The Old Norse religion is a fascinating one full of strong, beautiful, and mischievous gods who love to come down to Earth and hang with the humans. Most people associate Valhalla with the religion, but there are so many other interesting Norse myths about the afterlife, the Gods, and the end of the world. Today, I’d like to ponder the Norse version of the Apocalypse, although I’m not sure “Apocalypse” is the best comparison. Where the Apocalypse is God ending the world, Ragnarok is the end of everything, including the Gods. In fact, the Gods pretty much destroy each other and take us down with them. The word Ragnarok means “Fate of the Gods” but has also been referred to as the Twilight of the Gods; a term I prefer simply for its poetic flow.
The Viking myth about the end of the world has many steps, clues to let the Norse people know what was coming (not that they could do anything about it). I took some liberties with these steps in my Godhunter Series but this is the correct order of the events of Ragnarok; the complete destruction of the entire cosmos, including the Gods.
Fimbulvetr arrives; the great Winter that will last as long as three normal winters. Humans will become desperate to survive and basically turn into a bunch of savages who would slaughter each other over a stale saltine cracker.
The Roosters Crow: there are three roosters whose crowing foretells the coming of Ragnarok but none of them are on Earth. Evidently, the horrible winter is enough to warn humans and they don’t need to hear a stupid rooster crow to know the god crap has just hit the fan. The three Roosters are: Fjalar—who crows in Jotunheim (land of the Giants), Gullinkambi—who crows in Asgard (home of the Aesir Gods), and the third rooster doesn’t have a name, he’s only known as a soot-red rooster who crows in Hel (that’s one L, not two; a land for the dead that’s cold instead of hot). At the same time, Garmr, the Hound of Hel, howls and breaks free.
The wolves, named Skoll and Hati, who have hunted the Sun and the Moon across the sky since there was a Sun and a Moon, will finally catch them and eat ’em up. Much to the surprise of all of us who called them silly puppies for chasing things you obviously can’t catch. Will they, get the last laugh. Nom, nom, nom. They eat the stars too until there’s nothing left but black night.
The world tree, Yggdrasil, with all of the Nine Worlds held within it, will quake and every tree in every world will fall and the mountains will crumble to the ground. Basically, it’ll make a big mess that no one can clean up.
Fenrir, the Great Wolf, shall be set loose and run amok, amok, amok! He’s probably pissed off that he missed the chance to catch the Sun and Moon so he’s gotta find something else to eat.
Jormungand, the enormous world serpent, will rise from the depths, causing tidal waves as he slip-slides onto land.
The snake’s arrival will loose the ship Naglfar—that disgusting ship made of the fingernails and toe nails of dead people (not kidding)—from its moorings to sail over the flooded earth, manned by Giants (the Jotnar led by Sutr) and captained by Loki (who broke free of his own chains to be there). They are headed to a field called Vigridr to do battle. As a side note here; Snorri Sturluson, who wrote the prose Edda, mentions how fingernails and toenails were cut from the dead as part of funeral rites so they couldn’t be used in building the Naglfar. No nails, no ship.
Fenrir will run across the Earth, fire shooting from his eyes and nose, with his jaw open wide to devour everything in his path. Think of a demonic bulldozer the size of the Titanic.
Jormungand will spit venom all over the place like a drooling pit bull and poison the worlds; land, water, and sky. He’s a grumpy gus when he first wakes up and hasn’t had his coffee.
The sky splits apart and out of the crack comes a bunch of Fire-Giants from Muspelheim. Surt, their King who has a fiery sword, leads them. They march across the Bifrost bridge—the rainbow bridge you see in movies—to Asgard, home of the Gods, and as they march, the bridge breaks behind them. No more rainbow connection.
Heimdall blows his horn, Gjallarhorn, to announce the arrival of Ragnarok.
Odin consults the head of Mimir, because the dead, giant head is supposedly even smarter than the Allfather. Odin did give his eye to Mimir for wisdom so I suppose this makes sense.
The Gods convene and decide to go to battle, even though that’s dumb considering that they know what’s coming. I guess going to war is better than doing nothing, especially when you love fighting as much as they do. The Gods meet the Giants (all sorts of Jotun) on a battlefield called Vigrid—it creatively means “Plain where battle surges.”
Odin fights Fenrir with his Einherjar—his chosen human warriors who have been training at Valhalla for this precise battle. Despite their training, Fenrir gobbles them all up, just like the Wolf with Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma. Even Odin gets swallowed. So much for the smart head.
Odin’s son, Vidar, attacks Fenrir to avenge his father. He’s wearing a shoe crafted from the scraps of leather that all human shoemakers have ever discarded. So, basically, a really big shoe. The shoe was made specifically to battle Fenrir, and Vidar uses it to hold open Fenrir’s mouth so he can stab Fenrir through the throat and kill him.
Another big bad wolf named Garm—you may remember him from his howling in Hel—fights the god, Tyr, and they kill each other. So do Heimdall and Loki, Freyr and Surt, and Thor and Jormungand. The most epic of those single-combats with dual deaths is the one between Thor and Jormungand. Thor manages to hammer the big snake to death, but he’s covered in so much snake venom that he only makes it nine steps before he falls dead too.
The remnants of the world—whatever Fenrir didn’t gobble up—sinks into the sea and nothing is left but the void. Creation is undone; the end.
Yeah, rather depressing but that’s about par for the course with end of the world scenarios, and the Vikings had to have one badass enough to match their badassness.