In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a series of future events, including a great battle foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of humans and Gods. The occurrence of various natural disasters and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and returning Gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors. Ragnarok is an important event in the Norse canon and has been the subject of scholarly discourse and theory.
The event is attested primarily in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson.
Ominous prophecies and dreams had long foretold the downfall of the cosmos and of its Gods and Goddesses along with it. When the first of these prophesied events came to pass – the beloved God Baldur was killed by Loki and consigned to the underworld – the Gods had to face the fact they could no longer escape their tragic destiny.
In Midgard, the realm of human civilization, people abandoned their traditional ways, disregarded the bonds of kinship, and sank into a wayward, listless nihilism. The Gods weren’t exactly innocent of these same charges, however. They had broken oaths and fallen short of their expectations of one another on many occasions.
Three winters came in a row with no summer in between, a plodding, devastating season of darkness and frigidity. The God Loki and his son, the dreaded wolf Fenrir, who had both been chained up to prevent them from wreaking further destruction in the Nine Worlds, broke free of their fetters and set about doing precisely what the Gods who had imprisoned them had feared. Yggdrasil, the great world-tree that holds the Nine Worlds in its branches and roots, began to tremble. The Earth will shake with Earthquakes.
The far-seeing Heimdall, the watchman of the Gods’ fortress, Asgard, was the first to spy a vast army of giants headed for the celestial stronghold. Among the gruesome mass was the Gods’ fickle friend, Loki. Heimdall sounded his horn to alert the Gods, who were no doubt alarmed and despairing.
The giants set about destroying the abode of the Gods and the entire cosmos along with it. The Gods are assisted by the heroic dead, those who had died in glorious battle and had been taken to live in Valhalla and await this final battle. Fenrir, the great wolf, ran across the land with his lower jaw on the ground and his upper jaw in the sky, consuming everything in between. Even the sun itself was dragged from its height and into the wolf Skoll’s stomach. The wolf Hati will catch the moon and mangle him. The stars will vanish. Surt, a giant bearing a flaming sword, swept across the Earth and left nothing but an inferno in his wake.
At last, in the ultimate reversal of the original process of creation, the ravaged land sank back into the sea and vanished below the waves. The perfect darkness and silence reigned once more.
But this age of death and repose did not last forever. Soon the Earth was once again raised from the ocean. God Baldur returned from the underworld, and the gladdened land became more lush and fruitful than it had been since it was created the previous time. Some of the Gods will survive, others will be reborn. Wickedness and misery will no longer exist and Gods and men will live happily together.
Two humans, Lif and Lifdrasir, who hid themselves deep within Yggdrasil, will see light. For although the sun was eaten by Skoll, she will give birth to a daughter no less fair, who will follow the same sky-path and light the world. Lif and Lifdrasir will have children; there will be new life everywhere on Earth.
This cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth for which Norse mythology provides an archetype occurs at every scale of existence: the cycle of the seasons, of day and night, of the phases of the moon, of the life of any organism, and of the flourishing of life between mass extinctions.
For Comfort when the End of the World is Prophesied
Time has erased their reasons for doing so, yet we know that all times are governed by your will. Remind us of the renewal of all creation that you have initiated. Each dawn is a renewal, so let us rejoice in the renewal of the cosmos. If, instead, our brothers predicted the end of all things, remind us of our mortality. We are like a vapor, that appears for a moment and then vanishes. If the end is to be tomorrow, or even today, empower us to pray with even greater fervor for comfort. Amen.