Ragnarok, ‘fate of the gods’, also known as Ragnarokkr, ‘twilight of the gods’, although in the far distant future, casts a long shadow back over all the adventures of the Aesir and Vanir tribes.
Only the Norns know when this event will occur, but in a battle of wits with the wise giant Vafthruthnir, Odin learns in detail the inevitable fate of the worlds he has created.
The Allfather, disturbed by this knowledge, spends the rest of his days seeking to change this destiny, all to no avail.
This is our four part series on Norse Cosmology
- Part one: The Norse Creation Myth
- Part two: Yggdrasil, The Bifrost and Well of Urd
- Part three: The Nine Realms
- Part four: Ragnarok
Day after day the dragon Nidhogg gnaws at the root of Yggdrasil. The other living creatures of the tree eat of its leaves, and Ratatoskr, the squirrel scratches and claws its bark daily as he scurries with insults from treetop to root and back again.
Finally, when the great boughs weaken and tremble it will signal the inevitable onset of Ragnarok when the seven worlds constructed by Odin, and his brothers Vili, and Ve will be shattered, burned, inundated, and then ultimately reborn.
Long before the shaking of Yggdrasil however, there will be a series of signs, each one bringing the gods inexorably closer to their final battle.
1. The Signs
The first sign that Ragnarok is at hand is the death of Baldur. We know from the lore that this has already taken place. The chief instigator of this crime was Loki himself, the giant born trickster god of Asgard, and son of the Jotunheim realm. Thus we can see that the actions of Loki are far-reaching with implications for a time in the far distant future.
For this despicable action, Loki is chained with the entrails of his murdered son, in a barren cave. Here he waits out the centuries with the venom of a poisonous snake, set above him by the god Skadi, dripping endlessly onto his exposed face.
The second sign is the three-year-long Fimbulwinter, yet to come. The start of this never ending winter will come when the wolf Hati, brother to Sköll, finally devours the sun.
The third sign will be the crowing of three roosters to sound the alarm. The first of these, named Gullinkambi, is adorned with a golden cockscomb and will alert Odin, the Aesir and Vanir gods, and the Einherjar, heroes of Valhalla. The second, a dun cock, will call to Hel and her followers to inform them that the time for battle has come. The last, a beautiful red rooster named Fjalar, ‘Allknower’, will call out to the frost giants of Jotunheim.
Lastly, Garm, the hound that guards the entrance to Helheim will sound the alarm in Hel from the base of the world tree.
Known in the old tongue as Fimbulvetr, this harsh winter, will be every bit as deep and catastrophic as the Norse long winter of 1500 years ago that wrought havoc upon the worshipers of Odin and his clan.
Beginning in the year 535, three long years of winter without a summer season to separate them, punished the Northern world. The darkness and cold sent a full half of the living to the underworlds or the heavens.
There will come a time before the final battle of Ragnarok in the field of Vigrid, ‘plain of the surge of battle’, when another great winter, will take hold. This season will likewise endure for three years, weakening gods and mortals alike.
3. The Eating of the Sun and Moon
In the time of the long winter of 535, the Norse people were deprived of sun and moonlight by a thick cloud of ash, pushed out from a distant volcano. In the time of the Fimbulwinter, it is the sons of Fenrir the wolf who will deprive the world of its light.
Throughout the ages of our world and until today, Skoll and Hati, grandchildren of Loki, chase the sun and moon each day and night at times, appearing to eat them whole but never succeeding.
In the end times, during or perhaps causing the three-year winter, the children of Fenrir will at last catch up to their prey and extinguish their light. Sköll will devour the sun, and Hati the moon, leaving the heavens splashed with the blood of Sunna and Mani.
They will likewise consume the stars leaving the world in freezing darkness, without means to grow or harvest, to measure time, or to see what lies beyond arm’s length.
This state will last three years, although the time will seem an eternity to those who endure it. There will be constant snow and blizzard from all directions and icy winds that can take the lives of mortals. Mortals will fight and die over scarcity, multitudes will wither away from disease, misery, and strife, just as the Norse people of old in the 6th century of our time.
4. Fenrir the Wolf
The weakening of the gods will lead to both Loki and his wolfish son Fenrir breaking their shackles and unleashing them, full of vengeance, upon the worlds and upon their Aesir captors.
The chain which has held Fenrir in check for millennia will at last snap, and the monstrous beast will run out upon the world. His eyes and nostrils will spew flames across the earth, and his gaping jaws, large enough to swallow worlds, will devour everything it encounters.
5. The Midgard Serpent
Jormungand, the Midgard serpent, will be roused from his sleep at the bottom of the world ocean that surrounds the mortal world. The world snake will rise up to the surface, seeking out land and in so doing will cause the seas to roil and flood the land. His vast flailing body will cause waves the size of mountains to crash against the shore.
As Jormungand encircles the world there shall be no escape from these high tides and angry waters that assail Midgard on all sides.
In addition to the waves, the serpent will spew his deadly venom the world over. The venom filling the air with stinging vapor, tainting the soil, poisoning lakes and rivers everywhere.
6. Loki and the Naglfar
The movements of the snake will loosen Naglfar, the ‘ship of nails’, from its berth. The revolting vessel is wrought from the toe and fingernail clippings of cadavers. There is a warning to all believers to dispose of their nail cuttings wisely, to prevent their use in the building of Naglfar. In this way, mortals can contribute to the forestalling of the worst of all times.
The huge tides caused by Jormungand will lift the ship high on the water. There to be found by treacherous Loki whose chains will have been broken. Severed by the scale of the tumult throughout the worlds. Freed from his place of torment Loki will seek to carry out his vengeance upon the gods. Paying back for his centuries of torment and humiliation and the murder of his son.
As his wolf grandchildren, Sköll and Hati, destroy the sun and moon, the trickster god will pilot Naglfar to Asgard. His fearsome daughter Hel will supply him a crew of the dishonorable dead of Helheim to man his vessel. These will be joined in force by the frost giants of Jotunheim.
Liberated after his long punishment, he and his host of giants and the dead are hell-bent on vengeance. They seek the destruction of the Aesir. To all that they have created and ruled, and all to whom they have offered protection.
7. Surt and the Fire Giants
As the warriors of Midgard, Asgard, Vanaheim, and Alfheim gather their forces for war, a great rift will tear through the dome of the heavens. The sky itself will open like a gateway for the fire giants of Muspelheim. Invading the realms of Elves, Dwarves, Gods, and mortals.
The fire giant Surt will lead a terrifying host of fiery giants through to the battlefield of Vigrid. A light, brighter than the rays of Sunna will accompany him, giving hope to the world. This light shines forth from his flaming sword and brings not hope but death and destruction. Wherever it goes, the things of this world will be set alight as Surt and the fire giants seek to reduce all of creation to ashes.
Hearing the sound and knowing what is to happen, Odin will nevertheless rush to the Mimisbrunnr, the Well of Wisdom. There to seek council from the head of Mimir, the wisest of all the gods. His actions though not enough to save Asgard and the Bifrost may ensure the survival of the world after the great battle is ended.
8. The Call to Arms
With Sunna and Mani devoured, the realms of gods and mortals still ravaged from three years of winter and war, and with Loki, Surt, and their armies speeding toward Asgard, Heimdall, sentinel of the Aesir tribe, will rise up and call the gods to arms with the Gjallarhorn.
The sound of the horn will warn the Einherjar. The valiant Viking dead of Valhalla and Folkvangr, that their time of feasting is done. Then the purpose of their continued existence in the halls of the gods will have arrived.
The outcome of the battle is certain, but still, Odin, the gods, and the einherjar meet their adversaries in battle. Hoping to the end to change the course of destiny.
9. The Fall of the Bifrost
Surt will lead his army of fire giants to the Bifrost, his fiery sword setting flame to everything on all sides. The weight and clatter of his vast host will cause the rainbow bridge to groan and creak as they pass over, eventually shattering and falling to Midgard in splinters as the giants enter Asgard.
The bond between mortals and their creators will be broken leaving humans to struggle alone for their survival.
10. The World Tree Shakes
After all the signs have taken place, after the Fimbulwinter and the bursting forth of the enemies of creation into Asgard, Yggdrasil, in whose branches the worlds of the cosmos reside, will shudder, causing fear throughout the nine realms.
The tremble will be so great that forests, mountains, and all things constructed by mortals will crash to the ground. Washed away by the tides of Jormungands flailings.
Although the tree does not fall, the destruction it causes will reach even down into the Helheim. The dwarves of Nidavellir and elves of Svartalfheim will falter and groan. Unspeakable sounds will emerge from the cold realm of Jotunheim that surrounds all of Midgard.
At this time the gods will begin their march to Vigrid for the final battle.
After three years of fighting and war during the Fimbulwinter, the final battle on the field of Vigrid will begin. Odin meets Fenrir to halt the devastation caused by his vast maw. Heimdall shortens the way of Loki and his host of giants and shades. Freyr is the hero who blocks the path of Surt and his fire giants. The merciful god Tyr, the savior of the giants, now confronts Garm, the hound of Hel.
12. The death of Odin
Finding the son of Loki, Fenrir who was transformed into a wolf, Odin leads his warriors into battle. The gods and einherjar battle bravely by his side.
The jaws of the wolf are so great that even Aesir warrior and the heroes of Valhalla are swallowed whole. When the beast takes Odin into its jaws, the Allfather will succumb to his fate. His son Vidar, will lunge forward for vengeance. Armed with his sword and the shoe that has been created over centuries for this moment.
Every scrap of leather ever cast aside by Viking craftsmen is bound together in a shoe that Vidar will wear. It is so great in size that Odin’s son will use it as a wedge to block Fenrir’s mouth. Holding the jaws open while he readies his sword. The blade will find its mark in the animal’s throat, slaying the wolf. Thus ending both his destruction and the long saga of the Odin and the einherjar.
13. Garm and Tyr
Garm the hound that guarded Hel’s door over millennia and whose baleful cry was one of the signals of the end times will hunt down and devour enemies without mercy. It is Tyr, the Aesir god of justice, who halts the Hel hound’s progress. Although he slays the beast, he will also give his life to complete the task.
14. Freyr and Surt
Surt and his army lay waste to half a world before Freyr, Vanir god of hunting and harvest, ruler of the bright elves, rides out in his golden chariot drawn by Gullinborsti the ‘golden-bristled’ boar. The battle consumes countless elves and fire giants before the giant leader and Freyr end each other’s lives.
Before his death, however, the vengeful Surt lashes forth a bolt of fire to decimate the surface of Midgard.
15. Loki and Heimdall
When Loki reaches Asgard aboard the Naglfar he will be confronted by Heimdall, the sentinel god. Their battle will shake the heavens. Despite the trickster god’s cunning and lore of shape-shifting, the long-eyed Heimdall will prevail. Finally putting an end to the perpetual deceit of the giant-born god.
Although this defeat of evil marks an end to the sequence of events initiated by Loki with the murder of Baldur, it will be at the expense of Heimdall’s life.
16. Thor and Jormungand
With the defeat of Fenrir, Surt, and Loki, there is yet hope for victory. However one all-powerful enemy of creation still remains. The Midgard serpent is no mere reptile but a force of nature that encircles the entire globe. Causing mass destruction with its merest movement beneath the oceans.
Only Thor, the thunder god, is strong enough to face an enemy so relentless and so vast. Their battle is long and exhausting with the outcome never sure. Until at last Thor, raises his dwarf forged hammer Mjolnir high above his head and brings it crashing down upon Jormungand’s skull.
The beast is no more. Thor, fully spent from his exertions and his wounds, covered with the serpent’s poison, can walk only nine more steps before the spirit leaves him. Leaving him lying dead on the field of Vigrid.
17. After the Battle
With all the earth foes defeated, and the hosts of the gods severely reduced, most of what is left of the worlds will sink into the waves released by Jormungand. Little will remain of the Nine Realms. Only the void filled with venomous water will give evidence of what has been before.
After a time, the waters will settle and clear. Then a new land will emerge from the sea and it will be as beautiful and green as former Midgard.
A daughter of Sunna, survivor of Ragnarok, every bit as glorious as her mother, will fill the skies with light. This daughter of the heavens will lead the way across the skies each day. Free of the wolf Skoll who pursued her mother throughout her life.
The gods who survived will gather together in the part of Asgard that has survived the destruction called Idavoll. Among their number will be Odin-sons Vidan and Vali. Odin’s brother Hoenir, ‘the silent one’, god will also be there. Thor’s sons Magni and Modi will also prevail and share between them Mjolnir, inherited from their father.
The kindest of the Aesir, Baldur, god of light, and his twin brother Hod whose hand it was that cast the mistletoe that slew him, will both be freed from Helheim’s grass to live again.
19. Abodes of Future Bliss and Misery
At Idavoll the gods will build a new dwelling place. Their great hall, named Gimli, will be roofed with gold. There will be a new realm of the gods named Brimir. Lying in the mountains of Nidafjoll at a place called Okolnir, ‘never cold’. There the gods and their chosen may live safely and at their ease.
There will also be a place of punishment called Nastrond on the ‘shore of corpses’. A hall to house the damned will be built here with all its doors facing to the north. Allowing the never-ceasing harsh winds to blow within. The walls of this house will be wrought of living snakes that spew poison over the wretched inhabitants.
Taking the place of old Helheim, Nastrond will be the new destination for murderers, traitors, and thieves. Nidhogg the dragon will serve to torment them with relentless feeding upon their corpses.
20. Lif and Lifthrasir: The Future of Humanity
There will be two mortals, a man named Lif, ‘life’ and a woman called Lifthrasir, ‘striving after life’. They escape Surt’s fiery sword by hiding in Hoddimis Holt, ‘the Wood of Hoddmimir’. These two shall be ancestors to all the human families that follow in the new world.