Ragnarök From Norse Mythology Explained
Ragnarök (Ragnarok) was the doom of the gods and men, and heralded the destruction of the Nine Worlds. To the Germans, Ragnarök was called Götterdämmerung (Gotterdammerung).
Nothing will escape the coming destruction, whether you live in heaven and on earth. The war will be wage between the goods and the evils. The goods were the Aesir, led by Odin, ruler of the gods. The evils, were the giants and monsters, led by Loki.
Yet the strangest things about Ragnarök was that the gods already knew what was going to happen through the prophecy: who will be killed and by whom, who would survive, what happen to those in the other world and so forth.
Despite, knowing their fates, the gods will still defiantly face their destiny, as brave as any hero in a saga. The Norse gods knew what was to come, and knew they could not do anything to prevent prophecy coming to pass.
The following articles were derived from two main sources, the Poetic Edda (1250), and Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda (1222-23). The Prose Edda had more detail and was easier to understand, while Ragnarok appeared in a number of allusions from several poems of the Poetic Edda.
|Death of Balder|
|Portents of Destruction|
|Birth of New Age|
Fact and Figures: The Norse Way
|The Aesir knew that most of them would die at Ragnarök, because their destinies were known from the prophecy. The main enemies of the Aesir were the frost giants from Jötunheim, the world of giants. However three creatures were born, and they were the signs that the doom of the gods was approaching.
The gods had confined Hel in the Norse Underworld known as Niflheim. Hel became the goddess of the deads. The name Niflheim and Hel were used interchangeably to describe the world of the deads (just like the Hades and the Underworld were used interchangeably). Hel control over the Underworld was more absolute than the Greek god Hades.
The Midgard Serpent was the largest serpent in the universe. Its name was either Jörmungand (Jormungand) or Jörmungandr. The moment of its birth, the Aesir abducted Jörmungand and Fenrir. Odin threw Jörmungand into the sea. Jörmungand grew so long, that its body encircled the entire world (Earth), which was why it was, called the Midgard Serpent (“World Serpent”).
Thor once tried to kill Jörmungand with his mighty warhammer, Mjollnir, but failed to harm the serpent. Thor immediately threw Midgard Serpent back into the sea. Thor would later meet his death at Ragnarök, when he succumbed to the deadly venom of Jörmungand.
Fenrir, Jörmungand’s much smaller sibling, was a gigantic wolf. As a pup, it grew larger each day, at such alarming rate that the gods feared the monster.
The Aesir told Fenrir they wanted to play a game, seeing if the wolf could break whatever material was used to bind the wolf. Fenrir was still like a playful pup, but it was not stupid enough to allow the gods to confine him. Fenrir agreed to play their game, provided that one of the gods was willing to place his or her hand in its maw, as a pledge of good will and an assurance that the gods did not really want to bind him permanently.
All of the gods feared to lose their hand, within monster’s powerful jaw. Only one god was braver than the rest. Tyr, the war god, was willing to sacrifice his hand in order to bind the giant wolf. Tyr fearlessly placed his hand in Fenrir’s mouth.
The Aesir found that almost nothing can confine Fenrir. No matter had strong was the magic rope or chain, Fenrir could easy break out of them. Finally a dwarf created a fetter. The fetter was called Gleipnir, and it was thinner a silken ribbon. It was made of
When they bound Fenrir with the Gleipnir, the wolf could not break free. Fenrir realised he was trapped, closed his maw with a deafening snap. Tyr lost one of his hands. Thereafter, Tyr became known as the one-handed god.
|Death of Balder|
|Another sign that the end of the world was coming, was the death of Balder (Baldr).
Balder was the beautiful son of Odin and Frigg. Balder was the brother of Hod and Hermod. His twin brother, Hod was a god suffering from blindness, and therefore, was the god of darkness. While Balder was the most beloved of all the gods.
However, Balder had a dream that he was destined to die, and his death would be one of the causes or signs of the coming of Ragnarök. In Baldrs draumar (“Dream of Balder”) from the Poetic Edda, Odin used his skill in necromancy, to summoned the dead prophetess about the meaning of his son’s dream; hoping he could prevent his Balder’s vision coming to pass.
Balder’s mother, Frigg, tried to prevent the prophecy from fulfilling. Frigg travelled throughout the world, extracting oath from every creature and inanimate object, to not harm her favourite son. Frigg even made objects like the trees and rocks, to swear not to harm Balder. Balder became invulnerable to all every weapons and objects. Not even fire or water could hurt Balder.
Loki was the god of fire and was commonly known as the Trickster. Loki often played practical joke on the Aesir, embarrassing the other gods. Loki was mischievous yet he often helped the gods out of trouble. Loki was never considered to be an evil god. Until now. The giants were considered evil and the enemies of the Aesir. Loki, who was a son of a giant, would later become the leader of the frost-giants at Ragnarök.
Loki was determined to cause Balder’s death. Loki transformed himself into an old hag went to find the secret of Balder’s vulnerability from Frigg.
Loki discovered that the only thing that did not swear the oath, was the mistletoe. Frigg considered that the mistletoe was insignificant and could not possibly harm her son, so she did not the plant to swear the oath.
One day at Asgard, the gods were playing a game with Balder. They threw all sorts of objects and weapons, as they bounced harmlessly off his body. Only Hod did not play this game.
Loki came before Hod and asked why he did not play with his brother and the other gods. Hod replied that he was blind. Loki gave Hod a twig of mistletoe and told him to play. Guiding Hod’s aim, the blind god threw the mistletoe at his brother.
The twig flew like a dart and struck him. Balder instantly fell dead to the ground. Balder’s spirit fled to Hel (Niflheim). Frigg and the other gods watched horrified that the insignificant mistletoe could kill the most favourite god.
Frigg was grief stricken and pleaded with her husband to bring her son back. Odin told the other Aesir that one of them must go to Hel (Niflheim) and ransomed for Balder from Hel, the goddess of the deads.
Only Hermod dared ride on Sleipnir, Odin’s steed, to the Underworld and request audience with Hel. Hel would allowed Balder to return to Asgard if every creature would weep for Balder, but would keep dead god in Hel if a single creature refused to shed a single tear for Balder.
Upon this news, Frigg went throughout the world asking for every creature to weep for Balder. Loki changed himself into a giantess Thokk or Thanks. Despite Frigg plead to shed a single tear for her son, Thokk or Thanks (Loki) refused. Hel kept Balder in her domain.
At the Balder’s funeral, Nanna collapsed in her grief and died at his pyre, joining her husband in Hel. Balder was to receive a boat burial. But Hringhorni was the largest ship in the world, and no one could launch it into the sea. So they called upon the giantess Hyrrokkin from Jotunheim to help them. She arrived on a wolf, with vipers as her rein. She only need to touch the ship, for it to roll into the water, but it set fire to the rollers. This angered Thor, who would have killed Hyrrokkin with his mjöllnir, but the other gods insisted to Thor to spare her.
Balder’s death was one of the signals of the approach of Ragnarök.
When the Aesir found out that Loki was responsible for Balder’s death, Loki fled. Loki changed himself into a salmon and hid Frananger waterfall. The Aesir failed to catch Loki (salmon) using a net. Loki tried to escape to the sea. As he leap over the net, Thor caught the salmon by its tail.
They took Loki to a cave. They transformed one of Loki’s son, named Vali, into a wolf. Vali killed his brother Narfi. The gods used Narfi’s guts to bind Loki to three large rocks. The giantess Skadi placed a poisonous snake above Loki’s head. Whenever the venom dropped on Loki’s head or body, he would suffer from great agony and convulsion.
Sigyn, Loki’s faithful wife, remained at his side, catching the venom in a large basin. However when the basin was full, Sigyn had to empty the basin. The venom would drip on Loki, causing Loki to suffer from violent spasms. His spasms also caused the earth to tremble and shake.
Loki remained confined in the cave until the time of Ragnarök.
According to Saxo Grammaticus in Gesta Danorum, there was a totally different account about Balder’s death.
While Saxo says that Balder was Odin’s son, Hother (Hod) was not. Hother was the son of Hodbrodd and foster son of Gewar. Nanna was the daughter of Gewar. Balder fell in love with Nanna, when he saw her bathing. Since Balder was invulnerable to ordinary weapons, Hother gained a sword and bracelet belong to Miming the Satyr.
When Balder sue for Nanna’s hand in marriage, she refused, because he was immortal, while she was mortal. Such unequal partners are incompatiable match. A war broke out between gods and men; a naval battle took place, where the gods were defeated and fled, after Hother’s sword cut Thor’s club. Hother also gained the kingdoms of Denmark and Sweden.
Despite being defeated, Balder managed to spirit Nanna away from Gewar, marrying her in Sweden. This was followed by Hother’s two defeats, which distressed him greatly that he abandoned his kingdoms, and live a life in self-exile.
As he wandered through the land, he came upon a cave with maidens. These maidens comforted him, advising him that he should steal some food that give Balder his strength. After another battle with his enemy, Hother went to spy on his enemy. He not only gained Balder’s magic food, but the belt that give victory.
Before Hother left, he seriously wounded Balder with his sword. Balder died three days later. Balder was buried in a barrow.
Hother was killed in a different battle later, against Boe (Vali), son of Odin and Rinda (Rind). See Rind for how Boe (Vali) was conceived through deception.
|Portents of Destruction|
|When Ragnarök come, winter and cold weather will last for three years, with no summer in between the winter seasons. This was known as fimbul-winter “mighty winter”, snowing from all directions.
Throughout the world, great battles would be fought; all taboos would be broken, brothers killing one another, and sons would murder their fathers too, mostly out of greed. No kinship would be sacred; adultery and incest would increase exponentially. This period would be known as the age of axes, age of swords, age of wolves and age of winds.
Loki, who was confined in a cavern and punished for his involvement with Balder’s death, will escape from his imprisonment, and lead the giants, and his monstrous offspring, to destroy the gods and mankind. Fenrir will escape from his magic binding, while the Midgard Serpent named Jörmungand (Jormungand) will escape from his confinement in the sea.
Frost giants and mountain giants will leave their home in Jötunheim, and sailing toward Plain of Vigrid in a ship called Naglfar; while the fire giants led by Surt will leave their fiery home of Muspelheim. Vigrid would be the field of the final battle. Vigrid is an immense plain, a hundred league in every direction.
|Heimdall will warn the gods of Aesir of Ragnarök by sounding his horn Gjallahorn. It would be the sound of doom. The gods will arm themselves for the war, even though they knew that they couldn’t win. All the slain heroes (Einherjar) who lived in Valhalla will accompany them. These heroes will now assist the gods in a hopeless war.
Of the Aesir gods, it was said in the Vafthrudnismal (Lay of Vafthrudnir) that Njörd will return home to Vanaheim, home of the Vanir deities.
The battlefield will be fought upon the plain of Vigrid. Freyr, without his magical sword and totally unarmed would be the first god to fall to the fire-giant Surt’s flaming sword.
The one-handed Tyr managed to kill the hellhound Garm, but Tyr was so severely wounded that he died shortly after the hound. The contest between Loki and Heimdall was evenly matched that both die from the other’s weapon.
The thunder-god Thor smashed Midgard Serpent to death with his mighty Mjollnir, but the conflict will exact a heavy toll on the god. Thor will succumbed from the searing venom of Jörmungand (Midgard Serpent).
Odin fought with his mighty spear Gungnir against the monstrous wolf Fenrir. Eventually, Odin fell, devoured by Fenrir. Silent Vidar, seeing his father fall to the giant wolf, bound upon Fenrir and tore the wolf’s jaws apart with his bare hands.
Surt then set the world ablaze with his flaming sword. None of the nine worlds escaped from the fire. The earth tried to sink into the sea to avoid the scorching heat. Gods and men, giants and dwarves will all perished in the fire. Fire that reach high as the heaven. The sun will darken and the stars will vanish from heaven.
|Birth of New Age|
|Well, not all life ceases to exist. Okay, I was wrong about all the gods dying in the final battle. So I went overboard describing Ragnarök. Give me a break will you.
With Ragnarök ended, new life began as the earth rose from the sea. The earth would be green and fertile. A new sun would rise and travel across the sky; the chariot would be driven by the daughter of Sol or Alfrodul (“Sun”).
Not everything was destroyed after Ragnarok. The Gimle continued to exist. It was a place of plenty food and drink. Gimle was described as the Norse heaven. There are two other heavens. Other pleasure can be found in Brimir, a hall made out of red gold, and situated in Nidafioll. The third heaven is Sindri, the abode for good and virtuous men.
Vili (or Hoenir as he was often known by) and many of the younger gods who took part in the war had survived. Vidar and Vali, the two sons of Odin, had survived Ragnarok, as did the two sons of Thor, Modi and Magni, who would wield Mjollnir, their father’s mighty hammer.
According to the Valfthrudnismal (Lay of Valfthrudnir) from Poetic Edda, the giant Valfthrudnir says that on the day of Ragnarok, Njörd returned to his original home in Vanaheim. This is only place to suggest the fate of Njörd, that he may survive the twilight of the gods, and that Vanaheim possibly would survive with him, the conflagation of heaven and earth.
None of the goddesses were mentioned in various accounts of Ragnarok, except Sol (Sun) swallowed by the giant wolf Garm before the battle, but there is assumption that Frigg, Freyja and the other goddesses had survived.
Two mortals, Lif and Lifthrasir escaped the destruction of Ragnarök, because they had hid themselves at Hoddmimir’s wood (Hoddmimir was probably a giant); they will repopulate Midgard.
A new era had come. Where the gods and men will live in peace, with no wickedness and abundant of food.
In reality, an impossible dream and unachievable paradise.