Ancient Religions

The ancient Norse religion was commonly followed and practiced by people in northern regions of the world, such as Scandinavia, Norway, Iceland and surrounding countries. It was believed that the world first came about when a northern and southern land, Niflheim and Muspellheim, both joined together. Niflheim (“house of mists”) , an extremely cold, icy land and Muspellheim (“home of desolation”) the seemingly opposite of Niflheim, a hot, fiery land.

As both lands joined together, the reaction of the contrasting temperatures caused the ice of Niflheim to melt creating the first two living creatures Ymer, the giant and Audhumla, a female cow. From these two the first Gods were created (Odin, Vile and Ve), and from them the first human beings were created by Odin from an elm and ash tree. Due to a disagreeance between Ymer and the God’s, the giant was killed and from his body, landforms and other living races were created.

The gods were revered by many as they were the creators of the races and established the different parts of the world, the world tree or Yggdrasil included. The Yggdrasil is one of the principal beliefs in Nordic religion as it was known as the centre of their nordic universe, the world tree was said to have held nine different realms within its branches. The realms were situated in different areas of the tree at the top, within the canopy; Asgard (heaven) was located. This is where many gods lived including Odin in Valhalla.

In addition to Asgard two other realms Vanaheim (home of the fertility god) and Aflheim (home of light elves) were located at the highest level of the world tree. These realms were known as “divine”. Norse folk believed that Midgard, the middle section of Yggdrasil held the human world. Along with midgard, Nidavellir, Jotunheim and Svartalfhiem, home of the dwarves, giants and dark elves were also present here. At the third and bottom level of the tree the two lands that created the first living beings are found.

It is believed that Hel, the place of death, is part of the harsh, destitute lands of Niflheim. Hel is connected to one of the three main root of the world tree and it is known as the underworld, the second root leads to Jotunheim( realm of the giants) and the third is connected to the divine realm, Asgard. The roots linked together the different levels and realms of the tree, likewise Bifrost, a magical bridge located between Asgard and the human world, Midgard was another connection between realms, allowing gods an entrance into the mortal world.

The Influence of the Nordic beliefs in society was great as followers of the ancient religion could identify with the extreme life conditions and harsh weather that was also portrayed in the Nordic creation story. The Norse saw their conditions of life as a blessing from the gods and often used these gifts to the greatest advantage for example men often became farmers, cultivators, tradesmen or traders. Women in Nordic society also searched for meaning and insight from the gods as they held powerful positions in the religion. Women played a strong part in the community and often had to run the villages when the Viking warriors were away.

The Norse strived to maintain a balanced lifestyle from the influence of what they had learned and incorporated from the gods. Odin was known as a wise and great warrior and many Viking men chose to follow the same path by becoming a warrior also. I was believed that one of the only worthy ways to die was to die in battle. This factor greatly contributed to the decisions of the Norse men. When a warrior died in battle he would go on to Valhalla, in the divine realm, if not they would go to Hel. The Norse people not only sought meaning from the gods, but from the actions and rituals they performed.