Somewhere Over the Rainbow......
Images of Old Norse Cosmology
Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds
Based on the the Prose Edda

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II.  Old Norse Cosmology
Drawn from passages in Snorri's Edda   
"Margaret Clunies Ross ("Images of Norse Cosmology") succinctly demonstrates the impossibility of constructing a graphic image of the pre-Christian Norse cosmology from its various verbal representations in Old Norse texts composed well after the conversion. She shows that modern attempts to diagram the Old Norse cosmos stem from Finnur Magnusson's various graphics despite their complete inadequacy. After two hundred years, scholarship has abandoned Magnusson's imagery, but it persists in the popular imagination when that imagination turns to the mythical north."

[From The Medieval Review:  Anlezark, Daniel. Myths, Legends, and Heroes: Essays on Old Norse and Old English Literature in Honour of John McKinnell. University of Toronto Press, 2011. Reviewed by: George Clark Queens University, Ontario. Also See "Cosmology and Skaldic Poetry" by Margaret Clunies Ross and Kari Ellen Gade in JEGP, Journal of English and Germanic Philology Volume 111, Number 2, April 2012 ]

Many scholars  over the years have attempted to draw the worldview espoused in Snorri Sturluson's Edda, (c. 1280) with various degrees of success.  An illustrated gallery of these has been included below.

One of the best modern books on the subject of Norse Mythology, respecting both the story-telling and the scholarly aspects of the field, is The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland (1988) . This map accompanies his text:
From The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland (1988)
This illustration, and others based on Snorri's Prose Edda,
typically share these common features:



—The world consists of a three-tier system, containing Heaven, Earth, and Hel
—Urd's well is located in the heavens

—Mimir's well is located in Jotunheim (adjacent to Earth/Midgard)
—Hvergelmir is located in Niflhel each along with the corresponding root of Yggdrasill.



This interpretation distributes the roots of Yggdrassil vertically, placing one on each level. This view is based  these passages in Snorri's Edda:



(Gylfaginning 15) "The ash is of all trees the biggest and the best. Its branches spread out over the world and extend across the sky. Three of the tree's roots support it and extend very, very far. One is among the Æsir, the second among the frost-giants, where Ginnungagap once was. The third extends over Niflheim, and under that root is Hvergelmir, and Nidhogg gnaws the bottom of the root. But under the root that reaches towards the the frost-giants, there is where Mimir's well is, which has wisdom and intelligence contained in it, and the master of the well is called Mimir. ...The third root of the ash extends to heaven, and beneath that root is a well which is very holy, called Weird's well (Urd's well). There the gods have their court. Every day the Æsir ride there up over Bifrost. It is called As-bridge. The names of the Æsir's horses are as follows: best is Sleipnir, he is Odin's, he has eight legs. Second is Glad, third Gyllir, fourth Glær, fifth Skeidbrimir, sixth Silfrintopp, seventh Sinir, eight Gils, ninth Falhofnir, tenth Gulltopp, Lettfeti, eleventh, Baldr's horse was burned with him. And Thor walks to the court and wades rivers whose names are:
"Kormt and Ormt and two Kerlaugs,
these shall Thor wade every day
when he is to judge at the ash Yggdrasil,
or As-bridge burns all with flame, the holy waters boil." [GRM 29]
Clearly Snorri based the structure of his cosmology, in large part, on his understanding of Grímnismál 29-31. He cites or paraphrases verses 26-31 in this part of Gylfaginning, embellishing their allusive information with additional details. Concerning the roots of Yggdrasil, Grímnismál 31 informs us:

31. Þriár rætr standa 

á þriá vega

undan aski Yggdrasils;

Hel býr undir einni,

annarri hrímþursar,

þriðio mennzkir menn.

Three roots stand

on three ways

under Yggdrasil's ash;

Hel dwells under one,

frost-giants another,

human men, a third. 

The quote from Gylfaginning 15 above demonstrates that Snorri understands the verse in this manner:

"Three of the tree's roots support it and extend very, very far. One is among the Æsir, the second among the frost-giants, where Ginnungagap once was. The third extends over Niflheim, and under that root is Hvergelmir."

Unless we postulate the existence of additional roots and wells, something we have no evidence for, or reduce the three roots and wells mentioned throughout our sources into a single formation, [scholars have put forth both proposals] the two sources correspond thus:

Grímnismál 31
  Gylfaginning 15

The root with Hel » in Niflheim and the spring Hvergelmir
The root with the Frost-giants » in Ginnungagap and Mimir's well
The root with Human Men » The human Æsir at Urd's well

    One well is associated with each of the three roots.  According to the larger passage cited above, in Snorri's interpretation of Grímnismál 31, Mimir's well corresponds to the root of Yggdrasil located "with the frost-giants." In Gylfaginning 5, Snorri places the well Hvergelmir in Niflheim, which in his understanding corresponds to the root "with Hel" in Grimnismál 31. Thus the remaining root and its corresponding well must, as Grímnismál 31 tells us lie "with human men." according to the internal logic of Gylfaginning, this must be Urd's well located in the heavens. This is possible because in his conception, the Æsir are human beings from Asia, who came to the northern part of the world, and presented themselves as gods to the natives there. They are such skillful magicians that they build a bridge to heaven, where they find Urd's well:
(Gylfaginning 9): "When the sons of Borr were walking along the sea-strand, they found two trees, and took up the trees and shaped men of them:    ...They gave them clothing and names: the male was called Askr, and the female Embla, and of them was mankind begotten, which received a dwelling-place under Midgard. Next 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."

(Gylfaginning 14) "...What did All-father (Odin) do then, when Asgard was built? High spoke: 'In the beginning he established rulers and bade them decide with him the destinies of men and be in charge of the government of the city. It was in the place called Idavoll in the centre of the city. It was their first act to build the temple that their thrones stand in, twelve in addition to the throne that belongs to the All-father. This building is the best that is built on earth and the biggest."

After establishing the city of Asgard at the center of the world, the human Aesir embark on a more ambitious endeavor:

(Gylfaginning 13) "Has no one ever told you that the gods built a bridge to heaven from earth called Bifröst? You must have seen it, maybe it is what you call the rainbow.'

(Gylfaginning 15) "Then said Gangleri: 'Does fire burn over Bifröst?' Hárr replied: 'That which thou seest to be red in the bow is burning fire; the Hill-Giants might go up to heaven, if passage on Bifröst were open to all those who would cross. There are many fair places in heaven, and over everything there a godlike watch is kept. A hall stands there, fair, under the ash by the well, and out of that hall come three maids, who are called thus: Urdr, Verdandi,  Skuld."

 Snorri explicitly places Asgard "on earth" and Urd's well "up in the heavens." Using Grímnismál 29 and 30 as support, he asserts that Bifröst stretches between them. Thus the rainbow bridge connects earth and the heaven, forming a path between Asgard and Urd's well.  The human Aesir ride their horses across this bridge daily to sit in council by Urd's well, with the exception of Thor who walks. His path is not explained, other than to repeat the information found in Grímnismál 29 that he must wade through four rivers. The courses of these rivers are left unexplained.

In Snorri's conception, the city of
Asgard is located on earth and Urd's well is in the heavens. Oddly, he places Hlidskjalf, the throne from which Odin can see out over all the world, on earth, in Asgard. Still, most all of those who have chosen to illustrate this concept have not drawn that conclusion. Instead they place both Asgard and Urd's well in the heavens, yet still depict Bifröst as a connection between the earth and heaven. This is not in agreement with Snorri's text. The fact remains, Snorri expressly conceives of Asgard as an earthly city:
(Prologue to Gylfaginning): "In that part of the world [Asia] is all beauty and splendour and wealth of earthly produce, gold and jewels. The middle of the world is there too, and just as the earth there is more beautiful and better in all respects than in other places, so too mankind there was most honoured with all blessings, wisdom and strength, beauty and every kind of skill. Near the middle of the world was constructed that building and dwelling, which was called Troy. We call the land there Turkey. This place was built much larger than others and with greater skill in many respects, using the wealth and resources available there. Twelve kingdoms were built and one high king, and many countries were subject to each kingdom. The twelve rulers of the kingdoms were superior to other people who have lived in the world in all human qualities."
"...Wodan, it is he whom we call Odin. He was an outstanding person for wisdom and kinds of accomplishments. His wife was called Frigida, whom we call Frigg. Odin had the gift of prophecy and so did his wife, and from this science he discovered that his name would be remembered in the northern part of the world and honored above all kings. For this reason he was eager to set off from Turkey and took with him a very great following."

"Odin went north to what is now called
Sweden. ...Odin found the conditions in the country attractive and selected as a site for his city the place which is now called Sigtunir. he also organized rulers there on the same pattern as had been in Troy, set up twelve chiefs in the place to administer the laws of the land."

         So even when the Æsir leave the city of Troy and migrate to Sweden, they establish a new city on the pattern of the old one. While some commentators distinguish between the two cities as an "old" and a "new" Asgard, Snorri places both of them on earth.  Throughout Gylfaginning, Snorri does not place Asgard in the heavens. Instead he has the gods ride "up" over Bifröst and establish a thingstead, and a few halls there. This is built on the model of the Icelandic Thing, where people established temporary residences near the Thingstead site, during the time it was in session. Snorri names the halls found there:

"Then spoke Gangleri: 'You are able to give a great deal of information about the heavens. What other chief centres are there besides the one at Urd's well?'
High said: 'Many splendid halls are there. There is one place that is called Alfheim. ...One place there is called Briedablik, and no fairer place is there. Also there is one called Glitnir ...There is also a place called Himinbjorg. It stands at the edge of heaven, at the bridge's end (literally sporðr: 'fish-tail') where Bifrost reaches heaven. There is also a place called Valaskalf. This place is Odin's. ...And when All-father sits on that throne he can see over all the world." 

Here Snorri duplicates the same information from Gylfaginning 9. According to him, Odin has two thrones over which he can see the world. One called Hlidskjalf located in Asgard, which men call Troy, and one called Valaskjalf up in heaven, near Urd's well. And, if we take this information at face value, we encounter another internal logical conundrum.

Quoting Grímnismál 30, Snorri informs us that the gods ride their horses across Bifröst daily. Their journey takes them from their homes in Asgard, upward to the thingstead and their temporary residences near Urd's well. Snorri places Heimdall's home, Himinbjörg, there at the very edge of heaven "at the bridges's end, where Bifröst meets heaven. the names of these horses, according to Snorri are the same as those in Grímnismál 30. They are: Glad, Gyllir, Glær, Skeidbrimir, Silfrintopp, Sinir, Gils, Falhofnir, Gulltopp, Lettfeti. To this list Snorri adds Odin's horse Sleipnir, remarking that Baldur's horse was burned with him.

For the most part, which gods ride which of these horses is  not known. Most of the names appear only here and in þular of horse-names based on the same verse. Of these horse-names, only one is clearly associated with a god. That is Gulltop. Snorri informs us that:

 (Gylfaginning 26): "There is one called Heimdall. he is known as the white As. He is great and holy. Nine maidens bore him as their son, all of them sisters. He is also called Hallinskidi and Gullintanni: his teeth were of gold. His horse is called Gulltop."

And when he describes the scene of Balder's funeral pyre, he remarks:

(Gylfaginning 49) "This burning was attended by beings of many different kinds: firstly to tell of Odin, that with him went Frigg and valkyries and his ravens, while Freyr drove in a chariot with a boar called Gullinbursti, or Slidrugtanni. But Heimdall rode a horse called Gulltopp, and Freyja her cats."

   So, according to Snorri's understanding of Grímnismál 30, the gods have their homes in Asgard on earth, and ride "up" into the heavens daily, over Bifröst, where they sit in council by Urd's well. To arrive there, the gods ride their horses over the bridge. Among these horses is Heimdall's steed, Gulltop.  But, according to Snorri, Heimdall's home is located in heaven.  Thus, for Heimdall, the daily ride from earth to heaven appears to be a journey home each day. Why would ancients have Heimdall stay away from home each night, only to return to his abode in the company of the gods by day? Can this really be what the heathen poet who composed Grímnismál 30 intended or is it Snorri himself who has misunderstood the meaning?

Based on the frequency of logical errors in the cosmology as presented by Snorri, we should begin to suspect that something is amiss. While we can confirm some of what Snorri says regarding the mythic cosmology, too many pieces don't fit and must be rationalized, most often in favor of Snorri's vision. Since the Eddaic poems are Snorri's acknowledged source, shouldn't this be the other way around? Shouldn't the information found in the older heathen poems take precedence over Snorri's later interpretations of them? Sadly, this has not been the case since the inception of Eddic scholarship in the late 17th century.  

Lest anyone label this "Snorri-bashing",   I simply wish to point out that most all mainstream scholars today question Snorri's understanding of the older poetic material he sought to explain:

Based on statements in his Edda, which are internally consistent, Snorri most likely understood the three roots of Yggdrasill described in Grímnismál 31 and their corresponding wells in the following manner:

Mimir's well
— "with the frost-giants", the citizens of Jotunheim to the east of Midgard and thus on the level of the earth-plane.
Hvergelmir — "with Hel", the underworld as a local and a personal name, and thus on the level of the lower world.
Urd's well — with "human men," by which he means the Æsir themselves, who gather at Urd's well daily. Throughout his Edda, Snorri maintains that the Aesir are human beings who build a bridge to heaven, and fool the people of the north into believing they are gods. Clearly, this is not the understanding of the heathen poets. Snorri places Asgard on earth, and places Urd's well in the heavens. Thus, the root with "human men" in Snorri's understanding, is the root extending to heaven.

It must be noted that nowhere in the corpus of Eddic and skaldic poetry are the gods referred to as "human men" (mennskir menn). Thus, one can rightly ask, was this the heathen poet's understanding of Grímnismál 31, or is this interpretation unique to Snorri Sturluson? 

While the Eddic and skaldic poems never expressly tell us where Asgard is located, we can be fairly sure it was not located on the face fo the earth. That Odin can survey the entire world from his throne is a strong indication of that. While in verse 21 of Egill Skallagrímsson’s skaldic poem Sonatorrek, the poet’s son is said to have gone upp í Goðheim (‘up into the world of the gods’).

In agreement with the surviving poetic sources, I contend that in the genuine heathen understanding of this passage, the wells and their corresponding roots are best understood in the following manner:
Grímnismál 31 says:

Þrjár rætr
standa á þría vega
undan aski Yggdrasils;
Hel býr und einni,
annarri hrímþursar,
þriðju mennskir menn.
Three roots
stand on three ways
under Yggdrasil's ash;
Hel dwells under one,
frost-giants (hrimthursar) another
human men (mennskir menn), a third.

These three locations can be explained simply and naturally in the system outlined in the first part of this essay. Within the framework of that interpretation, this verse most likely meant to a heathen ear:

"The three roots of Ygggrasil's ash are located in three directions below the world-tree,
"Hel dwells under one": Hel is the warm southern part of the lower world, ruled over by Urd. Swans swim in its waters. The gods arrive there daily to sit in judgment of men's souls. Therefore, Urd is the personal Hel; the goddess of Death is the goddess of Fate. Loki's daughter, who does not appear in Eddic poetry, is a side-figure to her, a messenger of death by disease. Her proper sphere is Niflhel.
"Rime-giants under another": This is the cold well Hvergelmir, the mother of waters, that flows from Niflheim in the earliest days, Grímnismál 28.  Hrafnagaldur Ódins 25 informs us that thurses, ogresses, dead men and dark elves dwell by the northern root of Yggdrassil. All of these beings are denizens of Niflhel.  Grímnismál 34-35 places biting serpents here. Völuspá 36 speaks of a hall to the north wattled of serpents' backs, where evil men are punished. The frost-giants are the primeval thurses. Saxo knows that when giants die they go to Niflhel. He locates the dead giant Geirrod and his daughters there (Danish History, Book 8).
"with human men, a third" refers to Lif and Lifthrasir in Hodd-Mimir's (Hoard-Mimir's) grove, Vafþrúðnismál 44. Mimisholt is the archetypal sacred grove located at the center of the universe on its oldest layer. Yggdrassil grows up from here. Thus it is called "Mimir's Tree." Mimir is the collector of treasures. His home is also referred to as hodd-goða, "the hoard of the gods" in Grímnismál 28. The underworld rivers wind around it.  The lower world is the common home of dead men. The fact that we find "human (i.e. living) men" in the underworld is remarkable. These living men clearly belong to Óðains-akre, the acre of the not-dead, well-known from Icelandic folklore. They are humans kept as treasures for a future day, saved to repopulate the world, when the upper worlds have been burned away by Surt's fire. Snorri informs us that Mimir's well lies where "Ginnungagap once was"— between a world of ice and a world of fire. It is the temperate spot where all life originated.
 II. Images of Old Norse Cosmology
Based on the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson

Since the beginning of Eddic scholarship in the mid-1660s, scholars have tried  to depict the Old Norse cosmos as Snorri describes it.  The task is a difficult one. Here are several historic efforts. Notice the placement of the three roots of Yggdrasil in each drawing, as well as where the ends of Bifröst are located.

As you view the following illustrations, ask yourself:
  —What are the Nine Worlds and where is each one located?
—Would Bifröst appear as a natural rainbow, if viewed from Midgard?
—Do these images, based on Snorri's text, agree with what Snorri actually says?

Perhaps the oldest illustration of Yggdrasil, this comes from
a 17th century manuscript of Snorri's Edda known as
 AM 738 4to  or "Edda Oblongata"

This is a general representation of Yggdrassil as described in Grímnismál 32-35.
There is no indication here where Asgard, Midgard or Hel are located.

1825 Finnur Magnússon
Eddalæren og dens Oprindelse, Vol. 3

The first systemized drawing of Old Norse cosmology appears on page 340.  These illustrations  demonstrate that Finnur was the first modern scholar to systemize the nine worlds. This is an iconic image, often reproduced. Notice that the rainbow bridge is depicted vertically, stretching from Asgard to Hel, and bypassing Midgard altogether. Two branches of the tree cradle Midgard and a third penetrates the earth and rises above Asgard. From the text (pp. 184 ff.) we can see that he locates the nine worlds in the following manner:

Special Thanks to Terry Gunnell for pointing out the source of these images.

I. Ljósalfaheimr: Home of the Light-elves. Location of the palace Gimli, ruled by Surt. The heaven Vidblainn arches over this world.

II. Muspell of Muspellsheimr, world of fire, inhabited by Muspels sons. The heaven Andlang arches over this world.

III.  Godheim, the æther or starry heavens. This is Asgard, the home of the gods and the location of the palaces Valhall and Vingolf.

IV. Vanaheim, home of the air- and sea-gods, also called Vindheim (Home of the Winds). This is the Earth's Atmosphere.

V. Manheim, dwelling place of human beings. Also called Midgard. It is the located in the middle of the worlds.
VI. Jötunheim, home of the giants, also called Utgard.

VII. Svartalfaheimr, the home of Dark or Black elves, lies deep in the earth. 

VIII. Helheim, Hel's home, the realm of death or the death-goddess. Earth is the heaven of Helheim.

IX. Niflheim, Mist or Cloud-Home, lies at the bottom of the entire system of worlds.  Hence flow the Elivagor rivers from the well Hvergelmir. On the outer edge is found the Nastrond, the corpse-beach. Here the dragon Nidhug gnaws the roots of the Tree.

 Finnur Magússon then draws comparisons with other Indo-European cosmologies.
The Nordic cosmology is depicted in the upper left hand corner.

1829 Gustav T. Legis
Fundgruben des Alten Nordens

This appears to be the second attempt to systematically depict the 9 worlds. The illustration and accompanying text appeared as a folded page in the back of the book. Notice that  Muspellheim is located above Liósalfaheim and Asgard; and that Niflheim is placed below Helheim or Niflhel. Udáins-akr (the Acre of the Not-Dead) is located beyond the World Sea (Welt Meer) on the middle plane, and Glasor (Glasir in Snorri's Edda) is located outside of Asgard.
1847 Paul-Henri Mallet

Northern Antiquities

This illustration does not appear in the original French version or in the English translations of 1770 or 1809. First published in 1847, it was painted by Danish engraver Oluf Olufsen Bagge (1780-1836), apparently modeled on the image of Yggdrassil from the book by Finnur Magnússon above.


1871 A.& E. Keary
The Heroes of Asgard

Illustrations by Huard

Notice that in the drawings immediately above and below,
the rainbow is depicted as a full arch with bridgeheads beyond the sea.
Above, the branches of the tree seem to arch over Midgard.
The tree trunk extends through Midgard and up above Asgard.

1885 Frederich Wilhelm Heine

Here, the branches of the tree appear to cradle Midgard
and then arch up over Asgard forming a kind of tuft at the top.
Niflhel is represented by a tripartate root system entwined by a serpent.

The instinct to create a visual depiction of Snorri's account is alive and well. Oddly, some artists place the roots under the worlds, while others place the worlds below the roots. The following images were gathered from the internet. I have identified the artists when possible: 

In the picture below, the various worlds seem to be placed
in the branches of the Tree,  and the root system is located beneath Hel.
The "worlds" appears as a series of independent flat discs:


In the first image below, Asgard is depicted as a two part plain, ringing the trunk of the Tree. This would seem to satisfy the claim that Bifrost ran from Asgard to Urd's well, (from one part of heaven to another part of heaven apparently), since we are told the gods rode there daily (Grímnismál 29-30). Yet, we are still supposed to believe that the Bifrost bridge also extends to earth. Yggdrasil's roots branch out into 3 ways at the same level as Midgard. One root of Yggdrasil spirals upward toward heaven from Midgard, another delves deeper into Niflhel, and a third penetrates the earth and reappears rising from the which rings the world in which the Midgard Serpent swims, biting its own tail. The root rises from the waters, and extends itself into Jotunheim, presumably into Mimir's well, according to Gylfaginning.

In the next two pictures, the entire trunk and canopy of the tree are located above Asgard,
while only the roots descend into the worlds below:

In this one, by Elías Snæland Jónsson, author of Valkyrjunnar and Drekagaldurs,
Two roots extend down past the Asgard plane, Midgard, and another to Niflheim.

The entire tree trunk and canopy are located above Asgard.

In the image below by Dietwald Doblies, the tree trunk and canopy
also rise high above Asgard. Midgard rests on a plate of ice.

Hel and Niflhel appear as two distinct worlds,
and Bifrost extends from Asgard to Midgard:


In the image below by Miguel Coibra, the entire root system is located
below Midgard. Bifrost appears to extend vertically from Asgard to Midgard:


Two crude illustrations from Auden & Taylor's translation of the Poetic Edda
also depict the trunk and branches of Yggdrasil above the 9 worlds:

Together, these two diagrams make it apparent that Asgard and Midgard
 are located on the same plane, separated by the ocean.
Bifrost forms a natural arch extending over the sea between Asgard and Midgard.
Asgard is located on the same plane as Jötunheim and Muspelheim.

In this Map of the Nine Worlds as depicted in the fantasy series Runemarks by JoAnne Harris, the roots are located in Hel:


In the images above, notice that all the artists seem to have had trouble placing the roots in relation to the worlds, and each treat the matter in their own unique manner.

Although they are all based on Snorri's text, the sheer number of varieties is amazing.

If you think about it rationally, Snorri's description doesn't make much sense.
The proof is that artists have been unable to accurately depict it for over two centuries now. Certainly, something is amiss.

Could the ancient sea-faring Scandinavians really have had such a confused vision of the world and their place in it and still have been able to successfully navigate the oceans? 


Yes, there is— by examining the statements in the Poetic Edda,
and drawing a map independently. For the results of such an examination, see here.

In the 20th century, at the dawn of the Space Age, the interpretation of the Old Norse heimar, as 'worlds' seems to have taken on new meaning. Now these heimar are commonly envisioned as individual 'worlds' or planets, and denoted by a more spherical shape. This concept becomes more pronounced with the passing of time.

In the drawing below notice that Muspell, Surt's realm, is located above Niflhel.
Niflhel and Niflheim are labeled separately.
Branches of the tree appear to descend into Midgard and Niflhel.
Asgard and Urd's well are located in the same place,
but Bifröst stretches  between the Asgard plain and the sea surrounding Midgard.

[Recall that Grímnismál 29-30 and Snorri say the gods ride over Bifröst daily
to sit in judgment at Urd's well.]

From an unknown German publication. The title reads:
"The Plan of the Nine Worlds (Spheres)"

Notice that Vanaheim and Alfheim are given their own spheres, and that
the world of men is given two: Munarheim ('World of Friendship and Love")
and Midgard/Manaheim ("World of Human Beings").
Munarheim and Midgard sit one above the other.

Similarly, Niflheim is shown as a disc above Hel.
Hvergelmir, indicated by the snake twisted around the root,
is located in Utgard, home of the giants,

and Urd's well is located at the lowest level under Muspellheim.

The drawing below is from a Finnish publication:

Here the entire world is spherical with the divine regions
lying in the space outside the globe.
Midgard, Jötunheim, Hvergelmir and Nidavellir all lie on the same plane.
Only Niflheim lies below.

This one is from
The Book of Runes
by Frances Melville (2003):

In this view, each heim is a separate planet, with a root of its own.
Bifrost stretches from Asgard to a root between Midgard and Jötunheim.

This illustration by Katherine Girdaukas
accompanies a translation of

Here, Yggdrasil seems to sit upon a dome over Midgard.
Midgard rests on the coils of the snake below it.

Below is a highly detailed worldview from a German website
The caption reads "The World of the Edda":

How would Bifröst look to an observer standing on the surface of Midgard?
Notice the location of Thrudvang, Thor's home.
Also, note the placement of Mimir and Urd's wells in the lower world.

This map of the 9 worlds was published by Marvel Comics, 
publisher of 'The Mighty Thor', in 1988:

The visible structure of the tree is located entirely above Asgard.
Notice the placement of Nidavellir (home of the dwarves) in the heavens.
Once again, Bifröst stretches between Asgard and Midgard without
extending to Urd's well. Midgard is an earth-like sphere.
The other worlds appear as a series of disconnected planetoids.

Has Snorri's Christianized account of Yggdrasil
effectively felled the Old Heathen World-Tree?

Since Snorri places one root in heaven, another root in Hel, and a third in between,
a case could also be made for Yggdrasil lying on its side:

None of the depictions above accurately reflect Snorri's description of the Old Norse cosmos. Is it even possible to depict such a worldview? If not, can it truly have been the basis for the ancient Scandinavian system of navigation that allowed the vikings to explore so much of the world in their longships? What allowed them to sail across the open sea without fear? I suggest it was because in whatever direction they sailed, they expected to eventually come to land. That doesn't work within Snorri's account of the  Old Norse cosmos, but works remarkably well in the cosmology drawn from passages in the Poetic Edda.

In that interpretation, the sea is a giant basin or kettle, also conceived of as a giant lúðr ('mill-box') resting on the foundation of the lower world. Thus, the underworld is located beneath the mill-box and accessible at its sides at the same time.



Various attempts have been  made to rationalize and harmonize Snorri's interpretation within a symetrical system, like that of the Kaballah's Tree of Life. The three pictures below are identical for all intents and purposes. The image is simply rotated. While its obvious they were copied from one another, each makes an effort to depict the worlds from a different angle, without effecting the basic configuration. The originater of this model is unclear, but may be Karl Simrock. 

This, the most famous,  is based the esoteric teachings of Edred Thorsson (Stephen  E. Flowers).
Notice the separation of Hel and Niflheim, as well as the location of Niflheim in relation to Jötunheim.

The oldest illustration of this concept is attributed to
German scholar Karl Simrock:

Here is another version of the same model.
The drawing is a mirror image of the one above.
The cardinal directions have been added.

Here is a similar conceptual drawing by an unknown artist depicting a psychological model.
It matches the two above, merely drawn from a different angle.

All copyrights belong to their respective owners. Images are used here for educational purposes only.
If you can identify any of the unattributed pictures, please contact me.

See How the 9 Worlds are Depicted in
 The Poetic Edda and The Modern Scholarly View

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"Three roots stand on three ways beneath the Tree"
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