Last week I wrote about Muspellheim, the land of fire. This week we’ll be heading in the opposite direction, to Niflheim, the land of ice and mist. I started with these two since the Eddas tell us that they were the first two lands formed “many ages before the earth was made.” Let’s see what we can learn about the icy land of Niflheim.
What’s In A Name?
We have two parts to the name. Nifl has been translated as “dark” and “misty.” Heim means “home” or “land” depending on the source you’re checking. So Niflheim is the dark-land or the mist-home. If you do an internet search “Abode of Mists” seems to be the more popular interpretation. However, the index of my copy of the Eddas says it means “Nebulous-Home.” The takeaway from all of this is that Niflheim is a cold, dark, misty place – the opposite of Muspellheim’s bright, hot. dryness.
It Takes Two
Niflheim was one half of the equation that created the first being. When it’s icy cold encountered the raging heat of Muspell, the two combined and created Ymir, the father of the race of Frost Giants. Odin and his brother Ve and Villi would later kill Ymir and use the parts of his body to create the world.
A Helish Place
You can find various arguments stating either that Helheim, or simply Hel, is located inside of Niflheim or right next to it. Hel is listed as one of the Nine Worlds so I am more inclined to believe the latter. There are some instances that say just the gates to Hel are located inside of Niflheim so it is more likely to me that they are separate worlds and you must travel through Niflheim to get to Hel.
It Has Roots
One of them at least, for we are told that one of the three roots of the World Tree Yggdrasil stands over Niflheim. The root is constantly gnawed on by Nidhoggr, the great serpent or dragon who lives there.
Underneath this root we also find the spring called Hvergelmir (roaring cauldron) which, being a hot spring, must be the only source of warmth in this dismal land. Hvergelmir is also the source of twelve different rivers, one of which is Gjoll, the river nearest the gate to Hel.
Come back next week as we visit another of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology.