The end of the world in Norse mythology, Ragnarok, is the doom of gods and men. It will not be a single event, but rather a chain of them, culminating in a violent final battle between the Aesir and a host of all the evil creatures of the world. It will end in the destruction of the nine worlds.
According to prophecy, Ragnarok will start with a long, bitter winter, the Fimbul winter,which will last for three years and cover Midgard in darkness and ice. Society will fall apart, men turning on each other as wolves roam the land and hunger and sickness reign. Forsaking the bonds of family and kinship, people will kill each other out of greed or hunger.
For the gods, one of the first signs of Ragnarok was the death of Balder. Loki, by now no longer a mere troublemaker but truly evil, tricked Balder’s brother Hodr into killing him, and sabotaged Frigg’s efforts to bring him back from Hel.
Other portents of Ragnarok include two giant wolves, Skoll and Hati, swallowing the sun and the moon, and the dragon Nidhogg, who has been gnawing away at the roots of Yggdrasil, succeeding in biting through one of them.
The ship Nagelfar will be completed, and the unworthy dead – all those who have died of sickness or old age, or without a sword in their hand — will man it after breaking out of Hel’s realm. They will sail Nagelfar to the Vigrid plain, to take part in the final battle there.
During this time, too, the huge wolf Fenrir will break free of the magic chain Gleipnir,with which the gods bound him. His brother Jormungand, cast into the sea and coiled around the realm of Midgard biting his own tail, will let go and join with the forces of darkness.Their father, the fire god Loki, was bound in a cave by the other gods, but during Ragnarokhe, too, will break free of his bonds and rise to take charge of the army of evil.
The final battle is destined to take place in Asgard, on the Vigrid plain, once Loki and his forces breach the walls of the gods’ realm. Heimdall will herald it, blowing the Gjallarhorn to call the Aesir and their forces to the battle. The Aesir’s forces
for this battle consist mostly of the Einherjar, the glorious dead who died as warriors and were chosen by Odin to join him in Valhalla. This is the reason why Odin sometimes seemed to withdraw his favor from warriors mid-battle: because he needed them to fight on his side during Ragnarok.
Arrayed against the Aesir are the forces under Loki’s command: the frost giants and mountain giants of Jotunheim, the fire giants of Muspelheim under Surt’s leadership, the army of the dead from Hel, and the monstrous brothers Fenrir and Jormungand.
It will prove to be a mutually destructive encounter when the two sides clash. Many of the gods and evil creatures will destroy each other. Freyr is destined to be slain by the fire giant Surt, having given away his magical sword beforehand. Loki and Heimdall, long-standing rivals and enemies, will kill each other. Tyr will slay the hell-hound Garm, but succumb to his wounds afterwards. Thor will kill the serpent Jormungand, but later die from the snake’s poison. Finally, Odin himself will fall, killed by the giant wolf Fenrir. Fenrir will then be killed in turn by Odin’s son, Vidar. After this, Surt will set the entire world on fire with his flaming sword, and none of the nine worlds or its residents will escape this conflagration,including Surt himself.
Ragnarok cannot be prevented, something which troubled Odin, gifted – or burdened– as he was with the gift of foresight. Despite the fact that the gods always knew of their doom, they faced it bravely. Odin prepared for it as best he could, and took some comfort in the knowledge that Ragnarok did not mean the end of the world altogether; after the final battle, a new world will rise from the ashes of the old. Although most of the gods are fated to perish, some will remain. Thor’s sons Magni and Modi will survive Ragnarok and inherit his hammer Mjölnir in the new world. Odin’s sons Vali and Vidar will likewise survive,along with his brother Honir. The god Baldur, killed through Loki’s trickery before Ragnarok began, will return from the dead. Two humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, will also survive to repopulate the Earth.
There are many interpretations of the myth of Ragnarok, ranging from the Norse equivalent of the biblical apocalypse to a symbolic representation of the Norse religion being replaced by Christianity. In the eighth century, Vikings discovered the effectiveness of the short, fast shore raid, called standhogg, and ravaged the coasts of Britain and other rich countries to the west and south of Scandinavia. For the residents, it was a time of terror, but for the Vikings, it was like Ragnarok — “ an axe-age, a sword-age”. The concept of Ragnarok was for them a constant, grim reminder of the importance of fighting bravely, the inevitability of death, and the futility of trying to cheat fate.
Copyright © 2012-2016 Melissa Snark. All rights reserved.