Elements in the Teutonic Universe

The below list of places and objects are illustrated and organized as a clickable image map of the Teutonic cosmos on the first page of this site.

The land of the light elves, in Asgard, ruled over by Freyr (Crossley-Holland, 239).

The heavenly world of the gods. In the Teutonic myth of creation, after the Aesir created man and woman and set Night, Day, Moon and Sun in the sky, they made the dwarves. Then, the sons of Bor, the Aesir of Odin and his brothers, built their own realm, Asgard. This world was the smallest of the concentric circles of the universe, a mighty stronghold with green plains and shining palaces that loomed over Midgard, the middle world (Chantepie de la Saussaye, 346). The two regions became linked by Bifrost, the flaming rainbow bridge. All the Aesir, the guardians of men, crossed the bridge and settled in Asgard. There the all-father Odin and the (12) other gods and goddesses lived (Crossley-Holland, 6, 7, 9-14). Unlike the relative isolation of Greek gods in Olympus, the gods of Asgard are constantly threatened by giants and monsters from the cold and dark worlds (Davidson, 3).

"Quivering Road," the flaming rainbow bridge that connected Midgard, the world of men, to Asgard, the world of the gods. The bridge was guarded by Heimdall against the giants. According to one myth, the bridge may be an explanation for the Milky Way (Davidson, 171).

Vedrfolnir, "Weather-Bleached" sits on the head of an eagle.

The citadel of the dead, a place with towering walls and forbidden gates. Hel is ruled by Hel(la), a giantess who is half-alive and half-dead, to whom Loki in female form gave birth (Crossley-Holland, 244; Davidson, 213).
--For more on the importance of Hel in Teutonic mythology, see the symbol of Hell.

The terrifying serpent who lay in the ocean surrounding Midgard. He was so long that he encircled Midgard and bit his own tail (Crossley-Holland, xxi).

The underworld land of the giants. It lay either within Midgard in the mountainous eastern part along the coast, or across the ocean, although one source says the road to Jotunheim ran eastward from Asgard (Crossley-Holland, 24, xxi; Davidson, 172).

"Middle World," the world of mortals and humans, also the second level of the Teutonic universe's tricentric structure. Midgard is surrounded by a vast ocean (Crossley-Holland, 247, xxi).

"Dark Home", on the second level of the universe, Midgard, in the North where the dwarves lived. It was a land of caves and potholes (Crossley-Holland, xxi).

The dragon who chews at the lowest root of Yggdrasill in Niflheim and who sends Ratatosk the squirrel up and down the branches to torment the ash tree (Crossley-Holland, 248).

"Foggy Hell". The world of the dead, a realm of freezing cold under one root of Yggdrasill. Nine days ride northwards and down from Midgard, the third level of the Teutonic universe. Its citadel is Hel. The Teutons distinguished between the worlds of Hel and Niflheim--evil men passed through Hel to die again in Niflheim. Or, in another interpretation, Niflheim is a place of fog and darkness below Hel which seems to have been the realm of utter stagnation and sterility (Crossley-Holland, 248, xxii; Davidson, 173 ).

Ratatosk the squirrel
A creature whose name means "Swift Teeth" and who runs up and down the trunk of Yggdrasill in carrying insults from the dragon Nidhogg who lives in Niflheim, the world of the dead, and to the eagle that lives in the top branches that hang high above Asgard. Since Yggdrasill was in the minds of the ancient Teutonic people the tree of life that projected a reflection of itself, defective and imperfect, creatures like Ratatosk represent the strife and tension that exists in the world (Chantepie de la Saussaye, 16).

Spring of Hvergelmir
The spring that lies under the root of Yggdrasill in Niflheim. It is the origin of the eleven rivers called Elivigar (Crossley-Holland, 245).
--See Teutonic mythology symbolism dictionary to learn about the sacredness of water.

Spring of Mimir
A well of wisdom in Jotunheim under a root of Yggdrasill. Its waters brought inspiration and knowledge to those who drank from it. Mimir (Mime) was a god of the Aesir, killed by Vanir. His head sits by the Well. Odin gave up one of his eyes in return for a drink from the spring; and thus Odin has become known as the god of poetry (Crossley-Holland, 247; Davidson, 26).
--For more on the universal symbol of the well, see WELL in the Symbolism Dictionary.

The land of the dark elves, north of Midgard but below Nidavellir. The distinction between the light and dark elves came late in the history of Teutonic mythology, maybe as a result of Christian teachings about angels. The elves originally may have been the same as the Vanir (Crossley-Holland, xxi; Davidson, 172).

Maybe the name of the meeting of the gods at the Well of Urd. In Iceland, Thingvellir is an actual place where in old times the "most important meeting of the year for the...state" occurred (Davidson, 15).

In Jotunheim, the citadel of the giants. Here Thor and his companions were taken for a ride and tricked by the giants' evil magic king, Utgard-Loki (Crossley-Holland, xxi, 250; Davidson, 172).

"Hall of the Slain". One of the nine worlds, a huge hall, ruled by Odin, where Einherjar (dead warriors) fought, feasted and awaited Ragnarok. Valhalla had 540 doors and when it became time to fight Fenrir, 800 warriors would march out each door to the final battle (Crossley-Holland, 61-2, 174, 201, 252).
Valhalla in Wagner's Ring

Located in Asgard, the world of the Vanir or fertility gods. In the first war between the Aesir and the Vanir, the Vanir destroyed the walls of Asgard. Then the Aesir retaliated, causing great damage in Vanaheim. Eventually becoming wearied of war, both sides made a truce and swore to live side by side in peace, agreeing to exchange leaders to prove their good intentions. But, the Aesir tricked Vanir. So, for revenge, the Vanir seized the wise Mimir, cut off his head and sent it to Odin and the Aesir. To end this strife and to mourn the loss of the wisest god, Odin smeared Mimir's head with herbs to prevent decay and gave it speech. Thus, Mimir's wisdom became Odin's wisdom. The head of Mimir sits at the Spring of Mimir. (Crossley-Holland, 7).

Well of Urd
In Asgard, the place where the gods held their daily assembly or court, possibly called Thingvellir. Under a root of Yggdrasill, the Well is named after Urd (Fate), one of the three Norns (Fate, Being and Necessity) who guard the sacred waters. The Norns shaped the paths of human lives by carving runes into the trunk of Yggdrasill. Everyday the Norns nourished the Yggdrasill's suffering by sprinkling water from the well on the Tree's branches (Crossley-Holland, 15; Davidson, 163-5).
--See Well of Urd in Wagner's Ring to learn how Wagner adapted this element to his opera cycle.
--For more on the symbolic nature of wells, see WELL in the Symbolism Dictionary.

The name of this tree means "The Horse of Yggr." Yggr is "the terrible one," or Odin. The World Ash Tree is the spine of the Teutonic universe. The Tree precedes the gods and outlasts their rule. It linked and sheltered all of the nine worlds. As a symbol, this tree is a "source of luck and protection" (Davidson, 170). The identification of this tree as an ash "might be the bunches of 'keys' which hang from the branches like bodies of tiny men, recalling the practice of hanging sacrificial victims from trees"(Ibid). A symbol of nourishment, healing, source of rivers of the world. The first root of Yggdrasill is the location of the Well of Urd in Asgard, the second extends into Jotunheim where lies the Spring of Mimir and the third goes into the depths of Niflheim, from under which flows the Spring of Hvergelmir. Ratatosk the squirrel runs up and down the trunk of the World Ash Tree carrying spiteful messages from the dragon Nidhogg in Niflheim to the eagle with a hawk between its eyes who sits in Yggdrasill's uppermost branches. This living tree is tortured by Nidhogg gnawing at its roots. Nibbling at the World Ash Tree and ripping off the growth of its new branches are Heidrun the goat whose milk is the source of the mead of the gods and a deer from whose horns flows the water that feeds the Spring of Hvergelmir which in turn is the source of all the worlds' rivers. As Ragnarok approaches, Yggdrasill will tremble. Two humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, will hide within its trunk and thus will survive the end of one cycle of time to create the human race anew in the next (Crossley-Holland; Davidson; Rydberg).

Map of the Teutonic Cosmos

Table of Contents

Wagner and The Ring

Teutonic Mythology
and Wagner's Ring

Symbols in
Wagner's Ring

Symbols in
Teutonic Mythology

Bibliography of Books and Links

Comments or questions?

This site created by Jessica K. McShan on December 17, 1997.