Norse Realm

Midgard

Midgard was the middle of Norse mythology’s Nine Realms, and the home of humankind. The halfway point between the chaos of Jotunheim and the order of Asgard, it was a common battleground for gods and monsters.

By Thomas ApelLast updated on Nov. 20th, 2021
  • How was Midgard created?

    Odin and his brothers created Midgard from the body of the giant Ymir, whose flesh became the land, whose blood became the ocean, and whose bones became the mountains.

  • Who was the guardian of Midgard?

    Thor took on the role of defender of Midgard, where he fought many battles, most famously against Jörmungandr the World Serpent.

One of the Nine Realms in Norse cosmology, Midgard was the world of human beings. The "middle enclosure," Midgard sat in the middle of the world tree Yggdrasil, a structure that housed all Nine Realms. This central loction was symbolic of Midgard's position between the civilized order of Asgard and the untamed wilds of Jotunheim. Though constantly striving toward perfection, the humans of Midgard would never achieve it.

Created from the body of the giant Ymir, Midgard was surrounded by a vast, impassable ocean patrolled by the World Serpent Jörmungandr. With its tail held in its mouth, the beast encircled the the realm in its entirety. Midgard was connected to Asgard via the rainbow bridge known as the Bifrost.

Etymology

The name “Midgard” (Old Norse: miðgarðr) was derived from the word mið, meaning “mid” or “middle,” and the word garðr, meaning an “enclosure,” “garden,” or “yard.” As the “middle enclosure,” Midgard was located halfway up Yggdrasil, and served as a symbolic meeting ground for lawful order and lawless chaos.

Mythology

Origins

Midgard's origins were well documented across a number of sources, including the Gylfaginning, of the Prose Edda. This text stated that in ancient times, when the world was forming, fire and ice merged to form the giant Ymir. An asexual hermaphrodite, Ymir produced the jotunn within his sweaty armpits.

Much like the jotunn he produced, Ymir was cruel and warlike. Unable to tolerate such behavior, the first gods murdered him and created Midgard from his corpse, using his flesh to form the earth, his bones to make the trees, and his brain to make the clouds. Sturluson described the process in the Grímnismál, of the Poetic Edda:

Out of Ymir's flesh was fashioned the earth,
And the ocean out of his blood;
Of his bones the hills, of his hair the trees,
Of his skull the heavens high.

Mithgarth the gods from his eyebrows made,
And set for the sons of men;
And out of his brain the baleful clouds
They made to move on high.1

Having completed Midgard, the gods moved on to creating humankind, starting with the male Ask and female Embla. In the beginning, Ask and Embla were thoughless and emotionless husks, though they would not stay that way for long. According to the Völuspá, three Asgardian deities soon imbued them with sense, desire, and intelligence:

Then from the throng did three come forth,
From the home of the gods, the mighty and gracious;
Two without fate on the land they found,
Ask and Embla, empty of might.

Soul they had not, sense they had not,
Heat nor motion, nor goodly hue;
Soul gave Othin, sense gave Hönir,
Heat gave Lothur and goodly hue.2

Thor and the Serpent of Midgard

In Norse mythology, Midgard was famous as the battleground between Thor, defender of Midgard, and Jörmungandr, the World Serpent who plagued its oceans. Jörmungandr was a jötunn, one of the monstrous children of Loki and his giant lover Angrboda. Appearing in the Hymiskviða, of the Poetic Edda, the myth began with Thor heading for Midgard to locate a cauldron large enough to brew beer for all the gods. Upon reaching the realm, Thor located Hymir, a giant who possessed such a cauldron. Their drunken adventure ended with a climactic confrontation between Thor and the monstrous sea creature.

The encounter occurred on a fishing trip. Hymir and Thor ventured out into the sea, using the heads of Hymir’s oxen as bait. While Hymir caught whales, Thor ensnared none other than the Midgard Serpent itself. Thor hurled the serpent onto the deck of the ship and smashed him with Mjölnir. Though a break in the text leaves the rest of the fight to the imagination, the tale ended with Jörmungandr wriggling free to fight another day:

The venomous serpent swiftly up
To the boat did Thor, the bold one, pull;
With his hammer the loathly hill of the hair
Of the brother of Fenrir he smote from above.

The monsters roared, and the rocks resounded,
And all the earth so old was shaken;
. . . . . . . . . .
Then sank the fish in the sea forthwith.3

Thor’s battles with Jörmungandr suggest that Midgard was a battleground for the forces of good and evil. That Thor never vanquished the beast demonstrates that Midgard would never be wholly assimilated into the civilized order that defined Asgard.

Midgard and Ragnarök

Like the rest of creation, Midgard was fated to be destroyed during Ragnarök, the Norse apocalypse. According to the prophecies, Midgard would be shattered by a final confrontation between Thor and Jörmungandr that would result in the serpent's death. Thor's victory over the beast would be short lived, however, as he would fall dead just nine steps from the monster’s corpse:

Against the serpent goes Othin's son.

In anger smites the warder of earth,—
Forth from their homes must all men flee;-
Nine paces fares the son of Fjorgyn,
And, slain by the serpent, fearless he sinks.4

Thor’s death would unleash a cataclysm upon Midgard, causing flames to devour the world:

The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea,
The hot stars down from heaven are whirled;
Fierce grows the steam and the life-feeding flame,
Till fire leaps high about heaven itself.5

Pop Culture

Thanks to Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Midgard has seen a lively resurgence in popular culture. Both mediums portrayed Midgard as Earth, while the other realms were depicted as planets and regions of space. Midgard was protected by the Asgardians, and the two realms were connected by the Bifrost, a bridge that transported Thor and other heroes through space.

The Midgard Glacier, on the eastern edge of the Greenland ice sheet, was named after the realm; it is currently endangered by climate change.