Niflheim is one of the nine worlds in norse mythology, or rather, cosmology. The nine worlds are connected by Yggdrasil, a giant ash tree located at the centre of the norse universe, Asgard. Niflheim is part of the underworld, at the bottom of the tree trunk, at the end of one of the roots.
According to the Gylfaginnir, Snorri Sturluson’s writings on the Creation, it all started with ice and fire. On the one hand, Niflheim, a world of eternal permafrost and fog, and on the other Muspellsheim, an ocean of flames. Between these worlds laid a vast void, a bottomless pit carrying the name Ginnungagap. It was within this void life began.
As heat and cold started interacting, the snow started melting. An immense shape came together, awoken by the flames. It’s name was Ymer, the largest creature ever to have been given life. But the water also created another being, a huge cow named Audhumla. Rivers of milk from her teets was able to feed Ymer. Strangely enough, Audhumla began to lick the salty and frosted stones that surrounded her and Ymer. The cow discovered strains of hair as it licked, and soon a face started emerging from the rock. As days went by, Audhumla had released a large man from the rocks. His name was Bure, the forefather of all the gods.
The giant Ymer made his own children. From his perspiration while sleeping, he gave birth to a man and a woman in his armpit. Then his feet started mating, and bore a son with six heads. His line of descendants would be known as the jotuns, or trolls if you like. The children of Ymer lived in harmony together, as they copulated and produced offspring. Odin was the grandson of Bure, the child of Bor and the jotun Bestla.
But the jotuns just kept breeding, and soon they were everywhere. Odin, assisted by his brothers Vile and Ve, rioted against Ymer and his kin. A mighty struggle ensued, but they were able to kill the giant. A tsunami of blood flooded the Aesir’s enemies, and drowned all except two. It seems that even the cow was flushed down the drain of Ginnungagap. The Aesir went on to drag Ymer over the gap, thus plumbing it. Odin and his brothers are then shaping the world upon his corpse.
His blood becomes the ocean, his meat is the land, his bones are made into rocks and mountains and his hair are the basis for grass and trees. They even use his brains for clouds. And the sky? It’s the interior of Ymers cranium. And the stars at night are small flares captured from Muspellsheim. Worms emerged from the dead body, and they were the origin of dwarves. Four of them are chosen to support the massive skull, and their names are North, West, East and South. The world was disc-shaped, with a centralized landmass, surrounded by water.
In the beginning, all was thundra and forest – but the Aesir changed the land according to their tastes. Once, while Odin and his brothers wandered along the shores, they came across two wooden trunks. For some reason, the aesir gave them life, and thus created the first humans. Ask and Embla. They installed the couple in Midgard, the world of men, and created the world of gods as well, Asgard, a heavily fortified castle – only accessible through a bridge, the rainbow Bifrost. Asgard was placed in the very middle of the world, in the center of Midgard. Here they planted the tree known as Yggdrasil, and as long as the branches and leaves were healthy, the world would remain. The Aesir also raised defensive walls around Midgard. Who knew what evil lurked beyond it’s border? The lands of Utgard and Jotunheim was inhabitated by the foul jotuns and trolls.
– The saga continues with The First Kings