Wednesday, 19 September 2012


Many of the religions of the ancient world are rich in stories of what has happened, and what does happen, but few foretell what will happen. The lore of the Norsemen, however, details exactly what will happen. As well as the story of the Creation of the World, it tells us of its ultimate destruction, and the fate of men, gods and creatures alike. Throughout the stories of Norse Mythology, friendships have gradually been forged, and feuds simmered, and enemies made. An ancient prophecy revealed how things would end. It is to this showdown that we turn this week. This is Ragnarök, or the Götterdämmerung – The Twilight of the Gods.

                             “ Trembles Yggdrasill’s towering ash
                                The Old Tree wails… ”
                                        - THE COMING OF THE END

The Fall of the Aesir
Illustration by Carl Ehrenberg
There will come a time in the Nine Worlds when order will be shaken. The Aesir will sit deep in council on Asgard’s golden plains, the dwarves shall groan at the walls of the mountain, all Jötunheim shall roar, as the fury of the Giants shall boil over. In the realm of Men on Midgard, for three Winters snow shall fall without Summer. This shall be the Fimbulwinter, and Envy and Greed will grip the world of Men. Brother shall slay brother, and many of their sister’s sons will lie slain on the field of ruinous war. The bonds which fuse father and son will be shattered as readily as the shields of the fallen. Long ago shall seem the age when Midgard was verdant green, for a fell wind of chill shall blast it for three years, and thick will be the blizzards. Then cometh the sign that will herald the beginning of the end. Since the beginning of the world (click here), the Sun and her sister the Moon have been chased across the skies by the dire wolves Sköll and Hati, fated one day to be their prey. Now, at the Twilight, their time has come. Sköll will at last seize the Sun in his jaws, and despair will fall upon the realm of men, and Hati will close his jaws upon the Moon, and the stars will vanish from the skies.

Loki's Chains are Broken
Illustration by Ernst Hermann Walther
His rage at his humiliation too terrible to behold, Loki, the deceiver who was bound (click here), will shatter his bonds and declare open war upon the Aesir, and soon upon him shall follow his foul brood. The ground will quake as the World Tree groans, the mountains will be thrown down and trees torn up, and all chains will be broken. The mighty wolf Fenrir, who the Aesir once bound (click here), lying for millennia in wait, shall break free of his bonds and a world of pain shall he unleash upon they who dared restrain him. The Ocean will erupt in fury, and towering waves shall break upon the land, for the Midgard Serpent, Jörmungandr himself in his wrath will heave his vast form from the depths of the Sea. Fenrir will roar as he advances upon the Aesir, and the roof of his mouth will scrape the Heavens, and the root the Earth. Jörmungandr will spit venom into the skies, and the Nine Worlds will be awash. From the dark forests all evil creatures will leave the shadows. Deep in the inferno of Múspell, the Fire Giants will stir. Greatest among them, the mighty Surtr will charge forth, leading the fiery vanguard against the gods, his sword of purest fire more radiant than the Sun. Hel will open her gates, and Loki her father will lead the accursed dead from Niflheim in revolution. The terrible dragon, Nidhogg, will at last bite through the roots of the World Tree, and Garm the hound of Hel, no longer sated by human blood alone will utter a hideous roar that will sound throughout the Nine Worlds, as the demonic beast thirsts for the blood of gods. Jötunheim will spit forth the Giants to march on the Aesir. All Loki’s deplorable entourage shall ascend the worlds, and reach the rainbow bridge, Bifrost, ultimate revenge within their minds.

High above, Heimdall, the vigilant watchman of the gods, alone of the Aesir will see the approaching Doom (click here). Taking the mighty horn Gjäll, he shall blast with all his might the final alarm to the gods, to oppose the roar of Garm. The Aesir will then be made aware of the Death which now lies at their Gates, and each shall ready for the final war. Odin, King of the Gods, will lead them, resplendent in magnificent gold and his mighty spear Gungnir. Close behind will follow Thor the Thunderer, Tyr the brave, Freyr the fair and every last god in Asgard. The doors of Valhalla will be thrown asunder, and the Einherjar, the great champions of men who fell in battle, handpicked by the Valkyries (click here) will march forth to fight alongside the gods. To the field Vígrídr shall both sides march, and there shall begin the final battle of the gods:

                         “ Surtr fares from southward with switch-eating flame;
                            On his sword shimmers the Sun of the War-gods;
                            The rocks are falling, and the fiends are reeling,
                            Heroes tread Hel-way, Heaven is cloven… ”

                                     - RAGNARÖK BEGINS

Odin and Fenrir
Painting by Emil Doepler
The towering din will make the cosmos quake, as both sides hurl themselves against the other. Odin, atop Sleipnir, Lord of Horses, will ride against Fenrir, bane of the Aesir, with great valour. Alongside him shall charge his mighty son, Thor the Thunderer. But the wolf is a power beyond any of them, and the King of the Gods sees his folly, recalling that ancient prophecy of his doom. Thor sees his father will be in trouble, but to no avail, for his nemesis, Jörmungandr, will lash out at him, and god and serpent will be locked in war. The fair god Freyr will oppose the infernal Surtr, and will fight will unequalled valour. Great will be his bravery, but greater still the arms of Surtr. With a strike of pure fire will the ashen Giant fell the god, and the first of the Aesir will crumple to the ground. The monstrous hound Garm will then be unleashed, and none will stand before his dreadful visage save brave Tyr, who lost his hand to the jaws of Fenrir (click here). Their fight will shudder the field and shake the spirits of all, and when the dust will clear, both will fall, each the bane of the other.

Jörmungandr and Thor
Painting by Emil Doepler
Seeing his friends dying around him, the Thunderer redoubles his rage, taking up the mighty Hammer Mjöllnir. The World Serpent, once defied by Thor (click here), lashes out, more mighty a foe than ever the Thunderer has faced. A terrible realisation comes over Thor, as he sees that all his trials and his wars have lead to this. Bellowing in fury, the Thunderer brings down Mjöllnir one final time, for a mightier strike than ever before. The Hammer will slay Jörmungandr, terror of the seas, but No! The Serpent’s fang will pierce his arm. Nine paces will the victorious god stride before succumbing to the fiery poison, and Thor too will collapse to the Earth to die. King Odin, Lord of the Aesir, distraught by the death of his great son, will hurl himself anew at Fenrir, but alas in vain. For the mightiest of wolves will swallow him whole, and the wisest of the Aesir will be gone. His beloved Frigg will then mourn. It will be then that Vidar, youngest of Odin’s sons, will find his courage at last. “With one hand he shall seize the Wolf’s upper jaw and tear his gullet asunder”, and Fenrir will crumble to the Earth, dead. Heimdall, vigilant watchman of the gods, who always suspected the treachery of Loki, faces down the Deceiver on Vígrídr’s burning plain. The valour of Heimdall will break upon the dark rage of Loki, his betrayal at last laid bare. Loki shall pierce the watchman’s side, but not before his foe’s mighty sword crashes down upon his crown, and both shall fall to die. The greatest champions on both sides lie dying, and in that moment Surtr will swing his flaming sword hither and thither, and all-consuming fire will burn all the world:

                           “ The Sun shall be darkened, Earth sinks in the Sea,
                              Glide from the Heaven, the glittering stars;
                              Smoke-reek rages, and reddening fire,
                              The high heat licks against Heaven itself. ”

                                           - THE DESTRUCTION OF THE NINE WORLDS

Now man will be judged. They who have broken oaths, and murderers and their kind will wade in the rivers of Jörmungandr’s lethal poison, and great will be their screams. The World will be overturned in fire and crumble into the Sea. The Cosmos as it is known will end. But hope will emerge.

                           “ Unsown then the fields will grow,
                              Evil be amended;
                              Baldr is coming… ”

                                    - THE NEW WORLD

The New World
Painting by Emil Doepler
There will come a time when the Earth will be born anew from beneath the Ocean, and it shall be green and fair, and abundant will be the fruits of Heaven. Vidar and Váli, the sons of Odin shall survive, for neither the fires of Surtr nor the power of the Sea shall claim them. Where once there stood Asgard in the days of the Aesir there will stand the plains of splendour, called Ida, and they shall reside there. To there shall come also Módi and Magni, the sons of Thor, and they shall find waiting there Mjöllnir, ready to serve new masters. Released now from the bonds below the Earth, he shall come to rule them, Baldr the fair, restored to glorious life. With him shall be Höðr his brother, redeemed of Loki’s taint, and he shall sit with his brother and the sons of Odin and Thor on the gentle grass and hold speech. They shall find the golden chess pieces of the Aesir, and they shall speak of the end of the last Age. It will be revealed that before the Fimbulwinter, a woman and a man, Lif and Lifþrasir sought shelter in the wood of an ancient tree, Hoddmímis Holt. Emerging from their sanctuary, the morning dew shall sustain them, and the human race will be born anew. The goddess Sól, lady of the Sun swallowed by Sköll, will bequeath to the World a daughter as beautiful as she, and she will take up the mantle of her mother, and her rays will bathe all the world in a radiant glow.

                                            “ She a hall see standing,
                                               Brighter than the Sun,
                                               With gold bedecked,
                                               There shall good people,
                                               Household build,
                                               And in a long time,
                                               Happiness enjoy… ”

                                                  - THE BEGINNING

United Kingdom

The Prose Edda:
The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology (Penguin Classics)
(Contains many of the original tales of Norse Mythology, written a thousand years ago)

The Poetic Edda:
The Poetic Edda (Oxford World's Classics)
(The heroic poetry of the Norsemen, written a thousand years ago)

United States

The Prose Edda:
The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology (Penguin Classics)
(Contains many of the original tales of Norse Mythology, written a thousand years ago)

The Poetic Edda:
The Poetic Edda (Oxford World's Classics)
(The heroic poetry of the Norsemen, written a thousand years ago)

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