Most people think the mythological Norse apocalypse, Ragnarok, would be a complete eradication of life on earth. After all, according to myth, the earth would burn and all of the major gods would die during Ragnarok. Yet, instead of an end, Ragnarok was really more of a reset, or rebirth, of gods and man.
There is no denying that, according to myth, almost every single major name in Scandinavian mythology was fated to die in the battle of Ragnarok. The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241 CE) lists many of the deaths predicted to occur during the final apocalyptic battle. The deified sun and moon would both be swallowed by wolves. The high god, Odin, would also share this fate. Frey, absent his powerful sword, would be killed by Surt. Tyr and Garm would kill each other in combat. The trickster, Loki, and the watchman of the gods, Heimdall, would also duel, leading to their mutual deaths. Thor would kill the Midgard Serpent, but he, too, would die to the monster’s venom shortly thereafter. As for other forms of life, Surt’s fire would spread across the globe, causing widespread destruction and death.
Although Ragnarok sounds undeniably grim, Norse mythology provided a silver lining to the death of the gods and life, as we know it. The Prose Edda went on to claim that, after Ragnarok, a green, fertile land would emerge from the waters of the earth. Here, the survivors from Ragnarok would rebuild civilization, both divine and mundane.
A decent roster of minor Norse gods were predicted to survive Ragnarok and build a new home, called Idavoll, on top of the ruins of Asgard. One important deity that would survive is the daughter of the deceased Sun. The myths claim that she would become the sun of the new world, following the same path as her mother. Two other gods named Vidar and Vali were predicted to survive Ragnarok, as well. Along with them, Thor’s sons, Modi and Magni, would also survive. They would bring Thor’s famous hammer, Mjollnir, to the new home of the gods at Idavoll. Interestingly, two dead gods, Baldr and Hod, were also predicted to come back to life and journey from Hel to meet the other surviving gods in the new divine city. As for other forms of life, The Prose Edda claimed that two beings named Lif (Life) and Leifthrasir (Life Yearner) would find shelter from the fire that destroyed the world. According to myth, these two people would repopulate the earth.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
- The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock. New York: Penguin Classics, 2005.