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Asatruby Marco Dalmonte English translation by Gary Davies
Worshipped in: Northern Reaches, Norwold, Helskir, Antalia (Hollow World)
Asatru is an Antalian term which signifies faith (tru) in the gods (Asa), in this case in the Aesir pantheon. Also called Nordisk Sed (Northman Tradition), Forn Sed (Ancient Tradition) or Antalian Cult, Asatru is a polytheistic faith rooted principally in the regions in which the Antalian stock has spread, that is the Northern Reaches, Norwold, some areas of the Isle of Dawn and the land of Antalia in the Hollow World. The principal characteristic of this cult is that its legendary-mystic basis had been revealed to the mortals directly by Odin (from which it also gets the nickname of Odinism to indicate this religion). The cult was then handed down age after age, influencing the Antalian culture and civilisation and that of their descendents until it made it very similar to that of the Vikings of the real world. Today the northmen (generic term for the Antalians and their current descendents) are united by an extremely strong faith in the cosmic order described by their sages (mythical and religious stories) and it is through the teaching of these myths that the northmen are related in turn to the historic events and to everyday reality.
According to the northman mythology, life began in the universe without a creator. At the beginning, the cosmos was an enormous abyss full of magic (the Ginnungagap) that divided into two opposite regions: to the north the ice and darkness of Niflheim, and to the south the fire and light of Muspell. In Niflheim there was furthermore a source of bubbling and hot water, the Hvergelmir (the Bubbling Cauldron), from which gushes the Elivagar (literally “stormy waves”), or the eleven rivers from which would later derive all the water courses (their names were Svol, Gunnthra, Fiorm, Fimbulthul, Slidr, Hrid, Sylg, Ylg, Vid, Leiptr and Gioll). Some of these rivers were masses of inflated and whirling waters, others were composed of pieces of ice formed like swords and daggers, others finally were masses of ice and snow, which slowly slide towards the Ginnungagap forming a frozen expanse of white snow and ice of every colour, even black, the later formed from the poisoned foam that was formed when some warm rivers were blended with the icy rivers. Life had begun when the positive energy of Muspell was fused with the negative energy of Niflheim, or when the fire of Muspell reached the first edges of the icy desert originating from the rivers of Niflheim: from this union was born the spark of life that animated the matter, producing two primal beings: the immense Jotun and the cow Audhumla (the Great Nourisher). During his sleep, the sweat produced by the body of Jotun condensed and became his offspring (the giants, or Children of Jotun). Audhumla instead went in search of food and began to lick the salty ice of Niflheim, until moulding a piece that took life thanks to the breath of Audhumla and became Odin; Audhumla then fed both Odin and Jotun and the children of Jotun with her milk.
Unfortunately however Audhumla also licked the black ice soaked with the poison of Niflheim and thus became ill, and the poisoned milk was swallowed by Jotun and by his son Surt, who started to incubate hate towards Odin. When Audhumla died, her last breath froze among the fogs of Niflheim and from it Hel, who became Queen of the Dead, took form while from her tears was born Nooga, from her heart Fulla (who after her wedding with Odin was renamed Frigg) and from her womb Erda, the first Vanir. Immediately after burst the war for the control of the cosmos between the Giants and Odin, which ended with the slaying of Jotun by Odin. All the children of Jotun drowned in his blood, except Surt (who sheltered in Muspell) and Bergelmir (who escaped among the highest branches of Yggdrasil together with his wife Bestla). From Surt there then originated the fire giants and from the union of Bergelmir and Bestla the rest of the giants.
Odin pulled to pieces the corpse of Jotun and with them created the world that he placed on the great Yggdrasil, drawing the rocks and the mountains from his bones, the land from the flesh, grass and trees from his hair, the rivers and waters from his blood and sweat, while the skull was turned upside down and positioned over the land to form the sky, with the pieces of the brain of Jotun to float as clouds. Odin however saw that the sky was gloomy and decided to illuminate it. Therefore he took tongues of flame from Muspell and with them formed the stars. Creatures were made from the flesh hatching as fungi and mould from the dead skin of Jotun and became the first Dwarves, claiming a kingdom for themselves and gaining from Odin the world of Nidavellir in exchange for the sacrifice of four of them, which were taken and placed at the four corners of Midgard to support the sky (its not random that their names are those of the four cardinal points, that is Nordhri, Austri, Sudhri and Vestri). Odin created the celestial vault so that it rested on the pivot of the world, and fixed the Pole Star to it. Later wandering the world Odin saw two splendid trees, on which he breathed his life-giving breath creating Ask (ash) and Embla (elm), the first man and the first woman, ancestors of the human race that populated Midgard.
Afterwards Odin took Fulla as his wife, renaming her Frigg, and produced the first Aesir, while Erda was joined with Nooga in order to create the Vanir. Afterwards, Erda left Vanaheim for Midgard, where she joined with the land (derived from the lifeless body of Jotun) in order to make it fertile and permitted the mortals to survive.
Midgard was surrounded by a vast mass of water, and in order to give both to the giants and to the humans an area to inhabit, Odin decided to raise a wall between the two peoples, thus creating the mountains from the bodies of the giants who drowned in Jotun’s blood. To the east he settled the giants who founded Jotunheim there, while in the rest of Midgard sprawled the humans and dwarves.
Odin, the Vanir and Hel collaborated in order to divide the universe into equal parts, in order to avoid future fighting, and thus created the three levels of Yggdrasil: Odin was given dominion over Asgard; Hel was given dominion over the souls of the mortals who didn’t die heroically and over Helheim (union of Helgardh and Niflheim); the Vanir finally were given dominion over nature, the elements, animals and Vanaheim.
In order to cement this alliance and to renounce any claim on the world of the living nevertheless, Hel demanded that Odin and Nooga (undisputed leaders of the Aesir and Vanir) were united with her in order to breed an offspring that she couldn’t do by herself. Thus were born the three children of Hel: from Odin she had the astute Loki, while from Nooga she had the obscure Gullveig and the fascinating Nott. These were later mandated by Hel to live with the Aesir and the Vanir as her emissaries. Nott was then joined to the mysterious Annar (a traveller who had arrived to knock on her door in Vanaheim) and bred the sons Dag and Mani and the daughter Sol. When Annar vanished, Nott commanded the first-born Dag to find him, accompanied by the sister Sol on a chariot. When he was also late to return, Nott took to wandering in the sky together with the son Mani: it was thus that sun (Sol) and moon (Mani) accompanied the day (Dag) and the night (Nott) in the worlds of Yggdrasil, were always separated in their search for the vanished Annar.
One day Gullveig, keeper of the mysteries of witchcraft, came into Asgard invited by Loki, who wished to seize the secrets. She entered into the hall where the Aesir were gathered and began to deride them and to boast of her gifts, until the angry Aesir spurred on by Loki, seized her and decided to punish her for the offence by burning her on a pyre. For three times Gullveig was burnt alive, and twice she rose from the flames with an air of superiority. The third time however, Loki took her pulsating heart from the cinders and devoured it before Gullveig could reanimate, and thus allowing him to obtain part of her powers and of her wickedness. When the fire was extinguished this time, of Gullveig there was no more trace. Hel in fact had claimed her soul, in order to reincarnate her in the deformed body of Angrboda, the mother of all witches and trolls, and sent her into the Wood of Iron (Jarnvidur) in order to further the schemes of the mother. The Vanir demanded that the Aesir pay them the weregild for the offence caused, and when this was refused they unleashed a terrible war between Asgard and Vanaheim. After long years of combat without a victory, Odin decided to undertake a journey to the Well of Urd in order to obtain the magic and knowledge necessary to stop the conflict and come out once more as the ruler. Arriving before the Norn, they explained to him that only with extreme sacrifice would he be able to understand that which still escaped him, and thus he remained tied to the branches of Yggdrasil for nine days, at the end of which he finally had the knowledge of the runic magic and the visions of the future Ragnarok (or Götterdämmerung, literally “twilight/fate of the gods”). Returning to the field of battle, he was able to explain to all those that attended him, so that Aesir and Vanir swallowed their pride for the good of Yggdrasil and to delay Ragnarok they finally agreed to put an end to the conflict, before Hel had taken hold of all their souls. With the next truce there were unions of peace between Aesir and Vanir, and the former took women of the Vanir as wives in order to cement the alliance, increasing the number of Aesir and Asinye. Furthermore, Odin and the Vanir have agreed to share the souls of the heroically fallen, thus populating Valhalla and Sessrumnir with valiant warriors for deployment at the time of Ragnarok, and the Aesir were made to rebuild the walls of Asgard in order to defend them from future attacks by the giants. In order to seal the new pact of alliance, Vanir and Aesir spat in a wineskin and from this took form Kvasir, the wisest being of all creation. Unfortunately, Kvasir was later killed by two of the children of the dwarf Ivaldi, who had set a trap for him, and with his body they produced the kvas, potent mead that gives prophetic and storytelling abilities to those that drank it. Afterwards they slew the giant Gilling in a dispute, and when the son of these, Suttung, was to claim revenge, they yielded the kvas to him in exchange of the pardon. Suttung then entrusted the kvas to the daughter Gunnlod, who hid it in a cavern. When Odin knew of the incident, he first exiled Ivaldi and his children, and then left in order to recover the kvas. With his guile he was able to get into the cavern of the giants, and after having lain with Gunnlod in disguise, he stole the kvas and took it to Asgard. From this union was born Bragi, who became the eighth Aesir. Thanks to his eloquence and charisma, he was later able to gain the hand of Idunn, the youngest of Nooga and Erda daughters, who brought to the Aesir the secret of eternal youth (the golden apples) of which she was the keeper and became the eleventh Asinye.
Afterwards, from the union of Frey with Gerd (the most beautiful giantess of all creation, who Frey won only after giving to her father his famous dancing sword) were born the light elves, which went to live in Ljossalfheim guided by the wise Dain, their king. Subsequently, some dwarves and elves, attracted by the promise of knowledge of Ivaldi, left Nidavellir in order to move into a region of shadow know as Svartalfheim, where they became the dark elves in the service of the shadow, headed by Ivaldi, who has the role of guardian of Hvergelmir together with his sons, the Vatlings (Eitri, Brokk and Sindri).
Thus took form Yggdrasil, the World Tree, with the roots that sink into the past, the trunk that exists in the present and the branches that extend into the future, as a support on which all the nine worlds created by Odin were placed. Asgard, the island of the Aesir, was created on the highest point, with Alfheim to the east and Vanaheim to the west. Midgard (literally “Middle Earth”, the land of the humans surrounded by an ocean in which swims the world serpent, Jormungand) rising at the centre of Yggdrasil and it linked to all the worlds, with Nidavellir to the west and Jotunheim to the east, while under it extends Svartalfheim and beyond that Niflheim and Muspelheim. The Aesir live in Asgard, the Vanir in Vanaheim, the light elves in Alfheim, the dark elves in Svartalfheim, the dwarves in Nidavellir, the giants in Jotunheim and the humans in Midgard. In the sky between Asgard and Midgard is suspended the bridge made of air and water and enclosed by vault of fire called Bifrost, watched by Heimdall, an ever alert divinity who wears silver armour and a helmet with a stag’s antlers. From his tower of Himinbjorg, situated on the highest point of Bifrost, he can see for thousands of leagues, of night and day, and was able to hear even the grass that grows in Midgard.
Following the peace between the Aesir and Vanir there began a long period named by the northmen the Age of Heroes, during which the Aesir came down from Asgard and travelled in Midgard in search of adventure. It was in this period that were born the most famous of the legends about the deeds of the Aesir (in particular of Thor, Loki, Frey and Freyja), even if the legend that remains the most famous among the northmen dates from a later period and is that which tells of the imprisonment of Loki in the Isle of Black Grief, after that he, betrayed the blind god Hod, making him hurl against Balder (invulnerable to everything except mistletoe) an arrow with the point of mistletoe, killing him in an instant. For her grief, Nanna (wife of Balder) followed her husband into the Afterworld throwing herself on his funeral pyre. Because of this action Hod was condemned to death by Odin, but seeing that no Aesir felt like killing their own ill-fated brother, Odin joined with the giantess Rind and this gave birth to Vali, last son of Odin, born with the only aim of executing justice. When Vali was only a year old, his mother sent him to the court of Odin, and here, loosing an arrow, Vali pierced the chest of Hod killing him and washed its guilt with the death. Vali was then welcomed in Asgard and became the twelfth and final Aesir (it is no accident according to the northmen the months of the year are twelve, one for every Aesir, and the hours of the day are 24, from the sum of Aesir and Asinye).
Afterwards, when the guilt of Loki became apparent, he was captured by Thor, Vali and Forsetta and imprisoned in the same cavern in which was bound his son Fenris the Wolf, condemned to endure an eternal torture until the time of Ragnarok. But despite all, Yggdrasil didn’t die even at Ragnarok, when the legions of the dead led by Hel and Loki and those of the giants led by Surt gave battle to the gods in Asgard. Before this event, the world was gripped by a terrible winter that lasted three years (the Fimbulwinter, or Great Winter) during which the summer never arrived. This period was distinguished by war (Age of the Axe), turmoil (Age of the Sword) and chaos (Age of the Wolf, in which the brothers killed each other) during which all humanity perished, with the exception of one man and woman who sheltered within Yggdrasil and were saved. At the end of the Fimbulwinter the skies were obscured, the wolves Skoll and Hati (children of Fenris and Angrboda) that until now have followed in vain the chariots of Sol and Mani (causing the eclipses when they get close enough) finally devouring the sun and the moon, the Well of Urd froze; a branch of Yggdrasil broke off and fell on the head of Jormungand, who infuriated invaded Midgard; and from Niflheim the ship Naglfar, led by Loki and loaded with the souls of the damned, sailing the waters of Hvergelmir until arriving in Asgard, while Hel and Garm followed together with Fenris, finally freed from his chains, and these will be joined by all the evil giants headed by Surt, which crossed the Bifrost will make it collapse. At that point Heimdall sounded Gjallar in order to warn all the worlds that Ragnarok had begun, and the contenders will face each other on the plain of Vigard, where Aesir and Vanir fought together against the hosts of Hel’s giant allies and of her damned souls, for the possession of the universe. Only the Norn, custodians of the destiny of the universe, know what will happen afterwards (but it is a knowledge that has only been revealed to Odin, who jealously guarded it): Frey blinded Surt but was killed by the latter with his own dancing sword. Odin was devoured by Fenris but was revenged by Vidar, while Garm and Tyr, Loki and Heimdall destroyed each other. Thor killed Jormungand, but then perished because of his poison, and Midgard was enveloped in the flames sinking beneath the waters, while Magni (son of Thor) killed Nidhogg with an arrow. The worlds will collapse, and therefore Yggdrasil didn’t die. From the waters of Midgard rose the land, and the two mortals who sheltered within the Ash of the World (Lif and Lithrasir) were killed in order to give life to a new human race, while the spirits of the valorous that survived went to live in Gimlé, a new palace radiating with splendour that rose in the middle of Asgard, and the gods that had been saved disembarked from Skipbladnir (the ship of Frey) returning to govern the newborn world. As is shown by the cosmology, Asatru believes that all the universe are sustained by Yggdrasil, the Tree of the Worlds, according to this division in levels:
* First Level: Asgard, Vanaheim, Alfheim
* Second Level: Midgard, Jotunheim, Nidavellir
* Third Level: Muspelheim, Niflheim, Svartalfheim
According to some students of the University of Uppsala in Norrvik, the three levels in which the Nine Worlds are grouped echo the planar disposition of the cosmos: therefore the higher planes of Asgard, Alfheim and Vanaheim would be outer celestial planes, the middle planes of Midgard, Jotunheim and Nidavellir are found in the Prime Plane and in practice are regions of the same Known World, while the lower planes of Muspelheim, Helheim and Svartalfheim are found in the elemental regions etc. Others instead assert that only Midgard is present in the Prime Plane (Mystara), while all the others are regions spread among the inner and outer planes without much order, and all are held by Yggdrasil, an outer plane in which are found gates that lead to the Nine Worlds. Finally some more extremist priests preach an immanent vision of the cosmology, which sees Yggdrasil as the world of Mystara and all the realms that he supports would be therefore found in its globe. A proof of this cites the neighbouring Alfheim, land of the light elves, and Rockhome of the dwarves (Nidavellir), beyond which the arctic regions in which presumably dwells Hel, while between the waves of the sea would be hidden Vanaheim, thus like Asgard should be situated above the clouds, Svartalfheim underground, Jotunheim the mountainous area that divides the Northern Reaches from Rockhome and Ylaruam (or the mountains of Norwold) and Muspelheim in a still unknown region, perhaps between the kingdom of the dark elves and that of Hel or in the fiery desert to the south of Soderfjord. Naturally the truth remains far from being revealed, thus every philosopher remains faithful to their own ideas, which in effect are found in each of the aforesaid cases given the varied nature of the Multiverse.
The Nine Worlds and Yggdrasil of the Antalian cosmology are described below in a more detailed manner:
ALFHEIM: the realm of the light elves (or Ljosalfar), frequently also called Ljossalfheim (literally “home of the light elves”) is a region in which the climate remains perennially in balance between the spring and the more mild summer, wholly covered by a lush vegetation, majestic trees and oodles of fruit, meadows always in bloom and crystal-clear lakes, and surrounded by an eternal calm sea and populated by every sort of fish, from which poke out lots of small idyllic islands. The animal fauna abound and are never hostile though they live in a wild state, and here the high elves (or light elves), perfect creatures with an angelic aspect and off ancient wisdom, live in peace enjoying the fruits of nature and of their own sublime arts, ruled with justice and far-sightedness by Dain, the wisest of the elves. Here Frey also lives with his consort Gerd, parents of the elven race, and Volund, the mythical elven smith who together with the dwarven smiths Brokk and Sindri have created the most powerful artefacts of the Immortals. After the hunting of Ivaldi and of the Vatlings (who Volund refused to follow, despite the promises of the stepfather Ivaldi), he became the undisputed master of metallurgy of the Immortals (indeed it was him who forged the sword of Balder, Mistillteinn, the only weapon capable of breaking the hammer of Thor, the mythical Mjollnir forged by the dwarves).
ASGARD: abode of the Aesir and Odin, Asgard is an island that rises in the middle of an expanse of dark and boiling water that derives from Hvergelmir, which runs to the first level of Yggdrasil from Niflheim. Surrounded by a high, stone wall that was built by the giant Hrimthurs at the end of the cosmic war, Asgard is only accessed through Bifrost, the rainbow bridge constantly watched by Heimdall from his tower of Himinbjorg (Guardian of Paradise). It is the Guardian of Bifrost who sounds his horn (Gjallar) to give the signal to the Aesir of the start of Ragnarok, and therefore his vitally important role is to prevent Asgard from being invaded. At the centre of Asgard extends the plain of Idavoll (or Ida), where the Aesir gather in order to hold council and take the most important decisions: here the Aesir are gathered in the palace named Gladsheim (literally “place of joy”), a sanctuary where Odin sits at the head of the council, while the Asinye are assembled in the palace of Vingolf (literally “abode of the friends”) presided by Frigg; these two palaces represent the heart of Asgard, the holiest place for all those that live in the lands of the Immortals. The Aesir (male and female) also gather together daily around the Well of Urd, situated at the feet of the roots of Yggdrasil that spring from Asgard. The royal palace of Odin is Valaskjalf, famous for its silver roof, in which Hlidskjalf, the sacred throne of Odin, is guarded from whoever wants to sit there (honour that is only up to Odin and Frigg) can watch every place of the Nine Worlds and of Yggdrasil. The palace of her consort is Fensalir, guarded by the bold Syn (devote servant of Frigg, the one who prevents access to anyone it doesn’t like to his mistress), where Frigg lives assisted by her three daughters: Hlin (charged with consoling and protecting the favourites of Frigg and bring piety to Midgard), Snotra (tasked with keeping Fensalir in order and administer the wisdom and truth among the mortals) and Gna (with the task of transmitting the messages to the mortals and of occupying herself of the affairs of Frigg in the other worlds). Bliskirnir (so vast that it is possible to get lost) is instead the abode of Thor and Sif, situated in Thrudheim (region governed by the Thunderer), while Breidablik is the palace of harmony and beauty in which lived Balder and Nanna (now abode of Bragi and Idunn), and near by rose Glitnir, the palace of gold and silver of the son Forsetta. The last important characteristic of Asgard is Valhalla (the Palace of the Dead), the abode in which are gathered after death the souls of those that have died heroically. It is an imposing place with 540 gates, enormous lances for columns, the roof and the walls made up of large war shields, and armour scattered in every corner. A wolf stands as guard of the western gates, the head of a boar is hung on the gable of the palace and an eagle constantly flies above it in order to scrutinise those who approached it: only the most worthy can pass beyond these three guardians and enter into Valhalla. It is here in fact that the Valkyries (literally “those that select the dead”, or spirits of war and death, souls of the most heroic women who ever lived reincarnated as young warriors at the service of Odin and Freyja) bringing half of the souls of those who fell valorously in battle, while the rest of these warriors were escorted to the Folkvang (the Field of the People), abode of Freyja in Vanaheim. These heroes, called Einherjar are then reincarnated in the corpses that they had whilst alive and wait here the final battle of Ragnarok, preparing daily to face the hordes of Hel and of the giants. Every day in fact the Einherjar arm themselves for the battle and they gout in their thousands to simulate the fighting on the plain of Vigard (the place in Asgard that is the land of the final battle), in order to stay in shape and enhance their own combative ability, and at the end of the evening returned to Valhalla in order to celebrate by feasting on the meat of boars cooked by the cook of the gods, Andhrimnir (only giant friend of Thor), and drank mead and milk that comes from the breasts of Heidrun, the goat that lives on the roof of Valhalla grazing the leaves of Yggdrasil. During the evening moreover, the valiant warriors can finally include the splendid Valkyries who participated at the celebrations this time as waiters and maids, that are the spirits of their wives, which were brought here by Freyja in order to brighten up the evening. When the battle had begun, eight hundred warriors marched side by side outside of everyone of the gates of Valhalla, and likewise were paraded by Freyja (the legend tells that there is enough space for all in Valhalla, and is it is much more easy to enter than to leave).
JOTUNHEIM: the homeland of the storm, frost and mountain giants that made the peace with Aesir and Vanir, situated on the same level of Midgard and separated from Asgard by the river Iving, which never freezes. It is found in the snowy regions near to the coast of the ocean that surrounds the plane of Midgard. The Well of Mimir is found in this region, beneath the roots of Yggdrasil that rise in the second level of the universe. Jotunheim is ruled by, the feared king of the frost giants, and in it is also found the fortress of Utgard, principal city of the giants ruled by the slyest and most heartless of the mountain giants, Utgardaloki, master of magical arts and illusion, and Thrymheim, stronghold of the ruthless storm giant Thiazi.
MIDGARD: the world in which the northmen live (thus the Known World), also called Middelerde (“midlands”) or Midhgardhr (“the middle gardens”). According to the Antalian cosmology, it is at the centre of Yggdrasil, surrounded by an enormous ocean in which swims the mastodontic serpent of the World, Jormungand, so large that it is able to see its own tail in order to surround Midgard with all its body. In the same level of Midgard is found Jotunheim, land of the giants situated to the east, and Nidavellir, land of the dwarves situated to the west of the human lands, while the Rainbow Bridge (Bifrost) connects the midlands with Asgard. Among the famous creatures that dwell in Midgard are found the witch Angrboda, who lives in the Forest of Steel (Jarnvidur) and the monstrous Gylgarid, a creature in the service of Hel born from the hate and anger of the Immortal, who wanders the lands of the northmen in search of warriors to convert to evil and to the violence and flooded with the holy fire of ferocity (berserk).
MUSPELHEIM: the land of the fire giants, Muspelheim is one of the two original regions in which the cosmos was divided (Muspel and Niflheim). Following the killing of by Odin, the giant survivor Surt took abode in this hell of magma, fire and melted rock, and from here shaped the entire race of fire giants in his image. These giants are animated by an uncommon destructive and bellicose spirit, and within their hearts harboured hate towards all the other living races of the Nine Worlds (with the exception of their brother giants), since for the guilt of Aesir and Vanir they are relegated to the fiery inferno of Muspelheim. For this the fire giants only live to bring suffering to the inhabitants of Yggdrasil and avenge their fate, objective that finally achieved when Surt led them on fiery chariots towards Asgard once Ragnarok was joined. It will be Surt who sets fire to Yggdrasil with his flaming sword and it will be the giants of Muspelheim who will cause the Bifrost to collapse once they have crossed it, bringing devastation and war in Asgard.
NIDAVELLIR: the land of the mythical dwarves that grew from fungi on the skin of the late Jotun, is often confused with the realm of the dark elves since large parts of Nidavellir have been excavated underground or within the mountain sides. Given of great strength and extreme ability, live and work at night in the mines of the underground and are ruled by Modsognir. The dwarves are exceptional craftsmen (the most famous are Brokk and Sindri) and are the artisans of the most important artefacts of the Aesir and of the Vanir, like the famous spear Gugnir and the ring Draupnir in the possession of Odin, the hammer of Thor (Mjollnir), the necklace of Freyja (Brisingamen), the golden hair of Sif as well as Gleipnir, the rope used in order to tie up the ferocious wolf Fenris, and the ring of the Nibelunghi, capable of providing riches without equal and equally misfortune to its possessor.
NIFLHEIM: this dismal realm (literally “House of the Mists”) is a expanse of ice, snow and icy mist constantly lashed by glacial winds, storms of hail, sleet and hurricanes, and is made up of two regions: Niflheim true and proper (the Land of the Mists) and Helgardh or Helheim (the Afterworld or Kingdom of the Dead). Niflheim is a place of cold and ice situated above the Afterworld, under the third root of Yggdrasil, close to Hvergelmir (literally “Bubbling Cauldron”) and to Nastrond (the Beach of the Corpses), but separated from Muspelheim by the Ginnungagap (an empty abyss that was created when the nine worlds were separated, in such a way that it forever divided the cold Niflheim from the burning Muspelheim, the two parts of the primal cosmos), abode of the obscure Darga, an eternal being who has the task of harvesting the souls of the damned in Midgard and taking them to Helgardh or Nastrond. From the Hvergelmir have originated the Elivagar, or the eleven rivers that give life to all the water courses that flow finally towards Midgard. Above them dwells the dragon Nidhogg (literally “Ripper of Corpses”), also called the Biter, which every day rode one of the roots of Yggdrasil and that is food of the more vile and unworthy deceased that are found in the island of Nastrond. Helped by other monstrous serpents (Graback, Grafvolluth, Goin and Moin) his task is to completely devour the three principal roots of Yggdrasil in order to cause it to collapse and unleash Ragnarok. Helgardh instead is situated under the icy expanses of Niflheim, and it is approached through a narrow and steep path that zigzags up the side of an awful crag of black ice constantly battered by the winds of Niflheim. The entry cavern to the Kingdom of the Dead (Gnipahellir or Cave of the Crag) is watched by Garm, the bestial Molosso giant servant of Hel. In order to reach Helheim according to legend they need to travel for nine days on the Path of Hel, across the great forests and dark valleys of Midgard, overcoming the mountains and the ravines, until arriving at the Port of Hel (Helgrind), where Modgud (the skeletal virgin) stands guard of Gjallarbru, the bridge on the river Gjoll (Howling), from which it has access to the Land of the Dead. In Helgardh dwell the shades of gods and giants and of all those who died without glory in the higher worlds (including deaths from old age, illness and chance accidents): these are the dead without peace. At the end of their mortal life, Darga (the angel of death) arrived with a beating of wings and with a slash of a scythe separates the shadow and the soul from the body, devouring and absorbing it later in Helgardh. Those that are shown to have led the most impious, reprehensible lives (like liars, traitors and assassins) are forced to endure terrible torture in the island of Nastrond (or Nastrandir), populated by serpents (the children of Nidhogg) whose venom constantly drips on their open wounds and in which the dragon Nidhogg every day arrives in order to feast with the more unfortunate. The queen of the damned, Hel, lives in the palace of Eljudnir, sitting on her throne of bone and revered by her two servants, Senility the governor and Stupidity the slave. On the river Slid (Terrible - one of the eleven Elivagar made of swords and daggers of ice) that skirts Nastrond finally, is berthed an enormous warship called Naglfar, built with the nails of the dead. It will be on this ship that at Ragnarok the damned souls and the queen Hel navigated to Asgard in order to do battle against the gods together with the giants, and its captain will be the greatest sinner and liar of all time, Loki the fraudster. Because of this, it is particularly important for the northmen to live and especially die in an appropriate manner, as those that don’t will end up, against their will, fighting against the forces of Good at the end of the world.
SVARTALFHEIM: the realm of the black elves (or svartalfar), terrible and deformed beings that inhabit the gloomiest caverns between Midgard and Helheim. It is said that they are turned to stone if exposed to the sun and that their hearts are black because of their wickedness. In Svartalfheim also live the dockalfar, or dark elves, pallid subterranean creatures similar to the elves but that avoid at all costs the light of the sun: although not as ruthless and cruel as the black elves, are however dangerous and powerful. These two races are frequently confused with each other along with the dwarves, such that made some northmen also suspicious of the struggles of the dwarves. Legend tells that the black elves are the direct descendents of dwarves that where transformed in Svartalfar believing Ivaldi’s promises of wealth and knowledge, while the dark elves are the descendents of the light elves that settled in the underground for the same reason as the dwarves and joined with the Vatlings, the children of Ivaldi. These two races now share Svartalfheim, even if there is bad blood between the two parts and each of them seeks every way of humouring Queen Hel in order to gain a better reward in expectation of Ragnarok. The elves of Svartalfheim are powerful spellcasters since they have learnt their arcane knowledge both from the Aesir and from the Vanir and from Queen Hel through exchanges of favours and obscure pacts. The legend tell that it will be the black elves led by Ivaldi who will burn the roots of Yggdrasil by overturning their furnaces when Ragnarok begins.
VANAHEIM: place of wild aspect in which the Vanir live. This realm has an immense ocean in which dwells Nooga in the submerged palace of Noatun (“pier” or “anchorage”), together with the sons Aegir and Ran and the eleven daughters of the latter, called undine. Under the seas of Vanaheim also lie the corpses of the drowned of the Nine Worlds, which aren’t in Valhalla or Helheim, but is the exclusive domain of Ran based on the accords between the divinities. It also comprises an immense continent populated by animals and plants, great mountains furrowed by rapid rivers and everlasting glaciers: Vanaheim is the quintessence of nature in all its thriving and savage beauty (thus its places aren’t only beautiful to observe but also extreme and dangerous). The only other existing palace is that of Freyja, Sessrumnir, built in Folkvang (the Field of the People). It is here that the souls of dead women with honour and one half of the men who died on the battlefield who had been judged by Odin and claimed by the Valkyries. During the evening then, Freyja took part of these female souls and brought them to Valhalla, to reunite them with their husbands and give relief and joy to only those fighters who were training for Ragnarok.
YGGDRASIL: the Tree of the Worlds is an enormous ash tree that according to the Nordic legend supports all the nine worlds of the universe, namely Asgard, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Midgard, Jotunheim, Nidavellir, Svartalfheim, Helheim and Muspelheim. The name literally means “horse of Yggr”, that is horse of Odin, seeing that the term Yggr (“terrible”) is one of the epithets that Father Odin was called. Yggdrasil gives shelter to all the worlds and its three roots are each hidden in a different level of the worlds, enclosing all: because of this it is said that it was born in the past, lives in the present and its branches reach into the future, nourishing life in a physical and spiritual way. In effect three sources exist by which the roots of Yggdrasil are bathed: the Well (or the Fount) of Wisdom (Mímisbrunnr) situated in Jotunheim and watched by the giant Mimir (whose wisdom was due to the fact of constantly bathing in this spring); the Well of Fate (Urdarbrunnr) situated in Asgard and watched by the Norn; and the Well of Hvergelmir, the source of all the rivers, situated in Niflheim and watched by Ivaldi. Yggdrasil is constantly under the attack of forces that seek to weaken and destroy it: in Niflheim, the dragon Nidhogg constantly bites one of its roots; in Midgard, four enormous deer feeding on its buds and leaves, while the years corrode its bark and some serpent children of Nidhogg crawling along the trunk trying to devour it. Fortunately the Norn bathe it every morning with the water of the Well of Urd, giving it new life and repairing all the damage brought by the forces of chaos. There are other inhabitants that live on the trunk and among the branches of Yggdrasil, like the squirrel Ratatosk (“Swift-tusked”), which takes from one head to another of the tree the news that comes from the various worlds and the threats of the dragon Nidhogg to the eagle that dwells among the highest branches; Vidofnir (“serpent of the tree”), the golden rooster sits on the highest branch that sings sunrise every day; the giant eagle Hraesvelg (with the hawk Vedfolnir who rests on its head), which generates the wings every time it flaps its wings, and it exchanges insults with the dragon Nidhogg who dwells among the lower roots; and finally Heidrun, the goat that lives above Valhalla and feeds on the leaves of the highest branches. For Asatru, Odin is the supreme divinity who sits at the head of a council of twelve Aesir (male divinities) and twelve Asinye (female divinities), Immortals who reside in Asgard (the dwelling of the Aesir).* The twelve Aesir of the council are made up only by Odin and by his sons, as well as by the exception represented by Forsetta, his only grandson born from the union of a son and daughter of Odin and therefore considered a pure Aesir. In order of seniority therefore the twelve Aesir are: Odin, Tyr, Balder, Thor, Hod, Hermod (born from the union with Frigg), Loki (born from the union with Hel), Bragi (born from the union with the giantess Gunnlod), Heimdall (born from the union with the undine daughters of Aegir and Ran), Vidar (fruit of the relations with the giantess Grid), Forsetta (born from the union of Balder and Nanna, two children of Odin) and finally Vali (born from the union with the giantess Rind in order to avenge the death of Balder). The twelve Asinye instead comprises the wife of Odin (Frigg, originally a Vanir), the direct daughters of Odin and the official wives of each of his Aesir sons. In order of seniority the twelve Asinye are: Frigg (wife of Odin, originally the Vanir Fulla), Sjofn, Saga, Var, Nanna, Gefjon, Eir, Hlin, Snotra, Gna (born from the union of Odin and Frigg), Idunn (Vanir wife of Bragi) and Sif (Vanir wife of Thor). The Vanir known and worshipped by the northmen are the following: Nooga, Erda, (ancestors of the Vanir together with Frigg), Frey, Freyja, Aegir, Ran, Uller (sons and daughters of Nooga and Erda), Nott and Gullveig (daughters of Nooga and Hel). Other Vanir are Frigg, Idunn and Sif, but becoming wives Odin and of his sons are now considered Asinye. The children that instead Nott has had with the mysterious Annar aren’t Vanir since the father wasn’t one of the divinities of the Vanir, even if they are considered semi-divine Vikings.
*The Viking mythology often has confusion in identifying the twelve Aesir and the twelve Asinye, given that it is based on the writing of several poets living in different periods. In this Mystaran version of the Viking myths I have therefore chosen to incorporate some divinities (Var and Vor, Sjofn and Lofn, Frigg and Fulla/Volla, Njord and Nerthus who becomes Nooga) and excluding others from uncertain identity (the siblings of Odin, Vili and Ve, as like the husband of Freyja, Od, they are frequently considered other aspects of Odin) in order to be able to have a clear definition of divinity that corresponds the most to a Mystaran one who already exists.
Asatru for that reason doesn’t worship a single divinity, but pay homage to all in their complex, and in particular worship Odin above all the others, as the father and lord of the gods. Odin is lucky since he has drunk at the Well of Mimir, the well of knowledge. In fact, after being tied for nine days and nights to the branches of Yggdrasil and having understood the secret of the magic runes, he received a vision in which the tree changed into a grey horse that accompanies him in the search of the source of knowledge, joined at the end by the giant Mimir, who agreed to reveal the secret to him in exchange for his right eye. Since as Odin has drunk from the Well of Mimir, he has seen into the future that was Ragnarok, but isn’t able to see beyond this moment in time. In order to prepare to fight Ragnarok therefore, Odin rallied the dead warriors in battle through the twelve Valkyries, who conduct the spirits of those who died in battle to reincarnate them in Valhalla. The final aim of Odin is therefore to try and delay as much as possible the inevitable destiny of humanity and the Immortals, and because of this his actions are superior to the concept of good and evil. Odin is assisted by two semi-divine wolves, Geri (“ravenous”) and Freki (“greedy”), and by two ravens, Hugin (“thought”) and Munin (“memory”), which cross the worlds in order to examine those that approach on behalf of Odin, who can see through their eyes. Odin is worshipped in a particular manner by the king and nobles as legislator and arranger of the cosmos who demands their equity in exercising their role of command. As the one who had given the soul to the humans is respected and loved by the people; as the one who had created the universe and keeps the balance is venerated by the governors and by the chiefs; come as the one who had invented writing is invoked by writers and students, and is the protector of the skalds (the Nordic bards); as sage and expert of magic and knowledge is adored by the sages and by those that use the Rune Magic that he had created for them. Odin is therefore the Immortal who presides over battle, judges the spirits of the dead, and inspires the humans with knowledge and rune magic.
Immediately after Odin, Thor has secured second place in the Antalian Cult, being the Immortal most loved by the mortals, its no surprise the first son of Odin and absolute champion of Good, legendary protagonist of myths that see him defend the cosmic order and the humans from the giants and from the creatures of Evil. He is the protector of the humans, the Giant Slayer, and he is the first warrior among the Aesir. Thor aids those that are in difficulty, he is an Immortal lover of life, visceral and impetuous: representing in short the archetype of Nordic courage, ardent, lover of battle, but guided by noble and good ideals in the depths of his heart.
To act as counterpoints to Odin and Thor there are the figures of Hel and Loki, whose cults are rife because they are perceived as necessary to the universal cosmology. Hel is indeed the Immortal of the dead, but although to most cultures this divinity arouses hate and contempt, the northmen understand that she just part of the cycle of life. Nevertheless, priests and priestesses of Hel are viewed with fear, since anything that is to do with the undead is never pleasant. According to the northmen, Hel has also the power of reincarnating the soul of a deceased to her service in another body, in order to give them a second chance of reaching Valhalla, although this power is exercised with spite, for which Hel sometimes selects souls of particularly cruel people in order to bring pain and suffering in Midgard.
Loki instead is a ambiguous and diabolic divinity linked to fire and change (he himself is in fact a shapechanger). Astute and intelligent, Loki is adviser to numerous gods, although often using his knowledge for personal ends, without any moral scruples. Frequently trading with the giants and with the other races, which rather often has instigated against some of his fellows among the Aesir. Nevertheless, Loki is the most recurrent adventuring companion of Thor, and this partially compensates for his flaws in the eyes of the faithful, even if he remains an Immortal feared by the Northmen, especially seeing his role in the future Ragnarok. In particular, according to the Nordic legends Loki is the father of the most frightening monsters of creation, or Jormungand the World Serpent (who swims in the ocean which extends around Midgard), Nidhogg the Dragon (who eternally gnawed the roots of Yggdrasil in Niflheim) and Fenris the Wolf (who was imprisoned by the Aesir when, once grown, shown himself too greedy and uncontrollable), all three had from the union with the witch Angrboda, who is also mother of all the witches and of the trolls of Midgard (had from the union with the giants). Loki had been punished for his evil deeds after which, for envy and malice, he caused the death of the just Balder by manipulating the blind god Hod (who was in turn killed by Vali in order to have justice), then impeding Hel from returning him to among the living with a countless trick (Hel in fact had agreed with Odin to the return of Balder, if all the things of the world wept for him; unfortunately Loki, disguised as a giant, refused to weep, and this condemned Balder). When Thor and the other Aesir discovered that it was all the fault of Loki, he was found and captured thanks to the astuteness of Odin, who dragged him to the Isle of Black Grief(situated under Midgard, in the middle of the waters of the Elivagar) where his son Fenris was already bound and imprisoned him there in the same cavern using the entrails of the children born of the giantess Sigyn (Vali and Narvi). In order to punish him, they have fixed a serpent on his head and the venom eternally drips onto him; only the mild and faithful Sigyn remains near to him every day attempting to collect the venom in a dish, but whenever it is full she must take it away and in that moment new drops burn Loki, whose writhing from the pain cause the earth to shake. This torture will last until the moment of Ragnarok, when both Loki and Fenris are finally freed and assault Asgard in order to avenge themselves. It is clear therefore that, despite the followers of Asatru paying homage to all the Vanir and Aesir, it is natural that every person however has a preferred divinity, thus like some cities are for frequently legendary reasons cult sites favoured by some Immortals. Because of this, some personal cults exist of which currently know are those of Odin, Thor, Frey, Freyja, Forsetta, Nooga, Loki and Hel. Odin is the most important Immortal worshipped in Ostland (where the patriarch of his cult acts as first councillor of the King), followed by Thor (popular among the warriors), Nooga, Frey and Freyja (popular among the lowest classes). The cults of Frey, Freyja and Forsetta are instead the most widespread with the people of Vestland, more civilised and less warlike than their neighbours. In the wild Norwold, in Heldann and in Soderfjord it is instead the individual cult of Thor that has a wide following. The individual cults of Loki and Hel are absolutely forbidden in Ostland and practised with reserve in the other nations.
This diagram précised the Immortals worshipped by the cult, with their tasks and the values associated to each of them is the real identity of each Immortal.
Odin - Wisdom, equality, knowledge, authority, magic, sky, storms, winds
Tyr - War, strength, heroism
Balder - Light, joy, purity, peace, wisdom, beauty, harmony, mercy
Thor - Battle, war, bravery, honour, defend the weak and the good
Hod - Winter, darkness, magic, the weak
Hermod - Travel, messengers, courage, cleverness
Loki - Malice, deceit, change, betrayal, fire, magic
Bragi - Eloquence, poetry, skalds (bards)
Heimdall - Light, defence, sacrifice, patience, loyalty, battle, guardians
Vidar - Strength, aid, loyalty, sacrifice
Forsetta - Justice, law, peace, order
Vali - Justice, revenge, war
Frigg - Fertility, prosperity, marriage, motherhood
Sjofn - Love, joint peace, passion, desire, sexuality
Saga - Legends, history, wisdom, memories
Var - Justice, honesty, fidelity, just revenge
Nanna - Motherhood, family, love, moon
Gefjon - Nature, fertility, crops, virtue, virgins
Eir - Health, medicine, healing, herbs and philtres
Hlin - Keeper of souls, comfort, protection, piety
Snotra - Wisdom, prudence, virtue, temperance
Gna - Travel, messengers, adventure
Idunn - Youth, beauty, eternal life
Sif - Fertility, harvest, prophecy, Courage
Nooga - Water, winds, fortune, fertility
Erda - Nature, animals and plants
Frey - Fertility, wealth, virility, abundance, courage, felicity, beauty, nature
Freyja - Love, sexuality, fertility, beauty, Seidh (prophecy), valiant souls, battle
Aegir - Seas, properity, revelry, alchemy
Ran - Seas and rivers, drowning, capriciousness
Uller - Hunting, snow, forests, honour, archers
Nott - Night, darkness, creatures of the night
Gullveig - Witchcraft, greed, malice
Hel - Death, afterworld, darkness, old age, cold
Jotun - Giants, strength, oppression, power
Bergelmir - Cloud and mountain giants
Surt - Fire giants, destruction, war
Darga - Harvesting souls, death, oblivion
Angrboda - Witches, curses, trolls and giants
Ivaldi - Dwarves and dark elves, corruption
Gylgarid - Fury, violence, racism, berserkers
Altri - Mythical beings
Norn - Fate and destiny, visions of the future
Mimir - Memory, knowledge, wisdom, magic
Dain - Elves, wisdom, longevity, peace
Modsognir - Dwarves, industry, creation, greed
Volund - Smiths, weaponsmiths, constructors
Modi - Fury in battle, berserkers, tenacity
Magni - Strength, bravery, defend the weak
It is necessary to emphasise that in the first centuries of the cult’s life (from 2200 to 1600 BC), the roles of many of the divinities listed below were vacant, and Odin responded to the invocations directed to them as supreme head of the cult. Only once that Odin is persuaded that he has found an Immortal that corresponds to one of the missing divinities of the pantheon, proposing to the candidate of allying himself to them and enter as part of the Asgardian pantheon, gain new faithful and enhance his own prestige. Because now in the pantheon there are also found divinities who have ascended after the birth of the cult and the movement of the Antalians into the Hollow World: in reality the identity assumed was already worshipped before their entry in the cult, and they have simply benefited of the increase of faithful adhering to the model that Odin had prepared in advance. Thus Odin has formed the group of the Aesir, Asinye and Vanir (selecting especially Immortals of his Sphere considered loyal), while the enemies of the Asgardian divinity have been identified both by Odin and by his priests, who in many cases have associated the divinity to a cult present in their regions.
The following gives the identity of the Immortals that cover the roles of the different divinities of the Antalian pantheon and the date of ascension of each (when the mark “-” is present it means that the Immortal has existed since the start of prehistory and may never have been mortal, while an asterisk at the end of the name of an Immortal shows that it is one of the nine Korrigan):
Aesir - Immortal - Ascension
Odin - Odin - -
Tyr - Ixion - -
Balder - Pax - -
Thor - Thor - 1750 BC
Hod - Dreaming Seer* - 1640 BC
Hermod - Asterius - 3200 BC
Loki - Loki - XVIII century BC
Bragi - Rainbow Singer* - 1640 BC
Heimdall - Fiery Champion* - 1640 BC
Forsetta - Forsetta - XIII century BC
Vidar - Halav - X century BC
Vali - Gorm - 444 BC
Asinye - Immortal - Ascension
Frigg - Terra - -
Sjofn - Valerias - -
Saga - Silver Carver* - 1640 BC
Var - Tarastia - 2330 BC
Nanna - Thalia - -
Gefjon - Verdant Caretaker* - 1640 BC
Eir - Merciful Healer* - 1640 BC
Hlin - Eternal Wanderer* - 1640 BC
Snotra - Maat - 1520 BC
Gna - Arnelee - I century BC
Idunn - Spring Maiden* - 1640 BC
Sif - Madarua - 365 BC
Vanir - Immortal - Ascension
Nooga - Protius - -
Erda - Djaea - 2930 BC
Frey - Frey - 1660 BC
Freyja - Freyja - 1660 BC
Aegir - Hymir - 1720 BC
Ran - Kallala - XIX century BC
Uller - Silent Hunter* - 1640 BC
Nott - Nyx - Pre-Blackmoor
Gullveig - Demogorgon - Pre-Blackmoor
Enemies - Immortal - Ascension
Hel - Hel - -
Jotun - Ouranos - -
Bergelmir - Zalaj - Pre-Blackmoor
Surt - Zugzul - -
Darga - Thanatos - -
Angrboda - Demogorgon - Pre-Blackmoor
Ivaldi - Atzanteotl - 1500 BC
Gylgarid - Kiranjo - 480 BC
Others - Immortal - Ascension
Norn - Urd, Verthandi & Skuld - -
Mimir - Noumena - 460 BC
Dain - Ilsundal - 1800 BC
Modsognir - Kagyar - Pre-Blackmoor
Volund - Wayland - XVII century BC
Modi - Bartziluth - XII century BC
Magni - Bemarris - V century AC
Note: Thrym, Thiazi, Utgardaloki, Andhrimnir and other giants mentioned in the myths are simply titans or particularly powerful giants that became protagonists of the sagas centred on the battle between Aesir and Giants, without there being a real correspondence between these individuals and other Immortals (and effectively these characters aren’t even worshipped among the giants). Similarly, the legendary monsters like the wolves Fenris, Skoll, Hati and Garm, as well as the serpent Jormungand, the dragon Nidhogg and his children, Heidrun the goat, Ratatosk the squirrel, Vidofnir the rooster, Hraesvelg the eagle and Vedfolnir the hawk, the wolves Geri and Freki and the ravens Hugin and Munin that serve Odin, and all the other animals that populate Yggdrasil are simply of the titanic creatures created by Odin and Hel in order to cover these roles.
Ivaldi and the dark elves are mythic figures based on the history of the Modrigswerg, the renegade dwarves that live beneath the Northern Reaches, and also on that of the Shadowelves.
Furthermore, despite Balder, Nanna and Hod being “dead” according to the Nordic legend, they aren’t hopelessly lost, but now dwell in Helheim and are the most important spirits of all, the only ones who are allowed to live in the same castle of Hel, and given that they will return after Ragnarok, are still considered fully Aesir. For this despite the real disappearance of Pax and Thalia who personified these figures (a disappearance on which has been extracted the myth of the deaths of Balder and Nanna), Odin has thought he shouldn’t replace these Immortals, who according to the myth will return to the world at the end of Ragnarok (and in the meantime Odin supplies power to their followers).
It goes without saying that, given the extremely dualist vision of the universe (in which the forces of Good are in an eternal battle against those of Evil), for the Asatru this holds a decisively important and determining importance in the way in which a mortal ends his existence, since his life in the afterlife depends upon it. The northmen judged in fact that Odin had created the first two human beings (Ask and Embla) thanks to the vital breathe that he instilled in them. Given that Odin is an Immortal being, the cult also sustains that the soul (which distinguishes the living beings from those inanimate, gift of the breath of Odin) is of immortal nature, unlike the body. Therefore when a person dies, the spirit continues to live and reaches another world, where it is reincarnated in a body similar to what it had in life. These souls reach in fact Valaskjalf, the palace where the Hamingjur speak for the deceased before Odin so that they may be judged. The hamingjur (sing. Hamingja) are female tutelary deities daughters of the Norn that watch over the birth of each mortal and watches it for all its life (not to be confused with the fylgjur, which instead are guardian spirits of a family and are represented as animals). The just and the valorous, the best combatants among the humans are lodged in Valhalla and all these live in honour until the final battle of Ragnarok, while those who died of old age or without honour end up in Hel’s shadowy kingdom. The criteria to decide where the soul is reincarnated is determined more by the circumstances of the death than by the conduct or faith of the person. Indeed, those who die in battle are reincarnated either in Valhalla, an enormous fortress that is found on Asgard (the palace of the Aesir) or in Sessrumnir (palace of the Vanir that is found in Vanaheim). These heroes (called Einherjar) are to swell the ranks of the Aesir and Vanir combatants in view of Ragnarok. It is Freyja who selects which of the heroes she wants with herself in Sessrumnir, based on the accords between Aesir and Vanir: all the others go to Valhalla in the presence of Odin and his court. Those who haven’t completed any mirable deeds in life end up instead in Niflheim, to lead a supernatural life full of solitude and regret or to endure eternal torture on the orders of Queen Hel, the spirit of the dead; all these are made part of the legions that will join with the giants in the fight against the Aesir at the time of Ragnarok.
The conviction that death is only a passage, and not an end, is profoundly rooted in the Nordic culture. The resurrection of the dead is a strongly disliked practice, and resurrected people (as well as adventurers or rulers of which it is known) are viewed more or less as undead, with fear and sometimes disgust, because they have broken the cosmic laws of the Universe and disliked the divine plan; when deceased, indeed, there is a strong risk that they will be claimed by Hel for their impiousness, because only Hel is keeper of the spirits of the dead.
Given the importance of values like courage and death in battle, it isn’t surprising that the Nordic ethnic group doesn’t scorn piracy, war and is generally much less peaceful and accommodating than many other cultures. Indeed it needs remembering that for the truly devote Viking, it is extremely important to be valorous and die in battle, rather than die of old age after a just life, since only those who die in battle can increase the number of the Einherjar and contribute to the final victory of Good at Ragnarok.
A final note must be made regarding the figure of the Norn, three divine figures that weave the strands of existence of gods and mortals since the beginning of time. The Norn are bound to the concept of Wyrd, or Destiny, and it is on this concept that is the basis of the entire faith of Asatru. The three Norn are Urd (“fate”), Verdandi (“being”) and Skuld (“necessity”) and are represented as three women (Urd old, Verdandi young and the hidden-faced Skuld) that weave the destiny of the living: every strand on their spindle represents the life of someone, and whenever a person is born, they mark on the trunk of Yggdrasil a different notch to symbolise the beginning of a life in the world. It is the Norn who take care of the tree, refreshing and curing it with the waters of the well of Urd, and it is them only to which has been given the knowledge of the future of the world after Ragnarok (not even Odin is able to see beyond this period in time), therefore all the Immortals acknowledge the Norn, representatives of the Wyrd, a higher power that serves to give balance to the universe. In the same way the northmen recognise that their life is already written and is guided by an unchangeable destiny from which nothing must detract. Indeed, thus like the gods accept that most of them will be sacrificed in order to allow the universe to advance, in the same way the mortals accept the carrying out a determined role in their life, in the hope of belonging to those that in future are aligned on the side of Good and will be rewarded after Ragnarok. It is the concept of the Wyrd, the Destiny, which dominates the society and the Nordic mentality, according to which a person must not escape from the natural cycle of things and for which the classes in which the society is divided are the only acceptable ones, since they have been placed by the gods as a foundation of the natural order of the world.