Ragnarok: Norse Account of Strange & Wonderful Land Doomed to Destruction – Part I
Before the rise and spread of Christianity in the first millennium of the common era, paganism was the common religion of Europeans. Just as there is not a single Christian faith, but many denominations and sects, there was no single set of beliefs that one could identify as “pagan.” For example, the Greeks, Germans, and the Celts had different myths explaining their origins, and beliefs and practices were far from uniform across these peoples of Europe. Among the most colorful of these myths is Norse mythology, first written down in the Eddas during the Medieval period of Iceland.
The Eddas, among other things, speak of a great world tree called Yggdrasil, a land called Midgard, a great serpent surrounding Midgard called Jörmungandr, a land called Asgard lying above Midgard, a ”rainbow bridge” called Bifröst connecting Midgard and Asgard, and Ragnarök, the apocalypse in which Yggdrasil is destroyed at the end of a great world cycle. Ragnarök, unlike the Christian “End Times,” does not involve the complete destruction of the world and the “end of history.” According to the Old Norse philologist Rudolf Simek and religious historian Mircea Eliade, Ragnarök marks the end of a cosmic cycle that will repeat ad infinitum :
“Given that the accounts of the destruction of the world in the Old Norse primary sources are immediately followed by accounts of its re-creation, the assertion that Ragnarök describes the end of linear history is completely unfounded. A more sensitive reading of the primary sources makes it obvious that what Ragnarök describes is a cyclical end of the world, after which follows a new creation, which will in turn be followed by another Ragnarök, and so on throughout eternity. In other words, creation and destruction are points at opposite ends of a circle, not points at opposite ends of a straight line.”
Yggdrasil, the world tree. ( CC BY 2.0 )
Metaphorically, Ragnarök refers to the series of events in which the gods that rule the Nine Worlds of Yggdrasil meet their doom, but the Eddas also provides a more literal interpretation of what will happen to Midgard as a consequence of Ragnarök:
“At last, in the ultimate reversal of the original process of creation the ravaged land sank back into the sea and vanished below the waves. The perfect darkness and silence of the anti-cosmic void, Ginnungagap, reigned once more. But this age of death and repose did not last forever. Soon the earth was once again raised from the ocean. Baldur returned from the underworld, and the gladdened land became more lush and fruitful than it had been since it was created the previous time.”
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In one of my previous articles, I hypothesized that the West Indies archipelago is the remnant of a continuous land bridge that together with the Central American isthmus, completely encircled the Caribbean Basin, thereby isolating it from the World Ocean . As a result of this isolation the Caribbean Sea evaporated away, leaving behind a dry and habitable basin. I also argued that the Taino Indians myth recounting how the sea was created was referring specifically to the creation of the Caribbean Sea , as opposed to the creation of the entire ocean or any other body of water.
Reconstruction of a Taíno village in Cuba. ( CC BY-SA 2.5 )
In this article, I shall argue that the Norsemen also preserve the account of a strange and wonderful land doomed to destruction, a land that upon closer inspection bears a striking resemblance to precisely this dry and habitable Caribbean Basin, were it had to have existed.
Cycles of Creation and Destruction Described by Ancient Texts
This cyclical destruction and creation of the world as described by the Eddas resembles the cycles of desiccation and flooding that scientists believe occurred in the Mediterranean Basin, which underwent several of these cycles several millions of years ago, the last one occurring circa 5.3 million years ago. The dry Mediterranean Basin, when it was reflooded by the Atlantic Ocean, is fittingly described as “sinking back into the sea and vanishing below the waves.” Likewise, when the sea became landlocked once more, it would have evaporated away, and an onlooker who was not well-versed in scientific terminology might have very well described the earth as having been “raised from the ocean”, rather than the landlocked sea having evaporated away, thus transforming what was previously seabed into dry land.
But since the last cycle of drying and reflooding that the Mediterranean underwent was supposedly 5.3 million years ago, no account thereof should have been preserved to mankind, unless ancient man’s knowledge of science was somehow advanced enough to conceive of this cyclical process without having witnessed it first-hand, an unlikely scenario at best. Therefore, if the cycle of creation and destruction that is so central to the Norse worldview really is referring to the cycle of drying and reflooding of a marginal basin, as I have suggested, this basin must be a different one than the Mediterranean.