Ragnarok

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In Norse mythology, Ragnarok ( "fate of the gods") is the battle at the end of the world.

The 'Voluspa' (Prophesy of the Seeress), the first lay of the 'Poetic (or Elder) Edda', dating from about 1000 AD, spans the history of the gods, from the beginning of time to Ragnarok, in 65 stanzas. The 'Prose (or Younger) Edda', written two centuries later by Snorri Sturluson, describes in detail what would take place before, during, and even after the battle

 

Not only will the gods, giants, and monsters perish in this apocalyptic conflagration, but almost everything in the universe will be torn asunder. What is unique about Ragnarok as an armageddon tale is that the gods already know through prophesy what is going to happen: when the event will occur, who will be slain by whom, and so forth. They even realize that they are powerless to prevent Ragnarok but they will still bravely and defiantly face their bleak destiny.

Inspirational in all manners of art from Richard Wagner's epic opera, "Der Ring des Nibelungen", to frescos by Geselschap, to J.R.R. Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings", many of the stories and details in the Ragnar÷k myth have become infused with the art and literature of every age since.

 

Prelude

The coming of Ragnar÷k, strictly speaking, is signaled by the murder of Baldur, the god of song and poetry. After his death, three terrible winters (Fimbulwinter) will follow each other with no summer in between. As a result, conflicts and feuds will break out, and all morality will disappear.

    Brothers will fight
    and kill each other,
    siblings
    do incest;
    men will know misery,
    adulteries be multiplied
    an axe-age, a sword-age,
    shields will be cloven,
    a wind-age, a wolf-age,
    before the world's ruin.

    "The Prose Edda"
    Snorri Sturluson (translated by Jean I. Young)

     

Portents

As the third year of this winter of war comes to a close, an aged and cruel giantess gives birth to a pack of monstrous wolves, sired by the dreaded wolf Fenrir. The children of Fenrir would soon tear at the very heavens, devouring the moon, and the sun ray by ray until it's waning, blood-red light was extinguish entirely. The wolf Hati will finally catch and swallow the Sun, and the wolf Skoll will finally catch and swallow the Moon.

The earth will shudder, so violently that trees will be uprooted, and mountains will fall, and every bond and fetter will snap and sever, freeing Loki and his son Fenrir. This terrible wolf's slavering mouth will gape wide open, so wide that his lower jaw scrapes against the ground and his upper jaw presses against the sky. He will gape even more widely if there is room. Flames will dance in his eye and leap from his nostrils.

Eggther, watchman of the Jotuns, will sit on his grave mound and strum his harp, smiling grimly. The red cock Fjalar will crow to the giants and the golden cock Gullinkambi will crow to the gods. A third cock, rust red, will raise the dead in Hel.

Jormungand, the Midgard serpent, will rise from the deep ocean bed to proceed towards the land, twisting and writhing in fury on his way, causing the seas to rear up and lash against the land. With every breath, the serpent will spew venom, staining the earth and the sky in poison.

From the east, the army of Jotuns, led by Hrym, will leave their home in Jotunheim and sail the grisly ship Naglfar, which will be set free by the tsunami and flooding, towards the battlefield of Vigrid. According to myth, the great ship "Naglfar" was carved from the fingernails of dead warriors. From this ship, the vengeful giant Hrym would take his retribution upon humanity, and thus it was hoped that by providing as little of this valuable material as possible, it might be possible to tip the balance of fate in our favour.

From the north, a second ship will set sail towards Vigrid, with Loki, now unbound, as the helmsman, and the ghastly inhabitants of Hel as the deadweight.

The world will be in uproar, the air will quake with booms, blares and echoes. Amid this turmoil, the fire giants of Muspelheim, led by Surt, will advance from the south and tear apart the sky itself as they too, close in on Vigrid, leaving everything in their path going up in flames. As they ride over Bifrost, the rainbow bridge will crack and break behind them. Garm, the hellhound bound in front of Gnipahellir, will also get free. He will join the fire giants in their way towards Vigrid.

So all the Jotuns and all the inmates of Hel, Fenrir, Jormungand, Garm, Surt and the blazing sons of Muspelheim, will gather on Vigrid. They will all but fill that plain that stretches one hundred and twenty leagues in every direction.

Meanwhile, Heimdall, being the first of the gods to see the enemies approaching, will blow his Giallar horn, sounding such a blast that it will be heard throughout the nine worlds. All the Gods will wake and at once meet in council. Then Odin will mount Sleipnir and gallop to Mimir's spring and consult Mimir on his own and his people's behalf.

Then, Yggdrasil, the world ash, will shake from root to summit. Everything in earth and heaven and Hel will quiver. All Aesir and Einherjar will don their battle dresses. This vast host will march towards Vigrid and Odin will ride at their head, wearing a golden helmet and a shining corselet, brandishing Gungnir.

 

The final battle

It was said that Ë­in and Thˇr would be the first of the Ăsir to ride to battle. They would advance side-by-side, Ë­in choosing to fight the wolf Fenrir while Thˇr confronts the Mi­gar­ serpent. Freyr will fight the fire giant Surt, but will become the first of all gods to lose as he has given his own good sword to his servant Skirnir. It will still be a long struggle though, before Freyr will succumb. Tyr will manage to kill Garm, but will be so severely wounded that he will die shortly after the hound. Heimdall will encounter Loki, and neither survive the evenly-matched encounter. Thor will kill Jormungand with his hammer Mjollnir, but only be able to stagger back nine steps before falling dead himself, poisoned by the venom that Jormungand spews over him. Odin will fight with his mighty spear Gungnir against Fenrir but will finally be eaten by the wolf after a long battle. To avenge his father, Vidar will immediately come forward and place one foot on the wolf's lower jaw. On this foot he will be wearing the shoe which he has been making since the beginning of time; it consists of the strips of leather which men pare off at the toes and heels of their shoes . With one hand he will grasp the wolf's upper jaw and tear its throat asunder, killing it at last.

The sun grows dark, stars fall from the sky, the sea invades the land, and Surt flings the fire from his flaming sword over the entire world. People will flee their homesteads in fear. With death as their destiny, the doomed and trembling human race will walk that road and join the goddess Hel. Finally, with everything consumed, the charred and devastated Earth will sink into the sea.

 

Aftermath

After the destruction, a new earth will arise out of the sea, green and fair. Corn will ripen in fields that were never sown. The meadow Idavoll, in the now-destroyed Asgard, will have been spared. The sun will reappear as Sol, but before being swallowed by Skoll, give birth to a daughter as fair as she herself. This maiden daughter will pursue her mother's road in the new sky.

A few gods will survive the ordeal: Odin's brother Vili, Odin's sons Vidar and Vali, Thor's sons Modi and Magni, who will inherit their father's magic hammer Mjollnir, and Honir, who will hold the wand and foretell what is to come. Balder and his brother Hod, who dies prior to Ragnarok, will come up from Hel and dwell in Odin's former hall, Valhalla, in the heavens. Meeting at Idavoll, these gods will sit down together, discuss their hidden lore, and talk over many things that had happened, including the evil of Jormungand and Fenrir. In the waving grass, they will find the golden chessboards that the Aesir used to own, and gaze at them in wonder. (None of the goddesses were mentioned in various accounts of the aftermath of Ragnarok, but there are assumptions that Frigg, Freya and the other goddesses had survived.)

Two humans will also escape the destruction of the world by hiding themselves deep within Yggdrasi, some say Hodmimir's Wood, where Surt's sword cannot destroy. They will be called Lif and Lifthrasir. Emerging from their shelter, they will live on morning dew and will repopulate the human world. They will worship their new pantheon of gods, led by Baldur.

There will still be many halls to house the souls of the dead. According to the 'Prose Edda', another heaven exists south of and above Asgard, called Andlang, and a third heaven further above that, called Vidblain; and these places will offer protection while Surt's fire burns the world. According to both 'Eddas', after Ragnarok, the best place of all will be Gimli, a building fairer than the sun, roofed with gold, in the heaven. There, the gods will live at peace with themselves and each other. There will be Brimir, a hall on Okolnir ("never cold"), where plenty of good drink will be served. And there will be Sindri, an excellent hall made wholly of red gold, on Nidafjoll ("dark mountains"). The souls of the good and virtuous will live in these halls.

The 'Prose Edda' also mentions another hall called Nastrond ("corpse strand"). That place in the underworld will be as vile as it is vast: no sunlight will reach it; all its doors will face north; its walls and roof will be made of wattled snakes, with their heads facing inward, spewing so much poison that it runs in rivers in the hall. Here, oath breakers, murderers, and philanderers will wade through those rivers forever.

And, in the worst place of all, Hvergelmir, Nidhogg, also a survivor of Ragnarok, will bedevil the bodies of the dead, sucking blood from them.

After all, in this new world, wickedness and misery no longer exist and gods and men will live together in peace and harmony. The descendants of Lif and Lifthrasir will inhabit Midgard.
 

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