Bringing Ragnarok Guide to Norse Mythology

The Nine Worlds

Midgard, our World, what scientists term the known universe, was born when the Fires of Muspelheim and Mists of Niflheim were mixed in the great void Ginnungagap.

This produced the catastrophic event known as the Big Bang. For everything within the fast-expanding bubble of energy that followed Time began, and soon after, as the universe cooled, energy congealed into matter that began to clump, galaxies and stars forming in the vastness, and after a few aeons stable solar systems emerged, many capable of sustaining Life.

But this mixing of Niflheim and Muspelheim has had long-term consequences for the many Worlds beyond Midgard. The Big Bang was not an entirely natural event, but an experiment conducted by beings from another reality, a place where the rules of existence are different than those we know. And through Midgard these many Worlds were connected, their inhabitants able to walk through our universe like a child might a puddle.

Midgard exists as an intersection between Worlds, and this is why quantum mechanics and Einstein's relativity don't mesh to form a unified theoretical framework capable of explaining all phenomena in our material universe. Quantum effects explain interactions between bits of matter at small scales very well, Relativity explains them with astonishing precision at large scales, but theorists have been unable to come up with a way to directly integrate the two together - a consequence of their originating from different places in the Metaverse, with roots scientists simply cannot empirically observe.

There are Nine Worlds (other realities) known to the gods, beings from other Worlds who have interacted with humans throughout our history in various guises. The Norse names for the other eight are Aelfheim, Asaheim, Jotunheim, Muspelheim, Niflheim, Svartaelfheim, Vanaheim, and Yggdrasil.

Three of the Worlds are the source of the key forces, physical laws, and all the matter that makes up our physical reality in Midgard:

  • Niflheim is the source of gravity. All matter in Midgard is subject to Niflheim's pull. Final resting place for wicked souls, Helheim, is here
  • Jotunheim gives us quantum forces. These control how matter clumps and congeals. The shape-shifting Jotnar are from this World
  • Muspelheim is the home of energy. Thermodynamic laws are a consequence of all matter being congealed bits of Muspelheim's people

Four of the Worlds generate no continuous forces, but are home to beings with diverse interests, natures, and agendas, and whose actions have shaped Midgard's development as a consequence of their immense power relative to those originally from inside.
  • Asaheim is home to the Aesir, beings with no inherent understanding of the concept of time, who treat Midgard as a kind of playground.

  • Vanaheim the Vanir, beings fascinated by and attuned to life in all its forms, who treat Midgard as a kind of garden.

  • Aelfheim the Aelfar, entities driven to seek out novel experiences, often watching or even silently partnering with beings in Midgard.

  • Svartaelfheim the Svartaelfar, entities driven to shape materials, able to imbue objects with strange and unique powers. A subset of these, the Valkyrie, serve the gods by shaping souls in Midgard, preparing them to serve as warriors of the gods in the afterlife.

Finally there are the Strange Worlds, Midgard and Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil's role is utterly mysterious. Its manifestations in Midgard take the form of great tree roots, but it is also said to have roots in all Worlds. However, unlike Midgard, Yggdrasil does not appear to enable travel between Worlds.

Midgard, as a consequence of the influence of quantum effects on matter, is perhaps even stranger. As many quantum theorists have argued, Midgard is in fact a multiverse where any action taken by anyone or anything in it spawns a new universe, a new chain of causality linking all matter from the beginning of Time on to the End.

These Threads of reality are born - and die, collapsing into one another - all the time, imperceptible to most humans. But for the gods, Midgard presents a unique opportunity to observe how historical events can play out in infinite possible ways. The gods see the past and future of humanity (and indeed, every individual human) from beginning to end in an inconceivable array of possibilities, some they at times physically enter into, embodying as humans, and so subtly interact with the inhabitants while directly shaping the course of events.

The Story of the Gods

The Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar are broadly considered the gods proper, with the Aelfar, Svartaelfar and Muspelli are better thought of as divine spirits, given their limited ability to directly impact matter in most cases. An exception is Surtur, Guardian of Muspelheim, whose fires will one day consume Midgard and lead to the annihilation of all Worlds as he attempts to liberate his own from what they see as bondage in Midgard.

These beings from other Worlds have had a tremendous impact on the fabric of Midgard from its birth to its inevitable future death in Ragnarok, when the gods will fight one last epic battle in an attempt to alter the Fate of all Worlds. It is a mere accident that they encountered humans first of all the beings of the universe, but this accident has bound the gods and humanity since our earliest days in incredibly intimate ways.

They have lived with and as humans, for a wide variety of reasons - very much like humans, the gods are extremely diverse in their motivations and can only be broadly grouped into categories connected to their home World and a set of core beliefs all of their kind appear to share.

Aesir, pronounced 'As-sir,' are gods whose culture is oriented towards achievement and notability, taking on great challenges and quests to define their otherwise timeless existence.

Vanir, 'Van-er,' are devoted to life in all its forms. They are great cultivators, and if they did not bring life to Midgard they certainly intervened to guarantee its development on Earth at the very least.

Jotnar, 'Yot-nar,' are extremely diverse and individualistic beings with a degree of control over quantum laws even while in Midgard, allowing them to shift their own shape however they like. Often called Trolls or Giants, many Jotnar are hostile to anyone not of their own tribe or clan, but others have actually married into Aesir or Vanir families - as individuals they often choose to take on the identity of whatever group accepts them.

But the Jotnar are always enigmatic, and Loke, son of Laufey, is known as the Betrayer for refusing the laws of Asgard and so threatening the existence of all Worlds. At Ragnarok, he will lead his children Jormungand the World-Serpent, Hel Mistress of Torment, and Fenris the Devouring Wolf against the gods of Asgard, bringing annihilation to all Worlds when Surtur of Muspelheim's flames are released in his death throes when he and the Vanir Freyr slay one another.

Discovering humanity early in our development, many of the gods found the existence of other beings much like themselves incredibly fascinating. And it was through their mutual attraction to humans that each eventually learned of the others' existence. And just as one would expect from humans, the consequences of their first encounters were not ideal.

A Jotnar named Gullveig began causing trouble in a region near where Odin and other Aesir, Asa-gods as they are often called, were living with a community of humans as their chieftains far back in the deeps of time. They tried to kill her, but failed thanks to her ability to alter the laws of physics around her, a dangerous talent most Jotnar share. Pursuing her, they came across the goddess Freyja, then living with another people in Midgard, mistaking her for Gullveig.

They tried to burn her alive, but by wearing Brisingamen, a Svartaelf necklace granting her immunity from harm, though not pain, Freyja survived. Still, this act meant a terrible war had begun. The Aesir-Vanir conflict escalated and raged, devastating many human communities on Earth, a fight etched into the mythological memory of many peoples.

The Vanir fought a guerilla-style struggle against the tough, professional Aesir, eventually discovering a way to strike their foes at the point where they crossed from Asaheim to Midgard across a breach in Bivrost, the boundary of space and time. This waypoint, known as Asgard, was destroyed in an epic fight - and at the conclusion, both sides realized the danger they were putting both Midgard and their own Worlds in.

Hard limits to Midgard's development had emerged, points where the course of history and time itself would simply cease if a certain threshold were crossed, if too many Threads went down certain paths. The gods realized that their own actions had already substantially limited Midgard's possible trajectories, and that if the fabric of reality were ever damaged too much, all Threads would collapse together in a great conflagration that would undo the Big Bang - then cascade into their home Worlds, destroying them as well.

Frygga was the first to perceive the terrible threat, and her husband Odin led the Aesir in negotiating a peace with the Vanir, including an exchange of hostages and an agreement to rebuild Asgard as a joint fortress, a staging area to use to stabilize Midgard, mitigate the damage they had done. Mimr and Heod went to Vanaheim, while Njord came to Asgard with his twin children Freyja and Freyr.

It was a shaky alliance, but it held - despite a misunderstanding involving Mimr being beheaded. But then three Jotnar came to Asgard, warning of the great disaster to come that could only be delayed by heeding their advice. These, the Norns, could read the Threads of Midgard like it was a woven tapestry, telling the gods what must be in order to delay the End.

So the gods of Asgard took up guardianship of Midgard and spent long ages exploring all they safely could, seeking the Jotnar out to learn their ways or fight them if they proved hostile. One Jotnar, sent to be brought up in Asgard by his mother, was named Loke - sometimes remembered as Loki or even Lopt. Clever, bold, and fickle, he caused many troubles for the gods across the ages but resolved many crisis, maintaining the shaky peace with the Jotnar tribes willing to come to terms with Asgard. He even became Odin's blood-brother in hopes of uniting all the gods.

But it was, sadly, not to be. Over time the gods' restrictions grew tighter as they came to understand even very small actions on their part could have immense consequences for Midgard's survival. And Loke chafed at what he saw as their hypocrisy and lack of concern for the rights of the Jotnar, who were all but prohibited from traveling to Midgard themselves.

Out of spiteful anger, he contrived with the Jotnar giantess Angrbotha to produce three awful children, dark spawn of his inner rage and desire for vengeance: Hel, Jormungand, and Fenris. And then the gods faced a crisis - Voluspa the seer rose from the dead unbidden to offer a dark prophecy of Ragnarok's inevitability, fragments of which have survived, described in the Icelandic Eddas. She warned that Loke's brood would play a key role in destroying everything, for everyone. And so the gods took drastic action.

Hel was sent by Odin to cold Niflheim to establish Niflheim, where her innate desire to inflict torment on those she judged harshly could be sated for many ages by sending the worst of humanity, souls beyond any hope of repair after committing heinous misdeeds in life, to her to receive justice. Some would merely sleep, troubled by dreams of misdeeds, others would remain alert to suffer for eternity under torments of her personal devising.

Fenris rapidly grew so strong and dangerous that not even the great fighter Tyr could be sure of containing him. But Fenris was extremely prideful, and they tricked him into accepting a Svartaelf fetter that kept him bound on the edge of Ginnungagap until the end of Time. There he sits in Gnipa Cave, raging alone, unable to slake his thirst for the blood of all living things until the day comes he breaks free to unleash ruin upon Midgard.

Jormungand escaped to hide in Midgard. A clever, power-hungry being, he moves between Threads manipulating whomever he can in order to control brutal empires, aiming to one day build a force powerful enough to assault Asgard itself. Jormungand launched an attack on Earth once, intending to destroy humanity early in our history. Only Thor's intervention against the World-Serpent saved the day, with much of the human population wiped out by the Flood of death his attack wrought.

Loke initially escaped judgement as he remained Odin's blood-brother and was not considered responsible for his children's choices. And in fact he fought against his own son to protect Earth, still at the time willing to believe in the gods' plan to protect Midgard and their Worlds from destruction.

But then his darkest suspicions about the gods and their true intentions were confirmed when Frygga gave birth to her son Baldr, a god invulnerable to all but one seemingly innocuous threat. In him Loke saw the ultimate triumph of Asgard: a being capable of surviving Ragnarok, who would either guarantee the Jotnar's permanent subjugation in this world or the one some still hoped would be born after.

Loke contrived to have Baldr killed by making a mistletoe arrow and placing it in the hands of a blind god, Hod, when the gods were making a sport of throwing sharp objects at Baldr to test his invulnerability. But mistletoe was a substance Frygga could not protect Baldr against, and when struck by the arrow he died, then his soul was kept permanently in Hel-hall when just one being on Earth - very possibly Loke in disguise - refused to simply cry along with every other living thing in order to secure his release and our last hope for salvation.

The gods might yet have simply cast Loke out, but after Baldr's death he came to Asgard one last time to insult each of the leading gods in Odin's own Hall, boasting of his deeds. Then, after denouncing them all for their many hypocrisies, he then left, pursued by Thor and many other gods until he was finally caught and imprisoned, chained to a rock in Ginnungagap and tormented by serpent's venom for all eternity.

And so Voluspa's prophecy became inevitable reality: at the End of Time Loke will get loose, and he will in turn free his twisted family. Together in Hel they will assemble an army of Jotnar and Muspelli and the souls of the Dead condemned to Hel-heim and assault Asgard after three terrible winters pass on Earth - Fimbulwinter, the time when all bonds holding the universe together will fray then tear.

In the final battle Fenris will slay Odin, but be killed in turn by Odin's son Vali. Thor will kill Jormungand but succumb to poison nine steps later. Heimdall and Loke will slay one another - and then Freyr with his last desperate stroke will mortally wound Surtur, whose flames will consume all existence, destroying everything forever.

The gods still maintain their vigil over Midgard, intervening where they can and mourning the many times they cannot, caught in a net they wove for themselves. But they have not all lost hope, and some still seek a chance to avert or alter Fate, clinging to those few words of Voluspa pointing to something rising from the ashes of dying Yggdrasil, a new World where everyone will be free of fear and want and pain.

To that end, the gods came to recognize that their best allies, the source of their own salvation, might be humanity.

Humans - and likely all living things in Midgard - have souls that usually re-embody life after life, holding no memory of prior lives except in very rare circumstances. But the gods, being able to view the entire scope of human history across an infinity of independent Threads, see the connections linking a human individual across lives, can see the things that link these instances and make a person truly whole, who they truly are and could be, if given an eternity to work at it. And those that in life develop attributes the gods value may be selected by Odin or Freyja to be Einherjar (Ayn-her-yar), warriors who will fight alongside them at Ragnarok.

The gods believe that they don't have the ability to know what skills or values might somehow save all Worlds in the End. So they seek the widest possible range of humans in order to ensure all their bases are covered. Odin, representing the Aesir, takes Einherjar who are the very best at whatever their passion is, calling them to Valhalla to continue developing it in the infinite afterlife, until the time comes for the final test. Freyja represents the Vanir, selecting Einherjar who live in the service of others, calling them to Folkvangr to continue serving, until there is one last service to perform, one last battle to fight. To the gods, struggle in life is the same as fighting in any battle, marking no inherent difference between fighting to raise an educate a child in poverty, for example, and direct particpation in a military conflict.

When a person dies in Midgard, their soul leaves their body and travels to one of three places: Ginnungagap, where souls rest for some indeterminate amount of time before being reborn again in a later era; Helheim, where those whose deeds were evil are punished according to Hel's whim; Niflheim, where those souls that suffer too much pain in their lives may go to simply sleep until Ragnarok; Asgard, where the Einherjar spend half their time (days) further developing their skills and the other half (nights) relaxing and celebrating as their hearts desire.

The Einherjar spend their nights in Valhalla or Folkvangr, Halls created for them by Odin and Freyja respectively to sustain them for as long as eternity lasts. Valhalla is a Great Hall filled with an infinity of linked rooms. Folkvangr is more of a verdant landscape, ever-shifting to suit the desires of those inside. Upon their most noble death, a Valkyrie will convey a selected Einherjar to the gate of Asgard, where Odin and Freyja welcome their new recruit and take them to Valhalla for a grand welcoming Feast where they meet their loved ones who came before.

Einherjar are afterwords free to associate with whatever gods they like best, despite being selected by Odin or Freyja. Each god's personality is a little different, attracting different kinds of Einherjar to their company.

The Gods, as they appear to the Six Friends

Odin is the god of many names - Wotan, Oden, Allfather, and Ygg are but a few. In appearance a lot like Gandalf but with just one eye, he is friendly and hospitable to guests but also cunning and ruthless to adversaries. Known as the wisest of the gods and the ruling Lord of Asgard, Odin is often accompanied by his wolves Geri and Freyr and of course his ravens Huginn and Munnin, who bring him news from the Nine Worlds. He is a patron of knowledge and wisdom and travels often through Midgard in pursuit of his obsession. He also takes half the Einherjar for his Halls, sometimes competing with Freyja over a prized soul.

Freyja - Freya, Froya are alternate spellings - is a beautiful goddess with many similarities to key wealth fertility deities in many human cultures. She is associated strongly with gold, with her tears and hair serving as common metaphors - kennings in the Norse cultures - for the substance. Wealth and sexual pleasure are also her domains, but she is equally a warrior spirit who takes half of Einherjar to be hers in the afterlife. Affiliated with cats, and a team of them pull her chariot.

Frygga (pronounced free-gah) is an older woman with an incredible degree of foresight. Odin's spouse, she is a goddess of prophecy, fate, and childbirth - leading to some (predominantly male scholars) mistaking her for Freyja. Like Odin, despite her outward appearance of age, she is a deadly fighter, also a devious planner adept at orchestrating complex schemes, often conducted to bring justice where she feels it is lacking.

Freyr (or Frey or sometimes Frej) is his sister's near-twin in appearance, a beautiful man with bright hair and an equally bright attitude, a patron of celebration and joy, god of the harvest and the bounty of nature. Affiliated with boars and holding a unique (and oddly reciprocated) affinity for the Aelfar, he is also the god who will kill Surtur at Ragnarok at the cost of his own life, once he has no hope left Voluspa was wrong about Fate.

Idunn is a goddess renowned for growing the Sacred Apples that grant the gods and the Einherjar immortality despite Asgard's proximity to Midgard. She is also hailed, particularly by the Einherjar, for brewing this fruit into a wide variety of meads, ales, and other alcoholic drinks with all the upsides for humans but none of the downsides. Idunn is a doctor for all living things, able to heal plants and animals alike in mind and body, a patron to all those who likewise seek to heal the sick and hurt.

Thor is the god of Thunder, so-named because his Svartaelf hammer Mjolnir strikes with the force of a lightning bolt. He is the son of Odin and the Vanir Jord, who later became the spirit of the Earth. He holds himself therefore akin to and protector of the creatures of Earth, particularly against the ever-present threat of invasion by forces aligned with the World-Serpent Jormungand, Thor's hated foe. An opponent of empires and patron of free peoples, Thor is associated with two great rams who pull his chariot and reincarnate after being killed and eaten - unless you crack their bones to get at the marrow.

Heimdall is technically a Jotnar by birth, born in Vanaheim to nine Jotnar mothers (reproduction works differently with the gods). He has chosen to live as a Vanir, unable to shape-shift but still a ferocious fighter destined to slay Loke, who he sees as his twisted counterpart. A pale and truculent god, patron of those who fight to defend others, he spends most of eternity at his home overlooking Vegris Plain, where one day Bivrost, the rainbow bridge between Asgard and Midgard, will be shattered at the onset of Loke's invasion during Ragnarok.

Sif is Thor's spouse, an Aesir fully his match in single combat. She however prefers stealth to brute force, and possesses a Svartaelf wig that allows her to shift shape like a Jotnar. She often accompanies Thor on his many expeditions to contain the Jotnar threat, seeing it as her role to destroy the threats he doesn't see. Sif is the patron of those who struggle in the shadows, motivated by the hope for the final triumph of their chosen cause, whatever or whomever that may be.

Gefjon is a Vanir only rarely spotted in Asgard, as she is the patron of restoration, a goddess committed to repairing the many hurts the Earth and other planets suffer as a result of the carelessness shown by humans and other like-minded species. She is a goddess focused on renewal and survival, committed to working alone if necessary to protect and preserve life however she can, and favors mostly those humans who show a like concern for being good stewards of their lands.

Skadi is one of the Aesir, like her friend Gefjon rarely present in Asgard, preferring the solitude of mountain forests. A goddess associated with wildlife and a patron of hunters, Skadi is surprisingly Tyr's match in the martial arts, differing primarily in the fact that she views such skills as merely functional, not a joy unto themselves. Once wedded to Njord, she chose separation because she couldn't stand the noise near the sea.

Njord is the eldest of the Vanir, appearing to most as a doddering old fellow obsessed with his garden, though like all the gods he will fight hard at the Last Battle. A close friend of Idunn, he spends most of his time in Folkvangr, tending to the infinite gardens of the gods. Once wedded to Skadi, he chose separation because he couldn't tolerate the quiet loneliness of the high mountains, preferring the sea and the endless songs of the sea-birds.

Tyr is the greatest warrior of the Aesir, and retains that title despite having only one hand to fight with. He is a tough, gruff fighter not often seen in Asgard because he busy is undergoing some new test or trial. He lost his hand to Fenris, a necessary sacrifice and one he considers his greatest victory as it helped contain such a terrible threat for so long.

These twelve are by no means the only gods - nor are the Norse gods the only gods who exist. Indeed, memory of the gods varies across human cultures, the original stories becoming skewed over time. The Norse simply happened to remember the truth of how reality ends more accurately than anyone else, and the character of the gods most directly involved in the terminal catastrophe at the End of Time.

It is best to assume, in absence of explicit contravening evidence, that all gods of human mythology are based on some truly-remembered aspect of a powerful being interacting with humans at some point in our collective past. Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar are simply categories, names assigned to groupings of the gods that made sense to Europeans a thousand years ago.