The Seven Worlds

Due to the limited number of pre-Christian records for Anglo-Saxon culture, little survives of the belief system. What does survive echoes but is not identical to Norse traditions, suggestive of a common Germanic background but a separation in practise. It is unknown whether the Anglo-Saxons believed in a World Tree (for the Norse, this was an ash or a yew, depending on interpretation) but there is a mention of “the seven worlds” in the Nine Herbs Charm, which was written down in the tenth century. This differs a little from the Norse nine and the only firmly identified world is Middangeard (Midgard) that literally means “the middle enclosure”.

However, there is a second world whose name has survived into modern records. This is the paradise-like Neorxnawang, the only part of which translates being “wang” or “field” and has no obvious cognate in Old Norse. Some suggest that this world is the result of adapting the Anglo-Saxon seven worlds cosmology to the Christian model. Some others suggest that this is simply a name that was used for what the Norse knew as Asgard or some part of it as a number of the named Norse gods had their own “fields” within Asgard. There is a third school of thought, which is similar to the Celtic Interpretation of the Otherworld, that holds that Neorxnawang is an interpretation of the Otherworld, or particularly positive experiences in it. Despite general Anglo-Saxon disapproval of anything vaguely associated with the Fair Folk.

Some academics have taken this argument further and put forward that the seven worlds are the number of worlds the Anglo-Saxons had encountered before their conversion to Christianity, i.e. our reality, the Otherworld and five unknown others. This would suggest that the Old Norse had experienced or heard of a further two worlds. When objections are raised over these other worlds remaining unknown, the slow recession of the Otherworld has been used as a model for the separation from these unknown worlds such that they are no longer accessible.

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