Midgard : the kingdom of men
Norse mythology is composed of many different worlds. Among them, there is Midgard, in this article you will learn more about this fascinating kingdom! Which is none other than that of men.
At the beginning of the universe, there were only 2 different worlds: Muspellheim, which was very hot and made of pitch, and Niflheim, which was conversely frosted and frozen in ice. Also called the world of mist, the Elivagar rivers are the ones that give some movement on Nifheim.
It is in these rivers that the frost giant Ymir was born. He then gave birth to a six-headed giant, a couple of giants and a cow named Audhumla. She had such big udders that the milk that flowed out of her was the size of 4 rivers. Audhumla gave birth to Buri, who in turn gave birth to Bor. This one will give birth to the first 3 Aesir gods: Odin, the greatest of the gods, Vé, the god of spirituality and Vili, the god of will.
One day, these three brothers wanted to assassinate Ymir, the giant of ice. He was so big that the blood that spilled from his body drowned all the other giants. Only Bergelmir and his companion survived, which makes them the ancestors of all future giants. After his murder, Odin, Ve and Vili transported Ymir’s body to the center of the Niflheim world, Ginnungagap.
At that time, they created the earth with his flesh, the seas and lakes with his blood. The bones were used to create the mountains. His whole body was used to build something useful. Thus, his skull was used to make a sky vault while his brain was used for clouds. The teeth and splinters of his bones became stones and rocks. Ymir’s eyebrows were used to make a wall to protect himself from giants.
It is thus thanks to the body of the giant of ice that were created the 7 other worlds which compose the Norse mythology. The universe and all these worlds are supported by the Yggdrasil, the tree of life. In the flesh of Ymir, the gods discovered beings similar to worms. The 3 brothers gave them an intelligence as well as a human form: it is from there that the dwarfs were born. Four of these dwarfs are placed at one end of the 4 corners of the celestial vault. Nordri, Sudri, Westri and Austri gave their names to the different cardinal points.
According to some Nordic texts, the dwarves had their own world: Nidavellir. It is also said that the original worlds of ice and fire, Niflheim and Muspelheim, were one. From this creation of the world was born the Midgard.
Midgard, a central place
The name Midgard has several different etymological sources. In Old Norse, it appears as Miðgarðr while in Old Saxon, the equivalent of Old German, it is Middilgard which appears in Heliand, the poem of life. These forms come from the common Germanic: midja-gardaz. It is a mixture of midja, which means middle, and gardaz, which represents the enclosure.
In Old Norse, the name Midgard means the middle enclosure. Variations exist in the form of central enclosure. The first meaning of the word is a reference to the position of human civilization within the nine worlds. The first part represents the horizontal middle while the second refers to the vertical position. Gard is also found in the name Asgard, which is the world of the gods and goddesses Aesir.
Toutes les parties du corps de Ymir ont servi à créer la terre où la civilisation humaine habite. Ce royaume est présent au sein des 9 mondes mais est le seul visible par l’Homme. Il faut savoir que les autres, susceptibles de croiser Midgard, sont tous invisibles.
Given its central place in the Yggdrasil, Midgard was the first kingdom created by the 3 gods. At the central level, there is also Jotunheim, the world dedicated to the giants. The ancient texts of the Edda of Snori situate this world in the East. Svartalfheim is the other world that occupies the middle of the tree. It is the domain of the Black Elves, the Svartálfar. Dwarves also reside here, which creates confusion with Nidavellir, the other realm for these beings.
After the creation of the center of the universe, Odin, Vili and Vé decided to create 2 other levels. Above Midgard, there is Asgard, domain of the Aesir gods and Valhalla. Vanaheim is the realm of the Vanes gods. Despite the war between the two groups of gods, Vanaheim is present in the Yggdrasil, however far from Asgard. Alfheim is the kingdom of the light elves. Below Midgard are located, on the lower level, Muspellheim and Niflheim, for fire and ice. Finally, Helheim is the last kingdom. It is the place where the dead who were not good during their life live. It also includes those who died of disease and old age.
Some sources and conceptions place the kingdoms differently. Svartalfheim is rather on the lower level while Muspellheim, the fire kingdom, is located next to Midgard.
The centrality of Midgard makes this realm a point of balance. In the Yggdrasil, it is compared to the trunk. Its destruction would therefore cause the cutting of the tree and the destruction of the whole world. The dark worlds below and those of the deities, located higher up, would be separated. The Midgard finally occupies a central place and an important meaning.
Grouping by pair
The particularity of the worlds within Norse mythology is that they can be grouped in pairs. This grouping is done by using the opposite meaning of the different kingdoms. We then obtain :
- Muspellheim and Niflheim for the opposition fire/heat and ice/cold.
- Vanaheim and Jotunheim for the opposition creation and destruction.
- Alfheim and Svartalfheim for the opposition of light and darkness.
- Asgard and Helheim for the opposition warrior death and profane death.
Being the symbol of balance, Midgard cannot be crossed with any other Viking kingdom.
The serpent of Midgard: Jormungandr
The land and the world of Midgard are made up of a vast expanse of water. In the ocean, though described as impenetrable, is Jormungandr, the gigantic sea serpent. He is so large that he can surround the world with his body, even biting his own tail. Egir and Ran live in the depths of the sea and kill unfortunate sailors.
According to the Edda of Snori, Jormungandr is the son of the God of Mischief Loki and the giantess Angrboda. It was shortly after his birth that Odin threw him into the waters of Midgard. It is because of his growth that the snake reached a gigantic size and managed to cover the whole world of men. The creature is therefore also called the Midgard serpent.
Chapter 34 of Gylfaginning describes this moment:
“He threw the serpent into the deep sea lying all around the lands, but it grew so large that, living in the middle of the sea, it now surrounded all the lands and bit its own tail.”
By surrounding Midgard with his gigantic size, Jormungandr protects the human world from other individuals wanting to enter it without permission. The Midgard serpent is also the cause of all the marine phenomena that the Vikings experienced during their sea raids in Europe: storms and tidal waves.
If Odin threw him into the oceans of Midgard when he was born, it is because he knew that he possessed great power. Because of his size, he was feared by everyone and no one dared to confront him until the Ragnarök. Only Thor dared during a fishing trip with the ice giant Hymir. He used a bull’s head to attract Jormungandr. When the monster came out of the water, Thor raised his hammer to hit him. But Hymir, afraid of the place and the snake, cut the line. The snake went away and Thor, furious, pushed his colleague overboard to make him disappear forever. The next battle between the two will take place during the Ragnarök.
A connection with Asgard
Before we discuss Midgard during the final battle of Ragnarök, we need to talk about the connection between the human world and the world of the gods.
Did you know that Midgard is called Mannheim (for “house of men”)? This is due to an old name where all kingdoms had a suffix in -heim. This means kingdom or world in Viking Norse, while the suffix -gardr means enclosure.
The Midgard is thus the place where the Vikings live. They indulged in their occupations of plundering, conquering territories, especially those in England. The Vikings fought valiantly with their axes and shields. The most warlike and deserving of them were sent to Valhalla, the Vikings’ paradise, within Asgard, the domain of the gods. The Valkyries selected the men who were to become Einherjar.
Bifrost, which means glittering path, is the name of the bridge that connects Asgard to Midgard. It is a rainbow in 3 colors. Among them, the red color is a burning fire. The reason the Bifrost is constantly burning is to prevent the giants from crossing it. It is described as being stronger than any structure. However, Heimdall, the Ase god, is the guardian of this bridge. The structure will collapse when the sons of Muspellheim arrive at the final battle of Ragnarök and cross it. But what happens to Midgard during Ragnarök?
The Midgard during Ragnarok
The Einherjar Viking warriors have been preparing for days in Valhalla for the battle of Ragnarök. There they will face the giants and other monsters that symbolize the forces of destruction.
The Eddas scrolls describe the destruction of the world and thus of Midgard during the final battle between different deities. Indeed, during the battle, it is Odin, Thor or Freyr who will oppose Loki, Fenrir or the Midgard serpent.
It is indeed Jormungandr who rose from the oceans to spread his venom in the lands and seas when his brother, the wolf Fenir, delivered himself. We note then the rise of the waters and the submergence of the lands. The Poetic Edda describes this moment:
“The threat will come from the Austri, its shield raised,
The worm of Midgard shall writhe with rage,
The Great Serpent shall then whip the waves seized by that fury.”
The Vigrid battlefield, 100 leagues long, will be the place of the ultimate confrontation. It is here that Midgard will be destroyed and all life will end. Men will perish, Fenrir will kill Odin, Heimdall and Loki will kill each other. Freyr will fight the giant Surt but will be killed because he does not have his magic sword. Almost all the participants will die.
As for Jormungandr, he will make important damages, both on men and on deities. Indeed, he will die in front of Thor, but will succeed in taking the god of thunder thanks to his venom. After 9 steps, the important god and his hammer fall. The waters will submerge the land, which will carry away Midgard.
In chapter 52 of the Vafþrúðnismál, the third part of the Poetic Edda, the stories describe what happens to the dead humans in the Ragnarök. The abodes are numerous and can be good or bad. Chapter 53 will explain the fate of the gods and the earth. The dwelling place of humanity will then rise from the sea, marking the return of the beautiful and green Midgard. The human couple Lif and Lifthrasir, who hid in the woods during the fire of Surt, will be the only survivors of the prophetic end of the world. The couple will then repopulate Midgard.