Friday, August 25, 2017

The nine realms (structure of the universe)

[I still think about the question of what the nine realms are.  A lot.]

In the wonders of Judeo-Christian theology we know that there are ten commandments, but there are closer to twenty commands.  Debate, therefore, is over how to group them together to reduce the number to ten.

The nine realms of Norse cosmology have the opposite problem.  We know for really fucking sure that there are nine of them, a complete list exists nowhere.  Moreover, the closest we get to an indirect list only mentions six things.

The indirect list comes from someone asking what the word for wind is in each realm and the answer taking the form of the word for wind from each species.  The realms are described as homeworlds.

We get what Humans, Aesir, Vanir, Jotuns, Elves, and those in Hel call it.

Jotuns and Elves each live in two different places, so we can expand this to eight and produce:
Midgard - Humans
Asgard - Asir (the gods)
Vanaheim - Those other gods.
Jotunheim - Regular (frost) Jotuns
[where the fire Jotun live] - Guess
Lojosalfheim - Light Elves
Svart√°lfaheimr -  Dark Elves/Dwaves
Hel(heim) - Dead people of all races

[where the fire Jotuns live] is usually left out of this list, and Dark Elves/Dwarfs are only included because people were all, "What the fuck?  Where are the Dwarfs!?"

This still doesn't get us to nine so people throw in the two primordial realms based on the belief that mist and muspel (no one knows what the fuck that means, by the way) don't have words and the fact that they're well attested as realms.

This gets us to ten, which is too many.

I mentioned that [where the fire Jotun live] tends to be omitted, so that leaves 9 and is responsible for the most common reconstruction.

It's even what I used for my Norse origin story in my Four Realms setting.

There's a problem, though.

If we can collapse [where the fire Jotun live] into Muspelheim then we should also collapse Hel(heim) into Niflheim.  Which puts us back to eight.

I really, emphatically, do not buy that Hel(heim) is a separate one of the nine than Niflheim.  I can believe that it's a separate realm in general.  Lonespark convinced me that when Hel was sent to Niflheim and set up her domain she totally could have spawned off a new realm instead of having Helheim forever remain a location within Niflheim.

There's just . . . problems with it being one of the nine.  When Hel was sent to Niflheim to become queen of the dead, she was given authority of all nine of the realms so that she would take the dead from all of them.  The nine existed when Hel was in Niflheim, meaning the nine existed before she would have had a chance to split off Helheim into a new realm.

Someone traveled the nine realms before going to Helheim, which works perfectly fine if Helheim is a merely a location within the realm of Niflheim (or a realm unto itself that's too minor to be listed with the nine) but doesn't work if Helheim is one of the nine that they traveled because they can't have visited something before they've ever gone there.

I'm not going to look this up right now, but if memory serves a comparison of locations in Helheim to ones in Niflheim will reveal that some of those locations are very definitely in both, which only works if the two places overlap.  Having Helheim be within Niflheim makes the overlap complete and thus makes the whole thing make sense.

And, we have the fact that Hel is never given the story of creating a realm, but she is definitely sent to Niflheim to set up her kingdom there.

That mini-rant over, let me mention something important.

You'll notice that most realms are [something]-heim.  Heim just means "home".  It does not denote a realm/world/thing.  There are many, many heims.  A thing being a [something]-heim doesn't make it a realm.  If it did then every home, including the one I'm in right now, would be a realm.

Those who don't separate Helheim from Niflheim usually get to nine by treating the Dwarfs and Dark/Black Elves as separate groups.  This is unsatisfying because they're demonstrably the same group.  They have the same members, they do the same things, they're just different names.

And from there, there's not a lot to go on.

That list of races: Humans, Aesir, Vanir, Jotuns, Elves, dead people, is presented as an exhaustive list of the the speaking populations of the various realms.  That's got to be the strongest thing we have to go on.

What we add to reach nine has to either not be home to speaking things, or be an additional home to one of those things.

No matter how much I think about it, the absolute best I can come up with is what I said before: the fire Jotuns have a realm of their own that is not Muspelheim.

Literally no one believes this.  Well . . . that I know of.  But the point is, if no Norse Pagans are known to believe it, and it's the only answer I have, I'm probably flunking mythology.

Doesn't change the fact that it's the best I can come up.

Here's the problem with this view:

The fire giants are the children of Muspel and Surt, who very much seems to be their apparent leader, is stationed at the frontier of Muspelheim to protect its interior.

That's not a lot (there isn't a lot about fire giants) but's it's sure as fuck enough to make it seem like the fire giants live in Muspelheim.

Granted it doesn't actually make sense because there's no reason to protect the interior of Muspelheim.  Only those who live in Muspelheim can survive inside of it; it's invasion and infiltration proof.  It therefore follows that any threats it needs to be protected from would come from within, not from the frontier.  (Unless they're afraid of an army of expats coming back and attacking them.)  But even if it doesn't make sense, it's there.  It's one of the few concrete things that's said about the fire giants beyond their eventual role in Ragnarok.

Surt lives at the frontier of Muspelheim so he can protect the interior.

Now I can rationalize this and the "Sons of Muspel" language into a form that doesn't mean the fire giants live in Muspelheim.  But that's me arguing against the most obvious interpretation of the myth on the grounds that I have aesthetic objections to it.

Children of Muspel don't have to live there.  The stars are actually from Muspelheim but they sure as fuck aren't there now.  Most of what was created by Muspelheim ended up outside of Muspelheim.  The entire universe save Muspelheim and Niflheim was created by those two realms and none of the things so created ended up in those realms.  Later creations of the younger realms did.  Notably Hel and the dead people she rules, but this makes me even more adamant that Muspelheim shouldn't have a native population.

Niflheim, Muspelheims counterpart, is entirely populated by dead things.*  Life doesn't live there.  Muspelheim is every bit as extreme as Niflheim, so life shouldn't exactly be abundant there either.  And it can't have dead people because Niflheim has got that covered.  The dead from all nine realms go to Hel's domain which resides there (unless snatched away to an Asgardian mead hall (or, possibly, captured by Ran's net.))

As for Surt, maybe the reason he's on the frontier is because his people don't live in Muspelheim and he doesn't want to be too far from them. And maybe the reason he's guarding it with a flaming sword isn't because of threats to beings that live there, but because of threats to the heat and light that originates there.  Muspelheim is the original source of all heat and all light and it's possible that something very bad would happen to the universe if it cooled down.

Maybe he's there to whack any cold things trying to enter (snowballs, comets, whatever) with a flaming sword that'll melt the everloving fuck out of them.

Like I said, I can totally rationalize why the evidence doesn't necessarily mean the fire giants live in Muspelheim.  Like I also said, it's arguing against the most obvious interpretation.

Still, this is in the service of the best explanation for the nine realms that I, personally, can come up with.  The fire giants have their own realm which is not Muspelheim.

Eldjotanhheim is a thing even though I totally made the name up.

That gives us our nine realms home-worlds that only need six races between them:

Following the order from the list of races we get:

1 Homeworld of the Humans (and possibly certain dead people if Ran lives in the oceans there)
2 Homeworld of the Aesir (and certain dead people)
3 Homeworld of the Vanir
4 Homeworld of Jotuns of the frosty kind (and possibly certain dead people if Ran is there)
5 Homeworld of Jotuns of the fiery kind
6 Homeworld of Elves of the light kind
7 Homeworld of Elves of the dark kind
8 Homeworld of Mist (and the dead people not taken by previous parentheticals)
9 Homewolrd of Muspel (whatever that is)

Muspel, whatever it is, doesn't speak, thus doesn't have a word for "wind" thus isn't listed with the races.  The Homeworld of Mist (which doesn't speak) is mentioned by way of telling what the dead people who reside in Hel(heim), which is a location within said homeworld, call wind.


* Part of me wants to say that as Niflheim is where a being ends, Muspelheim is where one begins, with hugir originating in Muspelheim, eventually traveling to the seven realms of the living to be embodied, and ending up in Niflheim after the body dies.

I don't even know if hugr (thought/mind) is supposed to be warm or bright or otherwise spark-like, and there is absolutely NOTHING to support this view beyond a desire for some kind of parallel between the two primordial realms.

1 comment:

  1. Seed of Bismuth said...[last one then I'll stop spamming your blog]
    everyone when using Norse mythology today has Yggdrasil be this universe spanning tree. But when I was kid the picture of Norse cosmology had Yggdrasil be the world tree that is to say only the midgard tree; midgard as a circle with Yggdrasil in the dead center it's three roots dividing the world with jormungand surrounding the circle. That's why when Odin sacrificed his eye to the tree he gained power/runes/knowledge over midgard not all nine realms. So which version is more correct? in your opinion.