In this post, I want to talk about the use of the word “heim.” According to the all knowing and wise wikipedia “heim” means; “Heim is the German and Norwegian equivalent of the English word home. It is a common German and Norwegian suffix in place names.” I have read in other sources as well, that “heim” or “heimr” is much closer in meaning to home or at greatest extent, “homeland”, instead of the common usage as “world.” Interpreting the “heim” of Nordic myth in this way, creates an understanding of the Nordic world very much grounded in the real world, in Scandinavia
A close reading of the sagas and eddas only seems to reinforce this view, as we get the nine homes as each a homeland for a certain kind of spiritual or physical being. I will not be recapping the individual stories at this time, but they are most certainly available elsewhere online. Taking these each as very localized in context, it is possible to see each of the homes as they were seen through the eyes of the Norse, closely reflecting their homelands.
Asgard; The only home without “heim” in its name, the home of the Aesir-gods.
Alfheim; the home of the light elves, which I think of as semi-divine ancestors. Alfar and Disir
Vanaheim; The home of the Vanir
Mannheim (Midgarde); the home of man
Jotunheim; the home of the ice giants, curiously also a mountain range in Norway
Muspelheim; The primordial home of fire
Nifelheim; The primordial home of mist and ice
Svartalfheim/Dvegarheim; The home of the black elves/dwarves
Helheim; Hel’s Home
There is no widely accepted way in which to configure the Nine Homes, but I generally lay them out as follows
In heaven are Asgard, Alfheim and possibly Vanaheim (This one seems to move between heaven and earth)
In the middle world are; Mannheim (southern Norway/Sweden, Northern Denmark, The mild areas near to the sea. ) , Jotunnheim (North and east of Midgarde, Mountains between Norway and Sweden). Nifelheim (Far to the north, beyond the Arctic Circle), Muspleheim, somewhere south of Scandinavia, in warmer lands. Alternately, in the underworld to the south. I.e magma/lava and fire.
In the underworld are; Dvegarheim (Below Mannheim/Midgard and parts of Jotunnheim) and Helheim (farther to the north below Nifelheim and maybe pasts of Northern Jotunnheim.)
While I could certainly make a stronger case with examples from the sagas, I want to say these are generally my own personal interpretations, as I am sure counter examples could be found as well. This is because the myths of the Norse did not arise singularly and fully formed. There are contradictions and inccoherenices as the sagas and eddas developed from local stories over generations, sometimes moving around and changing based on local context. Perhaps an excerpt from one of my upcoming books will help bring my point heim;
“Nine worlds? Mmmmmmmmmm no that is not right….. Asgard, Nifelheim, Muspelheim, Alfheim, Dvergrheim (Svartalfheim, also Nidavellir), Helheim, Vanaheim, Jotunheim and Midgard (Mannheim)….. Mmmmmmm…. Most end with heim yes?……… Mmmmmmmmm…. This means “home” or “homeland” more so that it means “world”…… Yes?………. Yes I think so…. So there are not nine worlds then, but nine homes. The homelands of the nine people of the north. Nine homes, nine peoples, all in the place you call…. The North…. Scandinavia….. The homeland of the nine peoples….. For it is not right to say your nine homes cover all the world? I do not live in one of your nine homes, for my home is in the sky…. Skyheim, that is a tenth world…. And what of the Celts, which your people have fought many times? Is there is Celtheim? How many homes are within Celtheim? Do their gods have a home? Celtgodheim? Sidheheim perhaps?………. Mmmmmm… How many homes is that? There are many others besides…. What of the Hellenes? Their gods live on Olympus, that is another home….. Perhaps their middle world is call Hellenesheim? Where the mortals live? Mmmmmmmmm…….. Then would Nordheim be a better name for Midgarde, since it is the home of the North Men…… How many homes do you think there are in all, on this one world?”