Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Indo-European Mythology part 4: A discussion on how the following seven elements of ADF's cosmology are (or are not) reflected in the myths of two different Indo-European cultures


                In ADF cosmology the Upperworld is home to the gods and goddesses of our faith. Many times heroes can reside among the Upperworld as well. This is no different among the Norse and the Hellenic cultures.

                The Upperworld in Norse mythology is home of the worlds of Asgard (land of the gods), Alfheim (land of the elves), and Vanaheim (the land of the Vanir). Asgard is also where the honored dead, those who have fallen in battle, reside after death.

                In the Hellenic mythology the Upperworld is the home of the Olympians and the lesser deities. The Upperworld is also where the Heroes of the Hellenic culture live who were given demi-god status.


                In ADF cosmology the Middle world is the home of humans as well as the Nature Spirits. It is the body of the Earth Mother and where all our Druid rites take place.

                The Middleworld within the Norse mythology would be the concept of Midgard. Its name means middle garden. This middle earth is the home which the gods created for humanity.

                The Hellenic cultures view of the Middleworld is not so very different than that of the Norse. It is the realm in which all of humanity lives alongside the Nature Spirits and in many cases the chthonic gods.

Divisions of Middleworld (e.g., 4 quarters, 3 Triads, 8 Sections)

                From what I have read there is not real defined divisions within Midgard like there is in the Hellenic cosmology. Karl Mortensen quotes Snorri about the creation of the earth, Midgard, by saying “ From Ymir’s flesh the earth was shaped and from his blood the sea,… from his skull the sky…” However there is an interesting fact about the placement of Midgard within Norse mythology that could be most interesting. Encyclopedia Britannica states that Midgard lays between “… Miflheim on the north, the land of ice, and Muspelheim to the south, the region of fire.”

The Greeks divided the Middleworld into three realms; land, sea, and sky (Atsma). This division is so pronounced that there are even Nature Spirits specifically for these realms (Atsma, Nymphai). Each realm is respectively ruled by three brothers; Hades (land), Poseidon (sea), and Zeus (sky). There was another divine that can be seen in Hellenic mythology; that of the four cardinal points: north, south, east, and west. This can be seen in the deities which are rulers over the four winds (Atsma, Sky Gods).


                The Underworld is a most interesting aspect of both the Norse and Hellenic mythologies.  In the Hellenic mythology all humans who pass away, accept those who are granted demi-god status, travel into the Underworld. The Underworld is divided into several different areas. For those that had broken cultural taboos there were the fields of punishment. Those who had been initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries there was the Elysian Fields where they lived a blessed afterlife. The Underworld is also seen as the home of several chthonic deities, Persephone and Hades being among the most widely known ones.

                For the Norse the Underworld realm is made up of two worlds. Muspelheim is a region in Norse mythology that was the home of desolation. It is the lowest world in the Norse cosmology. It is the land of fire and the home of the giant Surt, ruler of Muspelheim. It is through the interaction of the ice from Niflheim and the fires of Muspelheim that created the first creature. Niflheim is the lowest of the worlds which is beneath a root of the Ygg-drasil. The root extends down into the Spring of Hvergelmir. This is also the realm of Hel and where those who died from old age and illness were received. (Ancient History)


                Fire is one of the most fundamental aspects of ADF cosmology and ritual. It is the one required Hallow as well. Most Indo-European cultures held fire as sacred.

                For the Norse fire was part of the dual force with started all of creation. It was through the fires of the world Muspelheim and the ice of Niflheim that life was first created, resulting in the rest of the cosmos being born.

                Fire in the Hellenic culture is no less important. Fire was seen as a power only held by the gods until the titan born god Prometheus stole fire from the Olympians and gave it to humanity. Fire was also the gateway for sacrifices to the gods by mortals. 


                In Norse mythology there are three wells that are sacred and central to the cosmology. These wells are each at the end of a root of the World Tree, the Ygg-drasil. The wells are Mimisbrunnr (the Well of Wisdom), Urdarbrunnr (the Well of Fate), and Hvergelmir (the Roaring Kettle) which is the source of many rivers.

                Though there are wells that are mentioned in Greek mythology their role is much less important than the sacred rivers. The argument can be made that the sacred rivers can function the same as the symbolism of the Well. The largest most encompassing river is the River Okeanos. There are four Underworld Rivers which of course are fed from the River Okeanos as all rivers are. They are as following:
Acheron: ‘river of woe’. This is river that the old ferryman Charon ferried the dead across from the lad of the living to the realm of the dead.

Cocytus: ‘river of lamentation’. Those who died and were not properly buried were stuck walking about the banks of this river for most of their afterlife.

Phlegethon: This was the river of fire in Hades. It’s said that while the fire burned, it did not consume anything within its flames.

Lethe: ‘river of forgetfulness’. This is the river where the dead had to drink from to completely forget about their lives on Earth.

Styx: ‘river of hate’. This is the actual river that separates the land of the living from the realm of the dead. It is said to wrap around Hades nice times. The river is sacred to both gods and men.


                In ADF we use the Tree not only to symbolize the Middleworld and Nature Spirits but as the great axis between all the worlds. It is our stairs to both the Upperworld and the Underworld. But in this section we will look at how the Norse and Hellenic cultures viewed this axis.

                The Ygg-drasil is the World Tree in Norse mythology. Ygg-drasil is said to be an ash that spans and support the whole of the Norse cosmology. The branches reach far into the heavens while the tree is support by three main roots which reach out into different worlds. One root reaches to the heavens and into the well Urdarbrunnr in Asgard, one into the spring feed well of Hvergelmir located in Jotunheim, and the third into the well Mimisbrunnr in Niflheim. It is through the Ygg-drasil and the Bifrost that one travels between the worlds. (Mortensen 22-24)

                Though there are sacred trees in the Hellenic culture it cannot be said that there was a World Tree of any sorts, however, even if there was no World Tree Walter Burkert does mention tree sanctuaries sacred to specific deities (Burkert 28). Several different things can be seen taking the place of a World Tree in their mythology. One symbol that can be seen as the center of all things is the Omphalos, or the navel stone which is seen as the center of the earth (Encyclopedia Mythica). In an early time period of Hellenic history there can be seen ‘Pillar Cults.’ Burkert passage about Pillar Cults says “... a stone of this kind, or pile of stones, at which daimons make libation, is a marker of a sacred centre…” (Burkert 39). In Greek Religion Burkert talks about two other possible alternatives to for our use of a World Tree in ADF; cave and peak sanctuaries (Burkert 24-28). You can see cave sanctuaries being used as gateways to the Underworld and its associated deities. As Olympus is on the highest peak in the heavens it is not shocking that peak sanctuaries were used as a way to reach the Upperworld.

 Works Cited

Ancient History. "Nine Worlds of Norse Mythology." n.d. Ancient History. HTML. 2 6 2013.
Atsma, Aaron. "Greek Gods." 2000. The Theoi Project. HTML. 2 6 2013.
—. "Nymphai." 2000. The Theoi Project. HTML. 2 6 2013.
—. "Sky Gods." 2000. The Theoi Project. HTML. 2 6 2013.
Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Harvard University Press, 1985. paper back.
Encyclopedia Mythica. "Omphalos." 3 3 1997. Encyclopedia Mythica. HTML. 2 6 2013.

Mortensen, Karl. A Handbook of Norse Mythology. Neeland Media LLC, 1913.
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