The Symbolism behind Ragnarok

Photo by Mauru00edcio Mascaro on

I think Ragnarok gets compared to the Christian concept of Armageddon, and that’s a mistake. You see, threats of end times and promises of salvation are very much Abrahamic concepts and, quite frankly, are designed to make it easier to rule over a people and are opposite of what the Heathen worldview is. We don’t need salvation because we are empowered to save ourselves and therefore we aren’t afraid of the end of the world because we understand how the world works. We’ll get more into the cyclical nature of time in just a minute. 

You have to remember that there are more ways to interpret Norse mythology than direct translations, and the tendency to only look at one possible meaning is more of that Christian baggage that’s better left out of Heathenry. Is this to say that the Gods aren’t real and are only archetypes and metaphors? No, I’m just saying that they’re all of the above and we shouldn’t limit our understanding of our mythology to just one method of interpretation because once you open yourself up to different ways of interpreting mythology you start building layer after layer of meaning in our lore and learn unlimited ways to apply it to your life.

So, let’s take a look at the events in Ragnarok and the symbolism behind them and see how we can relate them to life in general and/or our lives individually – but first I think it’s important to first explain how our ancestors more than likely viewed time, based off of what they could observe right in front of them: nature. If we pay attention to the world around us it’s not hard to see the cyclical nature in how the world works: each day the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and each day has a birth and a death. Just as each day begins and ends with the sun, the moon also presents itself in cycles – not only does the moon travel across the sky every night, but as it does it also waxes and wanes. Beginning with the new moon, the moon appears larger each night until it becomes full – this is known as the waxing cycle. From the full moon until the following new moon, it appears to get smaller each time it treks across our night sky – this is known as the waning cycle. The completion of both of these cycles marks one month. 

If we take another step back, we can see that the days get longer and longer at the first part of the year until the summer Solstice and then the days begin to get shorter and shorter as we get closer to the winter solstice. Once again we see a cycle as the year passes, marked by birth, death, and then rebirth. Now, let’s take another step back and look at an even bigger picture: a picture so big that none of us can actually observe it in our lifetimes, but can be observed by studying the earth itself. Just as the days give way to night and each month gives way to the year, each marked by birth, death, and rebirth, we can see the same cycle happening over a much larger span of time. From the warming and cooling of the earth, melting and freezing of the ice caps over hundreds of years, to the rise and fall of great civilizations dating back to 800 BCE and even further, each century gives way to a millennia, and each age is marked once again by birth, death, and rebirth. 

Our ancestors knew this as they lived closer to nature, not ruling over it but living as a part of it, therefore, our ancestors’ concept of time was one of constant cycles of creation, death, and rebirth. I say all of this to make one point: the thought of Ragnarok being the complete and total destruction of the earth and everything on it is very much influenced by our Christian worldview as this concept is conflated with Armageddon. Ragnarok symbolizes the cycle of creation, destruction, and rebirth on a cosmic scale – not the end of all things to come.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s look at the events of Ragnarok one by one and talk about what I think they can mean to us. Remember – my videos are my thoughts and opinions alone and don’t represent the opinions of anyone else.The sources for this portion of the video come from “The Heathen Handbook” by Woden’s Folk kindred, ‘Voluspa’ in the “Poetic Edda”, and the “Prose Edda” by Snorri Sturleson. Again, I’m simply giving you my own interpretation of the information within these sources, so feel free to agree or disagree.

The first notable event within the myth of Ragnarok is the death of Baldur, influenced by Loki. Between the Poetic Edda and Snorri Sturleson’s account in the Prose Edda, you’ll find some differences in how it played out but, regardless of which one you read, Loki influenced Hodr to kill his brother Baldur. Loki then was banished by the Gods, tied to a rock and had venom from a serpent dripped on him. To me, this represents the moral decay that begins in society and usually begins with the breakdown of the family. In nearly every civilization, the decline of the moral fiber that holds that civilization together begins with the dissolution of the sacred bond of the family. When family is no longer revered as sacred, fathers stop raising their children and become ever increasingly absent in their children’s lives, mothers give their children up to strangers, and both are usually done to clear room for selfish ventures such as drugs, alcohol or the feeling of freedom they feel entitled to. When the heads of the family put their own wants over the needs of their children, the sanctity of the family is fractured and is usually followed by family betrayal, brothers killing brothers, mothers killing children and whatnot. Once family is no longer deemed as sacred then nothing is sacred, and the idea of “always looking out for number one” becomes a virus that infects communities and paves the way for further moral decay. This is, in my opinion, why the veneration of Loki is so unhealthy for a community. Loki is the embodiment of selfishness, decay, and brotherly betrayal, and these things should be shunned from our communities instead of uplifted, but Loki worship is a topic for another episode.

The next notable event in Ragnarok is said to be a three year winter. It’s important to bear in mind that at the time when our ancestors were telling these stories, originally by ‘word of mouth’ before they were written with ink on paper, they were primarily an agricultural society. Winter time in the north was a harsh period when no prosperity was to be had, everyone had to just hunker down and hope they saved enough food to last them until spring. I think a three year winter with no summer in-between could be symbolism for an extended period of time of economic collapse such as what we see in third-world, socialist countries such as Venezuela – or possibly may even be a warning of a global pandemic. The reason this symbolism is notable to me is because when studying the rise and fall of great civilizations, you can see a trend of economic collapse and extended hardships being a catalyst for what comes next.

According to our lore, the next event of Ragnarok is the release of the enemies of the Gods and mankind. When economic collapse is coupled with moral decay, a culture is created where people must do whatever is necessary to stay alive – and this usually means rioting, looting, and even violent uprisings. A nation’s only response to complete destabilization is always to preserve order by force: curfews, martial law, police brutality, complete state control. Once a civilization has reached this point, the enemies of the Gods and the enemies of man are already well at work. The wolf has swallowed the sun and the moon, the wisest of us are forced to battle with their own greedy nature and, without the bindings, even the wisest fall victim to their ‘Fenris Wolf’ and those who swore to protect us are poisoned by the venom of destruction. Good, honest police departments are overrun by corruption and can no longer defend their communities, and what follows is all-out war. The death of law and order in even the greatest of civilizations, traditions of peacetime are all but lost and there is nothing left but uncertainty and little hope for any sort of future. Sounds pretty grim, right? Not so fast – the story continues with Vidar avenging the death of Odin by slaying Fenrir and then, with the corrupt and greed all gone, there is room for rebirth.

Two humans sheltered by the roots of Yggdrasil emerge, and Baldur is reborn. Yggdrasil, the world tree, is a symbol of all that is good in life. So long as two people remain close to Yggdrasil, they can bring sanctity back to the family and recreate tribes with a culture that reinforces and strengthens the family and strong families, rooted in tradition and sanctity, create stronger tribes and the birth of a new golden age is on it’s way. In this story, we are those who must remain close to Yggdrasil and let her roots shelter us and hold our traditions and families sacred and bring them into the new age.

While Ragnarok can be seen as the end of a civilization, like the examples I just gave, we can also see Ragnarok on a much smaller scale. Just like the sun and moon play their respective parts in the year, and they also have their role in each day, Ragnarok also has its role in the great cosmic scheme of the universe, but the symbolism of Ragnarok can also be seen in the daily workings of our individual lives. Just like the sun, the moon, and the universe, our lives are also governed by cycles of ups and downs and in-betweens. In the story of how Odin wins the ‘Mead of Inspiration’, Odin transforms himself into a snake to bore deep into the mountain, he then seduces the giantess and then transforms himself into an eagle to fly back to Asgard with the mead. If we can see these events in our lives, we have the power to become the snake, get inside of our own lives, transform ourselves, and win the ‘Mead of Inspiration’ in our own lives and rise above any obstacle just so long as we keep carrying our ways forward into the dawn of the new golden age.

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