The Ragnarök. “Final Fate of the Gods.”
Often this invokes imagery of a fiery and war-torn end of Miðgarð, and indeed of all the worlds. Loki, somehow freed from bondage, leads an Army of the Dead against Ásgarð. The gods Óðinn and Þórr meet tragic ends at the jaws and venom of Fenrir and Jörmungandr respectively. Súrtr descends from Múspellsheimr, burning all in his path. Yggdrasil shudders as it burns, and everything ends in fire. The recounting of this myth is told often, and there are many sources from where it can be found and read.
But is this all the Ragnarök is? A prophecy of the end times - be it the whole world or simply pre-Christian Heathendom? I do not believe so, and find many lessons to be learned from the Ragnarök, and events which lead up to it.
First and foremost, the interpretation that the Ragnarök is not a single event, but cyclical in nature, is presented (but certainly not first said,) by Einar Selvik.
"...A lot of people tend to confuse Ragnarök with the Christian term 'Armageddon', which means 'The End of the World.' But, that is not the case here because in the Old Norse way of thinking, everything moved in cycles. So it's basically telling the story about a ring that ends, but also a ring that begins. So something needs to die, for something else to live. And these days, when the sun is turning, that is what it's about. To let die what needs to die. It's the end of the death cycle, of the year. Today, or in these days, this is when summer is born. This is when light of the year is born. In these days. So it's a very good opportunity ... to let die stuff that you don't need to carry around anymore. To make room for new stuff that you can reap during later this year." ~Einar Selvik
Ragnarök As a Lesson
This encapsulates my sentiments on the Ragnarök. I agree with what Einar taught here; the Ragnarök is not a future event to happen. Loki will not pull a 180° and betray the Æsir, leading his daughter's army of the dead against the einherjar. Rather, it is a lesson of letting go. It is showing the natural cycle, and also teaching us that everything must die eventually; we must accept that, so that we can - as Einar put it - let die what needs to die. That, specifically, has been on my mind very often lately, and believe me it is harder than it sounds. But it's true.
More than this lesson for us, we can also see a thematic lesson throughout the entire narrative, and this (shockingly, to some,) places blame for the events primarily at Óðinn’s feet. In the beginning, with the Völuspá, Óðinn travels to the völva to ask about the future. It is then that she tells him the prophecy of the Ragnarök; yet prophecies are not final. They are like viewing the future through muddy water, vague and unclear, and often subject to change. From there, fearful of the future (and importantly: losing everything he has,) Óðinn sets out to forestall the inevitable; to ward off Ragnarök.
Walls are built around Ásgarð, driving the jötnar away. Fenrir is bound beneath the Earth, and Jörmungandr thrown into the sea. The Æsir make many plans to ensure the longevity of Ásgarð, inviting war and chaos, to which many Loki tries to foil and fix. For this (culminating with the death of Baldr,) he is bound to a rock with the entrails of his son; a double murder and torture to avenge the death of one. (Injustice, really.) Finally the world, embittered and tense by action of the Æsir, snaps. War ravages Yggdrasil, and the prophecy of Ragnarök is fulfilled.
A Perspective On Fear
Now, why did it come about? Was it fated to be so, or did it happen because Óðinn - in trying to stop it - made it happen? Imagine for a moment that Óðinn never sought out the seeress, and never asked that fateful question. Fenrir and Jörmungandr may have grown up in Ásgarð, among their kin. Ásgarð, as an open land, would have seen traffic between Æsir, Vanir and Jötnar. Wars may have happened here and there, but in a natural order, rather than a cataclysmic final conflict. In time, yes, Ásgarð would fall and pass, as all things must. Nothing can last forever.
But such is not what happened, because the Ragnarök as told makes for the lesson. All that passes, and how it’s read, doesn’t mean it is to be taken literally. Óðinn si not so great a fool, the Walls of Ásgarð separate the realms of gods from the realms of men and the dead, and events do not unfold to spell doom for all of creation. The lesson to be learned is that all things pass, and forestalling or trying to prevent it will only lead to greater disaster.
The Cycle of the Year
The Ragnarök also describes what happens every year, both naturally and psychologically. In addition to things naturally dying, and the need to let things die, wisdom is devoured by rage. Strength is outdone by itself. The moon is devoured every month, and the sun progressively through the year as the night grows longer. Every year, the gods die, and every new year, they return again - just as the Earth herself dies and is reborn.
People have stopped thinking in cycles, thanks to Christianity, which is why the Ragnarök is viewed as the "end of the world.". We have this line, and at the end is Jesus' coming; salvation for his people, and destruction for everyone else. Only the world didn't think like that prior to Revelation. There was no "end of the world" - or such a view was rare. There was an end to the cycle that was also the beginning of the cycle. And Ragnarök is this, and more.
So how does one go about applying these lessons to daily life? In a number of ways, actually. The recurring theme throughout is that all things must end. Be it through death, entropy, stagnation, or a splitting of ideals and mindsets.
”No thing shall last. And there are things that shall never change. For everything remains as it never was.” ~Eluveitie, "Otherworld" (Everything Remains As It Never Was - 2010)
An example that comes to mind, of which I personally tried to advise, was a friend of mine who was reaching the end of his relationship with his girlfriend. Things were not going well; he was incredibly unhappy, but for some reason he tried to keep it going. Like Óðinn, trying to maintain Ásgarð, my friend knew the end but hoped to prevent it. And as he did, the relationship soured until it ended not civilly, but in disaster and anger.
When something is reaching the end, it is far better to allow it to. To let go, and let it pass peacefully. Our pets, our relationships, the clunker truck that we pour money into so that it can keep going mile after mile. Sometimes - often - this is easier said than done. Sometimes, in the case of relationships for example, it’s good to keep working at them. (Certainly don’t end relationships over small bumps or trials; nothing good comes easy. But if it’s clear that the relationship has gone sour, it’s better to end it sooner rather than later.) And also from the lesson of Ragnarök, we can know that when one thing ends, another begins.
And so ends this blog.
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