1. Norse
  2. Cosmology
  3. Alfheim

Alfheim

One of the Nine Realms in Norse mythology, Alfheim was the home of both the light elves and the dark elves.

Seldom mentioned Alfheim was one of the Nine Realms in Norse mythology, a world inhabited by elves. There were two types of elves in Norse lore: the Ljósálfar, or “Light Elves,” and the Dökkálfar, or “Dark Elves.” Though Alfheim was never described in the sources, it may be surmised that the realm embodied the extreme luminosity and darkness characteristic of its inhabitants.

Alfheim was said to be ruled by Freyr, suggesting a deep association with the magic of the Vanir gods. Like the other realms, Alfheim hung from the branches of Yggdrasil, the world tree at the center of Norse cosmology.

Etymology

The name “Alfheim” (Old Norse: Álfheimr), was derived from the Old Norse words for “elf” and “home,” and meant “elf home” or “the home of the elves.”

Mythology

Little is known about Alfheim and its origins. In the Grímnismál of the Poetic Edda, compiled by Snorri Sturluson in the thirteenth century, Alfheim was described in only the briefest of detail. It appeared in a long list of places recited by Odin (disguised as a traveler named Grimnir):

Ydalir call they the place where Ull. A hall for himself hath set;
And Alfheim the gods to Freyr once gave
As a tooth-gift in ancient times.1

The home of the elves appeared again in the Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda, Sturluson’s rendition of mythological events drawn from the Poetic Edda. In this tale, Alfheim was mentioned by King Harr in a conversation with Gangleri, the story’s main narrator:

‘Many places are there, and glorious. That which is called Álfheimr is one, where dwell the peoples called Light-Elves; but the Dark-Elves dwell down in the earth, and they are unlike in appearance, but by far more unlike in nature. The Light-Elves are fairer to look upon than the sun, but the Dark-Elves are blacker than pitch.’2

Though this description largely focuses on the region’s elves, it also hints at Alfheim’s complex and somewhat contradictory nature.

Pop Culture

Alfheim was prominently featured in the video game God of War (2018), where players could explore the realm as the warrior hero Kratos. One of the key worlds in the game, Alfheim was a place of constant warfare.

In Marvel Comics’s Thor, Alfheim was described as a wondrous place with springs of wine, trees that produced candy fruit, and endless gardens. In addition to sprightly elves who commanded flying machines, Alfheim was inhabited by faeries, pixies, unicorns, and other fantastical creatures.

References

Bibliography

  1. Sturluson, Snorri. Grímnismál of the Poetic Edda. Translated by Henry Adams Bellows. The Internet Sacred Text Archive. Accessed on March 21, 2020. https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe03.htm 

  2. Sturluson, Snorri. Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda. Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur. The Internet Sacred Text Archive. Accessed on March 21, 2020. https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/pre/pre04.htm

  3. Wikipedia contributors. “Alfheim.” Wikipedia. Accessed on March 21, 2020.

Footnotes

  1. Snorri Sturluson, the Grímnismál of the Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows, stanza 5. https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe06.htm

  2. Snorri Sturluson, the Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda, translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, XVII. 

Citation

About the Author

Thomas Apel is a historian of science and religion who received his Ph.D. in History from Georgetown University.