Ragnarok, the doom of the Gods, "the final destiny of the gods" if we listen to the probable translation of the term, a series of future events in where the gods were destined to be defeated and killed. The event is mainly narrated in two fundamental texts of the Norse mythology, the Poetic Edda compiled somewhere during the 13th century and the Prose Edda, compiled by Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson around the same time and both containing several references to Ragnarok
Brothers will fight
and kill each other,
will defile kinship.
It is harsh in the world,
—an axe age, a sword age (and the sun rises)
—shields are riven—
a wind age, a wolf age—
before the world goes headlong.
No man will have
mercy on another. . .
Brœðr muno beriaz
ok at bǫnom verða[z]
Hart er í heimi,
—skildir ro klofnir—
áðr verǫld steypiz.
Mun engi maðr
Odin riding to battle, on his mighty horse Sleipnir
(Tjängvide Stone, Sweden)
The evil Wolf Fenrir bounded, prior to the beginning of the Ragnarok, according to the Icelandic manuscript AM 738, Árni Magnússon Institute, Iceland
After a terrible winter lasting three years, a period marked by terrible battles and wars through the whole world, a final battle would be fought between the gods and the giants on the Vigrid Plain. On the side of Odin and the gods were the "glorious dead" who has fallen in battle across the ages and that were taken to dwell the Valhalla, while with the fire God Loki and the giants fought the souls from "Hel", those who had dead on an unworthy way, as well as the fearsome wolf Fenrir and the sea serpent Jormungand.
Although Odin was aware of the events and final fate of the gods after the Ragnarok, there was nothing that he, as chief of the Aesir and Vanir, could do to prevent the catastrophe. His only consolation being the foreknowledge that Ragnarok was not the end of the Universe.
When the battle was about to begin, the god Heimdall blowed deeply his horn, as the sign that the final battle was about to start. Odin, wearing a gold helmet, carried his magical spear Gungnir, while Thor brought with him his mighty hammer Mjöllnir.
Then, acording to the narration, the gods and the army of death warriors began to engage with the invaders. The battle was a fierce one. The terrible Fenrir, whose eyes and nostrils splited fire, swallowed the sun and the moon, the stars of the sky disappeared and the earth and mountains shaked on a violent way. Soon after, Odin was swallowed alive by the terrible wolf Fenrir, the terrible beast that at the same time was killed by Odin´s son Vidar. Meanwhile, Thor was fighting desperately against the terrible serpent Jormungand, to whom he managed to defeat, but at the cost of his own life.
After Odin had been killed by Fenrir, Thor overcame by Jormungand and most of the other gods had died in the mutual destructive battle with the giants, a new world was destined to "rise again,,fair and green.."
Before the battle two humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, had taken shelter in the sacred tree Yggdrasil and they emerged,,repopulating the Earth. Some other gods also survived, among them Vidar and Vali, sons of Odin, Thor´s sons Modi and Magni and Balder, who was finally able to escape from death in the underworld, where he has been kept captive.
According to the narrations, just after the terrible battle that brought with it the end of the world as it was until then, the Earth reappered from water and the surviving gods discussed about the terrible events that had just happened. The most of the events, according to the Eddas, are narrated by a magical being named "Völva", that after having narrated the events of the Ragnarok "sank down" for never to appear again.
Odin and the wise Völva, illustration by Lorenz Frölich
The Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson, author of the Prose Edda
Ilustration by Christian Krohg for an edition of "Heimskringla"
Thor is trying to hunt the terrible serpent Jormungand in the SAM66 manuscript. The Árni Magnússon Institute, Iceland.
Ragnarok held a great appeal for the Vikings, whose rides on Western Europe are still material for legend, specially for its fierce and extreme violence. As a matter of fact, it is not difficult to stablish a clear link between the nature of the Ragnarok and the very reallity of the age where the Vikings lived. "No one is free from fear" remarked Alcuin in the VIII century, in the years after the raid of Lindisfarne, "never before in Britain" lamented him "has such terror appeared as this we have now suffered at the hands of the pagans of the North" But for the Vikings, it was like that "axe age, sword age" described in the Ragnarok, and it is not impossible to believe that many, if not all of them, fought with even more strength and determination, knowing that Odin had an eye on them, looking after the bravest warrior, for later to be brought to Valhalla, in where they will be delighted by the Valkyries, while awaiting for the final battle to be fight.
Thor and the Serpent by Emile Doepler
All pictures courtesy of Wikicommons