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Ragnarok – Old Norse for “Fate of the Gods”

English: Title page of a manuscript of the Pro...

Title page of a manuscript of the Prose Edda, showing Odin, Heimdallr, Sleipnir and other figures from Norse mythology (Photo: Wikipedia)

In Scandinavian myth, Ragnarok is a terrible final battle in which the gods are destroyed, along with most of creation and mankind.

According to the story, Ragnarok is preceded by lawlessness and anarchy. There are only two survivors of the cosmic catastrophe : The descendants of Lif and Lifthrasir.

The tale comes to us from two main sources.

  • The 13C Poetic Edda (a compilation of earlier traditional sources)
  • The 13C Prose Edda by historian, writer and statesman Snorri Sturluson (which makes frequent reference to the Poetic Edda)

The mythographer Stuart Gordon notes similarities among the idea of Ragnorok, the Book of Revelation by St. John, the Hindu yugas, and Plato‘s account of Atlantis.

The story is by no means some lost fable. Marvel comics has reimagined the Ragnarok cycle in The Mighty Thor¹ and other Thor comics. Several blockbuster films have also merged Thor with other more contemporary heroes like Captain America and The Avengers.

I always find it ironic when some Europeans claim that we have a dearth of culture in North America. These backward folks pride themselves on their crumbling old buildings and statues, turning a blind eye to what’s happening in arts and culture today.

The Ragnarok myth continues… very much alive for those with eyes to see.² And with weapons of mass destruction becoming increasingly sophisticated in the 21st century, this myth is even more relevant now than in the past.

German publication about WW-I.

¹ The Mighty Thor

² Two days after writing this I became aware of a new Thor: Ragnarok film slated for release November 2017.

Related » Aesir, Apocalypse, AsgardBible , Fenris, Loki, Thor, Vanir


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Freyja – Afterlife goddess still alive today

English: The goddess Freia stands under a tree...

The goddess Freia stands under a tree of apples with her cats by her feet. Note that Wagner’s Freia merges the Norse goddesses Freyja and Iðunn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Norse mythology, Freyja is the goddess of love, sex, fertility, wealth, war and the afterlife, roughly parallel to the Greek Aphrodite. Young women consult her on matters of love. She and her brother, the fertility god Frey, are the offspring of Niord, god of the sea.

Half of all warriors slain in battle enter her heavenly hall, Fólkvangr. The other half go to Odin’s great hall at Valhalla. Wikipedia tells us

Freyja is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; in the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, the two latter written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century; in several Sagas of Icelanders; in the short story Sörla þáttr; in the poetry of skalds; and into the modern age in Scandinavian folklore, as well as the name for Friday in many Germanic languages.¹

Freyja is an old goddess, historically speaking, often equated with Frigga, the wife of Odin. However, some scholars suggest that Frigga and Freyja are two different versions of the same Germanic pagan deity.

The following image shows how Freyja, far from being some distant mythic memory, continues to inform the mythological and artistic imagination of many Northern Europeans.

The statue of Freyja on the Djurgårdsbron bridge in Stockholm (Sweden) in the late evening.


Related » Vanir


Odin The Unknowable

English: The Norse god Odin on his horse Sleip...

The Norse god Odin on his horse Sleipnir, featured on the Tjängvide image stone in Vallhalla. It also can depict a killed warrior on his way to Vallhalla greeted by Valkyries with horn goblet in their hands. Français : Le dieu Odin représenté sur la pierre de Tjängvide. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Odin (also called Woden by Anglo-Saxon pagans) is the supreme Norse God who, according to most accounts, anticipates the German Wotan.

As head of the Nordic pantheon called the Aesir, Odin has many faces. He is the wise giver of laws, the author of mystical poetry, a fierce, even frenzied war god and the protector of heroes. He is also a shaman, magician and shapeshifter.

Like the Greek Zeus, Odin is an unfaithful husband. His wife Frigga tolerates his numerous affairs with goddesses and human women.

An 1886 depiction of the indigenous Norse God ...

An 1886 depiction of the indigenous Norse God Odin by Georg von Rosen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Odin is popularized in the Tarot deck as the god who hangs himself from the World Tree (Ydgrassil) for nine days and nights to gain the esoteric wisdom of the runes—that is, the secret of immortality. This has been compared to Christ hanging on the cross but, some think, spuriously so.

The ambient music artist Giles Reaves released a track called “Odin (The Unknowable)” in his 1986 album Wunjo.

Since this entry initially appeared, Wikipedia has blossomed. So I add the following. I could rewrite in my own words. But that seems a waste of time when it’s already clear:

Odin is a prominently mentioned god throughout the recorded history of the Germanic peoples, from the Roman occupation of regions of Germania through the tribal expansions of the Migration Period and the Viking Age. In the modern period, Odin continued to be acknowledged in the rural folklore of Germanic Europe. References to Odin appear in place names throughout regions historically inhabited by the ancient Germanic peoples, and the day of the week Wednesday bears his name in many Germanic languages, including English.¹

R. Ellis Davidson’s Gods and Myths of Northern Europe seems to give more individualized treatment to Odin, Woden and Wotan than what we see at Wikipedia. I’m not sure if this or the Wikipedia view is more accurate. Probably an issue open to debate as the actual beliefs about this figure likely differed among peoples in that time (something Davidson mentions) and also, differed from recorded accounts (from which we have to do detective work to try to figure out what really happened).

Related » Achilles, Balder, Fenris, Freya, Hero, Thor


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An illustration of the blind Höðr killing Bald...

An illustration of the blind Höðr killing Baldr, from an Icelandic 18th century manuscript. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also known as Baldur or Baldr in Norse mythology, Balder was a noble, gentle and yet powerful god. Much loved by all, he was son of Odin and Frigg.

Reminiscent of Achilles, Balder was invulnerable to harm, except by the mistletoe. He was mistakenly killed by the blind god Hodur, who’d been duped by the trickster Loki into piercing him with a dart crafted from mistletoe.

The ensuing weeping among the Aesir immortals over the death of Balder lead some to liken him to the Norse version of Christ.

The roots of the his name are somewhat unclear. Wikipedia has a good discussion here:

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Fenrir, bound by the gods.

Fenrir, bound by the gods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Norse mythology the Fenris is a giant, evil wolf born of Loki and the giantess Angrboda. All the Norse gods fear him, and with good reason.

The Fenris wreaks cosmic ruin, devouring the sun and killing Odin at the great battle at the end of the world, Ragnarok.

The Fenris is finally destroyed by Odin’s giant son Vidar.

Related Posts » Reincarnation

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Bele, Gorshin's other famous television role, ...

Star Trek: The Original Series episode Let That Be Your Last Battlefield © 1969 Paramount Pictures, produced by Gene Roddenberry. Click on photo for fair use rationale via Wikipedia

In Norse myth Loki is the son of two giants and confounded the gods with various tricks until, after bringing about the death of Balder, was fastened to a rock. On the day of Ragnarok Loki will break free and lead the giants into a terrible war against the gods.

The American scholar Bergen Evans sees Loki as an evil god in Norse myth with parallels to the Old Testament Satan as depicted in the Book of Job. Others see Loki more as a trickster and as a reversibly transsexual shapeshifter.

Loki (or Lokai) is also a TV character in the original 1969 Star Trek episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” a classic episode dealing with the inanity of racism. Loki is a non-human who’s half white and half black. Meanwhile, another non-human character, Bele, is also half white and half black but in the reverse symmetry to Loki,

Like Lokai, Bele is half black and half white, with the color divided by a line through the exact center of his face. However, the sides of Bele’s black and white skin are reversed from those of Lokai, a difference which seems inconsequential to the Enterprise crew but of great importance to Bele, Lokai, and, apparently, their civilization. The difference is pointed out by Bele to a perplexed Captain Kirk who asks what is the difference between them, to which he replies, “Isn’t it obvious? Lokai is white on the right side. All his people are white on the right side.”¹

As mentioned in other Think Free entires, part of Star Trek’s popularity arguably rests on its liberal use, reinterpretation and reimagining of mythological characters and their names. Possibly this elicits a kind of numinous resonance within viewers, perhaps even if they don’t consciously know about the mythology in question. As C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell suggest, mythic ideas and sounds may resonate within the viewer’s subconscious or unconscious mind.

¹ See

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Captioned as "The little spring of mistle...

Captioned as "The little spring of mistletoe pierced the heart of Balder". Illustrating the death of Baldr. Published in 1908, via Wikipedia

The Mistletoe is a shrub that’s traditionally been charged with symbolic import, and it still has cultural significance today.

Robert Graves says that in European pagan times Mistletoe was taken to be the oak tree’s genitals. The Druids ritually chopped it with a gold-colored sickle, which was a kind of “symbolic emasculation.”†

In addition, the juice of the berries was understood as the tree’s sperm, having “great regenerative virtue.” So in pre-Christian Europe mistletoe was associated with the spark and spice of life.

In cultures across pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality), possibly due to a resemblance between the berries and semen.‡

In ancient Roman mythology, Aeneas is prompted by Sibyl to journey to the underworld. On his journey he carries mistletoe, which enables his safe return to the everyday world. And Graves believes that a “‘certain herb’ that raised Claucus from the tomb” was probably mistletoe.†

The Mistletoe is also important to pagan Norse myth. Provoked by the conniving Loki, Hodur kills the beloved Aesir god, Baldur, with a spear made of mistletoe.

Today, Christmas revelers continue to feel obliged kiss under the mistletoe, this curious custom possibly having its roots in Scandanavia (others associate the practice further back to the ancient Roman Saturnalia festival).

Search Think Free » Balder, Diana

† Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Combined edition, London: Penguin, 1992, p. 176.

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