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Ragnarok - Apocalypse in Norse myth

The Story of Ragnarok, The Ancient Norse Apocalypse

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In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a series of apocalyptic events that will define the end of the world, where giants of frost and fire will band together to fight against the gods in a final battle that will ultimately destroy the planet, submerging it under water. According to the legend, the world will resurface, the surviving gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors.

 Brothers will fight and kill each other, sisters' children will defile kinship. It is harsh in the world, whoredom rife —an axe age, a sword age —shields are riven— a wind age, a wolf age— before the world goes headlong. No man will have mercy on another.
Dronke (1997:19)

Ragnarok. ( Seahorsevector /Adobe Stock)

Loki’s Role in Ragnarok

Norse mythology is divided in two major groups of gods – the Aesir and the Vanir.  The Giants came before them and lived in in Jötunheimr, one of the nine worlds of Norse cosmology. They were banished there by the Aesir, who refused them entry to their world, Asgard. In the ancient Norse stories, the Giants frequently interact with the Aesir and the Vanir, but they are usually in opposition or in competition with them.

 

 

The god Loki was the son of a Giant and was known as a trickster god with the ability to shapeshift. His role in Norse mythology is unique and controversial since he appears to both help the gods and hinder them. He was permitted to live with the Aesir in Asgard. Loki fathered many offspring, including an eight legged horse ( Sleipnir) used by Odin, a dragon, and the wolf Fenrir - who plays a significant role in the apocalyptic Ragnarok (Ragnarök).

According to the story, Loki tricked the blind god of winter, Hod (Hoor), an action that resulted in the death of the god Baldr , son of goddess Frigg and god Odin. Because of this, he was punished and cast into a cliff where he was to remain bound to a rock until Ragnarok, the end of the world. This bears similarities to the punishment of Prometheus in ancient Greek mythology, who was bound to a rock for giving the ability to make fire to humanity.

Loki Punished - J D Penrose. ( Archivist /Adobe Stock) F or his mischief, Loki is hounded by the gods and bound to a rock where a serpent drips painful venom upon him. There he lies till Ragnarok.

Signs of the Apocalypse

Like the Christian apocalypse, Ragnarok sets out a series of signs that will ultimately define the end of times. The first sign is the Fimbulvetr, a long and continuous cold winter with constant snow that will last for a year. A red rooster called Fjalar will warn the Giants that Ragnarok has begun. A second rooster will warn all the dead that Ragnarok has begun. Finally, a third red rooster called Gullinkambi, a rooster that lives in Valhalla, a majestic hall located in Asgard, will warn all the gods about the beginning of the end.

The god Heimdallr will use his trumpet to play a specific tone that will be heard in Valhalla, and this will bring the dead back to life and they will march to the realm called Vigrid (the place of battles), where the final battle will take place. The seas will be torn and the World Serpent, a serpent so large that it surrounds the earth and grasps its own tail, will raise itself from the depths of the oceans to join the battle. The gods Baldr and Hod will also return from the dead to fight in this final battle.

A scene from Ragnarök, the final battle between Odin and Fenrir and Freyr and Surtr. ( Public Domain )

A Battle to End it All?

Loki and his horde, as well as the frost Giants, will sail to Vigrid in order to battle against the Aesir on a ship made of the nails of dead men, like a ghost ship. All monsters and giants, like the flame giant Surtr, Hel’s dog Carm, the wolf Fenrir (Fenris), and the leader of the giants, Hrym, will create a powerful army against the gods.

The result of the war will be that Thor and Odin and most of the gods will die and the dragons will release fire that will destroy all life on Earth.

But this is not the end. Things will start again with a new race; a new world will arise from the depths of the seas. The first two mortals will be called Lif (woman) and Lifthrasir (man) and they will repopulate Earth.

The gods Vali and Vidar, as well as the sons of Thor and Hoenir, who survive the battle, will go to Idavoll, which will not be destroyed in Ragnarok. The gods Baldr and Hoder will be returned to life and a new era will begin.

"Baldur" (1901) by Johannes Gehrts. Baldr stands clasping a hand full of plant matter against a downward-tipped spear. In his other hand is a sun-shaped shield. ( Public Domain )

What Does the Norse Apocalypse Tell Us?

The apocalyptic story of Ragnarok shows the battle between gods - with severe consequences for both humans and the gods. The humans are the ‘collateral damage’ in this war, much like in Hindu mythology. This distinguishes Ragnarok from the Christian apocalypse, in which humans are punished for not being loyal and faithful to God.

Mankind has been fascinated with the ‘end of times’ since as long as history has been recorded. In Christianity, it is the ‘Judgment Day’ described in the Book of Revelations; in Judaism, it is the Acharit hayamim; in Aztec mythology, it is the Legend of the Five Suns ; and in Hindu mythology, it is the Story of Avatars and the Man on the Horse.

Most of these myths maintain that when the world as we know it ends, a new incarnation of the world will be created. Are these myths and legends simply a metaphor for the cyclic nature of change seen in the rotations of day and night, the seasons, and the chains of life and death? Were they possibly based on real events in the ancient past? Or maybe they are meant to be a warning that humanity meet its end in the not so distant future?

Top Image: Ragnarok is a key event in Norse myth. Source: YouTube Screenshot

By John Black

Updated on June 25, 2020.

References

Andonov, V. (2014) ‘The Punishment of Loki.’ World Tales. Available at: http://www.worldoftales.com/European_folktales/Scandinavian_folktale_15.html#gsc.tab=0

Bellows, H. A. (trans.) (1936) The Poetic Edda. Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/index.htm

Dhwty (2018) ‘Heimdall, Watchman of the Gods, Will Sound the Horn as Ragnarok Approaches.’ Ancient Origins. Available at: https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/heimdall-watchman-gods-sound-horn-ragnarok-approaches-009869

McCoy, Daniel. 2016. Ragnarök. Available at: http://norse-mythology.org/tales/ragnarok/

Parkes, V. (2017) ‘Epic Battle Equals Doom or Twilight for Norse Gods? Ragnarök: The Real Message in the Myth.’ Ancient Origins. Available at: https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/epic-battle-equals-doom-or-twilight-norse-gods-ragnar-k-real-message-myth-021414

Skjalden (2011) ‘Ragnarok – The End of the World.’ Nordic Culture. Available at: https://norse-mythology.net/ragnarok-in-norse-mythology/

Strom, C. (2018) ‘Denizens of Valhalla and the Transient Afterlife of Norse Myth.’ Ancient Origins. Available at: https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/denizens-valhalla-and-transient-afterlife-norse-myth-009953

Winters, R. (2018) ‘Where is Vanaheimr, Land of the Norse Nature Gods?’ Ancient Origins. Available at: https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/where-vanaheimr-land-norse-nature-gods-009654

Comments

Tsurugi's picture

Huh. I immediately thought of the earth's magnetic field, and wondered if that's what it was talking about. The ring of fire doesn't encompass the globe.

If the Ouroboros, the world serpent biting his own tail, is really an ancient symbol for the earth's magnetic field...well....that leads to some interesting possibilities, I think, quite aside from Ragnarok and the apocalypse/cataclysm mythology.

I also thought I should point out that Loki has more than just Prometheus as a possible cultural mythological counterpart. There is the strange story in the book of Enoch, of Shemyaza, the leader of the group of Watchers who make a pact to descend to earth, find some hot chicks to be their wives, and raise families. In doing so, they impart much "forbidden knowledge" to humans, teaching all kinds of foundational technologies, skills, and trades. According to the text, this really makes God(or gods, the Elohim) mad, and Shemyaza is imprisoned beneath a great desert, sealed inside an immense stone construct deep within the earth, to remain there until called forth in the "final battle".
Supposedly their was an ancient ritual that took place once a year in the mesopotamian area, during the course of which a goat was sent out into the desert as food for the imprisoned god, to placate him and keep him from destroying the surrounding environs while mad with hunger. I guess gods can survive on only one goat per year. Barely.
Anyway, that is supposedly where the term "scapegoat" originated.

As someone else mentioned, the similarities across the myths is too much to ignore. I have considered the idea that they are all separately generated but based on the same events, and though it isn't completely outside the realm of possibility, I don't think that is likely. Two people both witnessing the same event will tell two stories that differ much more than these myths do, because people notice different things, and their personal recount will take wildly differing tracks. These myths don't really do that. It seems more like they are all copies the same original story, but distorted or changed from the original by millenia of immersion in different cultures.

Besides...even if humans from around the world in the distant past all wrote structurally similar descriptions of events after an immense cataclysmic destruction of their world, how would they all get the same future prediction as well?? If it merely said "It will happen again, it is written in the stars" or something similar, that would be one thing....but they give details, about who will be there and what takes place and why, and who will survive and who will perish! There are differences across the mythologies regarding the details, but the similarities overwhelm them. There must be a single source.

It was quite obvious that the serpent that encircles the globe with it's tail in his mouth, and wakes up, is today known as the ring of fire. Just another descriptive way of saying things.

It's a Matrix! A dance of existence. There is no good or evil, there are just our fears and struggle for control. A struggle to stop change.
Just be aware or the small particles that our world is made of :) and be aware of the world you are making every day :)

You're absolutely mad. Literally Ragnarok only means that no matter how much knowlege we may aquire we will always be our own destruction and yet we will be forced to carry on. all this mumbo you talk about how god and the angels factor in...not that big a deal and unrelated.

Unbelievable revelation, what a heavenly descended message for me to receive at the right time, the right place, the right way.... Hours I have been digging through all the unraveling texts, which started to look like all I knew would be dissembled after-all (I am able to really read and see through the intention, and the ability to connect all ancient, cultural truths, myths etc together) As I have seen many perform as well, here at ancient-origins... I am Jakob, and I am equipped with the whole freaking circus act and performance greatly diversely described through all the sacred translations this world brought forth, and to tackle the greatest challenge, the task....''the tough job, but hey... somebody has to do it'' ! Funny though that everything, yes everything is related, connected and consistent true, real and available, and it has been, and will be the greatest honor, my ''humble'' ass has accepted when I was born. 30-06-1979 01:45 @ Laren, the Netherlands. (The 33 (Masonry), the 666 the 7, 8, 9, 11 , the Philosopher stone, the branch, Hebrew, Horus, Isis, Hercules, Orion belt, Alexander the great, morning star, noble, Chosen One, Cross, Goat, Exalted, Servant, etc etc....My talent is that I am able to read as quick as hell, and I sacrificed everything for the truth, the answer I decided to find when I was a young child... The righteous light warrior who carried to world on his shoulder ....decided others may learn to lend a hand effectively, because I have come to understand ''The key'' to open the gates of heaven.. Love, and thank you all!!! (The Gentile, who speaks words, sharp as a sword) Israel...

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