Norse Mythology

The Hanging of Odin and Ragnarok

What was the Norse end-of-the-world myth?

Snorri tells the story of the apocalypse, Ragnarok (the “End of the Gods”), in his Prose Edda, basing his narrative on the second part of the Poetic Edda’s Voluspa. According to the myth, a seeress from the dead tells Odin not only how the world was created, but how it will end. There will be wars in Midgard, the land of the humans, she said. Family members will fight each other. The social fabric will deteriorate; incest will be rampant. After a three-year winter, the wolf, Skoll, will consume the sun, and his brother Hati will destroy the moon. Fenrir and Loki will escape and cause havoc. There will be destructive earthquakes. Gullinkambi, the golden cock of Asgard, will awaken the Aesir and the world tree will shiver. The seas will flood the shores, made violent by the approach of Loki’s son, the terrible world serpent Jormungand. Loki will guide a ship of the dead from Hel and the giants will form an army. Fenrir will tear apart Asgard and Midgard, and Jormungand will poison all of creation. Fire demons, led by Surt with his flaming sword, which will replace the sun, will cross the Bifrost, destroying the Rainbow Bridge. All the enemies of the Aesir will gather, and the gods, summoned by Heimdall’s mighty horn, will march through Valhalla against them. Odin, wielding the sword Gungnir, will challenge Fenrir, and Thor will attack Jormungand, will kill him, but will die of the serpent’s venom. Freyr will fall to Surt. Tyr and Garm the Hound will kill each other, as will Loki and Heimdall. The awful Fenrir will swallow the All Father, but Odin’s son Vidar will take revenge by destroying the jaws of the wolf. Finally, Surt will set fire to all the universe, and all will die.

But as in the passing of the ages in ancient India, a new world will be born of Ragnarok. A new sun will be born, and gods, led by the gentle Baldr, will return to Asgard. Because two humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, will have hidden themselves in Yggdrasill and so escaped the fire of Surt, a new race of humans will be born as well.


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