Ragnarok Is Upon Us

You’d think that a news story this big would be impossible to miss, but somehow I overlooked it until just now. I hope you’ll forgive my tardiness, readers, because I have urgent information to impart: the Jorvik Viking Center has predicted that Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse foretold in the ancient texts called the Eddas, is due to occur on February 22, 2014 – less than two weeks away!

As you doubtless know, Ragnarok is the world-shattering war in which the gods will be slain in battle with monsters of the underworld, the nine realms of the cosmos will be destroyed, and humanity will all be killed off except for a tiny remnant. Just in case you’re not up to speed on the ancient Viking prophecies of Snorri Sturluson, here’s Wikipedia’s description of what’s coming a week from Saturday:

Heimdall raises the Gjallarhorn into the air and blows deeply into it, and Odin converses with Mím’s head. The world tree Yggdrasil shudders and groans. The jötunn Hrym comes from the east, his shield before him. The Midgard serpent Jörmungandr furiously writhes, causing waves to crash. “The eagle shrieks, pale-beaked he tears the corpse,” and the ship Naglfar breaks free thanks to the waves made by Jormungandr and sets sail from the east. The fire jötnar inhabitants of Muspelheim come forth.

The völva continues that Jötunheimr, the land of the jötnar, is aroar, and that the Æsir are in council. The dwarves groan by their stone doors. Surtr advances from the south, his sword brighter than the sun. Rocky cliffs open and the jötnar women sink. People walk the road to Hel and heavens split apart.

The gods then do battle with the invaders: Odin is swallowed whole and alive fighting the wolf Fenrir, causing his wife Frigg her second great sorrow (the first being the death of her son, the god Baldr). The god Freyr fights Surtr and loses. Odin’s son Víðarr avenges his father by rending Fenrir’s jaws apart and stabbing it in the heart with his spear, thus killing the wolf. The serpent Jörmungandr opens its gaping maw, yawning widely in the air, and is met in combat by Thor. Thor, also a son of Odin and described here as protector of the earth, furiously fights the serpent, defeating it, but Thor is only able to take nine steps afterward before collapsing. After this, people flee their homes, and the sun becomes black while the earth sinks into the sea, the stars vanish, steam rises, and flames touch the heavens.

Luckily, it’s not all bad news. After the battle concludes, the earth will rise again from the sea, reborn as a green and fertile land. Two human beings, Líf and Lífþrasir, will also survive by hiding in the wood of Hoddmímis holt, and together they’ll emerge from the devastation and repopulate the world. (The problem of who their first generation of children will be able to marry and mate with, if not their brothers and sisters, is tactfully ignored in Norse mythology just as it is in Christianity.)

The Jorvik Viking Center goes so far as to cite the occurrence of omens foretold in Norse scripture, such as the current harsh winter, the spread of social media, or sea serpents washing up on a Californian beach. That said, since they’re also selling front-row tickets to their Ragnarok festival, I’m pretty sure this is mostly tongue-in-cheek.

But whether it’s the Norse Ragnarok, the 2012 Mayan panic, or any of the other numberless apocalypses that briefly obsessed humanity at one time in history and now lie unfulfilled and forgotten, this is a useful reminder of just how many end-of-the-world predictions that are out there. After all, the Rapture and the second coming of Jesus, or the appearance of the Hidden Imam, are meaningfully different from the Viking prophecies only in terms of how many people still believe in them. This would be a valuable lesson for the devotees of the currently popular doomsday scenarios: to notice how many ancient apocalypses, presumably popular in their own time, have faded to mere mythology and punchline in ours.

Image: “Battle of the Doomed Gods” by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine, via Wikimedia Commons

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Errant Endeavour

    Back when I was a pagan, I thought Ragnarok would happen on 21st Dec. 2012, and a few other pagans thought this, too. Though while I was thinking of it as more tongue in cheek (not just me rewriting my own history, I assure you *sideways look*) some of those others did take it seriously.

    Tangentially, there’s a trilogy of books called Viking (see Odinn’s Child) by Tim Severin. SPOILER (minor) in the last book the main character witnesses the Norse invasion of England in 1066, which he interpreted as Ragnarok. END SPOILER This example, along with my personal one, just goes to show that people will read into a situation what they want to read.

  • Mar son of Magnus of Gyrwum

    that should put an end to the sh!tty thor franchise

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I hope my wife enjoys the hell out of her Valentine’s Day present during her final week.

    Oh, who am I kidding. If anyone can survive Ragnarok, it’s Mina.

  • nfq

    Brilliant as usual.

  • MNb

    How do they mean harsh winter? The Netherlands experience one of the warmest winters ever and here in Suriname we don’t know what the word means.

  • Jason Wexler

    So if I were Odin I would send a hunting party out now to kill Fenrir and thus alter the course of Ragnorock. I’ve always viewed the problem with prophecy as it is always designed to be either self-fulfilling or to be so transparently simple to side-step that doing so should be a no brainer. In mythology and modern storytelling prophecy is only valid when confronted with people who are gullible and unthinking or are overly prideful and irrational.

  • Azkyroth

    Dude, WTF?!

  • snoopy

    I’m going to buy billboard space and have a radio call-in show to help people prepare.

  • Elizabeth

    Yes, this is a lot more specific than what MacBeth had to go on, for example.

  • Jason Wexler

    I’ve just received a prophecy… the only survivors of Ragnorock will be a lesbian feminist, an anti-feminist FTM Trans person and a 70 year old nun with dementia.

  • Jason Wexler

    What was up with the idea that a person who was birthed by C-Section not being “by woman born”? I am pretty sure that his mother was pregnant with him, and C-Section still results in birth so, I’d agree with MacBeth that the prophecy was ill-conceived and inaccurate and would have dismissed it as absurd like he did.

  • David in Tucson

    Well, a bunch of these gods and goddesses got absorbed into German mythology, too, and at least according to Richard Wagner, got burned up when Valhalla caught on fire.

  • 8DX

    “the current harsh winter”
    Rolls over laughing.
    Seriously, I know some parts of the world had some rough weather in January, and there is still cold and snow enough in some places AND weather isn’t climate (and regional climate isn’t global climate), but this is the closest to a non-winter for us in CZ that I can remember (Jan-Feb regularly above freezing -mild weather with no snow in Dec?)

    I expect more of Ragnarok =P

  • 8DX

    Sorry, Fenrir is nuke-proof. The hunters might make a tasty snack, though.

  • 8DX

    You mean no workable reproductive organ combinations? Unless the nun is a MTF trans person or female-identified biological male (i.e. with a penis and gonads), reproduction will be difficult. I guess the lesbian feminist would have to clone herself. 70-year old nun sperm (if available) as the only source of Y-chromosomes doesn’t bode well, so I guess you are prophesying a future biologically-female-only X-chromosomed utopia..

  • 8DX

    Yey! Your ideal celebrity crush rapey scenario!

  • busterggi

    Apparently you don’t know what consent means.

  • Jason Wexler

    How can he be Nuke proof when the prophecy as written already says that Víðarr will avenge his father by rending Fenrirs jaws apart and stabing him? No fair playing my favorites are beyond the rules…. I however am worried about how to deal with Surtur.

  • unbound55

    Don’t forget to stay for the after party. Apparently the festival goes until the day after Ragnarok – http://www.jorvik-viking-festival.co.uk/2014/01/myths-and-legends-in-store-for-30th-jorvik-viking-festival-15-23-february-2014/

  • Azkyroth

    “Grudging consent” isn’t.

  • busterggi

    How so?
    Choosing to consent even though not enthusiastic is still consent.

  • Azkyroth

    Because consent is supposed to be about what people actually want, not what you can wheedle them into on a technicality. Have you literally no sexual or regular ethics at all?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    OK, that’s enough. It was a distasteful comment, but I don’t think anything malicious was meant by it.

  • Azkyroth

    You’re about the third to last person I would expect to be more comfortable with rape culture than strongly worded reactions to it. I guess that is enough.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I don’t approve of the comment, but I trust everyone’s opinions about it have been more than made clear by now.

  • Ken

    I still haven’t hear Gjallarhorn yet, so I think they called this one prematurely. I think the winter would have to stretch below the equator to count.

  • The Ragin Pagan

    This winter is by no means the Fimbulvetr. If it was, we’d all be dead.

  • Portia

    I’m pretty disappointed to see you shut down a deserved calling-out of some rape culture bullshit.

    “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” -Elie Wiesel


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