Mythology Monday: The Vikings Have The Most Metal Apocalypse

You know, things are kinda shitty right now. So let’s talk about something a little more cheerful, like the end of the world!

Today we’re going to talk about Ragnarok.

Ragnarok literally means “fate of the gods,” and if there is anything more metal than that title, I have yet to find it. How does this catastrophe begin? Well, first we have to have Fimbulventr, aka the Great Winter, which is supposed to last about three times as long as normal winter. During this time, people turn on each other in search of resources, because no growing seasons basically means no food.

At the end of this winter, the wolves Skoll and Hati will catch and consume the moon, sun, and stars, leaving just the empty expanse of space. Yggdrasil, the world tree, will shake, thus leveling every tree and mountain in existence. Also, the giant wolf Fenrir and the serpent Jormungandr will break free from their captivity.

And we come to my favorite part of the tale: Jormungandr resurfacing from the seas will cause the ship Naglfar to come loose from its moorings. This ship is made entirely from the finger and toenails of the dead, crewed by a bunch of giants, and captained by Loki, who has escaped from his imprisonment and is ready to fuck shit up.
Meanwhile, Fenrir, who has flames coming out of his mouth and eyes, sets to devouring quite literally everything in his path, while Jormungandr drips poison on everything else. Then a giant crack appears in the sky and lets a bunch of fire giants, led by Surt, into the world.

The giants march on Asgard, destroying Bifrost (or the Rainbow Bridge) as they go, and Heimdall blows the Gjallerhorn to let the rest of the Aesir know that shit’s about to go down. Odin consults the head of Mimir, who tells them that they have to fight.

All the combatants head to the battleground of Vigrid, and the battle that launched a thousand album covers commences.

We start off with Odin and the einherjar (which are the spirits of dead warriors that have been hanging out in Valhalla) head off to fight Fenrir. This does not go very well, since Fenrir eats pretty much all of them. This pisses of Odin’s son Vidar, so he charges the beast, shoves one of his shoes into its mouth to hold it open, and stabs down into Fenrir’s throat.

It should also be noted that a) this was the shoe’s intended purpose, and b) it was made from all the leather discarded by human cobblers over the years. Because mythology is weird.

Anyway, we get to the god Tyr fighting the wolf Garm (there are a lot of wolves in this story), and the two kill each other. Then we have Heimdall fighting Loki, and the two kill each other. Then Thor vs. Jormungandr, and they also kill each other. I’m sensing a bit of a pattern here.

At any rate, after the battle is over and basically everyone’s dead, what’s left of the world slides into the ocean. And that’s that.

Except not really, because then a new world is born from the ashes of the old. Baldur comes back from the dead, Hodr, Vali, Modi and Magni survive the battle, and it turns out that two humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, survived by hiding in a tree. Lif and Lifthrasir go about the business of repopulating the world.

So we have a bit of a happy ending.

What’s interesting about this story is that some scholars believe that it’s not really about the end of the world, but the end of a way of life You’ll probably notice that the ending looks like the Abrahamic creation myth, i.e., the whole Adam and Eve thing. Some believe that this was a later addition to the tale, probably around the time Christianity started to spread through Europe.

So that’s Ragnarok, an apocalyptic tale that makes evangelical eschatology look like fucking Candyland.

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