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!