Cosmology

Germanic cosmology is based around the axis mundi of the world tree, represented by Yggdrasil in the Eddic lore. There are no known attested sources of a similar concept in Anglo-Saxon history, although comparisons between Norse cultural practice and the Saxon Irminsul are apt – if we are to assume that the Irminsul takes the role of such a cosmological construct.

There is a similar, albeit brief, mention of a multi-world universe which is found in the 10th century Lacnunga manuscript, found in the Nine Herbs Charm. It reads:

ðas VIIII magon wið nygon attrum.

Wyrm com snican, toslat he man;

ða genam Woden VIIII wuldortanas,

sloh ða þa næddran, þæt heo on VIIII tofleah.

þær geændade æppel and attor,

þæt heo næfre ne wolde on hus bugan.

Fille and finule, felamihtigu twa,

þa wyrte gesceop witig drihten,

halig on heofonum, þa he hongode;

sette and sænde on VII worulde

Frustratingly, the worlds have not been mentioned in the text itself, simply that there are a set number of them. This has lead to conjecture by practitioners as to which worlds are in existence in the Anglo-Saxon cosmological system. It has been argued convincingly, elsewhere, that various elements of the Norse mythology arose after the discovery of Iceland, so it would not be unreasonable to assume that some of what is common to the Norse would be uncommon to the Anglo-Saxons. Facing the dearth of information, many practitioners of Fyrnsidu appropriate Eddic lore to fill in this role. This has lead to the trend of applying cognates in Old English for Norse worlds, with varying degrees of success.

What we do have are a series of uniquely Anglo-Saxon themes, both pagan and Christian, which add to the Old English cosmological makeup. Poetic leavings are of particular interest here, for they provide the concepts of these worlds which saturated the minds of the scribes that composed and perpetuated the stories.

Middangeard, of course, is readily understood by anyone with exposure to Norse mythology. It is the Old English cognate, attested in literature and history, of Miðgarð. The use of this provides the linguistic impetus for other cognates to be attempted by modern practitioners.


Hell draws on Christian themes in the extant works of Anglo-Saxon poetics, but there are other influences which have been identified as possibly pagan in origination. Barrows and the underworld take a special place within the Old English history, and the re-purposing of monuments is a deep academic study, one which might serve as a future approach to reconstructionists. Further, the Norse concept of Hel is well known, both as a Goddess and the Realm. The word has roots which extend beyond the Christian period and shares analogous cognates with earlier, proto-Germanic, words denoting and referencing the Underworld.


Wyrmgeard or Wyrmsele , the Serpenthall(s) are reminiscent of the Norse Hel and hall Náströnd where Nidhogg chews upon the dead in the Eddic Lore. It is only found in the Christianized Anglo-Saxon poem Judith, wyrms and snakes are found within a lore of other Anglo-Saxon works, including the referenced Rune Charm. Serpents are commonly used in near-pagan works as an agent of destruction – Beowulf’s dragon being another example of this.


Neorxnawang/Neorxnawong is perhaps one of the most jarring words in the Old English corpus, and at first glance looks exceedingly out of place. It is used, as many of these terms are, in Christianized Anglo-Saxon literature, and is very reminiscent of Hellenic ‘Elysium’. Supposedly a realm of easy work and relaxation, it is thought to be derived from the Old English word for “not work” (ne wyrcan) and Rudolf Simek postulates that it existed before the rise of Christianity and that it is analogous with Asgarðr. It is possible that this place plays the same role, although it lacks the connotations of a walled enclosure that “Asgarðr” would otherwise imply.


Modern practitioners do not fully know what role these places play in the cosmology of the Anglo-Saxons. These are places which do not and canot fit into the worlds provided by Eddic Lore. Ignoring Middangeard, as it is the term for our present world, the other three do not neatly mesh into comparative Norse lore. They are worlds and places of uncertainties, with only guesses as being made to the extent of their use, both in history and in pagan, pre-Christian history.

It is up to the individual in question to determine how they wish to approach their cosmology, if it even factors into their practice at all.  For many, importing an Eddic cosmology is a way which they can avoid claiming that “they do not know”.  For others, they are content with dealing with the unknown.


For further reading, see: Rudolf Simek, translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. (2007), D.S. Brewer.

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