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The Prophecy of Ragnarok

What was 'Ragnarok'?

In many religions throughout history there existed an apocalyptic event which symbolises the end of the world and the human race, Norse mythology was no different. According to the Vikings this event would be known as Ragnarok, which was a prophecy that predicted a series of events in which a great battle would take place, leading to the deaths of many of the prominent norse gods. The world would then be drowned in water from natural disasters and eventually a new civilisation would arise after it was repopulated by the only two survivors.

The most prominent members of the Aesir tribe including; Odin, Thor, Loki, Freyr and Heimdallr were all predicted to die in the events of Ragnarok, along with Asgard itself being destroyed, marking an end to the Aesir clan and their dominant position in the nine realms.

The word 'Ragnarok' can be translated in two parts; 'Ragna' which in modern English means something similar to 'the ruling powers' or the 'ruling gods' and 'rok' which is thought to mean 'Fate'. This gives the word 'Ragnarok' a rough translation as 'the Fate of the Gods' or 'the Doom of the Gods'.

Events of Ragnarok

Ragnarok was said to begin when the wolves Skoll and Hati, who have been chasing the sun and moon for all of time, would finally accomplish their goal and swallow their prey. The stars would then disappear from the sky and the trees and mountains would fall into the earth as Yggdrasil crumbles. 

The giant wolf, Fenrir, would break free from the chains with which he was bound and proceed to wreak havoc across the earth, demolishing everything in his path. Jormungandr, the great sea serpent would rise up from the depths of the ocean, causing giant waves of water to spill onto the land as he comes ashore.

This flood would enable the arrival of the 'nail ship', also known in Old Norse as 'Naglfar', which was made from the fingernails of dead men and women. This grisly vessel would carry the forces of chaos who are destined to destroy the world. The ships crew of giants and other fearsome beasts would have the traitor, Loki, as their captain, after he had broken free from the chains in which be was bound by the other Gods. 

Loki - Ragnarok - viking style

Loki breaks free of his chains at the onset of Ragnarök - Ernst H. Walther, 1897

It was said that the sky would crack and a huge rift would appear, out of which the fiery realm of Muspelheim would be revealed. The great fire giants would come forth being lead by their king, Surt, and his giant flaming sword. As the armies of chaos march along the Bifrost on their way to Asgard the rainbow bridge would crumble behind them. Heimdallr would be the first to see and would send word to Odin to warn him of the arrival of Ragnarok and the end of days, which they had long known was coming. The Allfather would then seek the counsel of Mimir, the wisest being in the universe of the possibilities of them being able to escape their fate.

With no other options the Gods would decide to go to battle, even though they already know that the prophecy has foretold of their doom. They would meet with their foes on the battlefield of Vigrid. The first showdown of the battle would be with Fenrir, who would fight to the death against Odin and his Einherjar (the chosen warriors who died in battle and went to Valhalla). The giant wolf was destined to kill Odin and his men, swallowing them whole, only to be killed in vengeance by Odin's son, Vidar, who would drive his sword through the monsters throat.

Ragnarok - viking style

The downfall of the Æsir - Karl Ehrenberg, 1882

What happened after Ragnarok?

Heimdallr and Loki would also fight to the death, each inflicting mortal wounds on the other, as well as Tyr and the giant wolf, Garm, and Freyr and Surt. The final showdown of the great battle would be between Thor and Jormundgandr. The god of thunder would kill the serpent with his mighty hammer, however he would have been covered in poison during the struggle, limiting his ability to fight on and would eventually meet his end along with the rest of his kin.

There are varying accounts of what happens next. In many accounts these events of Ragnarok symbolise the end, and what is left of the world would simply fall into the void and disappear forever. However, in some versions of the story gods such as; Vali, Baldur, Modi and Magni all survive to usher in a new age of prosperity and peace in a new green world. Two humans who hid from the chaos, Lif and Lifthrasir, would also be the last surviving members of their species, and would go on to repopulate their planet. Finally a new sun would rise in the sky, which would be the daughter of the old one and shine across the dawn of the new world.


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