what is the meaning of ragnarok

The most famous chapter in Norse mythology is definitely the Ragnarök, which is also the final chapter. The scene in this battle, which is the most pathetic episode in Norse mythology, has reached the peak of human imagination at that time.

Destruction myth is an important motif for mythologies all over the world. But the most destruction myths depict how the god destroyed the human world created by them, and the reasons of destruction were mainly flood and drought. Also, they mostly appear in the opening parts of respective mythologies, reflecting early human’s fear of the nature as well as their original exploration of the origin of life. But ancient Nordic people rarely suffered from natural disasters such as flood because of their special geographical environment. Therefore, their destruction myth is not themed with natural force, and it appears in the ending part of Norse mythology. However, the most special thing is, their destruction myth is not only about the destruction of human world, but also involving that of all deities and their home. Meanwhile, the destruction had been doomed when the world was created. No one could avoid it or stop it. Therefore, the tragic color of Norse mythology was determined in its opening chapter, and Ragnarök pushed this tragedy to a splendid but cruel climax.

It began with the death of god of brightness Baldr. This beloved young deity was so handsome and charming that everything in the world had vowed not to hurt him. But under the abetting of Loki, a small mistletoe did not make the vow. At last, the god of darkness Höðr (Hoder) killed Baldr with this mistletoe on a ceremony. After that, it was also Loki who abetted the coal giant not to shed a tear for Baldr when everybody was grieving for the death of Baldr, leading to his exile from Asgard. Since then, the world had become bleak and dark due to the absence of brightness. And Ragnarök came inevitably following the death of Baldr.

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In the whole universe, three long cold winters came first, the sun lost its heat, and strong cold wind blew from all quarters. Dreadful wars broke out in all nine worlds; brothers, fathers and sons were killing each other; and morality was corrupted. In the three winters, what people used to taken as faith, like the respect towards parents and the caring for children, were all inexorably gone. Instead, people felt insecure and became extremely selfish. Violence and chaos were continuously breeding and spreading. Another three darker and longer winters followed, that was the Fimbulwinter. During the Fimbulwinter, spring, summer and autumn all disappeared, there was only the cold and dark winter.

At that time, peace, serenity and beauty were all gone. Whether in the realms of deities or in the human world, the quiet and peaceful scenes in the past were on longer seen, young goddess Idun unexpectedly fell from the World Tree Yggdrasil and disappeared without a trace. Sun and her boy moon became dim and exhausted in the Fimbulwinter, and were finally swallowed by Sköll and Hati, two wolves chasing after them. After they were swallowed, the whole world fell into the endless darkness. And it was even colder due to the absence of heat from the sun. Wind with snow and frost blew from all directions. Stars fell one after another. The stars, which were originally sparks in Muspelheim and later cast up to the sky by deities, went out soon after landing.

The earth was shaking. Successive violent earthquakes made the mountains collapse, all the trees were uprooted, and all the rocks became soft or cracked. As a result, the ropes and chains used to bind demons also cracked, and these demons escaped from the prison in Asgard and did evil all around the world. Loki, his son Fenrir and hellhound Garmr were among them.

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At the same time, the oceans raised turbulent waves, sea level kept rising, and finally swamped the land, rivers and lakes, as well as mountains and plateaus. The whole world became a world of waters, countless people were swallowed by flood. At this time, the Midgard serpent Jörmungandr showed up and was pushed onto the land by flood.

A big boat also suddenly turned up in monstrous billows. This was a boat made from nails of the dead, and was full of the most evil demons among giants. Its mast was so high that it took a man’s whole life to climb atop. This boat sailed through the rough waves and went straight to Vigrid Plain, the battlefield of Ragnarök. The immerse World Tree Yggdrasil turned yellow and was dying.

All the demons were assembled here. The monstrous wolf Fenrir led their way. He opened his huge mouth, used his upper jaw to support the sky and lower jaw to hold up the earth, and spit blue flames from his eyes and nostrils. The one following Fenrir was Jörmungandr, who was twisting his huge body and moving forward as fast as Fenrir. Meanwhile, poisonous gas and smog kept coming out of his mouth and fully covered the world.

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When the demons were marching forward, the sky above them suddenly cracked, and the fire giants from Muspelheim joined the demons. They rode fire horses and kept spitting fire in all directions. Surtr, the guardian of Muspelheim who was as tall as a mountain, led these fire giants. He held a fire sword that shone brighter than the sun.

Loki led the devils from Helheim marching behind Surtr. They had a variety of weird-shaped weapons and formed the flanks together with the jötnar. This demon army paraded towards Asgard for a decisive battle with the Aesir.

After the demons went across the Bifrost, the bridge shattered and fell into pieces. The arrogance of demons even made Yggdrasil shake.

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At this moment, the guardian of Asgard Heimdallr got on the high wall and blew the horn to warn the deities. Heimdallr’s horn sounded so loud and clear that every deity in Asgard was waken up and motivated. The deities first gathered together and had a meeting to discuss this serious situation. Odin, who had already known the ultimate fate of deities, was very anxious and depressed. He called in the giant Mimir, who survived with only a head. Mimir explained to deities the cause and effect of Ragnarök as well as the real meaning of what was happening.

The deities did not feel scared about the end of the world when they learned the truth of Ragnarök, their ultimate fate; instead, they quickly armed themselves with the preparation and courage for death. Then the armed deities went to the Valhalla. There, Odin’s Einherjar, who had prepared for this moment for centuries, formed a strict formation on the square. Countless shining helmets, spearheads and arrowheads punctured the darkness of the Fimbulwinter. After that, the deities and the Einherjar set off for Vigrid Plain, their final battlefield.

While the demon army led by Fenrir went across the Bifrost and headed to Vigrid Plain, Odin also led the Asgardian deities and his Einherjar marching towards there.

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On the eight-foot horse Sleipnir, Odin marched at the head of the column. He held his shining spear Gungnir, wore the silver chained armor; the golden helmet on his head shone like the sun in the darkness, showing the deities and Einherjar the way to battlefield. Another leader of the Aesir, the god of strength Thor (also the god of thunder), closely followed Odin. Thor stood on the goat chariot steered by his servant, wore the belt of strength Megingjörd and iron gloves Jarngreipr, and held his hammer Mjölnir high. He was so furious that his eyes emit searing flame. Thor’s two sons were also on his chariot, one of them was Magni, who was born with super power.

Carrying sharp and shining weapons, the Asgardian warriors including Freyr (who succeeded Baldr as the prince of Asgard), the one-arm god of war Tyr and guardian of Asgard Heimdallr, rode behind Odin and Thor. Odin’s sons were all fully armed and following them. The goddesses led by Freya and Skaði also joined the battle. Countless Einherjar followed the Aesir. They formed a huge formation and headed to the battlefield like furious billows.

The deities started the battle with demons in the huge plain in Asgard. Odin, who led his army, engaged Fenrir. Thor also had a fierce fight with the Midgard serpent Jörmungandr. The deities pressed forward and fought the demons, while the brave Einherjar were engaging the jötnar.

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The most desperate combat took place between Odin and Fenrir. Despite that Fenrir was monstrous and powerful, Odin had no fear and used his spear to pierce him. The desperate combat went on for a very long time, Odin was exhausted while terribly speared Fenrir became more furious and swallowed Odin. Odin, the lord god and ruler of the world, lost his life. But Odin’s son Víðarr engaged Fenrir after he saw his father being swallowed by the evil wolf. The silent god Víðarr had a pair of rugged shoes made from waste leather, and he had kicked countless demons to death with them. During his fight with Fenrir, while this evil wolf opened his mouth, he stepped on Fenrir’s lower jaw, and pulled up his upper jaw with both hands. Thus, Fenrir’s mouth was torn apart by Víðarr. He fell on the ground and died. Víðarr became even more valiant and continued fighting with other demons. The combat between Thor and Jörmungandr was also very fierce. Brandishing the hammer Mjölnir, Thor fought the monstrous serpent for countless rounds. In the long battle, Thor fearlessly closed in Jörmungandr and had a close combat with him regardless of the poisonous mist and venom spit by the serpent. The monstrous serpent received multiple injuries, but kept striking back with his tusks. At last, with a shout, Thor raised Mjölnir, gave a swing with all his might, hit Jörmungandr’s head and killed this demon. However, as Thor inhaled too much poisonous gas in the long-going combat, he lost his balance, recoiled nine paces, fell and died.

Heimdallr, who was referred to as “the nemesis of Loki”, had been looking for his deadly foe Loki since the beginning of battle. When he found Loki, a large number of corpses of jötnar lay on the ground where he had been. After killing countless jötnar and fire giants, Heimdallr found Loki, who was fighting the Einherjar. Without hesitation, Heimdallr headed to Loki and attacked him. After multiple rounds, both Heimdallr and Loki were exhausted; they fell and died together. The god of war Tyr was good at subduing demons, therefore he engaged the hellhound Garmr from Helheim from the beginning of battle. Despite having only the left arm, fearless Tyr brandished his sword and had a desperate fight with this hellhound. He and Garmr killed one another in the end. The both armies fought each other so desperately that the battle lasted a very very long time. A large number of demons, jötnar and fire giants were killed by the Aesir and Einherjar, but the latter also suffered heavy casualties. The corpses of both parties were everywhere on the one hundred mile square plain. The deities, who were ready to sacrifice themselves in the battle with demons, perished together with their enemy one by one.

The longest battle took place between the young Asgardian prince Freyr and the leader of fire giants Surtr. As Freyr had given his sword to his servant Skirnir when making a proposal to Gerðr, therefore he fought almost with bare hands, while Surtr was holding the sword of flame. Without a good weapon, Freyr suffered multiple injuries in the long battle, and finally lost his life. Valiant Freyr also gave Surtr a hard hit before he fell, making the fire giant totally mad. The flames emitted from his body lit Asgard, the human world as well as the World Tree Yggdrasil. The branches and leaves of World Tree Yggdrasil had become yellow in three Fimbulwinters, it easily caught fire once being lit by the flame from Surtr. The whole universe was in fire; all nine realms were destroyed by fire; and the Aesir, Einherjar and giants were also killed by fire.

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The magnificent Valhalla collapsed, and the palaces of deities were reduced to rubble. The home to all deities became ruins in the fire. There were few human, elves and dwarves that had survived the flood. The fire killed the every last one of them.

There was a small world with a boundless blue sky in the southmost of the destroyed universe, and no one had ever been there.

When the rainstorm was over and both sky and earth were destroyed, the very few deities that survived fled southward. A human couple also survived by hiding in a tree hole on Yggdrasil and drinking morning dew.

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After a very long time, a new continent appeared in the sea below their feet. The god of brightness Baldr and the blind god Höðr who had died before were also resurrected.

The new continent was more beautiful and greener than the destroyed world. Here the trees were fruitful, and water was murmuring though the fresh air in the morning. In the south far away, beautiful plain existed as before, and the survived deities went across the grassland. On the green glass, they seemed to see the golden time they had spent in Asgard.

With deep joy, the survived deities seemed to find the ruins of collapsed Odin’s palace and the Valhalla in this peaceful new world. The deities looked at each other with both surprise and excitement as if they entered the Valhalla again. Every one had endless missing. They wept for joy, decided to rebuild the magnificent palace in their memory, rebuild the world full of happiness.

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After that, the black dragon Nidhogg emerged in the corpses. It flew low and weightily over the earth, with numberless skeletons hanging on his black wings. Soon it fell somewhere farmost, and disappeared in the bottomless abyss on the edge of the world.

The world was destroyed after Yggdrasil was burnt up. At this point, the Norse mythology came to an end after the tragic final climax. But the destruction was never equal to the extinction. After the Ragnarök, following the rebirth of Yggdrasil, the survivors began a painstaking process to rebuild the world. Generations of Vikings followed in the footsteps of their ancestors, continued to wander on the rough seas and demonstrate their fearless lives.

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