In Old Norse lore, Alfheim (Álfheimr) is one of the Nine Worlds, its name meaning “Home of the Elves.” Though little is known of this realm, it is believed to be a heavenly place with golden meadows and crystal blue lakes, and always abundant in sunlight. A true paradise for the Light Elves (Ljósalfar) often described as fairer than any other race to look upon, and thought to live extraordinary long lives. Mention is made to two locations in Alfheim – Ándlangr (loosely meaning Endless Breath) and Vidbláin (Wide Blue) – but only when referencing the universe after the apocalyptic events of Ragnarök, even more glorious than the new domain of the surviving gods. The Alfar (Norse elves) were closely associated with the beauty in nature, and ruled by the fertility god Frey, opposite to the Jötnar (Norse giants) who personified the chaos in nature. A similar world, Ælfhám, is believed to be its equivalent from Anglo-Saxon cosmology, but so much of that culture has been lost that it’s impossible to know how the two compared.
According to the 12th century writings concerning Norse beliefs, Bilskírnir was the hall of Thor, the God of Thunder. The name means “bright crack” or “lightning crack”, a clear allusion to the deity’s role in the Norse pantheon. Thor lived there with his golden-haired wife Sif and their daughter Thrud, though it’s unclear if his illegitimate sons (Modi and Magni) did too. Bilskírnir was located in Thrúdvang/Thrúdheim (Field/Home of Strength), a province within Asgard, the realm of the gods. The palace itself is described as the largest and most magnificent building erected in the Nine Worlds – greater even than Valhalla – and was claimed to have 540 rooms or storeys. However, the Old Norse word “hundruð” actually has a numerical value of 120, so it could be argued that the hall actually has 640 floors – that’s almost four times the height of the Burj Khalifa!!!
In Old Norse lore, Nidavellir is one of the Nine Worlds and home to several tribes of dwarfs. Its name roughly translates as “Low-Lying Fields” or “Dark Fields” – though the word niða holds far more sinister connotations than a simple lack of light – and is sometimes replaced by Svartalfheim (Home of the Black Elves), as “black elves” is another term for “dwarfs”. Nidavellir itself features relatively frequently in the Eddas (the poetic and prose collections of myths), and is visited by important gods such as Freya and Loki. It is described as a place of dark mountains and rocky plains that lies to the North, with subterranean halls made of gold, and a complex labyrinth of mines, caves and forges. In the tales, the dwarfs are known as master craftsmen, inferring that their own domain would be rich in jewels, weapons, and precious metals. They were proficient in rune magic, too, and the doors they built in the mountainsides were considered to be passages between the Nine Worlds. Everything of value in Nidavellir, however, would have to be kept underground or in shadow, for sunlight is fatal to dwarfs, and turns them to stone.
Though not directly attested in any surviving sources, many historians make reference to the existence of Wanaham, one of the possible realms in Anglo-Saxon cosmology. Like all Germanic peoples, the Anglo-Saxons considered the axis of the universe to be a World Tree (often reconstructed in Middle English as Eormensyl). Unlike their Norse cousins, however, according to the poetic Nine Herbs Charm, they believed there only to be seven worlds, not nine. It is generally accepted that these are the worlds of the Ese gods (Esageard), the dead (Hell), men (Middengeard), elves (Aelfham), dwarfs (Dweorgham), giants (Eotenham) and a seventh, Wanaham, the world of the Wanes.
The Wanes (or Wena in Old English) are the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of the Norse Vanir, the gods of nature, wisdom and fertility. It would stand to reason then that Wanaham could be equated with its Norse cognate, Vanaheim, described as lying west of Earth, and being bountiful and green with glorious mansions for the gods. Like many pagan religions, the Anglo-Saxons placed importance upon the natural cycle of the seasons, and their worship of the divine twins Frea (male) and Freo (female) mirrors that of Freyr and Freyja. In addition, among the Wena was Eostre, a fertility goddess who personified the coming of spring, and whose festival and symbols of rabbits and eggs were later incorporated into Christianity, remaining today in the form of Easter.
In Norse mythology, Valhalla (Hall of the Slain) was one of the most important elements of the afterlife. While most souls went to Hel (the underworld), those who had died in glorious battle were divided between the gods Odin (at Valhalla) and Freyja (at Folkvang). Under Odin’s stewardship, these warriors joined the Einherjar (the once-were soldiers), an army whose role was to train for Ragnarok (the Norse apocalypse). Valhalla is described as a divine fortress in Asgard (Realm of the Gods), shining and rising peacefully when viewed from afar, and serves as both the residence and feast hall for the Einherjar. The roof is thatched with golden shields, and its rafters are spear shafts, holding aloft sacred animals which feed from the great tree Laerad that grows from its apex. When Ragnarok is finally heralded, the Einherjar will march forth from Valhalla, and the citadel will burn in the fires that consume the universe.
Urdarbrunn is a very important – albeit poorly attested – location in Norse mythology. Its name translates as the “Well of Fate”, and it is one of three springs that can be found at the roots of the cosmic World Tree, Yggdrasil (the other two being Hvergelmir and Mimisbrunn). Urdarbrunn itself is situated in Asgard, the Norse heaven, where each day the gods ride across the rainbow bridge (Bifrost) to hold council on its banks. Ancient and mystic, the waters here are considered sacred, and are used to nourish and protect Yggdrasil from rot and decay. In the earliest texts, Urdarbrunn is said to be a lake rather than a well, and is home to two majestic swans, from whom all other swans are descended.
The spring is very closely associated with the destiny of gods and mankind, and on its shores dwell the Norns (or Nornir), powerful seeresses who lay down laws, shape the fortunes of men, and choose who lives and who dies. The three main figures are Urd (Fate), Verdandi (Present Happenings) and Skuld (Debt), though the Prose Edda notes there are many more, described as either maidens or crones. The Norns carve their prophesies and rulings over men’s lives into Yggdrasil’s bark, writing in the magical runic alphabet. As the waters of Urdarbrunn are drawn up into the tree, they become dew on the giant ash’s leaves, eventually dripping back into the well to begin the process again. This cycle is reflective of how the Norsemen viewed the universe.