Bifröst

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In Norse mythology, Bifröst or Bilröst is a burning rainbow bridge that reaches between Midgard, the world, and Asgard, the realm of the gods. The bridge is attested as Bilröst in the Poetic Edda; compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and as Bifröst in the Prose Edda; written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and in the poetry of skalds. Both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda alternately refer to the bridge as Asbrú (Old Norse "Æsirs' bridge").[1]

According to the Prose Edda, the bridge ends in heaven at Himinbjörg, the residence of the god Heimdallr, who guards it from the jötnar. The bridge's destruction at Ragnarök by the forces of Muspell is foretold. Scholars have proposed that the bridge may have originally represented the Milky Way and have noted parallels between the bridge and another bridge in Norse mythology, Gjallarbrú.

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Etymology

Scholar Andy Orchard posits that Bifröst may mean "shimmering path." He notes that the first element of Bilröstbil (meaning "a moment")—"suggests the fleeting nature of the rainbow," which he connects to the first element of Bifröst—the Old Norse verb bifa (meaning "to shimmer" or "to shake")—noting that the element provokes notions of the "lustrous sheen" of the bridge.[2] Austrian Germanist Rudolf Simek says that Bifröst either means "the swaying road to heaven" (also citing bifa) or, if Bilröst is the original form of the two (which Simek says is likely), "the fleetingly glimpsed rainbow" (possibly connected to bil, perhaps meaning "moment, weak point").[3]

Attestations

Two poems in the Poetic Edda and two books in the Prose Edda provide information about the bridge:

Poetic Edda

In the Poetic Edda, the bridge is mentioned in the poems Grímnismál and Fáfnismál, where it is referred to as Bilröst. In one of two stanzas in the poem Grímnismál that mentions the bridge, Grímnir (the god Odin in disguise) provides the young Agnarr with cosmological knowledge, including that Bilröst is the best of bridges.[4] Later in Grímnismál, Grímnir notes that Asbrú "burns all with flames" and that, every day, the god Thor wades through the waters of Körmt and Örmt and the two Kerlaugar:

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