Ragnarok is the end of time in Norse Mythology. The end of times has always captivated the attention of Mankind. Every religion and culture has had its own notion of how the world will end and there are similarities in all of them. Like the fall of Atlantis (covered in the Tower) most of the cultures agree that just before the end days the world will have series of calamities signaling that the end is near.
The Aztecs believed that the world has been created anew five times and that this too shall be destroyed. The Jews call the end of days Aharit-ha-Yamin. Islamic eschatology calls it Yawm-al-Qiyamah or Day of Resurrection or Yawm-ad-Din or Day of Judgment. Hindu eschatology believes that Vishnu the preserver god will return one last time. The Christians believe in the concept of Judgment day when man will be judged for his actions. In all of the above-mentioned scenarios, man is being punished for his transgressions.
Norse mythology on the other hand does not believe that the end of days is a means to judge man. The Ragnarok or the final battle at the end of days is to be settled by the gods alone. The suffering to humans is just an expected outcome but it is not personal. The whole goal of the end of the world is its renewal.
The Norse end of days begins when Baldur the god loved by the Aesir, the pantheon of Norse gods dies. Baldur was an Aesir god who was the son of Odin, the All-Father and Frigg. He was married to Nanna a goddess who died of grief as soon as Baldur was killed. Together they had a son named Forseti. Baldur had been dreaming about his end and when his father Odin sought a seer his fears about Baldur’s fears, Baldur’s impending death was confirmed. His mother Frigga therefore, went out into the Norse universe, to take an oath from every creature and object to not hurt or harm Baldur. She however did not ask the mistletoe for the oath, since she felt it was too meek to cause harm. Loki the trickster god, tricked Hodur the blind brother of Baldur into throwing a mistletoe on him and that mistletoe pierced through Baldur’s skin and killed him. Hel, the goddess of the underworld, agreed to return Baldur to Asgard, the abode of the gods if everything in the cosmos can weep for him. Loki disguised as an old woman refused to weep for him and Baldur thus is confined to the underworld. Loki is then discovered by the gods and trapped in a cave for eternal punishment. This will lead to the beginning of the end of the world known as Ragnarok.
The death of Baldur was very essential to bring about Ragnarok. As long as gods who can broker a peace live there can be little destruction. With Baldur out of the way, the path for Ragnarok was a clean and clear one since he was a peace-loving god. The Norse were fierce warriors and even their afterlife was spent preparing for the final war. Ragnarok was what the Norse world was heading to after it was created.
Ragnarok was to be preceded by a winter called Fimbulvetr, lasting three seasons long. The world would grow cold and brother would turn against brother. This period of winter was to be replaced by a harsher winter where everything would be dark and there would be no sun moon or stars. Snorri Sturlson, mentions in the poem Grimnismal, that there are two wolves named Skoll or the one who mocks and Hati or the one who hates, who begin each of their days chasing Sol the sun and Mani the moon, but without any success. Once the winter Fimbulvetr begins the two wolves manage to catch their prey and the sun, moon and the stars are consumed by them and are all wonders of the past. The winter is a sign that the gods of prosperity and abundance have forsaken the world.
By the end of the winter, human beings would’ve died. There will only be two humans left in the woods who are to eventually, start a new world that will follow in the renewal of Ragnarok.
Ragnarok like the Christian end of times had more than one heralds so that the gods would have the time to prepare. Fjalar a red rooster was the crier to the giants or Jotun so that they may know that Ragnarok was about to begin. Another rooster who has not been named was to crow and warn the dead that Ragnarok was about to begin. A third and final rooster named Gullinkambi who lived in Valhalla was to crow and announce to the gods in Asgard that Ragnarok was ready to begin.
Yggdrasil or the great tree on which the Norse worlds existed would begin to sway, creating earthquakes that would even affect the mountains. The monstrous hoard of Loki would then begin to break free. Loki and the Jotun or giantess Angrboda or the bringer of anguish had three offspring, each with a destiny that had been prophesied. They were a serpent called Jormungand, the goddess of death named Hel whom Odin gave dominion over the underworld and a wolf called Fenrir. Fenrir the wolf was destined to devour Odin, and Jormungand was to die at the hands of the mighty Thor, though it was prophesied to kill Thor in the process.
The earthquakes that would be caused by the swaying of the Yggdrasil, would cause Fenrir to break his chain known as the Gleipnir. Jormungand the mighty serpent will break free from the oceans where he is trapped and will poison the oceans and rise. His rising would cause the water to flood the lands.
The dead from the netherworld would sail with Hel, Loki’s daughter to take part in the battle.
Baldur and Hod would also return from the dead to fight alongside their kin from Asgard.
Hel would sail on a ship christened Naglfar, made with the fingernails of the dead, which would be set free by the serpent Jormungand and her crew would be the Jotuns and the dead who died with dishonor. Fenrir will run with his lower jaw touching the ground and the upper jaw the sky. He shall then devour everything in his path. Jormungand shall poison the water air and land causing the dome of the sky to split. From the crack will emerge the terrifying fire giants from Muspelheim. A fire giant called Surt will lead the hordes of the fire giants. He has been portended to be the one who will slay the god Freyr, himself perishing in the process.
The god Heimdall is the guard of the Bifrost bridge which connects Asgard the home of the gods to Middlegard or Earth will blow his horn named Gjallarhorn, so that the gods may assemble and be ready to fight in the final battle, which will take place on a battlefield called Vigrid.
All the warriors who spent their afterlife feasting and fighting in Valhalla would pick up their battle arms and fight alongside Odin. Odin’s elite personal guard the einherjar will fight by his side. Despite the best efforts of the gods all that has been foretold comes to pass. Odin is killed by Fenrir. Odin’s son Vidar in a fit of rage jumps onto the serpent’s mouth. He stands tall in boots made from every piece of leather human boot makers have ever discarded. Standing tall, he rams a sword through Fenrir’s jaw thereby killing him. Thor managed to kill Jormungand but only after the serpent had poisoned him.
Thor barely managed to walk nine paces away from the serpent before crashing to the ground. There is only destruction and chaos wherever the sight can see, and whatever is left sinks into the water and disappears into the void. Some versions of the myth end at this. However, there are versions of the myth that say that out of the chaos began a new world.
The myth has versions that insist that Vidar, Vali, Hodr, Modi and Magni the sons of Thor, survived the downfall of the old world. A human couple also survives by hiding out in the woods. They are Lif and Lifprasir, which mean life and striving for life. These two humans begin the new world.
Dignified: Ragnarok, was a very inspiring concept for the Norse. The gods were aware of their future but boldly went on to meet it head-on nevertheless. Judgment like Ragnarok is a card representing drastic change. This is a natural cycle and the card does not talk about being judged. Instead, there is a review of the way things are and a change and release that takes place. The current phase that has been going on is coming to an end. While it will not be dramatic and drastic like the battle of Ragnarok, it will still be a time of resurrection and major life changes.
In your life too, there is a Gjallarhorn heralding change that has come knocking at your door. Judgment is a card that will turn up when you have reached a state where you are at a completion phase in your life. Like Ragnarok, this change can no longer be put off and has to be dealt with.
It is interesting that the planetary ruler of Judgment is Pluto, the planet after which the Roman god of death and the underworld is named. Like Death, Judgment is a change that will come to pass. At Ragnarok, there is no looking back into the actions that have brought one here, the only choice is to ride the metaphorical tidal wave of change into the new beginning and hope that like Lif and Lifprasir, we can look forward to better days.
Upright a change is coming, Ragnarok was possible because the peace-loving god Baldur died. It is essential to keep your goodness and forgiveness above everything else when the change or renewal strikes. That goodness is coming a full circle now as things will work in the favour of the one who was right. In case the change is extreme then you need to call upon the qualities of the gods and face what needs to be done.
Reversed or Ill-Dignified: Reversed there is the fear and inability to answer the calling.
Unlike the gods of Ragnarok who went out to meet their fates, one could be hiding under wishful thinking, making the inevitable appear more painful than it needs to be. It could also mean judging yourself or others harshly or being judged by them which makes it difficult to achieve one’s own goals and carve out a path for the self. You may feel the breath of Fenrir or be held hostage by the horrendous coils of Jormungand, and feel Hel enter your space with her fiendish army but renewal is always just a while away. Solitude to ruminate on what is important for one’s own self could help you move forward.
Further Reading: Mythology & Tarot Through Myth
- McCoy, Daniel. The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 1 edition (June 1, 2016).
- Struluson, Snorri. Edda. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1995.
Images Used on The Site. Illustrations from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, known also as the Rider Tarot and the Waite Tarot, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. 1971 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. All rights reserved. The Rider-Waite Tarot deck is a registered trademark of U.S. Games Systems, Inc