In Norse myth, there are two great ships used by the gods and giants that surpass all others in existence. The Æsir (Odin and his followers in Asgard) possess a wonderful ship, called Skidbladnir, which miraculously can be folded up like a cloth into a pocket-sized form. When unfolded, however, it can carry the whole host of Asgard in its hull and is never is without a favorable wind. Although the Skidbladnir is considered to be the ship of best design in Norse myth, another vessel called the Naglfar is superior in terms of sheer size.
The Naglfar is the flagship of the denizens of Muspelheim (often shortened to Muspell), an inhospitable realm of fire and embers in the Norse mythological universe. A glimpse of how massive the Naglfar is meant to be can be gleaned from the lengthy construction process of the ship—a process that will go on until doomsday. As the story goes, the inhabitants of the Muspelheim will continue construction on the Naglfar up until the apocalyptic battle between the Æsir and their enemies on the day of Ragnarok. Only on that day, will the Naglfar be released from its moorings and be allowed to set sail. According to myth, humans can speed up or slow down the progress of the Naglfar’s construction, as the main material used in the ship’s construction is said to be the fingernails and toenails of dead men. Therefore, keeping your fingers and toes trimmed and filed may ward off Ragnarok for a time.
When the day of Ragnarok does arrive, the Naglfar will be an odd sight, and not just because it allegedly will be a massive floating pile of finger and toenails. As the story goes, the Naglfar and its fire-giant helmsman, Hrym, will sail out of the realm of embers in Muspelheim and make an unlikely detour before disembarking its troops for the battle of Ragnarok. In a questionable partnership, the ship from blazing Muspelheim is foretold to pick up and transport the entire army of the Frost Giants to the apocalyptic battle. Possibly to accommodate the Frost Giants, Surt (the fire-sword wielding leader of the Muspelheim forces) is prophesied to forego travel on his ship, the Naglfar, and instead march to Ragnarok on foot with an elite band of fiery warriors. This coalition of giants (along with the Midgard Serpent, the Fenriswolf, Loki and Hel), according to Norse mythology, will be the downfall of the most prominent Æsir gods.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (A Ship and Sirens by Gustave Moreau (1826–1898), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.