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Final destiny of the gods

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Final destiny of the gods

Post by CJWatso on December 18th 2008, 6:47 pm

The Old Norse word "ragnarök" is a compound of two words. The first part is ragna, which is the genitive plural of regin ("gods" or "ruling powers"), from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic term *ragenō. The second part is rök, which has several meanings, such as "development, origin, cause, relation, fate, end". The traditional interpretation is that prior to the merging of /ǫ/ and /ø/ (ca. 1200) the word was rǫk, derived from Proto-Germanic *rakō.[5] The word ragnarök as a whole is then usually interpreted as something like "final destiny of the gods."[2] In 2007, Haraldur Bernharðsson demonstrated that the original form of the second word in the compound is røk, leading to a Proto-Germanic reconstruction of *rekwa and opening up other semantic possibilities.[6]

In stanza 39 of the Poetic Edda poem Lokasenna, and in Snorri's Prose Edda, the form ragnarök(k)r appears, rök(k)r meaning "twilight". It has often been suggested that this indicates a misunderstanding or a learned reinterpretation of the original form ragnarök.[5] Haraldur Bernharðsson argues instead that the words ragnarök and ragnarökkr are closely related, etymologically and semantically, and suggests a meaning of "renewal of the divine powers".[7]

Other terms used to refer to the events surrounding Ragnarök in the Poetic Edda include aldar rök ("end of the world") from stanza 39 of Vafþrúðnismál, tíva rök from stanzas 38 and 42 of Vafþrúðnismál, þá er regin deyja ("when the gods die") from Vafþrúðnismál stanza 47, unz um rjúfask regin ("when the gods will be destroyed") from Vafþrúðnismál stanza 52, Lokasenna stanza 41, and Sigrdrífumál stanza 19, aldar rof ("destruction of the world") from Helgakviða Hundingsbana II stanza 41, regin þrjóta ("end of the gods") from Hyndluljóð stanza 42, and, in the Prose Edda, þá er Muspellz-synir herja ("when the sons of Muspell move into battle") can be found in chapters 18 and 36 of Gylfaginning.[2]

[edit] Völuspá
"Then the Awful Fight Began" (1908) by George Wright.
"Odin and Fenriswolf, Freyr and Surt" (1905) by Emil Doepler.
"Thor and the Midgardserpent" (1905) by Emil Doepler.
"Battle of the Doomed Gods" (1882) by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine.
"The twilight of the gods" (1920) by Willy Pogany.

In the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá, references to Ragnarök begin from stanza 40 until 58, after which the aftermath of the events are described for the rest of the poem. In the poem, a völva recites information to Odin. In stanza 44, the Völva says:

Old Norse:

Fylliz fiǫrvi
feigra manna,
rýðr ragna siǫt
rauðom dreyra.
Svǫrt verða sólskin
of sumor eptir,
veðr ǫll válynd

Vitoð ér enn, eða hvat?[8]



English:

It sates itself on the life-blood
of fated men,
paints red the powers' homes
with crimson gore.
Black become the sun's beams
in the summers that follow,
weathers all treacherous.

Do you still seek to know? And what?[8]

The völva then describes three roosters crowing: In stanza 42, the jötunn herdsman Eggthér sits on a mound and cheerfully plays his harp while the crimson rooster Fjalar (Old Norse "hider, deceiver"[9]) crows in the forest Galgvid. The golden rooster Gullinkambi crows to the Æsir in Valhalla, and the third, unnamed soot-red rooster crows in the halls of the underworld location of Hel in stanza 43.[10]

After these stanzas, the völva further relates that the hound Garmr produces deep howls in front of the cave of Gnipahellir. Garmr's bindings break and he runs free. The völva describes the state of humanity:


Brœðr muno beriaz
ok at bǫnom verða[z]
muno systrungar
sifiom spilla.
Hart er í heimi,
hórdómr mikill
—skeggǫld, skálmǫld
—skildir ro klofnir—
vindǫld, vargǫld—
áðr verǫld steypiz.
Mun engi maðr
ǫðrom þyrma.[11]



Brothers will fight
and kill each other,
sisters' children
will defile kinship.
It is harsh in the world,
whoredom rife
—an axe age, a sword age
—shields are riven—
a wind age, a wolf age—
before the world goes headlong.
No man will have
mercy on another.[11]



The "sons of Mím" are described as being "at play", though this reference is not further explained in surviving sources.[12] Heimdall holds the Gjallarhorn into the air and blows deeply into it, and Odin converses with Mím's head. The world tree Yggdrasil shudders and groans. The jötunn Hrym comes from the east, his shield before him. The Midgard serpent Jörmungandr furiously writhes, causing waves to crash. "The eagle shrieks, pale-beaked he tears the corpse", and the ship Naglfar breaks free and sets sail from the east, which Loki steers. The fire jötnar inhabitants of Muspelheim come forth.[13]

The völva continues that Jötunheimr, the land of the jötnar, is aroar, and that the Æsir are in council. The dwarves groan by their stone doors.[11] Surtr advances from the south, his bright sword shining. Rocky cliffs open and the jötnar women sink.[14] People walk the road to Hel and heavens split apart.

The gods then do battle with the invaders: Odin dies fighting the wolf, causing his wife Frigg her second great sorrow (the first being the death of her son, the god Baldr).[15] The god Freyr fights Surtr. Odin's son Víðarr avenges his father by stabbing Fenrir in the heart, killing the wolf. The serpent Jörmungandr opens its gaping maw, yawning widely in the air, and is met in combat by Thor. Thor, also a son of Odin and described here as protector of the earth, furiously fights the serpent, defeating it, but Thor is only able to take nine steps afterward before collapsing. After this, people flee their homes, and the sun becomes black while the earth sinks into the sea, the stars vanish, steam rises, and flames touch the heavens.[16]

The völva sees the earth reappearing from the water, and an eagle over a waterfall hunting fish on a mountain. The surviving Æsir meet together at the field of Iðavöllr. They discuss Jörmungandr, great events of the past, and the runic alphabet. In stanza 61, in the grass, they find the golden game pieces that the gods are described as having once happily enjoyed playing games with long ago (attested earlier in the same poem). The reemerged fields grow without needing to be sowed. The gods Höðr and Baldr return from Hel and live happily together.[17]

The völva says that the god Hœnir chooses wooden slips for the purpose of prophecy, and that the sons of two brothers will widely inhabit the windy world. She sees a hall thatched with gold in Gimlé, where nobility will live and spend their lives pleasurably.[17] Stanzas 65, found in the Hauksbók version of the poem, refers to a "powerful, mighty one" that "rules over everything" and who will arrive from above at the court of the gods (Old Norse regindómr),[18] which has been interpreted as a Christian reference added to the poem.[19] In stanza 66, the völva ends her account with a description of the dragon Níðhöggr, corpses in his jaws, flying through the air. The völva then "sinks down."[20] It is unclear if stanza 66 indicates that the völva is referring to the present time or if this is an element of the post-Ragnarök world.[21]

[edit] Vafþrúðnismál
An illustration of Víðarr stabbing Fenrir while holding his jaws apart (1908) by W. G. Collingwood, inspired by the Gosforth Cross.
"Fenrir and Odin" (1895) by Lorenz Frølich.

The Vanir god Njörðr is mentioned in relation to Ragnarök in stanza 39 of the poem Vafþrúðnismál. In the poem, Odin, disguised as "Gagnráðr" faces off with the wise jötunn Vafþrúðnir in a battle of wits. Vafþrúðnismál references Njörðr's status as a hostage during the earlier Æsir-Vanir War, and that he will "come back home among the wise Vanir" at "the doom of men".[22]

In stanza 44, Odin poses the question to Vafþrúðnir as to who of mankind will survive the "famous" Fimbulvetr ("Mighty Winter"[23]). Vafþrúðnir responds in stanza 45 that those survivors will be Líf and Lífþrasir, and that they will hide in the forest of Hoddmímis holt, that they will consume the morning dew, and will produce generations of offspring. In stanza 46, Odin asks what sun will come into the sky after Fenrir has consumed the sun that exists. Vafþrúðnir responds that Sól will bear a daughter before Fenrir assails her, and that after Ragnarök this daughter will continue her mother's path.[24]

In stanza 51, Vafþrúðnir states that, after Surtr's flames have been sated, Odin's sons Víðarr and Váli will live in the temples of the gods, and that Thor's sons Móði and Magni will possess the hammer Mjolnir. In stanza 52, the disguised Odin asks the jötunn about Odin's own fate. Vafþrúðnir responds that "the wolf" will consume Odin, and that Víðarr will avenge him by sundering its cold jaws in battle. Odin ends the duel with one final question: what did Odin say to his son before preparing his funeral pyre? With this, Vafþrúðnir realizes that he is dealing with none other than Odin, whom he refers to as "the wisest of beings," adding that Odin alone could know this, and that he is doomed.[25] Odin's message has been interpreted as a promise of resurrection to Baldr after Ragnarök.[26]

[edit] Helgakviða Hundingsbana II

Ragnarök is briefly referenced in stanza 40 of the poem Helgakviða Hundingsbana II. Here, the valkyrie Sigrún's unnamed maid is passing the deceased hero Helgi Hundingsbane's burial mound. Helgi is there with a retinue of men, surprising the maid. The maid asks if she is witnessing a delusion since she sees dead men riding, or if Ragnarök has occurred. In stanza 41, Helgi responds that it is neither.[27]

[edit] Prose Edda

Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda quotes heavily from Völuspá and elaborates extensively in prose on the information there, though some of this information conflicts with that provided in Völuspá.

[edit] Gylfaginning chapters 26 and 34
Loki breaks free at the onset of Ragnarök, illustration by Ernst H. Walther (1897).

In the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, various references are made to Ragnarök. Ragnarök is first mentioned in chapter 26, where the throned figure of High, king of the hall, tells Gangleri (King Gylfi in disguise) some basic information about the goddess Iðunn, including that her apples will keep the gods young until Ragnarök.[28]

In chapter 34, High describes the binding of the wolf Fenrir by the gods, causing the god Týr to lose his right hand, and that Fenrir remains there until Ragnarök. Gangleri asks High that, as the gods could only expect destruction from Fenrir, why the gods didn't simply kill Fenrir once he was bound. High responds that "the gods hold their sacred places and sanctuaries in such respect that they chose not to defile them with the wolf's blood, even though the prophecies foretold that he would be the death of Odin."[29]

As a consequence of his role in the death of the god Baldr, Loki (described as father of Fenrir) is bound on top of three stones with the internal organs of his son Narfi (which are turned into iron) in three places. There, venom drops onto his face periodically from a snake placed by the jötunn Skaði, and when his wife Sigyn empties the bucket she is using to collect the dripping venom, the pain he experiences causes convulsions, resulting in earthquakes. Loki is further described as being bound this way until the onset of Ragnarök.[30]

[edit] Gylfaginning chapter 51

Chapter 51 provides a detailed account of Ragnarök interspersed with various quotes from Völuspá, while chapters 52 and 53 describe the aftermath of these events. In Chapter 51, High states the first sign of Ragnarök will be Fimbulvetr, during which time three winters will arrive without a summer, and the sun will be useless. High details that, prior to these winters, three earlier winters will have occurred, marked with great battles throughout the world. During this time, greed will cause brothers to kill brothers, and fathers and sons will suffer from the collapse of kinship bonds. High then quotes stanza 45 of Völuspá. Next, High describes that the wolf will first swallow the sun, and then his brother the moon, and mankind will consider the occurrence as a great disaster resulting in much ruin. The stars will disappear. The earth and mountains will shake so violently that the trees will come loose from the soil, the mountains will topple, and all restraints will break, causing Fenrir to break free from his bonds.[31]

High relates that the great serpent Jörmungandr, also described as a child of Loki in the same source, will breach land as the sea violently swells onto it. The ship Naglfar, described in the Prose Edda as being made from the human nails of the dead, is released from its mooring, and sets sail on the surging sea, steered by a jötunn named Hrym. At the same time, Fenrir, eyes and nostrils spraying flames, charges forward with his mouth wide open, his upper jaw reaching to the heavens, his lower jaw touching the earth. At Fenrir's side, Jörmungandr sprays venom throughout the air and the sea.[32]

During all of this, the sky splits into two. From the split, the "sons of Muspell" ride forth. Surtr rides first, surrounded by flames, his sword brighter than the sun. High says that "Muspell's sons" will ride across Bifröst, described in Gylfaginning as a rainbow bridge, and that the bridge will then break. The sons of Muspell (and their shining battle troop) advance to the field of Vígríðr, described as an expanse that reaches "a hundred leagues in each direction", where Fenrir, Jörmungandr, Loki (followed by "Hel's own"), and Hrym (accompanied by all frost jötnar) join them. While this occurs, Heimdallr stands and blows the Gjallarhorn with all his might. The gods awaken at the sound, and they meet. Odin rides to Mímir's Well in search of counsel from Mímir. Yggdrasil shakes, and everything, everywhere fears.[32]
Asgard burning, illustration by Emil Doepler (ca. 1905)

High relates that the Æsir and the Einherjar dress for war and head to the field. Odin, wearing a gold helmet and an intricate coat of mail, carries his spear Gungnir and rides before them. Odin advances against Fenrir, while Thor moves at his side, though Thor is unable to assist Odin because he has engaged Jörmungandr in combat. According to High, Freyr fiercely fights with Surtr, but Freyr falls because he lacks the sword he once gave to his messenger, Skirnir. The hound Garmr (described here as the "worst of monsters") breaks free from his binds in front of Gnipahellir, and fights the god Týr, resulting in both of their deaths.[33]
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Re: Final destiny of the gods

Post by CJWatso on December 18th 2008, 6:48 pm

Thor kills Jörmungandr, yet is poisoned by the serpent, and manages to walk nine steps before falling to the earth dead. Fenrir swallows Odin, killing Odin, though immediately afterward Odin's son Víðarr kicks his foot into Fenrir's lower jaw, grips Fenrir's upper jaw, and rips apart Fenrir's mouth, killing Fenrir. Loki fights Heimdallr, and the two kill one another. Surtr covers the earth in fire, causing the entire world to burn. High quotes stanzas 46 to 47 of Völuspá, and additionally stanza 18 of Vafþrúðnismál (the latter relating information about the battlefield Vígríðr).[34]

[edit] Gylfaginning chapters 52 and 53
A depiction of Líf and Lífthrasir (1895) by Lorenz Frølich.

At the beginning of chapter 52, Gangleri asks "what will be after heaven and earth and the whole world are burned? All the gods will be dead, together with the Einherjar and the whole of mankind. Didn't you say earlier that each person will live in some world throughout all ages?"[35]

The figure of Third, seated on the highest throne in the hall, responds that there will be many good places to live, but also many bad ones. Third states that the best place to be is Gimlé in the heavens, where a place exists called Okolnir that houses a hall called Brimir — where one can find plenty to drink. Third describes a hall made of red gold located in Niðafjöll called Sindri, where "good and virtous men will live."[35] Third further relates an unnamed hall in Náströnd, the beaches of the dead, that he describes as a large repugnant hall facing north that is built from the spines of snakes, and resembles "a house with walls woven from branches"; the heads of the snakes face the inside of the house and spew so much venom that rivers of it flow throughout the hall, in which those that break oaths and murderers must wade. Third here quotes Völuspá stanzas 38 to 39, with the insertion of original prose stating that the worst place of all to be is in Hvergelmir, followed by a quote from Völuspá to highlight that the dragon Níðhöggr harasses the corpses of the dead there.[36]

Chapter 53 begins with Gangleri asking if any of the gods will survive, and if there will be anything left of the earth or the sky. High responds that the earth will appear once more from the sea, beautiful and green, where self-sown crops grow. The field Iðavöllr exists where Asgard once was, and, there, untouched by Surtr's flames, Víðarr and Váli reside. Now possessing their father's hammer Mjolnir, Thor's sons Móði and Magni will meet them there, and, coming from Hel, Baldr and Höðr also arrive. Together, they all sit together and recount memories, later finding the gold game pieces the Æsir once owned. Völuspá stanza 51 is then quoted.[37]
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Re: Final destiny of the gods

Post by CJWatso on December 18th 2008, 7:01 pm

Song: Fate of the Gods by Steven Reineke
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