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29
Codex Regius
MS No. 2365 4to  [R]
Arnamagnæan Codex
AM 748 I 4to [A]
1954 Guðni Jónsson
Normalized Text:

kavrmt ok avrmt
ok kerlaugar tvær
þær skal Þórr vaða
hverian dag
er hann dæma ferr
at aski yggdrasils,
því at ásbrú
brenn öll logo
heilog vötn hlóa.  

körmt ok örmt
ok kærlaugar tvær
þær skal Þórr vaða
dag hvern,
er hann dæma ferr
at aski yggdrasils
því at ásbrú
brenn öll loga
hæilög vötn hloa  

29. Körmt ok Örmt
ok Kerlaugar tvær,
þær skal Þórr vaða
dag hvern,
er hann dæma ferr
at aski Yggdrasils,
því at ásbrú
brenn öll loga,
heilög vötn hlóa.  

English Translations
1797 Amos Simon Cottle
in Icelandic Poetry
The Song of Grimnir
1851 C.P. in
The Yale Magazine, Vol. 16
The Song of Grimner
 

XXIX. O'er four fam'd rivers spreading far,
Thor drives on his thundering car;
When to the ash of Yggdrasil,
He goes to tell his wond'rous will.
Then ev'ry bridge th' Asori raise,
Shall smoke in undulating blaze,
Each mortal stream its banks forsake,
And sacred fonts combustion take.

"O'er four fam'd rivers," --- Their names are Kaurmt, Aurmt, and the two Herlaugars.

Kaurrmt and Aurmt and the two Kerlaug's,
Through whose cold streams great Thor maketh his way
When he goeth to Yggdrasill, the ancient ash;

 
1866 Benjamin Thorpe
in Edda Sæmundar Hinns Frôða

The Lay of Grimnir
1883 Gudbrand Vigfusson
in Corpus Poeticum Boreale

The Sayings of the Hooded One
 

29. Körmt and Örmt,
and the Kerlaugs twain:
these Thor must wade each day,
when he to council goes
at Yggdrasil’s ash;
for the As-bridge
is all on fire,
the holy waters boil.

22-23. Kormth and Wormth and the two Charlocks Thor must wade every day when he goes to court at the ash Ygg's-steed, for the Anse-bridge burns all aflame, and the holy waters bellow.

 
1908 Olive Bray
in Edda Saemundar
The Sayings of Grimnir
1923 Henry Bellows
in The Poetic Edda
Grimnismol: The Ballad of Grimnir
 

29. Kormt and Ormt and the Bath-tubs twain,
these must the Thunderer wade,
when he fares each day to his throne of doom
under Yggdrasil's ash ;
thence Bifrost burns, the bridge of the gods,
and the mighty waters well.

29. Kormt and Ormt and the Kerlaugs twain
Shall Thor each day wade through,
(When dooms to give he forth shall go
To the ash-tree Yggdrasil;)
For heaven’s bridge burns all in flame,
And the sacred waters seethe.


 
1962 Lee M. Hollander
in The Poetic Edda
 
The Lay of Grimnir
1967 W. H. Auden & P. B. Taylor
in The Elder Edda
The Lay of Grimnir
 

29. Kormt and Ormt and the Kerlaugs twain,
    Thor does wade through
    every day, to doom when he fares
    'neath the ash Yggdrasil;
    for the bridge of the gods  is ablaze with flames --
    hot are the holy waters.

29. Thor shall wade through the waters of Ormt,
Kormt and the two Kerlaugs,
When he goes each day to deal
Out fates From Yggdrasil the ash tree.
The bridge of the gods shall burst into flame,
The sacred waters seethe.

 
1996 Carolyne Larrington
in The Poetic Edda
Grimnir’s Sayings
2000 Eysteinn Björnsson
at Jörmungrund
 

29 'Kormt and Ormt and the two Kerlaugar,
these Thor must wade
every day, when he goes to sit as judge
at the ash of Yggdrasill,
for the bridge of the Æsir burns all with flames,
the sacred waters boil.

Kormt and Ormt
and the two Kerlaugar,
these must Thor wade
every day,
when he goes to judge
at the Yggdrasil's ash,
else the bridge of the Æsir
would burn in flames,
and the sacred waters boil.

 
2011 Ursula Dronke
in The Poetic Edda, Vol. III: Mythological Poems 
“The Lay of Grimnir”
2011 Andy Orchard
The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore
'The Lay of Grimnir"
 

29. The Dike and the Delta
and the Double Baths
Þórr has to wade over
every day,
when he goes to give judgements
at Yggdrasill's Ash-
for the bridge of the Æsir
is all blazing with flame-
the holy waters are not hot!

29. ‘Körmt and Örmt, and the two Kettle-baths,
Thor must wade through these
each day, when he journeys to judgement
close by the ash Yggdrasil,
since the Æsir-bridge burns all aflame
the hallowed waters seethe.
 

 

[HOME][GRÍMNISMÁL]
  
COMMENTARY
Thor and the Thunder-Chariot
   
 
Thor's Battle Against the Jötuns (1872)
by Mårten Eskil Winge

Hlórrídi, the roaring rider, is a name used of Thor in the Eddic poems Hymiskviða 4, 16, 27, 29, 37; Thrymskviða 7, 8, 14, 31; Lokasenna 54, and in verse 15 of the skaldic poem Vellekla by the poet Egil Skállagramm (c. 986). The name refers to his habit of driving in his thunder-chariot.
 
In Gylfaginning 21, Thor’s car and equipment are described:

Þórr á hafra tvá, er svá heita: Tanngnjóstr ok Tanngrisnir, ok reið þá, er hann ekr, en hafrarnir draga reiðna. Því er hann kallaðr Öku-Þórr. Hann á ok þrjá kostgripi. Einn þeira er hamarrinn Mjöllnir, er hrímþursar ok bergrisar kenna, þá er hann kemr á loft, ok er þat eigi undarligt. Hann hefir lamit margan haus á feðrum eða frændum þeira. Annan grip á hann beztan, megingjarðar, ok er hann spennir þeim um sik, þá vex honum ásmegin hálfu. Inn þriðja hlut á hann, þann er mikill gripr er í. Þat eru járnglófar. Þeira má hann eigi missa við hamarskaftit. "Thor has two he-goats that are called Tooth-Gnasher and Tooth-Grinder, and a chariot in which  he drives, and the he-goats draw the chariot. From this, he is known as Öku-Thor (Driver-Thor). He also has three valuable possessions: one is the hammer Mjöllnir, well-known to the Frost-Giants and the Mountain-Giants when it is raised aloft; and that is no wonder, as it has crushed many a skull of their fathers and kinsmen. He has a second valuable possession, the best of all: the girdle of might; and when he buckles it about him, then his Ás-strength grows by half. Yet a third thing he has, which is very valuable: his iron gloves. Those he cannot do without in contact with the hammer-shaft.”

When Thor, thus equipped, leaves Asgard to fight giants, he typically drives his chariot. The usual path of Thor’s chariot is not over Bifröst, which would burn if he attempted it, according to Grímnismál 29, but through the sky. The Eddic poem Thrymskviða and the skaldic poem Haustlöng provide vivid descriptions of Thor’s chariot in motion.
 
When his hammer is stolen by the giant Thrym, Thor must dress in bridal linen,  impersonating Freyja, to retrieve it. On that occassion, he drives his thunder-chariot to Jötunheim:

Thrymskviða

 Senn váru hafrar
heim of reknir,
skyndir at sköklum,
skyldu vel renna;
björg brotnuðu,
brann jörð loga,
ók Óðins sonr
í Jötunheima.

21. At once the goats
were driven home,
Hastened to their traces,
they had to run well.
The mountains shattered,
the earth ablaze:
and Odin’s son drove
to Jötunheim.

In the skaldic poem, Haustlöng, when Thor goes to face the giant Hrungnir in single-combat, he also drives his car. In the Prose Edda’s account of this tale, Snorri simply says that Thor traveled there quickly (Skáldskaparmál 24: fór hann ákafliga).  Haustlöng provides a more detailed description: 

Ók at ísarnleiki
Jarðar sunr, en dunði,
- móðr svall Meila blóður -
mána vegr und hánum.

14/4-8: The son of Jörd drove
to the game of iron [battle] and thundered
—Wrath swelled in Meili’s brother [Thor]—
 the moon’s way [sky] beneath him.

Knáttu öll (en) Ullar
(endilág) fyr mági
(grund vas grápi hrundin)
ginnunga vé brinna,
þás hafregin hafrar
hógreiðar framm drógu
(seðr gekk Svölnis ekkja
sundr) at Hrungnis fundi.

15. All the hawks’ sanctuaries
[the skies] were burning
 because of Ull’s stepfather;
The ground was battered with hail,
when the goats drew
the temple-deity [Thor] of the easy-chariot
forward  to meet Hrungnir.
Svölnir’s widow [Jörd, earth] split asunder.

According to these accounts, the effects of Thor's chariot are devastating. When Thor drives his car, the sky rumbles, the ground is beaten with hail, the earth burns, and solid rock splits apart. Such intensity, Grimnismál 29 implies would seriously damage the Bifröst bridge. Thus Thor must drive directly through the sea of air.
 
In some of the tales chronicling the thunder-god’s exploits, when Thor leaves home to face his giant foes, he drives his goat-drawn chariot only part of the way. On those occasions, he leaves them somewhere along the journey in the able hands of a caretaker before proceeding to Jötunheim on foot. In Skáldskaparmál 17, Snorri calls this caretaker a peasant (búandi). Hymiskviða provides his name, indicating that he was a mythic personage the poet's intended audience was expected to know:
 
Hymiskviða

Fóru drjúgum
dag þann fram
Ásgarði frá,
unz til Egils kvámu;
hirði hann hafra
horngöfgasta;
hurfu at höllu,
er Hymir átti.

7. They travelled
far that day
from Asgard,
until they reached Egil’s.
He took care of the goats,
with the splendid horns,
while they turned away
towards Hymir’s hall.

The exact location of Egil the goat-keep’s house is not stated in the surviving lore. However, the available sources provide some indication of where it might be. Hymir, we are told, lives “east of the Elivagor” at “the edge of heaven.” (Hymiskviða 5/1-4).

"Býr fyr austan
Élivága
hundvíss Hymir
at himins enda;

5. "Much-wise Hymir
dwells east
of Elivagor (‘Icy waves’)
at heaven’s end."
 

Since Thor leaves his goats with Egil on the way to Hymir’s, his home must be somewhere on the path from Asgard to Jötunheim. In all probability, Thor drives his chariot to a spot somewhere near or just inside Jötunheim, where he leaves it behind for safe-keeping, before proceeding on his way into enemy territory on foot. Jötunheim is frequently depicted as mountainous country with dense forests and rushing rivers, no place for a vehicle of any kind.  Hymiskviða doesn’t tell us anything else of the journey before Thor and his companion arrive at Hymir’s hall. In a similar story, recounted by Snorri Sturluson in Gylfaginning 48, Thor travels on foot to the giant Hymir's abode, not to win his cauldron for Ægir as in Hymiskviða, but expressly to fish for the Midgard serpent in order to avenge himself for the incident with the serpent, disguised as a cat, in Utgard-Loki's hall (see below). There Snorri says Thor traveled all the way on foot, directly to Hymir's hall, leaving behind his goats and chariot, and taking no companions.
 
From the context of the poem, Hymiskviða, however, it is probable that Thor must cross a body of water to arrive there.  In an oft-repeated stock phrase, Thor is said to travel east when he fights giants. Here, Hymir is said to live east of the Elivagor. Since Thor travels east to arrive there, he must cross the Elivagor, which therefore lay east of Asgard and west of Jötunheim. Thus a body of water (the Elivagor) lies between the world of the gods and the world of the giants; yet in the poem Thor is never depicted crossing a body of water. This event therefore must be an unstated part of the poem’s action. In Eddic poems, it is common to change scenes abruptly without transition, so common in fact, that scholars sometimes purpose lacunas and ‘missing’ verses to account for the expected action. It is much more likely, however, that this journey, so common on Thor’s expeditions, as we shall see below, was understood by the audience and thus need not be stated.
 
It should come as no surprise then that Váfthrúðnismál 16 speaks of  boundary waters located between Jötunheim and Asgard.

"Ífing heitir á,
er deilir með jötna sonum
grund ok með goðum;
opin renna
hon skal of aldrdaga;
verðr-at íss á á."

16. That river is called Ifing
That cuts off the land
Of the giants’ sons
From the gods;
It runs open throughout all time.
On that river no ice forms.
  
In Hymiskviða, it is apparent that Hymir lives near the 'river' that circles Midgard. We know this, because he and Thor go fishing on it, and Thor catches the Midgard Serpent in its waters. Therefore, it is probable that Elivagor ('Icy-waves') is another name of Ifing, the river that rings the world.  Like all mythic things, it is known by more than one name. This river is the ocean.  Jötunheim lies beyond its waters.

The river which rings Midgard serves as the home of Thor's eternal enemy— Loki’s son, Jörmungand, the great Midgard-serpent. Speaking of Loki’s monstrous children, Gylfaginning 34 says:

 Enn átti Loki fleiri börn. Angrboða hét gýgr í Jötunheimum. Við henni gat Loki þrjú börn. Eitt var Fenrisúlfr, annat Jörmungandr, þat er Miðgarðsormr, þriðja er Hel. En er goðin vissu til, at þessi þrjú systkin fæddust upp í Jötunheimum, ok goðin rökðu til spádóma, at af systkinum þessum myndi þeim mikit mein ok óhapp standa, ok þótti öllum mikils ills af væni, fyrst af móðerni ok enn verra af faðerni, þá sendi Alföðr til goðin at taka börnin ok færa sér. Ok er þau kómu til hans, þá kastaði hann orminum í inn djúpa sæ, er liggr um öll lönd, ok óx sá ormr svá, at hann liggr í miðju hafinu of öll lönd ok bítr í sporð sér. But Loki had more children. Angrboda was the name of a certain giantess in Jötunheim, with whom Loki begat three children: one was Fenris-Wolf, the second Jörmungandr--that is the Midgard Serpent,--the third is Hel. When the gods learned that these siblings were nourished in Jötunheim, and when the gods perceived by prophecy that from them great misfortune would befall them; and since it seemed to all that there was great prospect of ill--(first from the mother's blood, and yet worse from the father's)-then Allfather sent gods there to take the children and bring them to him. When they came to him, he cast the serpent into the deep sea, where it lies about all the land; and this serpent grew so that he lies in the midst of the ocean encompassing all the land, and bites upon his own tail. 

Hymir no doubt lives somewhere near the body of water where the Midgard-serpent makes its home.  We find several indicators of this in the poem Hymiskviða. In verse 36, for example, the giants who pursue Thor as he escapes with Hymir’s brewing kettle, are designated hraunhvala , ‘hraunn-whales’.  While in verse 38, Egil the goat-keeper is designated as a Hraunn-búa, the ‘Hraunn-dweller.’
 
Although unique, these kennings are usually interpreted as “giants” since “hraun” means a “lava-field”. Hraunhvala "lava-whales" are understood as giants since whales are "giants of the ocean", and  hraunbúi "lava-dweller" likewise, since Icelandic lava-fields (hraun), with their deep pits and enormous underground caverns, are ideal abodes for giants.
 

However, there is another viable explanation. In Gylfaginning 4, the rivers that flow from Hvergelmir collectively are called the Elivagor, and in Grímnismál 28, Hraunn is named as one of the rivers  said to flow from Hvergelmir. Thus, hraunn-búi can also indicate a dweller by the river Hraunn (Hrönn). Both interpretations of this kenning are valid. Thus, the kenning 'Hraunn-dweller" may indicate that Thor's friend Egil lives along the banks of the waters separating Jötunheim from Midgard. If so, Hraunn is used here as another name of Ifing and the Elivagor. Here, one of the streams that form the Elivagor is used to designate the whole, a not uncommon practice in Old Norse kennings, where a part is often used to designate the whole.  As a trusted friend of Thor, Egil keeps the thunder-god’s draught-animals safe when Thor ventures into Jötunheim to face the hostile “Hraunn-whales”, which pursue him out into the water as he escapes with Hymir’s kettle.
 
The crossing of the Elivagor need not be directly stated, as the cues which allude to it are sufficient to evoke this image the minds of those already familiar with it.  It’s clear from the context that Hymir lives near a great body of water where he and Thor fish for the World-serpent. The poet effectively plays with mythic imagery throughout the poem. In verse 26, Hymir refers to the boat Thor rows as a “floating-goat” (flotbrúsa). Andy Orchard believes that “this unusual kenning presumably refers to Thor’s usual mode of transportation” (i.e. his goat-drawn chariot') also invoked in verses 20 and 31, which call Thor the “lord of goats” (hafra dróttinn). This is likely since boats are often described as steeds and wagons of the sea. Conversely, on Thor’s  return trip, the cauldron he carries is called an öl-kjól  “ale-ship”, likely alluding to his crossing the body of water which seperates the land of the gods from the land of the giants. Kjöll is a kind of ship. The same word is used of Hymir’s boat in verse 19, during the fishing-trip on the same waters. The Hymiskviða poet thus demonstrates skill in his art.
 
If this interpretation of hraunn-búa is correct, then Egil was thought to live on one side of the Elivagor, opposite Jötunheim; and the giants on the other, in Jötunheim proper. In Skáldskaparmál 18, we may find yet another name for this river.

After lodging for the night with the giantess Grið, who lends him her girdle of strength, gloves and staff, Thor, who left his own precious possessions behind on Loki's advice, crosses the river Vimur, “the greatest of all rivers,” (allra á mest).

Þá fór Þórr til ár þeirrar er Vimur heitir, allra á mest. Þá spenti hann sik megingjörðum ok studdi forstreymis Gríðarvöl, en Loki helt undir megingjarðar. Ok þá er Þórr kom á miðja ána, þá óx svá mjök áin at uppi braut á öxl honum. Þá kvað Þórr þetta:

Then Thor approached the river called Vimur, the greatest of all rivers. then he buckckled on the girdle of might and pressed down on Grið’s staff on the side away from the current, while Loki held onto the girdle of might. And when thor got to the middle of the river, it rose so much that it washed over his shoulders. Then Thor spoke thus:

Vax-at-tu nú, Vimur,
alls mik þik vaða tíðir
jötna garða í;
veiztu, ef þú, vex,
at þá vex mér ásmegin
jafnhátt upp sem himinn.
 

Don’t rise now, Vimur,
since I desire to cross
into giants’ courts.
Know that if you rise,
then my Ás-strength
will rise up as high as heaven.”

The story of Thor’s journey to Geirrod is well known. Besides appearing in Snorri’s Edda and the skaldic poem Thorsdrápa, Saxo’s Danish History, Book 8, tells of a group of human explorers who meet Geirröd and his daughters in the underworld. This account confirms most of the details in the earlier Icelandic versions, except here Geirrod's daughters are three in number.

8.14.12: 7. Deinde conclave saxeum, cui Geruthum fama erat pro regia assuevisse, reperiunt. 8. Cuius artam horrendamque crepidinem invisere statuentes, repressis gradibus in ipso paventes aditu constiterunt.

Then they found the rocky chamber where Geirrod was rumoured to have his court. Although  resolved to explore this narrow and terrifying chamber, they stayed their steps, trembling at its threshold.

8.14.15: 1. Procedentes perfractam scopuli partem nec procul in editiore quodam suggestu senem pertuso corpore discissae rupis plagae adversum residere conspiciunt. 2. Praeterea feminas tres corporeis oneratas strumis ac veluti dorsi firmitate defectas iunctos occupasse discubitus. 3. Cupientes cognoscere socios Thorkillus, qui probe rerum causas noverat, docet Thor divum, gigantea quondam insolentia lacessitum, per obluctantis Geruthi praecordia torridam egisse chalybem eademque ulterius lapsa convulsi montis latera pertudisse; feminas vero vi fulminum tactas infracti corporis damno eiusdem numinis attentati poenas pependisse firmabat.

...Advancing, they saw a shattered section of cliff and not far off on a higher platform an old man with a pierced body sitting across from the broken rock. They also saw three women, their bodies racked by tumors and so it seemed, with no strength in their backbones, sitting on adjacent seats. Thorkill's companions were curious; and so he, who was well aware of the reasons behind this, told them that long ago the god Thor, provoked by the giants' insolence, drove red-hot ingots through the vitals of Geirrod, who fought against him, and that the iron had fallen further, torn through the mountain, and smashed its side; he declared that the women had been struck by the force of his thunderbolts, and had been punished for attacking the same deity, by having their bodies broken.

A historicized version of these events also appears in the story of Thorstein Mansion-Might in the collected Fornaldarsögur.

The origin of the verse cited by Snorri is unknown, and may originate from a lost poem on the subject in the ljóðaháttur meter. The same scene, however, finds a direct parallel, in Thórsdrápa 7. On Thor’s journey to Geirröd recounted there, no mention is made of the giantess Grid, unless it occurs in the words griðar völ in verse 9.   [For an alternate reading of this verse, see Eysteinn Björnsson’s Þórsdrápa 9.]  As Thor crosses the river with his companion Thjalfi hanging onto his belt, the poem says: 
 

Harðvaxnar lét herðir 
halllands of sik falla;
gatat maðr, njótr, hin neytri, 
njarð-, ráð fyrir sér, -gjarðar. 
Þverrir lét, nema þyrri 
þorns, barna sér mörnar, 
snerriblóð, til, svíra, 
salþaks megin vaxa. 

“The promoter of the whetstone-land [warrior] let the mightily-swollen ones [waves] fall over him. The man, who benefited from the girdle of might [Þjálfi], knew no better course of action. The diminisher of Mörn's children [Þórr] threatened that his power would grow unto the hall's roof [heaven], unless the gushing-blood of Þorn's neck [ocean] would diminish.”
 
 Thor must cross this dangerous river on his way to Geirröd’s hall. The waters are made more treacherous in that one of Geirröd’s daughters stands astride the stream and increases the force and depth of the water with her urine. We find a similar image in Lokasenna 34 where Loki says that Hymir’s daughters used Njörd’s mouth as a urine-trough (Hymis meyjar höfðu þik at hlandtrogi ok þér i munn migu.") Since Njörd is the god of rich coastal harbors, and has his home in Nóatun (Ship-yard), these giantesses no doubt are intended to represent wild mountain streams, falling from the mountains, which flow into the sea at their ‘mouths’.

We know that the Elivagor are bitter cold. In the tale of Thor and his friend Aurvandil (see below) contact with its waters causes instant frost-bite, a condition which turns skin black and kills tissue, not unlike snake venom. The word eitr, ‘venom’ is also used to indicate "deadly cold". In Thórsdrápa 5, the poet Eilífr Goðrúnarson, uses the phrase þjóðáar fnæstu eitri, ‘the mighty rivers, spewing venom" to describe the waters Thor must wade through on his way to the giant Geirrod’s.  The expression fnæstu eitri "snorted/spewed poison" invokes the image of a spitting serpent. In this context, the serpent can only be Jörmungandr, the Midgard serpent, who lies on the bottom of the sea, ringing the world. In Thórsdrápa 2/5, the same serpent is called gjarðvenjuðr, the girdle of the earth. 

In Thorsdrapa 2, we encounter a body of water called Gandvik. The word is either part of a kenning Gandvikr skotum “Gandvik’s Scots” (‘giants’, Anthony Faulkes’) or  gjarðvenjuðr Gandvíkr (‘the girdle of Gandvik’, Eysteinn Björnsson). In historical times, the name Gandvík ("Magic Bay") seems to have indicated the White Sea, and less  specifically, the Arctic Ocean in general. Mythologically, it is equivalent to the great river that Thor must wade through on his expeditions to Jötunheim. Thus, the icy Arctic Ocean, which undulates with waves of hail and ice, is likened to the Midgard serpent, which spews venom of deadly cold. From this, we can surmise that the great serpent's head was thought to be located in the North. Its eitr ‘venom’ is poisons the freezing brine, which Thor braves during his crossing. There, the serpent’s foul head can be seen biting its own tail. It is in these waters that Thor fishes for Jormungand in Hymir’s boat. Ironically, the same venom, undiluted by the waves, will be the cause of Thor’s death at Ragnarök.

The rising waters present no problem for Thor, who says  in response, that his Ás-strength will rise as high as heaven itself. In Gylfaginning 21, Snorri informs us that when Thor buckles on his belt of strength, that his Ás-strength is increased by half (megingjarðar, ok er hann spennir þeim um sik, þá vex honum ásmegin hálfu). Thus, the true nature of Thor’s belt seems to be that it allows him to grow in height and strength, equal to that of his opponents. Thus, when faced with giant foes, no matter how large, he can meet them face to face and breast to breast. Even the mightiest giant is no match for him, as his duel with Hrungnir attests. The Midgard-serpent, however, is so long that it tests his limits. In the tale of Thor’s journey to the giant Utgard-Loki, told in Gylfaginning 44, when Thor attempts to lift the serpent, disguised in the shape of a giant's cat, the cat simply arches its back, so that no matter how tall Thor grows, one of its feet always appears to remain on the ground.

The tale of Utgard-Loki also provides details, useful to our understanding. Along the way to the abode of Utgard-Loki (called Fjalar in Harbardsljóð 26), Thor stops to rest for the evening at the house of a ‘peasant’ (búanda)  before proceeding to Jötunheim. On that occassion, he is accompanied by Loki:

Þat er upphaf þessa máls, at Öku-Þórr fór með hafra sína ok reið ok með honum sá áss, er Loki er heitir. Koma þeir at kveldi til eins búanda ok fá þar náttstað. En um kveldit tók Þórr hafra sína ok skar báða. Eftir þat váru þeir flegnir ok bornir til ketils. En er soðit var, þá settist Þórr til náttverðar ok þeir lagsmenn. Þórr bauð til matar með sér búandanum ok konu hans ok börnum þeira. Sonr búanda hét Þjálfi, en Röskva dóttir. Þá lagði Þórr hafrstökurnar útar frá eldinum ok mælti, at búandi ok heimamenn hans skyldu kasta á hafrstökurnar beinunum. Þjálfi, sonr búanda, hélt á lærlegg hafrsins ok spretti á knífi sínum ok braut til mergjar. Þórr dvalðist þar of nóttina. En í óttu fyrir dag stóð hann upp ok klæddi sik, tók hamarinn Mjöllni ok brá upp ok vígði hafrstökurnar. Stóðu þá upp hafrarnir, ok var þá annarr haltr eftra fæti. Þat fann Þórr ok talði, at búandinn eða hans hjón myndu eigi skynsamliga hafa farit með beinum hafrsins. Kennir hann, at brotinn var lærleggrinn. Eigi þarf langt frá því at segja. Vita mega þat allir, hversu hræddr búandinn mundi vera, er hann sá, at Þórr lét síga brýnnar ofan fyrir augun, en þat er hann sá augnanna, þá hugðist hann falla mundu fyrir sjónum hans einum saman. Hann herði hendrnar at hamarskaftinu, svá at hvítnuðu knúarnir. En búandinn gerði sem ván var ok öll hjúnin, kölluðu ákafliga, báðu sér friðar, buðu at yfirbótum allt þat, er þau áttu. En er hann sá hræðslu þeira, þá gekk af honum móðrinn, ok sefaðist hann ok tók af þeim í sætt börn þeira, Þjálfa ok Röskvu, ok gerðust þau þá skyldir þjónustumenn hans, ok fylgja þau honum jafnan síðan.

Öku-Thor drove forth with his he-goats and chariot, and with him that Ás called Loki; in the evening they came to a peasant’s house, and there received a night's lodging. During the evening, Thor took his he-goats and slaughtered them both; after that they were skinned and placed in the cauldron. When the cooking was done, Thor and his companion sat down to supper. Thor invited the peasant and his wife, and their children to share the meat. The peasant's son was named Thjálfi, and the daughter Röskva. Then Thor laid the goat-hides away from the fire, and instructed the peasant and his servants to throw the bones on the goat-hides. Thjálfi, the peasant's son, was took hold of  a hambone of the goat, and split it with his knife and broke it for the marrow.
"Thor stayed there overnight; and in the wee hours before dawn, he rose and clothed himself, took the hammer Mjöllnir, swung it up, and hallowed the goat-hides; straightway the he-goats stood up, but one of them was lame in a hind leg. Thor saw this, and declared that the peasant or his household must not have handled the bones of the goat with care: he realized that the hambone was broken. There is no need to make a long story of it; everyone can imagine how frightened the peasant must have been when he saw how Thor let his brows sink down over his eyes; the peasant thought he might collapse at the sight of  what could be seen of his gaze. Thor clenched his hammer-shaft so tightly that his knuckles turned white; and the peasant and all his household did what one might expect: they cried out fervently, sued for mercy, and offered in recompense all that they had. When Thor saw their terror, his rage departed, and he was appeased. As atonement, he took their children, Thjálfi and Röskva, who became his bond-servants; and they have followed him ever since.

The same adventure is referenced in Hymisviða 37-38, where it is said to have occurred upon Thor’s return to Egil’s home (cf. verse 7) with Hymir’s kettle.

Fórut lengi,
áðr liggja nam
hafr Hlórriða
hálfdauðr fyrir.
Var skær skökuls
skakkr á beini,
en því inn lævísi
Loki um olli.   

37. They had only
driven a short way,
when one of
Hlórriði's goats
fell half-dead.
The draught-animal's leg
was broken, and this was
vice-wise Loki's fault.

En ér heyrt hafið
- hverr kann um þat
goðmálugra
gørr at skilja -
hver af hraunbúa
hann laun um fekk,
er hann bæði galt
börn sín fyrir.  

38.  But you have heard
(any mythologist
can describe at length)
-about the recompense
he received from
the Hraunn-dweller who
gave both his children.

In Snorri's tale, Thor leaves his goat's with a peasant who gives his children, Thjalfi and Röskva, as recompense when this event occurs. In Hymsiviða, Thor leaves his goats with Egil, the Hraunn-dweller, who gives his children as recompense. Because of this, Andy Orchard identifies Thjalfi’s father with Egil, the hraunn-búi who tends Thor’s goats in his absence (A. Orchard, Elder Edda, p. 294, fn 7).
 
In the mythic poems of the Elder Edda, the only other usage of the name Egil occurs in the poem Völundarkviða, which is grouped among the so-called Thor-poems in the Codex Regius, between Thrymskviða and Alvismál. Although many scholars believe this poem is misplaced among the mythological poems devoted to Thor, this episode gives us reason to conclude otherwise. There, the name Egil belongs to the brother of the smith Völund, famous throughout the Germanic world. In Völundarkviða 11, Völund is designated as álfa lióði, ‘prince of elves’ and in 14, vísi álfa, ‘the master of elves.” As the brother of the ‘elf-prince’ Völund, Egil shares equally in these titles. Lending weight to this theory, the name of Egil’s son, Thjálfi, who becomes Thor’s companion, is often translated as “serving-elf.” Although this etymology is rejected by some scholars, like Rudolf Simek, who remarks "there is nothing to point to the fact that þjálfi was an elf," the evidence speaks for itself. Using only evidence from the Eddas, Thjalfi is best explained as the son of the elf-prince Egil.

This conclusion may shed light on Grímnismál 4, which says:
 

Land er heilagt,
er ek liggja sé
ásum ok álfum nær
en í Þrúðheimi
skal Þór vera,
unz of rjúfask regin

4. The land is sacred which I see lying
Near the Aesir and elves;
But in Thrudheim Thor shall remain,
Until the Powers are torn asunder.

In Grímnismál 5, Ull’s home Ydalir follows next after Thor’s and is associated with Alfheim, immediately after the Æsir and Alfar are named together in the previous verse:

Ýdalir heita
þar er Ullur hefir
sér of görva sali
Álfheim Frey
gáfu í árdaga
tívar at tannféi.

5. 'Yewdale it is called,
the place where Ull
has made a hall for himself;
Alfheim the gods gave to Freyr
in early days
as a tooth-gift.
Thor is Midgards Veor, 'Earth's defender' and the most powerful of the Æsir.  If Thor's friend, the elf-prince Egil, lives near the river Hraunn, and keeps Thor's goats safe when he journeys into the Jötunheim on foot, might  the elves form a vanguard on the outskirts of Midgard, aiding Thor in keeping the giants in check? We find some circumstancial evidence that this may be the case.

Ull, as we know, is Thor’s stepson, the son of Thor’s wife Sif. The identity of his father is never stated. Although Sif's origin is never discussed in the fragmentary records, we know that she possesses golden hair, woven for her by the Sons of Ivaldi. In addition, they make the ship Skaidblanir for Frey, and the spear Gungnir for Odin, imbuing them with magical properties. They perform this task willingly, when Loki cuts off all of Sif's hair and Thor threatens him, on pain of death, to replace it (Skáldskaparmál 43).  Unlike dwarves, they demand no payment.

The Sons of Ivaldi  are only mentioned in two other places. Grímnismal 42 confirms that they made the ship Skidbladnir for Frey in the earliest days.   The Eddic poem Hrafnagaldur Óðins informs us that they too are elfin artists, like the elf-princes Völund and Egil, related to the goddess Idunn. They are her half-brothers:

álfa ættar,
 Iðunni hétu,
 Ívalds eldri
 yngsta barna.  

of elfin kin,
Iðunn was her name,
youngest of Ívaldi's
elder children.

The close grouping of the Æsir and elves, with Thor’s home Thrudheim, Ull’s home Ydalir, and Alfheim itself in Grímnismál 4 and 5 may allude to their close relationship with another. Völund and Egil may well be Sons of Ivaldi, related to the goddess Idunn and to Thor's wife Sif.  The records are simply too fragmentary to be conclusive.

Lending weight to this conclusion, however, in historic times, Alfheim was the name of a district of Finland, located to the north and east of Scandinavia, in the same general direction as Jötunheim.  In the lore, the Finns are closely associated with the elves. In the prose introduction to Völundarkviða, the elf-princes, Völund and Egil  are said to be the sons of a Finnish king. North and east of Finland lies the Arctic Ocean, the waters thought to lie at the edge of the world. In Germania 45, Tacitus remarks:

 "It is this sea that encircles and envelops the world, as proved by the fact that the final gleam of the setting sun lingers on until dawn, so brightly that it obscures the stars. Furthermore popular fance asserts that one can hear the sound of the rising sun, and see the shapes of his horses and the rays of his head. Only so far, and the rumour seems true, does the world extend."

The Prose Edda offers additional confirmation that across the waters from Jötunheim, Thor has friends who aid him in his war with the giants. In Skáldskapamál 17, these waters are again called the Elivagor. On his way back from battling the giant Hrungnir, with a chunk of Hrungnir’s hone imbedded in his forehead, Thor encounters his friend Aurvandill, husband of the sorceress Gróa, along the way:
 

Hann hafði vaðit norðan yfir Élivága ok hafði borit í meis á baki sér Aurvandil norðan ór Jötunheimum, ok þat til jartegna, at ein tá hans hafði staðit ór meisinum, ok var sú frerin, svá at Þórr braut af ok kastaði upp á himin ok gerði af stjörnu þá, er heitir Aurvandilstá. He had waded from the north over the Elivagor and had  Aurvandill in a basket on his back from the north out of Jötunheim. And he added for a token, that one of Aurvandill's toes had stuck out of the basket, and became frozen; wherefore Thor broke it off and cast it up into the heavens, and made thereof the star called Aurvandill's Toe.

 Afterwards, Thor returned home to Thrudvangr, where Aurvandill’s wife, Groa, stayed as a guest in his home (another sign of their close friendship), probably for safe-keeping while Aurvandill was away in Jötunheim.

Þórr fór heim til Þrúðvanga, ok stóð heinin í höfði honum. Þá kom til völva sú, er Gróa hét, kona Aurvandils ins frækna. Hon gól galdra sína yfir Þór, til þess er heinin losnaði. En er Þórr fann þat ok þótti þá ván, at braut myndi ná heininni, þá vildi hann launa Gró lækninguna ok gera hana fegna, sagði henni þau tíðendi  …Þórr sagði, at eigi myndi langt til, at Aurvandill myndi heim koma, en Gróa varð svá fegin, at hon mundi enga galdra, ok varð heinin eigi lausari ok stendr enn í höfði Þór "Thor went home to Thrúdvangar, and the hone remained stuck in his head. Then came the wise woman who was called Gróa, wife of Aurvandill the Brave: she sang her spells over Thor until the hone was loosened. But when Thor knew that, and thought that there was hope that the hone might be removed, he desired to reward Gróa for her leech-craft and make her glad, and told her these things: …Thor said that it would not be long ere Aurvandill came home: but Gróa was so rejoiced that she forgot her incantations, and the hone was not loosened, and stands yet in Thor's head.”

An Old English verse confirms that Aurvandill was the name of a star, and one of the brightest,  known to the Germanic tribes.  This tale and the proximity of Aurvandill's abode to the river that rings the world, which Tacitus tells is also the scene of the rising sun, associate them with light, making it plausible that Aurvandil and Gróa, like Völund and Egil (who may themselves be Sons of Ivaldi) are also inhabitants of Alfheim, the home of the so-called Light-elves.  If so, Thor finds allies  in his war on the giants here.

The elves thus seem to act as a buffer, assisting Thor in protecting Midgard from the onslaught of the powers of frost, represented by the giants. Thor's friends Aurvandil and the elf-prince Egil make their homes by Hraunn, in which we recognize the Elivagor. Thor uses this place as a safehouse to keep his goats, and as a lodge, on his expeditions into Jötunheim. If necessary, he can also gather reinforcements here before crossing the Elivagor.

The Journey to the Thingstead by Urd's Well, Part I
     

According to Grímnismál 29-30 and Gylfaginning 15, the gods gather at Urd’s well daily to hold council.
 
Gylfaginning 15 says:

Þriðja rót asksins stendr á himni, ok undir þeiri rót er brunnr sá, er mjök er heilagr, er heitir Urðarbrunnr. Þar eiga goðin dómstað sinn. Hvern dag ríða æsir þangat upp um Bifröst. Hon heitir ok ásbrú. “The third root of the ash extends to heaven, and beneath that root is a well which is very holy, called Urd’s well. There the gods have their court. Every day the Æsir ride there up over Bifröst. It is called Ás-bridge.”

Thor, however, who does not ride a horse, but drives his fiery thunder-chariot drawn by goats, cannot drive across Ás-brú, the Bridge of the Æsir (i.e. Bifröst), like the other gods do. If he does, the bridge itself would burn and the holy waters (of Urd's well) would boil.  So instead, Thor must wade through no less than four rivers.

The modern interpretation holds that these are heavenly rivers. Carolyne Larrington, in “Vafþrúðnismál and Grímnismál: Cosmic History, Cosmic Geography” in The Poetic Edda; Essays on Old Norse Mythology (2002) remarks: 

"Rivers are major transport routes in the human world, but here they seem to function as barriers, separating the known from the unknown world (Hale). The river Þund (st. 21, a hard verse to construe) is difficult for those made cheerful by slaughter (the Einherjar?) to cross, while Þórr seems to be obliged to wade through rivers in the divine world to go to a judgment seat beneath Yggdrasill." 

Following the list of rivers named in Grímnismál 27-28, which ends with the statement that they þær falla gumnum nær, falla til Heljar héðan “flow close to men, then flow hence to Hel,” we may reasonably suspect that the four rivers named in Grimnismál 29 are also subterranean, rather than celestial, rivers. At least three of the rivers named in Grímnismál 28 are rivers in Hel known from other Eddic sources (Sliðr, Leiptr, and Gjöll) and a fourth (Hraunn), as we shall see below, is probably located in the far north.  In Grímnsimál 26, all these rivers are said to flow from the spring Hvergelmir, located to the north in Niflheim according to Gylfaginning 4. In Grímnismál 27, we are told that a number of them also “wind around  hodd goða [‘the hoard of the gods’] which appears to be a reference to the living treasures hidden in Hodd-Mimir’s grove (hoddmimis holt).
 
The Poetic Edda mentions only three wells; each supports a root of Yggdrasil. They are Hvergelmir, Mimir's well and Urd's well. In the modern interpretation of these passages, based on Snorri’s statements in Gylfaginning 15, the well Hvergelmir is said to be located in the lower world, in Niflheim; Mimir’s well is said to be located in Jötunheim, parallel to Midgard; and Urd’s well is said to be located in the heavens, parallel to Asgard. This gives us a just distribution of the three wells and the roots of Yggdrasil they support on three different levels of the VERTICAL axis, neatly corresponding to heaven, earth and hell in the Christian worldview. If this vertical orientation is correct from a heathen perspective, then these mythic rivers apparently were thought to flow vertically, rushing upwards from the lower world  toward the heavens. This, we have good reason to doubt.

In the diagram below, note the position of Asgard, the position of Urd's well, and that of the Bifröst bridge. It is the common modern view, but is it consistent with the ideas contained in Grímnismál 29 and 30?


The modern view of Old Norse Cosmology based on the account in Gylfaginning 15
from Kevin Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths (1980)

If Asgard is conceived of as located on one side of the bridge, and Urd’s well on the other side of Bifröst, how can both Asgard and Urd’s well be located in heaven? Of course we can rationalize it in various ways [Asgard is on a mountaintop, not in really in heaven; Urd's well is further up the bridge from earth than Asgard, etc.] , but really should we have to? The most obvious argument against any of the purposed rationalizations is that Snorri himself doesn’t place Asgard in heaven or on a mountaintop, but rather on the surface of Midgard. In the Prologue to Gylfaginning and in chapter 14, he expressly places Asgard at the center of the earth, identifying it with the classical city of Troy, known both in Greek and Roman mythology and later Roman Catholic church histories:

Nær miðri veröldinni var gert þat hús ok herbergi, er ágætast hefir verit, er kallat Trjóa, þar sem vér köllum Tyrkland. Þessi staðr var miklu meiri gerr en aðrir ok með meira hagleik á marga lund með kostnaði ok föngum, en þar váru til. Þar váru tólf konungdómar ok einn yfirkonungr, ok lágu mörg þjóðlönd til hvers konungdómsins. Þar váru í borginni tólf höfðingjar. Þessir höfðingjar hafa verit um fram aðra menn, þá er verit hafa í veröldu, um alla manndómliga hluti. Einn konungr í Trjóu er nefndr Múnón eða Mennón. Hann átti dóttur höfuðkonungsins Príamí. Sú hét Tróan. Þau áttu son. Hann hét Trór, er vér köllum Þór.


.. Þeira sonr var Lóriði, er líkr var feðr sínum. Hans sonr var Einriði, hans sonr Vingeþórr, hans sonr Vingener, hans sonr Móda, hans sonr Magi, hans sonr Seskef, hans sonr Beðvig, hans sonr Athra, er vér köllum Annan, hans sonr Ítrmann, hans sonr Heremóð, hans sonr Skjaldun, er vér köllum Skjöld, hans Bjáf, er köllum Bjár, hans sonr Ját, hans sonr Guðólfr, hans sonr Finn, hans sonr Fríallaf, er vér köllum Friðleif. Hann átti þann son, er nefndr er Vóden. Þann köllum vér Óðin. Hann var ágætr maðr af speki ok allri atgervi. Kona hans hét Frígíða, er vér köllum Frigg.
3. Near the center of the world was constructed that building and dwelling which has been the most splendid ever, which was called Troy. We call the land there Turkey (Tyrkland). This abode was made much larger than others, and fashioned with more skill in many respects, both in luxury and in the wealth which was there. There were twelve kingdoms and one High King, and many countries were subject to each kingdom; in the stronghold were twelve chieftains. These chieftains were superior to other men that have ever lived in the world in all human qualities. One king among them was called Múnón or Mennón; and he was married to the daughter of the High King Priam. She was called Tróán; they had a child named Trór, whom we call Thor.
...[His] son was Lóridi, who resembled his father; his son was Einridi, his son Vingethor, his son Vingener, his son Móda, his son Magi, his son Seskef, his son Bedvig, his son Athra (whom we call Annarr), his son Ítermann, his son Heremód, his son Skjaldun (whom we call Skjöld), his son Bjáf (whom we call Bjárr), his son Ját, his son Gudólfr, his son Finn, his son Fríallaf (whom we call Fridleifr); his son was he who is named Vóden, whom we call Odin: he was a man far-famed for wisdom and every accomplishment. His wife was Frígídá, whom we call Frigg.
...Óðinn hafði spádóm ok svá kona hans, ok af þeim vísendum fann hann þat, at nafn hans myndi uppi vera haft í norðrhálfu heims ok tignat um fram alla konunga. Fyrir þá sök fýstist hann at byrja ferð sína af Tyrklandi ok hafði með sér mikinn fjölða liðs, unga menn ok gamla, karla ok konur, ok höfðu með sér marga gersamliga hluti. En hvar sem þeir fóru yfir lönd, þá var ágæti mikit frá þeim sagt, svá at þeir þóttu líkari goðum en mönnum.

4. ...Odin had second sight, and his wife also; and from their foreknowledge he discovered that his name would be exalted in the northern part of the world and honored above all other kings. Therefore, he prepared to leave Turkey, and was accompanied by a great multitude of people, young folk and old, men and women; and they had with them many valueable goods. And wherever they went over the lands of the earth, many glorious things were said of them, so that they were held more like gods than men.

....Eftir þat fór hann norðr, þar sem nú heitir Svíþjóð.
...Þar þótti Óðni fagrir vellir ok landskostir góðir ok kaus sér þar borgstað, er nú heita Sigtún. Skipaði hann þar höfðingjum ok í þá líking, sem verit hafði í Trója, setti tólf höfuðmenn í staðinum at dæma landslög, ok svá skipaði hann réttum öllum sem fyrr hafði verit í Trója ok Tyrkir váru vanir.

5. ...After that he went northward, where the land is called Sweden; ...The fields and the choice lands in that place seemed favorable to Odin, and he chose  the site for a city which is now called Sigtún. There he organized chieftains in same manner which had prevailed in Troy; he also set up twelve judges in place to administer the laws of the land; and he ordained all laws that had been in Troy, according to the customs of the Turks.

Thus, the Prose Edda begins with the tale of the human Odin's immigration to Sweden from the classical city of Troy. Lest this be dismissed as a fictional framing device designed to allude persecution by the Christian church, and therefore not considered intregal to the Prose Edda and its account of Old Norse mythology, notice that Snorri continues this reasoning into Gylfaginning, returning again to the time before Odin's migration to Sweden:

Þar næst gerðu þeir sér borg í miðjum heimi er kölluð er Ásgarðr. Þat köllum vér Trója. Þar byggðu goðin ok ættir þeira, ok gerðust þaðan af mörg tíðendi ok greinir bæði á jörðu ok í lofti. Þar er einn staðr, er Hliðskjálf heitir, ok þá er Óðinn settist þar í hásæti, þá sá hann of alla heima ok hvers manns athæfi ok vissi alla hluti þá er hann sá. Kona hans hét Frigg Fjörgynsdóttir, ok af þeira ætt er sú kynslóð komin, er vér köllum ása ættir er byggt hafa Ásgarð inn forna ok þau ríki, er þar liggja til, ok er þat allt goðkunnug ætt. 9. They made for themselves in the middle of the world a city which is called Ásgard; men call it Troy. There dwelt the gods and their kindred; and many tidings and tales of it have come to pass both on earth and aloft. There is one abode called Hlidskjálf, and when Allfather sat in the high-seat there, he looked out over the whole world and saw every man's acts, and knew all things which he saw. His wife was called Frigg daughter of Fjörgvinn; and of their blood is come that kindred which we call the race of the Æsir, that populated the Elder Ásgard, and those kingdoms which pertain to it; and that is a divine race.
Í upphafi setti hann stjórnarmenn í sæti ok beiddi þá at dæma með sér örlög manna ok ráða um skipun borgarinnar. Þat var þar, sem heitir Iðavöllur í miðri borginni. Var þat hið fyrsta þeira verk at gera hof þat, er sæti þeira tólf standa í önnur en hásætit, þat er Alföðr á. Þat hús er bezt gert á jörðu ok mest. 14. ..."In the beginning he established rulers, and bade them ordain fates with him, and give counsel concerning the planning of the town; that was in the place which is called Ida-field, in the midst of the town. It was their first work to establish that court in which their twelve seats stand, and another, the high-seat which Allfather himself has. That house is the best-made of any on earth.

Without question, Snorri protrays Asgard as an earthly city. No mention is made of it being located on a mountaintop. To the contrary, it is identified with the Turkish city of Troy, and later with the Swedish city of Sigtuna (Old Uppsala). This is no simple framing device. The identification of the Æsir as Asia-men from the city of Troy is mentioned throughout his text, appearing again in Gylfaginning 54 [Faulkes tr. pp. 63-64] and Skáldskaparmál 58 [Faulkes tr. p. 65]. Snorri is consistent in his statements that Asgard, the home of Odin and his Æsir-men, is an earthly abode identical to the classical city of Troy, well-known from Roman Catholic history. When the Asia-men eventually reach heaven, it is only to hold counsel there around Urd's well (also see Grímnismál 30). Although he gives some of the Æsir homes there, Snorri maintains throughout the Edda that Asgard (both Elder Asgard and New Asgard) is an earthly abode, inhabited by mortal men.

Obviously, this is not the genuine heathen conception. It is an intergretion of native mythology and Roman Catholic history. For the genuine heathen conception regarding the location of Asgard, we must turn to the poetic sources. Unfortunately Eddic and skaldic verse provide no clear account of the heathen cosmology. Thus we are forced to reconstruct the worldview from the few clues they do provide.

From Grímnismál 29-30 we gather that Asgard is on one side of the Bifröst bridge and that Urd's well is on the other.  Since the gods travel there daily, the clear inference is that they travel from their homes in Asgard. Since the bridge is identified as a rainbow, we can imagine (at the very least) a half-arc span stretching from its apex in heaven to a point somewhere beyond the horizon. The question now becomes what the poetic sources actually say about the locations of Urd's well and Asgard, the home of the gods.

In a skaldic verse, composed by a recently converted poet, Eilif Guðrúnarson, which has been preserved in Skáldskaparmál 65 [Faulkes’ tr. p. 126], we learn that “[Christ] is said to have his throne south at Urd’s well.” In the heathen tradition, Urd’s well is the place where gods meet in council every day, thus a convert to the new religion, unclear of its doctrine, would naturally place his new deity in the holiest place of the former religion, either by ignorance or design. Thus Christ appears at the meeting place of the Æsir, "in the south at Urd's well."

According to Gylfaginning 4, the well Hvergelmir is located in the north, at the center of Niflheim, the primeval world of rime and ice. To the south, Gylfaginning speaks of a primeval world of heat and fire. A large chasm called Ginnungagap lies in between them.  In Gylfaginning 15, Snorri informs us that Mimir’s well is located where “Ginnungagap once was.” As the skald Eilif placed Urd’s well in the “south”,  the location of the three wells thus corresponds to the contemporary conditions of creation outlined in Gylfaginning 5: one is located in Niflheim, a world of ice to the north; a second is located where the empty abyss, Ginnungagap, once was, and a third (Urd's well) is located "in the south" within or near the world of heat and fire, inhabited by Surt, who arrives to the battle of Ragnarök, also "from the south" according to Völuspá 52.

This mapping of the three wells, derived from genuine heathen sources, gives us an even distribution of the three wells and the roots of Yggdrasil they support, along a HORIZONTAL axis from north to south. Thus, Snorri’s account of the cosmology appears to be a mixture of genuine heathen ideas, which we can confirm in Eddic and skaldic verse, reorganized according to Christian and Classical learning in which the pagan gods were thought of as human men from earth, who are powerful and clever enough to build a bridge to heaven.  
 
Since the gods ride there "every day” according to both Grímnismál 29 and 30, logically they make the journey to Urd’s well each day from their homes in Asgard. Thus, Asgard must be located on one side of the Bifröst bridge, and Urd’s well located on the other.  The journey must be of considerable length since the gods ride their horses to get there, and Thor, who cannot ride, must wade through at least four rivers to arrive there.  This point is underscored when we recognize that the horses of the gods are also able to fly.

In Gylfaginning 35, we are told that Frigg's messenger Gna has a horse named Hófvarpnir, that "runs across air and sea," (er renn loft ok lög). Similarly, when the giant Hrungnir first sees Odin riding on Sleipnir in Skáldskaparmál 17, he asks what manner of man can "ride on air and sea" (er ríðr loft ok lög).  In Fáfnismal 15, the air is compared to a river in which the horses of the gods will “swim” when the Bifröst bridge is broken. It breaks under the weight of riders, when Surt and his men, arriving from the south (the same direction as Urd's well) attempt an ascent to Asgard during Ragnarök.  Like a normal bridge spans a river, Bifröst thus spans the atmosphere, conceived of as a body of water with swift currents.  (See Grímnismál 21). As crossing a bridge is more efficient than swimming across a river, Bifröst is necessary for traveling long distances in the atmosphere, because even though the horses of the gods can fly, a horse naturally moves more efficiently while running on a solid pathway.

In the same manner, those chosen on the battlefield arrive in Valhall, riding horses over the Bifröst bridge. Unquestionably, the skaldic poem Eiríksmál found in Fagrskinna, ch. 8, contains the clearest account of a king and his retinue arriving in Valhall (see Grímnismál 21). There, King Eirík arrives spearheading a great multitude of riders, comprised of six kings, including himself, and their armies.  From the context, it is clear that they arrive over Bifröst. Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, 49, provides another example. After speaking to the mourning Sigrun who has called him back from the grave, the dead hero Helgi says:

Mál er mér at ríða
roðnar brautir,
láta fölvan jó
flugstíg troða;
skal ek fyr vestan
vindhjalms brúar,
áðr Salgófnir
sigrþjóð veki."

"It is time for me to ride
along the reddened roads,
to let the pale horse
tread the flight-path [sky];
I must go west over
wind-helm's bridge [Bifröst],
before Salgofnir awakens
the victorious people"

 
Most commentators agree that this verse speaks of Bifröst [vindhjalms brú] as a pathway through the sky to Asgard.  Carolyne Larrington, for example, identifies it as "the bridge Ás-brú ..across which Helgi must ride to return to Valhöll"; while Finnur Jónsson, according to the Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda, Bd. 4 (2004), identifies it as "Bifröst/Bilröst, 'the rainbow'."   After being called back to Midgard by Sigrun, the deceased Helgi must return to Valhall in Asgard, across Bifröst, before the cock crows, signaling dawn. Human heroes thus ride up over Bifröst, through the sky, to reach Asgard.

In the modern scholarly conception of Old Norse cosmology, Asgard is a celestial city located in heaven. However, as we saw above, Snorri expressly placed Asgard on earth and Urd’s well in the heavens, at opposite ends of the bridge. Thus, in Snorri’s account, the human Æsir ride ‘upp’ to Urd’s well (Glyfaginning 14). While the Eddic poems do not pinpoint the location of Asgard, a skaldic verse by the heathen poet Egil Skallagrímsson (ca. 910–990), who laments the loss of a son gone to Valhall, confirms that Asgard is indeed located in heaven.  Verse 21 of his poem Sonatorrek contains the phrase, upp í goðheim, ‘up in the home of the gods’:

21. Þat mank enn,
es upp of hóf
í Goðheim
Gauta spjalli
ættar ask,
þanns óx af mér,
ok kynvið
kvánar minnar.

“I remember when
the Gauts’ friend [Odin]
raised up to the
home of the gods
the ash[-tree] that grew
from my stock,
the tree bearing
my wife’s kin.”
 
Other skaldic poems, such as Eíriksmál (c. 954), confirm that fallen warriors arrive in Valhall, by traveling over Bifröst.  There, the noise they make is so great, the god Bragi remarks wonders if it might be Baldur returning from Hel.  From all this, we can conclude that the genuine conception of Old Norse cosmology places Asgard is in heaven, i.e. at the top of its vertical axis. 

So, if Asgard is located at one end of Bifröst, and Urd's well is located on the other, and if Asgard is located in heaven (not Earth as Snorri states), might Urd’s well be located somewhere below at the opposite end of the bridge? This is a question we will explore in the commentary on the two verses of Grímnismál. 

Continued in
The Journey to the Thingstead by Urd's Well, Part II
Further Reading

A comprehensive look at Snorri’s account of Old Norse cosmology and the various diagrams it has inspired in the last 200 years can be found HERE.

A closer look at the passages speaking of the road to Hel and the way to Valhall can be found HERE.

 

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