Modern heathenism has been fascinated by the concept of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology and readily provides the names of these worlds and their meanings. Academics are equally guilty. Whereas this is a good practice from a psycho-analytical point of view, we should remember that this has little to do with what our ancestors understood by the concept.
Only three passages mention the Nine Worlds and they are Voluspa 2, Vafthrudnismal 43 and Gylfaginning 34. One more passage briefly skims the concept, and that is Skirnismal 35.
Völuspá is the first and best known poem of the Poetic Edda. “Odin and the Völva” (1895) by Lorenz Frølich. (Public Domain)
Let’s look at the relevant fragments.
Of Nine Worlds, I Remember
Níu man ek heima, níu íviðjur, mjötvið mæran fyr mold neðan.
‘Of nine worlds, I remember, nine giantesses, the famous Mjötvið, beneath the earth.’
Níu kom ek heima fyr Níflhel neðan; hinig deyja ór helju halir.
‘Nine worlds I traveled beneath in Niflhel, where die the heroes from Hel.’
Hel kastaði hann í Niflheim ok gaf henni vald yfir níu heimum.
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