If you have watched the Thor movies or read the corresponding comics, you may be familiar with the Bifröst. Pronounced as the ‘BIF-roast’ in Old Norse, this is a burning rainbow bridge that connects Midgard (the world of humans) with Asgard (the world of the gods, specifically the Aesir tribe of the gods).
Various poems throughout Norse history talk about it. These include the Poetic Edda from the 13th Century, as well as the Prose Edda referring to it as Ásbrú – translating to ‘Aesir’s Bridge’. It is thought that the bridge ends at Himinbjörg, where the god Heimdall lives. During Ragnarok, mythology states that giants will breach the defenses of the Bifröst and cross it to invade Asgard and kill the gods.
Where did the word originate from?
There is no set origin of the word, or anyone explicitly attributed to its existence. However, Dr. Jackson Crawford, who is a scholar of Norse language, stated that the word possibly meant ‘the winking mile’ or ‘the blinking mile’.
The name can be spelled in two ways: Bifröst and Bilröst. In the Old Norse language, the word bifask meant to ‘tremble’, while röst meant ‘mile’. If we combine the two words, Bifröst likely meant ‘the trembling mile’, while Bilröst meant ‘the winking mile’ or ‘the blinking mile’. This added meaning may probably also stem from the word bil that means ‘moment of failure’ in Old Norse, as it was based on Odin’s alternative name Bileygr which translates to ‘winking eyed’ or ‘wavering eyed’.
Facts about the Bifröst appearance
Since the bridge is the only way to access Asgard and cross over to Midgard, it serves an important role in the cosmos. Most accounts and myths talk about it having three colors, and the gods created it using the elements of water, air, and fire.
The structure of the bridge has several features that show its divine influence, which include:
- Very vast dimensions, that the gods travel on it on horseback as they move between the realms
- It forms a perfect arch in its design, with its length covering the whole sky
- It has a unique structure with no flaws
- Under it, there is a body full of boiling water. Thor’s preferred route to access Midgard is wading through the depths of this scalding water, rather than other gods who move across the bridge.
- Different from the traditional rainbow with seven colors, the Bifröst has three very bright colors
- The red-color element of the Bifröst is comprised of intense flames that block the main enemy of the gods, the Jotunn (giants) from crossing it.
- The Bifröst is bright enough to be visible across all the nine realms in Norse mythology.
Heimdall, the guardian of the Bifröst
Heimdall is the chief guardian of the bridge, so he represents the order in the cosmos. His role also extends to facilitating communication between humans and the gods and goddesses.
He was likely chosen for the job due to his ability to see long distances covering hundreds of kilometers. Clouds and bad weather do not obstruct him either, because he has exceptional hearing abilities, with myths explaining his ability to hear the wool growing on the back of a sheep.
Alongside his sight and hearing, he also has a horn known as Gjallarhorn, translating to ‘the loud-sounding horn’ or ‘the yelling horn’. When he blows it, the sound is so loud that it can be heard across the realms – so blowing it is his way of announcing that Ragnarok has started. Alongside the war, the Bifröst is also destroyed during this event.
Heimdall also possesses a sword known as Homund, which he uses to attack any giants that try to sneak into Asgard. However, it is unlikely that these giants, or jötunn, will make it past the bridge because it is always on fire.
Why the Bifröst is essential
In Norse myths, nine realms make up the universe, and each realm consists of unique beings that show different aspects of the cosmos. Four realms play the main role in the story of the Bifröst out of these nine realms.
The Yggdrasil (Tree of Life) supports all these realms through its roots and trees, and these realms are:
- The realm of the gods – Asgard
- The realm of the bright elves – Alfheim
- The realm of the Jötunn (giants) – Jötunheim
- The realm of humans – Midgard
- The realm of the forces of chaos (fire giants) – Muspell or Muspelheim
- The realm of the dwarves – Nidavellir
- The realm of mist and ice – Niflheim
- The realm of the black elves – Svartalfheim
- The realm of the Vanir gods – Vanaheim
The Bifröst is important as it plays these roles:
It connects Midgard and Asgard
The Aesir gods are the creators of humans and most of the universe, including Midgard. Therefore, the Bifröst was essential to keeping their eye on humans and their affairs, and they are the only ones that can travel across the bridge. They have also put in other security measures – at least according to their intentions.
It has defensive barriers
Since the bridge connects Midgard and Asgard, there are several dangers it poses to their homeland – especially from the giants. Therefore, the gods put in several defenses, including:
- Appointing Heimdall as the protector of the bridge
- Designing the red band of the bridge to glow hot and deter giants from invading Asgard
It is destroyed during Ragnarok
Despite the defensive measures, Norse mythology strongly holds to fate in determining the destiny of things – so it was fated that the Bifröst would be destroyed during Ragnarok.
Many Norse legends and myths emphasize the destruction of the cosmos and its rebirth, as well as the destruction of all living beings – including the gods Odin and Thor.
The Bifröst serves an essential role in the mythology of Norse culture because it connected the realm of the gods and human beings. Its vital role sets it up for destruction when the giants bypass Heimdall’s defenses and destroy the realms by killing the gods.