What is Ragnarok, anyway? (And should I be worried?)

Various media sources are reporting that today, February 22, 2014, is supposed to be the date of Ragnarok, “the Viking end of the world”.

Ragnarok is actually a series of events, foretold in Norse mythology. Sometimes it’s referred to as “the death of all gods”, or “the twilight of the gods”, “the end of the age”, or more prosaically, “when the sons of Muspell move into battle”. So what is supposed to happen?

There are various versions of Norse mythology. The two main ones you will find references are the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda. They have different authors, and one is in verse, and the other prose.  They have some differences, but there are some significant commonalities, so let me lay out for you what the end of the world might involve, in Norse terms.

First, there will be a terrible winter, the Fimbulwinter. Some say this is so bad it will go for three years, with no summer in between. (If my personal experiences this winter are anything to go by, then, yep, Ragnarok is right on track.) Many great battles will occur during this winter, brothers will kill brothers, and so on.

Roosters crow, horns are blown, and the original hellhound Garmr will break free of Hel. Then there are earthquakes – although the reason for these is attributed to either Yggdrasil, the world tree writhing, or Jormungandr the world serpent, causing trouble.  The earthquakes loose the bonds of Fenrir the wolf, who eats the sun. Surtr the jotunn (giant) advances.

Somewhere in here the sons of Muspell, who are fire giants, come forth from Muspelheim, and start to do bad things.

The gods fight the troublemakers. It’s a montage of Norse gods meeting bad ends: Odin gets eaten by Fenrir. Thor kills Jormungandr then collapses, killed by the serpent’s poison. Freyr is killed by Surtr. Loki fights the Aesir Heimdallr and they kill each other.

People flee, the sky turns black, the earth is covered by water, the stars vanish.

Will everybody die? Here’s the good news: nope. Some clever humans go hide in a forest, and survive to repopulate the world. The sun had a daughter before she got eaten by Fenrir, and the world will be renewed and fertile in the light of the new sun.

So, will the world end this weekend? Probably not. The reason you keep reading about Ragnarok is that the organizers of the Jorvik Viking Festival in the UK have decided it is likely to coincide with their festival. In other words, it’s a PR stunt. I suspect the Jorvik Viking Festival is a lot of fun though, so if you happen to be in the area, go for it. (They have published a list of tips for surviving Ragnarok, which may also come in handy…just in case.)

As for me, I’ll go back to working on the book I am very close to finishing. It features a fallen Norse god who runs a paranormal detective agency in San Francisco, a hippie heiress who’s inherited a haunted mansion in Silicon Valley…and some children of Loki who are up to very bad things. Could bringing about Ragnarok be on their to-do list? Stay tuned!




Medieval Peasants R US

I live on a small horse farm. We have a hundred year old Amish built barn, which is put together with wooden pegs instead of nails. The house has walls that are more than a foot thick. There is a general sense of the quaint and rustic, which will come in handy if I ever choose to write a swords-and-horses fantasy.

This winter it’s become a little too realistic.

With the polar vortex in January, all our barn and field pipes froze, and we commenced carting water to our animals by hand twice a day. We made jokes about Medieval Peasant Industries, Inc. These were funny for the first week. Last week, we got more than two feet of snow…and the house pipes went out, too. We have extended our peasantry to carting water to our house, and boiling it on the stove when I want to wash my hair or do the dishes.

The other thing I learned this winter is that while our chickens are cute and friendly and I love their eggs, they are slightly less intelligent than a bag of blunted hammers. They free-range on the farm, but when it snows, they can’t find their way back to the coop. Looks different, I guess.

On the day of our first snow, the chickens got lost. I went to the coop at dusk and it was empty. A long search turned them up at the very top of the hill, roosting on a fence. Here commenced another form of rural exercise, which I call ChickenFit: catch a chicken, carry it down an icy snow-covered mountain to the coop, stuff it in, climb back to the top of the mountain. Perform sixteen  repetitions, or stop when you collapse of exhaustion. I wonder if I could charge people to participate in our organic all-natural exercise regime. We could make a fortune!

I have now decided any swords-and-horses fantasy novels I write will have to include magical never-fail plumbing. And chickens with homing navigation.