, where you can see which the writer called “the kettle”. When you visit the Externsteine you cannot go into that part, nor even see the inside through the fences that are placed (because the interesting part is around the corner). This is probably not without reason, but a disappointment if you expected otherwise.

In any case, here are some seldom seen parts of the Externsteine. If you have the change to go there yourself sometimes, I can promise you it is worth the effort! The surroundings justify a longer stay as well with interesting sites.

Thor’s eyes

All can understand how frightened the bonde became when he saw that Thórr let his brows sink down over his eyes. When he saw his eyes he thought he must fall down at the sight of them alone.
Prose Edda verse 45

Did you ever wonder why it is that many Thor’s Hammer symbols have eyes on the upper part? As you can read in the quote that opens this short article, there is something about those eyes of Thor. The sight of them alone makes the farmer whose son Thialfi broke one of the bones of one of Thor’s goats, think that he will faint. The only description that you get here is that Thor’s brows “sink down over his eyes”. Here we have a point that did not pass entirely unnoticed. Let me quote Georges Dumézil at length as he describes and compares similar events in different sources in his The Destiny Of The Warrior (p. 161/2/3):

This sign [i.e. the piece of the whetstone that got stuck in Thor’s head after his fight with the giant Hrungir], a consequence of the god’s victory in his first einvígr, recalls one of the signs -numerous, excessive, often monstrous- which appear upon the young Cúchulainn after his first combat. Some of these immediately become stable features, others reappear only in the hero’s attacks of martial furor. The sign that is similar to þhórr’s is mentioned in the episode in the Macgnímrada of the Táin Bó Cuailnge, “rising from the summit of his skull.” In the In carpat serda episode, however, it is described with much greater precision: ‘The moon of the hero protruded from his forehead, as long, as thick, as the whetstone of a warrior, as long as the nose.” Some of the figures represented on certain Gallic coins also have an emanation protruding from the forehead, sometimes in the form of a round-headed nail. It is likely that they attest to an appreciated by the contental Celts of the same stigmata of valor.
Among the “forms” which appear on the victorious Cúchulainn, the greatest number, I repeat, are fantastic. There are some, however, which may be no more than exaggerations of a heroic grimace. A remarkable example is to be found in the Macgnímrada episode: “He closed one of his eyes to the point where it was no larger than the eye of a needle, and he opened the other wide to the point where it was as big as a cup of mead”; and in In carpat serda: “He swallowed one of his eyes in his head, to the point where a wild heron would have had trouble managing to bring it from the bottom of his skull to the surface of his cheek, while the other jutted out and sat on his cheek, on the outside.” Without permitting themselves such distortions, the Viking adventurers, when it came to solemn circumstances, assumed attitudes and made grimaces of their own which established their rank and dignity, and backed up their demands. Behind such countenances there was probably an older tradition. Received and fully banqueted by king Aðalstein, from whom he has the right to expect a large remuneration, Egill, the warrior scald, sits down on the far side of the hall, on the seat of honor, facing the king. He keeps his helmet on his head, puts his shield at his feet and his sword on his knees, alternately drawing the sword halfway out and putting it back in its scabbard. He holds himself stiff and straight, and refuses all drink. In addition, again alternately, he makes one of his eyebrows drop down to his chin while lifting the other to the hairline. The effect must have been impressive, for he had contigious eyebrows above his black eyes. The king then gets up, puts a highly precious ring on the tip of his bare sword, walks toward the Viking and offers him his present over the hearth. The Viking gets up in turn, sword bared, approaches the hearth from the other side, and receives the ring on the tip of his sword. Both sit down again. Egill puts the ring on his finger. And only then do his eyebrows return to their normal position. He lays down his sword and shield and accepts the cup, which until then has been offered in vain. read more

Bindrunes, galder and housemarks

A while ago I was paging through some book (that I cannot find anymore…) and my eye fell on the famous “Rökstenen”, the runestone named after the place where it stands: Rök. On top of the background and on the top of this stone are some very interesting bindrunes. I have seen similar symbols on a variety of places. Would this be coincidental or is there some kind of connection between the different findings? Or whatever their connection, could they possibly tell something about eachother?


Since the Röke runestone is rather famous, there is quite some information about it on the internet, most of which is in Scandinavian languages. The English Wikipedia has a nice text about the stone. It has the texts, transliterations, a possible translation and interpretations. This Wikipedia article concentrates on the parts that come closest to ‘normal texts’ though. More specific information can be found here. It gives you an idea of how such a complex runestone is structured and how people try to interpret what they see. The last website I want to refer to seems to be a Korean one. I cannot read it, but the many images, highlights, etc. sure give a very good idea of the stone. This last website is also the only one that speaks about the more ‘mysterious’ parts of the Rökstenen. Strange symbols that are not runes, but form a numerical system (not unlike the one used in the rune calendars that I describe in another article) in which a number refers to a rune and then a text appears. Also for the cross-figures that my article is about are deciphered in this way. One cross-figure stands for four numerical symbols and then goes to letters (see the Korean article to find out what I mean). Interesting! For some reason the runemaster of the Rökstenen wanted to give ‘plain texts’ and riddles.


Speaking of riddles, the “Icelandic grimoire” the “Galdrabok” also has these symbols accompanying spell 45 “Another way to uncover a thief”. The text does not explain the symbol, it just says that the magician has to carve “the following three staves” and adds some instructions what to do with them. You can see if the ‘Korean system’ is helpfull enough to make something of it that uncovers thieves!


“Huismerken” (“housemarks”) are a rather common phenomenon in the area where I live. Since they are very ‘rune-like’, many people go for the simple connection between them and runes. It is questionable if this connection is really there, but maybe some tradition of bind-runes survived in folklore and was then given through to the housemarks. The subject is very interesting, but not the subject of this article. Some words have to be spend to them though.

In many churches symbols can be found carved in stones that were used to build the church and statues that were used to decorate them. The symbols are called “master signs” and form some kind of autograph of the stonemason that cut the stone or statue. On the other hand, also in many churches, you can find plates or gravestones with quite similar symbols. These however are not master signs, but housemarks, or family signs. Such housemarks come in a great variety of forms, often with ancient, traditional symbols which meanings have been long forgotten. The tradition of housemarks is an interesting, and a difficult one. We know that in many cases, the oldest son got the family sign, the next some got the same sign with a slight alteration (an extra stripe somewhere), girls got their stripes on the other side (left if I am not mistaken), etc. The symbols changed in the course of time, but the family symbols or course had to remain somewhere in a direct line of eldest sons. In most families the symbols are now lost. Some people will try to find them back in old governental papers (ownership papers for example), marriage certificates, etc., because the symbols were often used as ‘autograph’ or noted as family sign. Funny that one of such tradition seems to have come with the kind that is the subject of this short writing.


Not long ago I was reading the little book Allmuter of Herman Wirth and while paging through the images-pages in the end, my eye was immediately caught by the symbol that you see on the right. There is no explanation whatsoever. Wirth only says that it is a “bind sign” carved in bone, found in Altamira, the famous Spanish cave with a lot of carvings. Wirth gives two other images from the same cave, which are both bulls. The text of the book has so vague references to the images that I cannot find if Wirth says anything about these images, so the only thing left is the vague suggestion that the symbol might have something to do with bulls (the rune (if it is one) is not a “fehu” though). Too bad!

No conclusion, just suggestions

I am not going to pose a conclusion or tell that the different, but similar symbols that I have shown you are related. The suggestion goes that around 800 CE runemaster made bindrunes for whatever purpose (cipher?), later they were used in magical spells and who know the tradition was remembered when people started to use symbols for their families? But what does the same symbol do among 20.000 years old wall carvings in Spain?


Some time ago, a friend after reading my article about Odhinn, had a nice suggestion. What if the missing arm is supposed to be missing and what if there is a big significance in the fact that Odin misses his left arm, and Tyr his right hand? I was already aware of the ‘pair’ Tyr/Odin, but hadn’t given this idea a thought. The suggestion soon proved to be just a suggestion. Another image clearly shows breaking-traces on the arm and hip, so it is clear that this particular image of Odin originally has two arms. The start was there, though, because for some time I had the idea to write something about Tyr and Odin.

Tyr or Odin?

Before my interest shifted towards the prechristian religion of Northern Europe, I was much interested in Hermetism, Renaissance esotericism, etc. and always had some kind of ‘attraction’ to Thoth/ Hermes/ Mercury; the scribe of the Gods, the God of knowledge, etc. Hermes can very well be compared to Odin, so it is not strange that Odin somehow appeals to me too. Somehow I also am very interested in the ‘underdog’ Tyr about whom you don’t hear so much in Germanic mythology. According to some ‘Germanists’, Tyr used to be the high God, the sky God (“Tyr” even means “god”), but he was surpassed in popularity by Odin before the texts that we have now were written down. This should explain the small part of Tyr in the texts and studies. Tyr is said to be the God of war, but this is too simple, because Odin is also a God of war (yet Tyr is compared to Mars and Odin is less often). Tyr is also the God of justice and law.


It again took a while before I came to read Georges Dumézil, the famous scholar of comparative religion and mythology. He influenced several ‘Germanists’ (after first had been ignored), including the most famous of them all: Jan de Vries who rewrote his massive Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte in a ‘Dumézilian’ line. Dumézil’s idea sure have passed me before I started to read his books through writers influenced by his ideas. A mighty interesting suggestion was that Tyr and Odin form some kind of pair. Does this explain my hard ‘choice’ between the two? This definately was something to investigate further.

Without trying to fully explain you Dumézil’s ideas on the subject, I want to roughly sketch out for you the idea.

Double sovereignty

The biggest credit of Georges Dumézil is the discovery of a tripartite division of the overworld, and often also the underworld. The first is in the Northern case: Odin, Thor and Freyr, or “wisdom”, “strength” and “beauty”, “kingship”, “knightlyhood”, “fertility” (etc., etc.). As a ‘social division’ you can think of the Hindu castes or simply “king”, “knight”, “farmer”.

The “first function” (a term of Dumézil) also refers to the “priest/kings” of old, a function that was later ‘split in two’ when we got a ruler of the ‘overworld’ and a ruler of the ‘world below’ (Pope and emperor for example), a double function in itself. The first function also refers to ‘law and order’, or with a nice word “sovereignty”.

When I read Dumézil’s Mitra-Varuna I thought that the writer found this double function in the Northern myths in Tyr and Odin, but it seems that Tyr/Odin actually gave Dumézil the idea to look for the ‘double sovereignty’ elsewhere and found the best example in the Indian Mitra/Varuna. In both cases you can say that the first (Tyr and Mitra) are the straightforward justice and the second (Varuna and Odin) are more of the mysterious, dark, unpredictable kind. It is Tyr who offers his hand for the sake of mankind (to bind the Fenris-wolf) and Odin who picks the best men in battle to have them for his own army and it is Odin who offers up his eye in the well of Mimir to get knowledge, for himself, or…?


So here we come back to the beginning, the mutilation of Tyr and Odin, not as missing a hand and missing an arm, but missing a hand and missing an eye. Dumézil writes about this rather lengthy in his Mitra-Varuna

The bottom line is well described by Philip Quadrio, which I will quote for the purpose:

So whilst Odhinn assists in maintaining cosmic unity (*Hailagaz) his sacrifice increases the degree to which his own being is separate (*Wihaz) as this act of sacrifice increases his personal power and adds to his personal capabilities. Tyr’s sacrifice is for the benefit of the community of gods, it is the jurist’s sacrifice, giving of the self to protect society.

More about Tyr in the words of Dumézil in his Gods of the ancient Northmen

The function of the god of the thing and his mutilation thus agree closely with the function of clairvoyance and the mutilation of Odin. It is the loss of his right hand in a fraudulent procedure of guarantee, as a pledge, which qualifies Tyr as the “god of law”-in a pessimistic view of the law, directed not toward reconcilition among the parties, but toward the crushing of some by the others.” read more

The nine worlds in nordic mythology

I remember yet the giants of yore
Who gave me bread; in the days gone by
Nine worlds I knew, the nine in the Tree
With mighty roots beneath the mold.
(Völuspa 2, translated by Ari Óðinssen)

This is the second verse from the Poetic Edda. “Nine worlds I knew, nine in the Tree”. The nine worlds come back in Northern mythology more often, such as in Alvíssmál 9 in which the dwarf Alvis says: “All the nine worlds I have travelled over” and also Vafthrudnir has travelled to nine worlds (VafÞrúðnismál 43). Because the concept is rather vague, it has been open to speculation what exactly these nine worlds are. Óðinssen writes in a note to the quoted verse:

“Nine worlds are Asgarth, home of the Aesir,
Ljossalfheimr, home of the ljossalfar, or ‘light’ elves,
Mithgarth, ‘middle-ground’ home of mankind,
Vanaheimr, home of the Vanir, in this manuscript referred to by the Anglo-Saxon term Wanes,
Jotunheimr, home of the Jotnar, or ‘giants’,
Muspellheimr, firey region, home of Surt,
Svartalfheimr, home of the svartalfar, or ‘dark’ elves,
Niflheimr, bitter cold region,
Helgardhr, home of Hela and the newly dead”

And in this vein you can find much much more lists which all differ from eachother. A result of a quick scan of the internet:
Asgard, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Midgard, Jotunheim, Svartalfheim, Hel(heim), Niflheim, Muspelheim.
Nidavellir, Niflheim and Muspelheim are added, left out or replaced another world and even Yggdrasil (“the Tree” from Völuspa 2, the world-tree”) and Ginnungagap (the void that existed before creation) sometimes come up in lists!

Also you can see very nice depictions of the world-tree containing the nine worlds, but this is where the problems really start! Just a few examples:


All of these follow the idea of “Nine worlds I knew, nine in the Tree”, but there are also more schematic versions of the nine worlds.

As you can see the left picture by Francis Melville (I scanned it from his Book Of Runes) has ten worlds, the second picture from the left more lives upto the descriptions of the tree in the Edda with roots going everywhere, but also here, ten worlds of which only nine are numbered. The other two aren’t any clearer.

Yggdrasil is described in different places in the Edda under which in the Grimnismál. In the same text the domains of the different gods are named, which led people to conclude that the nine worlds can be found in the Grimnismál. This is not the case! As a matter of fact, the nine worlds are not named or explained anywhere in the ancient Nordic literature that came to us. Even when Gangleri asks Hár about other worlds than that of the gods in Gylfaginning 17, the answer is not what we are looking for. This is the major reason why people try to fill in the picture themself which as result: many different lists most of them without much explanation how people came up with the line that they give.


It may be a better idea to work the other way around. Most people will agree on the fact that the Nordic peoples had the numbers three and nine in high esteem. There are many threes and nines in the mythology. Both numbers come back in the worldview. The most simple division of the cosmos in the Northern mind is heaven, earth, underworld. It is only logical to use this division in regard of the nine worlds too. This brings us to another logical conclusion: there must be 3×3 worlds. Most people who write about the nine worlds do not pay attention to this logical thought of three times three. Two of these divisions in these three are easy; Asgard, the realm of the gods or the upper garden and Midgard, ‘our realm’ or the middle garden.

Asgard seems to have two meanings in the texts, both that of Asgard and Asaheimr (see below).

Midgard is mentioned in the story about creation in both the Prose Edda (Gylfaginning 9) and the Poetic Edda (Grimnismal 41). The latter says: “and of his [Ymir’s] brows the gentle powers formed Midgard for the sons of men”. This is why Midgard of often bluntly said to be the realm of mankind. I will come back to this.

So what about the third cosmic area? The most common name for that is Utgard. This term also comes from the Prose Edda (Gylfaginning 45). Most scholars agree to this term, even though Utgard is not really a place, but a castle. As you may see in the images above, Utgard is not regarded as a ‘gard’, but the sum of different worlds. It is strange that Melville gives Asgard and Midgard and puts all the rest in, or as, Utgard.

In an online discussion about this subject, someone made the just remark that the lists are actually strange, because everybody uses different terms right through eachother. There are ‘gard’s (‘gardens’), ‘heimr’ (worlds) and ‘hallr’ (halls). In this case all of the castles or places of the gods would be halls and the cosmic division of three, gardens. The nine worlds consequentally should all be worlds/heimr. A very interesting starting point, but it results in the conclusion that you will not easily find nine ‘heimr’ that logically fit in a nine-world-scheme.

What do we have to far?
In Asgard, we have the world of the Aesir, called “Asaheimr”. Asaheimr is named in the Ynglingasaga 2 (the first part of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla or ‘history of the Norse kings’).
Second in Asgard is the world of the other gods: the Vanir and they live in Vanaheim. The term “Vanaheimr” also comes from the Ynglingasaga.
I will come back to the third heimr of Asgard later.

Midgard, in which we at least find the world of mankind and beings on ‘our plane’, suggestions below.

Utgard, the outer garden is the underworld with the ‘evil’ giants and Hel. Again see below.


In the earlier referred to discussion, somebody else gave this list:
“In ásgard we find: ásaheimr, valhöll and vanaheimr
In midgard we find: dvergheimr, mannaheimr and álfheimr (also svartalfheimr, mannaheimr and hvitalfheimr)
In útgard we find: muspellsheimr, hel and niflheimr”

In the ‘3×3 thought’ this is the best list so far. Some names do not need discussion, other might. As you can see they are all “heimr” instead of Walhalla. This ‘problem’ can be ‘fixed’ with a quote from the Grímnismál: “Gladsheim a fifth is called, there gold-bright Valhall rises peacefully, seen from afar” (verse 8). So if Walhalla is a part of Gladsheim we can use that term too.

Then we come to Midgard. I have not been able to locate the term “dvergheimr” (world of the dwarves) and “álfheimr” isn’t an often-used term either, but it is named in the earlier referred to Gylfaginning 17. Sometimes Alfheimr is divided in light and dark elves worlds, like in Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie: “The above-named döckâlfar (genii obscuri) require a counterpart, which is not found in the Eddic songs, but it is in Snorri’s prose. He says, p. 21: ‘In Alfheim dwells the nation of the liosâlfar (light elves), down in the earth dwell the döckâlfar (dark elves), the two unlike one another in their look and their powers, liosâlfar brighter than the sun, döckâlfar blacker than pitch.'” (This comes from Gylfaginning 17, earlier the same chapter says: “It is said that to the south and above this heaven is another heaven, which is called Andlang. But there is a third, which is above these, and is called Vidblain, and in this heaven we believe this mansion (Gimle) to be situated; but we deem that the light-elves alone dwell in it now.”). Some people say that the light-elves are elves and the dark-elves or svartalfar are called dwarves. Svartalfheimr is a ‘heim’ that is mentioned frequently, but I haven’t been able to trace the source of it. It is supposed to be located in the earth.
Mann(a)heimr obviously means ‘world of men’ and can be found in the Ynglingasaga 9: “To Saeming Earl Hakon the Great reckoned back his pedigree. This Swithiod they called Mannheim, but the Great Swithiod they called Godheim; and of Godheim great wonders and novelties were related.”

And in Utgard we find the two worlds of two kinds of giants (fire- and frostgiants), Muspelheimr and Niflheimr; together Jotunheimr. Muspel- and Niflheimr are also mentioned in the story of creation to be found in the first chapters of the Gylfaginning.
Hel(heim) is the place where dead people go to and where Hel, a daughter of Loki rules, an ‘underworld’ pre-eminently.

Cautious conclusions and summery

At present the most logical division of the nine worlds (to me) would be:
Asgard, formed by: Asaheimr, Vanaheimr, Gladsheimr
Midgard, formed by: Mannaheimr, Alfheimr, Svartalfheimr
Utgard, formed by: Muspelheimr, Niflheimr, Helheimr

I prefer to refer to the three levels as ‘gards’ , ‘gardens’ and here we have the upper, middle and outer garden.
All the worlds in this list are ‘heimr’ and personally I find this grouping the most logical. “Gladsheimr” is a little bit forced, I admit. In general the third world in the higest level is a problem, because there are two kinds of gods, not three. Walhalla (a part of Gladsheimr) is the hall in which the fallen warriors dwell and since Odin can definately be seen as an inititiation-god (this subject is an article on itself), maybe you can say that ‘deified’ (initiated) people can punch through to the level of the gods, but not be in the same world/heim…

Mankind obviously lives in Midgard and “Mann(a)heimr” is a good term for our world. On the same plane we have light and dark elves/alfar, both in their own world.

Muspelheimr is the realm of the dark fire giants and Muspelheimr that of the frost-giants. Helmheimr is the world where people can go to when they die. Gylfaginning 34 suggests that Hel has her world in Niflheim, but if we put it like this, a human being can be on all three of the planes, which may fit well enough in the Northern picture.

Not totally convincing, but let me know when you find or figure out something better!

Here visually, this is not my best computer-skill, but the idea is there.
read more