One of the nine realms of Norse mythology was a world of fire, heat, and energy which was not only key to the creation of the Norse cosmos but home to powerful and fiery beings.

A realm of fire and brimstone

For anyone who has spent any amount of time in a Nordic winter, heat and warmth are vital to both one's physical and psychological comfort. 

It should be no surprise then that one of the nine universes of Norse mythology was a realm full of fire and brimstone: Muspelheim. This realm was characterized by intense heat, molten lava, fire, and such excoriating heat that it would warm even the coldest Nordic winter's night. 

It possessed an essence that was full of fiery radiance, and it was this essence that was part of the Norse theory of creation, the beginning of time.

In the era before time, there was nothing. So many cultures, civilizations, and religions have spoken about what they believed happened many moons ago, and the Norse were no different. For them, there was only a primordial realm that existed before time, Ginnungagup

This huge eternal and dark void would eventually see two realms morph out of its opposite ends, Niflheim (the realm of barren icy landscapes) and its complete opposite, Muspelheim. 

They were, if you'll forgive a bit of spiritual appropriation, the Ying and the Yang, two elemental opposites separated by and forged from an eternal void.

Home of the Fire Giants

Given the fiery nature of this realm, it would be an easy mistake to assume that there is no life present. However, Muspelhiem is home to fire giants. 

Unlike other Jötnar (giants) described throughout the Norse sagas, the fire giants seem to stem from one singular originator, Surtr. Aside from being a primordial being, the Norse representation of chaos and destruction, Surtr is said to be the half-brother of Ymir and Audhumbla (perhaps the most famous legendary cow in Norse literature but not the only one). 

Often described as the lord of this realm and of the powerful fire giants and was said to stand at the border of his domain brandishing a giant flaming sword.

Muspelheim plays an important part in the story of Norse creation. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Whilst all roads may have once led to Rome, it appears that all roads in Norse mythology, figuratively speaking, led to Ragnarök. This is very much the case with the fire giants who, along with Surtr, are said to play an important part in the Norse apocalyptic end of days. 

Surtr, and his fiery sword, will lead his legion of superhuman giants of fire to battle both divisions of the Norse gods, the Æsir and the Vanir.

Relation to creation and destruction

Muspelheim also plays an important part in the story of Norse creation. As mentioned, this is one of two realms separated from that great void, Ginnungagap. 

According to the sagas, the entire start of the creation of the Norse universes was down to a single spark from the fiery realm of Muspelheim. Sparks and embers flowed from Muspelheim and met with the icy coldness of Niflheim. 

This meeting of fire and ice, of warmth and cold, was the reaction that created not only the vast Norse cosmos with its nine realms but also the literal "spark" of life. 

Centuries before the "Big Bang Theory" of universal creation was ever written down, the Norse felt that an elemental reaction, of fire and ice, was how the cosmos was invented. 

Given what we know now about how our universe was created, an elemental reaction caused by elemental forces doesn't sound so crazy.

This fiery spark that gave life to the Norse cosmos was also important throughout many other Norse sagas and stories. Fire was seen as not only a life-making element but was important to the formation of other worlds and the ongoing cyclical nature of creation and destruction. 

Here on earth, funeral pyres were a common way for Viking communities to send off a deceased powerful leader or warrior, underscoring the importance of fire in Norse culture even after death.

The fiery realm of Muspelheim, home of powerful fire giants, and its association with a destructive and creative quality, makes it one of the more unforgettable Norse realms. 

Its role in the creation of the Norse cosmos as well as its relationship to Niflheim, its opposite elemental realm, shows the importance that people in Viking societies played upon the elemental and raw forces of nature.

BBC History Extra has more on often fiery Viking funerals here

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