The Nine Worlds
I tell of giants from times forgotten.
Those who fed me in former days:
Nine worlds I can reckon, nine roots of the tree.
The wonderful ash, way under the ground.
It is not know whether the ancient Anglo-Saxon Pagans shared the belief in the Nine Worlds with the Norse. There are indications they did. In the Nine Worts Galdor, Woden is said to have "set and sent to seven worlds," so they at least believed in seven. No where are the nine worlds listed together in the lore. What we find instead is one here and one there. One therefore, must go through the Eddas and other lore to find the names of the worlds. Generally, they are held to be *Ésageard (Asgard), *Ælfham (Alfheimr), Hel, *Eotenham (Jøttinheimr), *Nifolham (Niflheimr), Múspell (Muspelheimr), Middangeard (Midgard), *Sweartælfham (Svartalfheimr) and Wenaham (Vanahiemr). The Nine worlds rest in the world tree Yggdrasil commonly called in the Anglo-Saxon tradition by the reconstructed *Éormensyll (based on the Saxon's world column Irminsul). The World Tree gives the universe structure. At the base of the World Tree lies *Wyrdesburne (Urðarbrunnr), the Well of Wyrd). "The Nine Worts Galdor" found in the Lacnunga states there are only seven worlds, but this may be a Christian influence or simply done to preserve the alliteration. Eric Wodening belives the answer is quite simple. The herbs were not sent to Hel or Múspell .
Where the worlds are placed in the tree is a matter of some debate. It is held *Nifolham is in the North, with Múspell in the South based on the Voluspa. The rest are left to debate, although Middangeard is held to be the central world, and Ésageard the highest. The worlds are briefly described below, * before a word denoting a reconstruction.
*Ésageard (Asgard): Ásgarðr literally means "enclosure of the Ése (Æsir)" or "enclosure of the gods." It is possible it was also called Heofonríce in Anglo-Saxon, but there is no way to prove this definitely. Ásgarðr is centered on a higher plane above Midgarðr and can be reached through several means. Chief is Bífrøst or Ásbrú, the fiery rainbow bridge that links the world of men to the realm of the gods. It can also be accessed from Hell by Gjallarbrú "the resounding bridge." One can also reach Ásgarðr through the Myrkviðr the "mirk wood" which separates Ágarðr from Múspillheimr. There are the rivers which flow around Ágarðr and these Thunor (Thor) must cross as he is too heavy for the bridges. It is made of many halls and a few of these in Angllicized Old Norse are Gladseim, meeting hall of the Gods; Himinbjord, the hall of Hama (Heimdall), Thrudvangar, the hall of Thunor; Fensalir, the hall of Frige (Frigga); Valhalla, the hall of the slain; and Folkvang, hall of Freo (Freya).
*Ælfham (Alfheimr): Alfheimr is the home of the elves and was given as a gift to the god Fréa for his first tooth. It was thought of as a place of great beauty, as were its inhabitants. Many believe it lies near Ágarðr.
*Eotenham (Jøttinheimr): Jøttinheimr was home to the Jøtnar (AS Eotenas) or ettins, the giants. Traditionally it is seen as north of Midgarðr. In Eotenham lie the fortresses of the ettins. Within its borders also lies the Jarnviðr or the "iron wood."
Hell: Hel is the lowest of the Nine Worlds besides Niflheimr resting below the World Tree. It is not at all a bad place, parts of it are an afterlife paradise while other parts are seen as dark and gloomy. Unlike the Christian purgatory, it is not an abode of punishment, but simply a resting place for the dead. It may be reached by the road Helvergr "the Hell way" or "Highway to Hell" if you like, a river of blood called Gjøll, or a cave called Gnípahellir. Hel's gate called Helgrind or Nágrind is guarded by the ettin woman Modgud and the hound Garmr.
Below Hel and in a northern part of it lies the mansion of the goddess of death Hel. It is called Elviðnir "misery" and is surrounded by a wall called Fallanda Forad "falling peril." Still deeper is Kvøllheimr, a place of punishment for the wicked. Within it is Nástrønd/*Nástrand "corpse strand" a dwelling made of adders for which there may be an Anglo-Saxon term in Wyrmsele "snake hall." Here the evil dead are sent to forever have burning poison drip down upon them.Múspell (Muspelheimr): Múspellheimr is a region of pure fire ruled by the ettin Surtr. Others like him inhabit the realm and are the closest thing to evil incarnate that can be found in Northern European mythology.
Middangeard (Midgard): Midgarðr is the realm of Man and is thought of lying in the center of the Nine Worlds. It is surrounded by a vast ocean and about it lies a wall built by the gods to protect it. Several variants of the name survive, amongst them Middenerd and Tolkien's Middle-Earth.
*Nifolham (Niflheimr): Niflheimr "the misty home" was thought of lying in the metaphysical north of Miðgardr below Hell. It is a world of pure cold or ice, shrouded in mist. From it flowed the rivers into Ginnungagap at the beginning of time that now flow into Hvergelmir, a part of the Well of Wyrd. It is believed that the Nibelingen (MHG) or Niflungar (ON) of the Sigurd myth may have originated there.
*Sweartælfham (Svartalfheimr): Svartálfheimr is the home of the Svartálfar, the black elves. Their identity is unclear though a few believe them the same as the Dokkálfar or "dark elves." Still others hold they are the dwarves of Norse mythology. It is thought of as a subterranean region and folk tales suggest it can be accessed through caves in Midgarðr.
Wenaham (Vanahiemr): Vanaheimr is the home of the Wena (Vanir) the second family of Gods of which Fréa and Fréo are members. It is thought to be west of Midgarðr and like Ágarðr is said to have many mansions.