R is for Ragnarøk

Ragnarok (Old Norse Ragnarök, “The Doom of the Gods”) is the name the pre-Christian Norse gave to the end of their mythical cycle, during which the cosmos is destroyed and is subsequently re-created. “Ragnarok” is something of a play on words; an alternate form, which sounds almost identical when spoken, is Ragnarøkkr, “The Twilight of the Gods.”

–from Norse Mythology for Smart People by Daniel McCoy

Whether it is The Doom of the Gods or The Twilight of the Gods, the gods knew it was their destiny. As much as they worked to change it, when the first sign appeared, Baldur’s death, they knew Ragnarok was coming.

Odin gathered as many warriors as he could in Valhalla, to strengthen his army against the giants. But he knew even that would not prevent their destiny. The best outcome would be the destruction of the giants so that they could not return, even if it meant the destruction of the gods at the same time.

The occupants of Midgard, humans, also played a role in the coming of Ragnarok. They abandoned their traditional ways and kinship bonds and fell onto wayward paths.

The weather changed. Three years of winters passed without summers intervening.

At last, Fenrir and his father Loki, both of whom had been bound by the gods in attempts to prevent the destruction of Asgard, broke free of their bindings and joined with the giants as they moved to attack. Heimdall saw the giants coming and sounded the alarm with Gjallarhorn.

The fire giant, Surt, attacked with a sword of fire and set everything in flames. Surt killed Freyr, who did not have the protection of his sword because he had given it to his servant, Skirnir, for his assistance in obtaining the hand of Freyr’s wife, Gerd. In the battle, Freyr also kills Surt, just as Heimdall and Loki kill one another.

Jormungand, another of Loki’s offspring, attacked Thor, who was able to strike the serpent with his hammer, Mjollnir, and crush his skull before the serpent could unleash his venom on the earth. But Thor could only step back nine steps before the serpent blew his venom which killed Thor.

Fenrir ran with his jaws wide open so that he devoured everything in his path between the land and the sky. Fenrir killed both Odin and Tyr, though he was killed by Odin’s son, Vidar, about whom little is known except for his role in Ragnarok and that he survived along with his brother Vali, and Thor’s sons, Modi and Magni.

At the end of the battle, the cosmos collapsed, returning to Ginnungagap.

But all did not remain dark and void. The earth returned from the seas, Baldur returned from the dead, two new humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, awoke in the newly green world, and the gods returned to take up their old lives.

Ragnarok destroyed the cosmos. Ragnarok made the way for a new cosmos to arise. The cycle continues. As do all cycles. Day becomes night which becomes day again. The full moon wanes to the new moon which waxes to become full again. Spring becomes summer which becomes autumn which becomes winter which becomes spring again. Seeds sprout and grow plants, plants blossom and grow more seeds, plants die and the seeds fall to the earth to be planted and sprout again. Birth leads to life which leads to death which leads to rebirth.

Life is cyclical, always leading to a new starting point. It is not a straight line connecting two opposing points.

Image credit: By W.G. Collingwood (1854 – 1932) – The Elder or Poetic Edda; commonly known as Sæmund’s Edda. Edited and translated with introduction and notes by Olive Bray. Illustrated by W.G. Collingwood (1908) Page 276. Digitized by the Internet Archive and available from https://archive.org/details/elderorpoeticedd01brayuoft This image was made from the JPEG 2000 image of the relevant page via image processing (crop, rotate, color-levels, mode) with the GIMP by User:Haukurth. The image processing is probably not eligible for copyright but in case it is User:Haukurth releases his modified version into the public domain. Public Domain, Link

M is for Miðgarðr

Midgard (Old Norse Miðgarðr, Gothic midjungards, Old English middangeard, Old Saxon middilgard, Old High German mittilgart or mittangard, Proto-Germanic *meðjanagarðaz,[1][2] “Middle Enclosure”) is one of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology and an important concept in the pre-Christian worldview of all of the Germanic peoples. It’s the inhabited world, and roughly corresponds to the modern English word and concept of “civilization.” It’s the only one of the Nine Worlds that’s primarily located in the visible world; the others, while they may intersect with the visible world at various points, are first and foremost invisible locations.

–from Norse Mythology for Smart People

Midgard is the visible world. Where humans live. In the middle. Between the land of the gods above and the land of the giants and chaos below. The place that should be most familiar to humans.

Most of the action in Norse mythology takes place outside Midgard. In fact, the gods seem to have been indifferent to humans. But they did take some steps to protect Midgard. When the gods created the cosmos from the body of the giant Ymir, they placed Ymir’s eyebrows around Midgard to serve as a fence or a wall, to protect it from the chaos that surrounded it.

One of Loki’s children, Jormungand, the serpent, lived in the sea that surrounded Midgard, where Odin threw him with the hope that being tossed against the rocks in the sea would kill him. But it didn’t. The serpent grew until it was so large that it circled the earth with enough room left to put its tail in its mouth.

While Jormungand surrounded Midgard, it was not for protection. The serpent was a threat to the humans of Midgard as well as the gods. Because Midgard is in the middle.

More on that when I get to R is for Ragnarok.

[1] Orel, Vladimir. 2003. A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. p. 264.

[2] Simek, Rudolf. 1993. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. p. 214.

Image credit: By Image extracted from page 039 of Histoire des peuples du nord, et des Danois et des Normands, by WHEATON, Henry. Original held and digitised by the British Library. Copied from Flickr. Note: The colours, contrast and appearance of these illustrations are unlikely to be true to life. They are derived from scanned images that have been enhanced for machine interpretation and have been altered from their originals. This file is from the Mechanical Curator collection, a set of over 1 million images scanned from out-of-copyright books and released to Flickr Commons by the British Library. View image on Flickr   View all images from book   View catalogue entry for book |   Public Domain Link