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Asgard is the famous realm of the Æsir or Aesir gods in Norse mythology. Led by the Allfather Odin, the Asgardian gods live in Asgard in peace throughout most of Norse mythology with a few sporadic exceptions. All that ends with the Final Battle Ragnarok, of course, but Asgard stands firm for countless eons before that.
What and Where is Asgard?
Like the other eight of the nine realms of Norse mythology, Asgard is located on the world tree Yggdrasil. Where exactly on the tree is a matter of debate as some sources say it’s in the roots while others put Asgard in the tree’s crown, just above the human realm Midgard.
Regardless, in that sense, Asgard is a realm like any other – just one of nine separate locations that comprise the cosmos. The gods did wall off Asgard, however, making it near-impenetrable for all outsiders and forces of chaos. This way, they managed to maintain Asgard as a bastion of order of divinity all throughout Norse mythology and until its very end.
Asgard is everything we mere mortals can imagine it as and more. Full of light, golden halls, divine feasts, and myriad gods walking calmly about, this celestial realm is a symbol of peace, order, and protection for mankind all throughout Norse mythology.
The Founding of Asgard
Unlike other celestial realms in other religions, Asgard wasn’t a part of the cosmos in its beginning. The only two of the nine realms that existed initially were the fire realm Muspelheim and the ice realm Niflheim.
Asgard, as well as the rest of the nine realms, came later when gods and jötnar (giants, trolls, monsters) clashed. It was only after this first battle that the gods Odin, Vili, and Ve carved out the other seven realms out of the giant corpse of the primordial jötunn Ymir.
What’s more, the Aesir gods didn’t even make Asgard first. Instead, they created the first humans Ask and Embla, then they created Midgard for them, as well as the other realms such as Jotunheim, Vanaheim, and others. And only after that did the gods go to Asgard and sought to build a home for themselves there.
The construction of Asgard is described by Snorri Sturluson in the Prose Edda. According to him, upon arriving in Asgard, the gods divided it up into 12 (or potentially more) separate realms or estates. That way, every god had their own place and palace in Asgard – Valhalla for Odin, Thrudheim for Thor, Breidablik for Baldur, Fólkvangr’s for Freyja, Himinbjörg for Heimdallr, and others.
There was also Bifrost, the rainbow bridge extending between Asgard and Midgard, and the main entrance to the realm of the gods.
As the gods created their opulent dwellings, however, they soon realized that Asgard was rather defenseless. So, when one day an unnamed jötunn or giant builder arrived in Asgard on his giant horse Svadilfari, the gods tasked him with building an impenetrable fortification around their realm. They gave him a time limit too – three winters for the entire wall around Asgard.
The unnamed builder agreed but asked for a very special set of rewards – the sun, the moon, and the hand in marriage of the fertility goddess Freyja. Despite the goddess’ opposition, the trickster god Loki agreed and the unnamed giant started working.
Enraged that Loki would promises such an invaluable price, the gods forced Loki to find a way to sabotage the builder’s efforts at the very last moment – that way the gods would get 99% of their wall and the builder wouldn’t get his prize.
Try as he might, the only way Loki could think of to complete his task was to turn himself into a gorgeous mare and seduce the builder’s giant horse Svadilfari. And the plan did work – Loki the mare managed to drive Svadilfari mad with lust and the stallion chased Loki for days, ruining the builder’s chances to finish the wall by the third winter.
That way the gods managed to fortify Asgard fully and nearly imperviously while paying no price for the service. In fact, Odin was even gifted a brand new eight-legged horse birthed by Loki after Svadilfari had finally caught up to the trickster mare in a nearby grove.
Asgard and Ragnarok
Once the realm of the gods was properly fortified, no enemies could attack or breach its walls for eons to come. So, virtually every time we see Asgard in Norse mythology after its fortification is as a scene of feasts, celebrations, or other business between the gods themselves.
All that changes at the very end of the Norse mythological cycle, however, when the combined forces of the fire jötnar of Surtr from Muspelheim, the ice jötnar from Jotunheim, and the dead souls from Niflheim/Hel led by none other but Loki himself.
Assaulted from all sides, including from the sea and through the Bifrost, Asgard did eventually fall and almost all the gods in it fell as well. This tragic event didn’t occur because of insufficient fortification or a betrayal from within, however – it’s just the inevitability of the relationship between chaos and order in Norse mythology.
In the myths, it’s said explicitly that the entire world tree Yggdrasil had started rotting slowly but surely throughout the ages, signifying the meticulous battering of the forces of chaos over the temporary order created by the gods. Ragnarok is merely the culmination of this slow degradation of order and Asgard’s fall during Ragnarok marks the end of the universal cycle of chaos-order-chaos.
Symbols and Symbolism of Asgard
As wonderful as Asgard is, the core idea and symbolism behind it are similar to those of other celestial realms in other religions and mythologies.
Just like Mount Olympus or even the Kingdom of Heaven in Christianity, Asgard is the realm of the gods in Norse mythology.
As such, it’s full of golden halls, fruitful gardens, unending peace, and tranquility, at least when Odin’s heroes aren’t sparring and training for Ragnarok.
Importance of Asgard in Modern Culture
Like many other elements, gods, and places from Norse mythology, Asgard’s most popular modern interpretation comes from Marvel Comics and the MCU.
There, the Marvel version of the divine realm can be seen both on the page and on the big screen in all MCU movies concerning the hero Thor played by Christ Hemsworth.
Outside of Marvel, other popular depictions of Asgard can be seen in the video game franchises God of War: Ragnarok and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.
The realm of the gods, Asgard is described as a beautiful and awe-inspiring region.The eventual end of Asgard during Ragnarok is viewed as tragic but also as inevitable as chaos has always been destined to one day prevail over order.
This doesn’t negate the positivity with which the Nordic people saw Asgard nor does it mean that all is lost.
After all, Norse mythology is cyclical so even after Ragnarok, a new universal cycle is prophesied to come and a new Asgard to be raised out of the chaos.