This is a response to a question from The Troth’s 101 course, prerequisite to the Lore program! Here is my masterpost of Troth 101 essays.
What are the nine worlds? Where are they located, and what are their aspects? Who lives where?
I don’t like this question. I get it’s important to help become conversant with the myths, but I don’t like list/catalog questions. I feel like I can either write a purely folklorist literary analysis, or else I can get all spacey. I wish I could find a third door! Oh well, I will default to spacy. Maybe I will find a productive way to organize a list/catalog later.
The nine worlds could be the planets of the solar system, which is a nice bit of synchronicity, seeing as the ancient world could only observe the inner planets. I’m pulling these correspondences out of my butt, but:
Mercury: Muspelheim – The hot one!
Venus: Vanaheim – The one with Roman fertility associations.
Earth: Midgard – simple enough!
Mars: Jotunheim – based, frankly, on the Mars Trilogy, and the animism that springs up among Mars colonists. Everything is larger and more hostile. The forces that sculpt the Martian landscape can beat up the forces that sculpt the Terran landscape!
Jupiter: Asgard – Jupiter, king of the gods, home of the kings of the gods.
Saturn: Svartalfheim – associated archetypally with wealth!
Uranus: Helheim – The far away one that isn’t the cold one!
Neptune: Alfheim – Frey rules Alfheim! Frey’s dad likes boats! Alfs are sometimes considered ancestral spirits – Neptune and Uranus sometimes switch!
Pluto: Nifhelheim – The cold one!
I believe the details of “who lives where” could be mined for mystical understandings, and the places, the halls, and the gods all sit in a web of symbolic interrelationship but I am so not at that level, and I don’t know if I want to treat a collection of traditions cataloged by an outsider like a wisdom text. (I so do, but not today)
I think for practical purposes of “where”, Helheim (and maybe Alfheim, and maybe Muspelheim) exist under the ground – a place that the ever-inspiring David Abram associates with the inaccessibility of the past.
The rest (barring Asgard, where an argument could be made for “in the sky” – associated with the immanence of the present; and Midgard, which is Midgard) exist over the horizon (associated with the infinite possibilities of the future). That is, perpetually over the horizon, just off the edge of the map, out of the reach of any normal human travel. Perhaps they could be associated with directions (Vanaheim in the east, Nifhelheim in the north, etc) or landmarks (beyond the ocean, beyond the mountains) but humans have so few impassible landmarks these days, I think that is not the most productive speculation. I don’t like a Heathenry that insists I pretend I am stupid.