Norse Realm

Muspelheim

Muspelheim was the Norse realm of fire and heat, whose elemental blaze melted the ice of Niflheim and created Ymir, the first giant. It would play a role in Ragnarök as well, consuming all creation in its flames.

By Thomas ApelLast updated on Nov. 20th, 2021
  • Who did the fires of Muspelheim reveal in the ice?

    As Muspelheim’s heat melted the glaciers of Niflheim it revealed Audumla, the cow who nursed the giant Ymir and freed Buri from a block of salt.

  • Who was destined to lead the fiery armies of Muspelheim?

    Surt the fire giant was destined to lead an army out of Muspelheim during Ragnarök, battling against the gods and eventually ending the world.

One of the Nine Realms in Norse mythology, Muspelheim was a world of elemental fire and heat. In the Norse creation myths, the fires of Muspelheim melted the ice and snow of Niflheim. The realm’s water droplets formed the giant Ymir, and the receding glaciers revealed Buri, the progenitor of the Aesir tribe. Muspelheim would also play a role in the end of the world. According to the prophecies of Ragnarök, it was Muspelheim’s flames that would consume all creation.

Etymology

The name “Muspelheim” meant the “home (heimr) of Muspell.” Roughly translated, Muspell was “the fiery end,” likely a Germanic reference to the end of the world. The term Muspell may have also referred to the fire giant Surt, who was fated to lead a band of fire warriors from Muspelheim during Ragnarok.

Mythology

Origins

According to Norse cosmogony, the dawn of time was dominated by Ginnungagap—the “Yawning Void.” As time wore on, the fires of Muspelheim and the ices of Niflheim encroached on Ginnungagap. Slowly but surely, the heat of Muspelheim melted Niflheim’s frost, and the vapors coalesced into Ymir, the first giant. The melting ice also revealed a cow, Audumla, who nursed Ymir and fed on the salty blocks of ice.

In time, Audumla’s voracious licking revealed Buri, progenitor of the Aesir tribe and grandfather of Odin. Snorri Sturluson recounted this event in the Gylfaginning, of the Prose Edda:

‘She licked the ice-blocks, which were salty; and the first day that she licked the blocks, there came forth from the blocks in the evening a man’s hair; the second day, a man’s head; the third day the whole man was there. He is named Búri: he was fair of feature, great and mighty. He begat a son called Borr, who wedded the woman named Bestla, daughter of Bölthorn the giant; and they had three sons: one was Odin, the second Vili, the third Vé.’1

It was not long before Ymir’s cruelty and lust for power became intolerable, leading Buri and his sons to slay the giant and end his tyranny once and for all. Afterwards, they filled Ginnungagap with his dismembered body, using it to create the earth, the seas, and the skies.

The Fires of Ragnarök

Just as the fires of Muspelheim created the world, so too would they destroy it. According to the prophecies of Ragnarök, the fire giant Surt would lead his vanguard out of Muspelheim (or Jotunheim, in some sources) to do battle with the gods:

In this din shall the heaven be cloven, and the Sons of Múspell ride thence: Surtr shall ride first, and both before him and after him burning fire; his sword is exceeding good: from it radiance shines brighter than from the sun; when they ride over Bifröst, then the bridge shall break, as has been told before. The Sons of Múspell shall go forth to that field which is called Vígrídr, thither shall come Fenris-Wolf also and the Midgard Serpent; then Loki and Hrymr shall come there also, and with him all the Rime-Giants. All the champions of Hel follow Loki; and the Sons of Múspell shall have a company by themselves, and it shall be very bright.2

The fiery molten lava of Muspelheim would then consume the world, returning it to the nothingness of Ginnungagap.

Pop Culture

Muspelheim has resurfaced in modern times thanks to Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The realm was featured prominently in the 2017 film Thor: Ragnarok, which began with Thor visiting Muspelheim to confront the flame giant Surt. The realm was depicted as a bleak world made up of dark caverns, flowing lava, and sulphuric vents. During the film’s climax, Surtr returned from Muspelheim to conquer Asgard with his flaming sword.

Muspelheim also appeared in the video game God of War (2018), where it was once again portrayed as a region of lava, flame, and smouldering rock.