Written by Dyami Millarson
There are nine worlds in Nordic folk religion. We may safely assume that there were multiple worlds in the other strands of Germanic folk religion as well. Mithgarth, Asgarth, Alfheim, Svartalfheim and Jötunheim are all worlds that exist parallel to each other. So the Germanic peoples believed in parallel worlds: the Álfar are parallel humans, so are the Æsir, so are the Jötnar, so are the Dvergar, so are the Vanir. The worlds they inhabit are alternate worlds that are reflections of the same human, spiritual or divine condition; they reflect the same reality essentially.
Parallelism is a quintessential characteristic of Germanic folk religion; Parallelism is the truth underlying the structure of the Germanic universe (Germanic religion may be termed Germanic universism as it encompasses the Germanic understanding or view of the universe, though one should not confuse universism with universalism). The following synecdoche rings true for Germanic folk religion: divinity mirrors humanity, and humanity mirrors divinity. Natural parallelism as a structural feature of Germanic folk religion is the reason for the principle of divine diversity; the Germanic peoples believed in many deities, because they believed in parallelism as reflected in nature.
Germanic folk religion is, doubtlessly, a reflection of nature, and hence it may be termed nature religion. Nature is what inspired the Germanic peoples; for they lived in nature. The boundary between the Germanic village and nature was very small and arbitrary; the Germanic peoples lived very close to nature like other indigenous people around the globe who built their villages in nature. The home of the Germanic peoples was nature, so it is not surprising that nature informed their religious worldview.
The multiplicity of any kind of living organism is a given in nature; it is necessary for any species in nature to not be the only and last individual of their kind. For divinity to be one would mean to the Germanic mind that the Gods are a dying breed. If there were only one human being, that would mean the human race is dying. The fertility of the divine races was seen as reflective of their vitality; nature always reproduces, and reproduction is an imperative in nature. Multiplicity and multiplication were fully embraced in Germanic religion, hence fertility was always seen as an important factor in religious rite and story.
Human beings, spiritual beings and divine beings are all quintessentially belonging to the same man-like prototype with natural imperfections and moral defects; humanity, spirituality and divinity are overlapping in Germanic religion, hence I could speak of the human/spiritual/divine condition in this article as being the template or blueprint for the various mirror reflections of reality that are presented to us in Germanic folk religion.
One may superficially say that there are multiple realities or truths in Germanic folk religion, but these are actually multiple copies of the same reality or truth. These parallel realities are simply reflecting that there are universal laws governing the world, regardless of what reality one finds oneself in. The philosophical implications of this are huge; the grass is not greener elsewhere, but everyone is subject to the same fate, ørlög, primordial law.
The other worlds being replicas or replications of our human world is highly engaging and appealing from a philosophical perspective; the Germanic peoples would have looked at the other worlds and realised that the other man-like beings had it no better than them; this gave them hope automatically, as it meant that they were already living in utopia and had to make the best of life in the world they lived in. This is a very natural way to view the world; for this natural worldview helps one to deal with the harsh realities of the world.
Germanic folk religion is an acceptance of the state of the world, an acceptance of the state of nature; the natural parallelism found in Germanic religion shows us the Germanic understanding of utopia, the world in which they lived was already ideal to them because the natural world, which they inhabited, was their eternal ideal to which they aspired. The Germanic peoples could not imagine a better world than the natural world which they inhabited; they saw nature as perfect, and this is a sentiment we can certainly relate to in modern times.
Furthermore, it is important that the Germanic peoples did not fully perceive the other worlds as distinct from their own; there was always overlap. The worlds were all interconnected, and there were frequent interactions between them. Therefore, the boundaries between the worlds are blurred; the distinctions are arbitrary rather than absolute. While the worlds are part of one underlying reality, they are governed by the same universal laws, and this means that their distinction is, fundamentally, not that relevant. In other words, while one may say they are copies or replicas of the same prototype, they are actually an interconnected web; the worlds are part of the same system, and that is why they display parallelism that makes one realise they are essentially the same. The best way to think about the worlds is that they are parallel threads in a web as they belong to the same natural systemic structure and they are subject to the same natural dynamics of evolution.
In conclusion, one may understand the parallelism of the multiple worlds in Germanic religion to be a confirmation of the idea there is only one world. The Germanic peoples did not call these parallel worlds ‘worlds’, but they spoke of only one ‘world’ (age of man) and all the other realms, which I previously called worlds, were simply alternate kingdoms of man that were part of the same age of man; these realms existed parallel to each other in perpetuity. All realms being part of the same ‘age of man’ is important; they exist at the same time, they do not exist within another timeframe. Therefore, these worlds or realms are not parallel worlds in the sense they belong to other timeframes, but time runs the same in all of these worlds and therefore they exist in the same reality.