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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


World Tree

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The meaning of tree symbolism differs significantly among world mythologies and religions, but one of the most commonly found motifs is that of the World Tree.

With important variants found in Mesoamerican mythic art, the World Tree in Indo-European lore is said to be located at the center of the cosmos. The tree’s roots dig deep into the earth while its branches point to the heavens.

David Leeming notes that the idea of the world tree is often linked to that of the world navel.

For the Tartars, a giant pine tree grows out of the navel of the earth and reaches to the home of the supreme ruler in heaven.¹

Depth psychologists like C. G. Jung say the World Tree is a mythic symbol that connects us to the psycho-spiritual powers of the underworld, the earth and heaven.

But this notion of the holistic World Tree should not overlook the idea that real psychological transformation is not always easy nor without challenges.

Peter Butcher notes that new paradigms, as larger ways of understanding, are often born of intense personal crises. The holistic vision of the World Tree is an admirable ideal and worthwhile goal for some, but others are not so fortunate and seem to be utterly ruined by their inner adventures.

People who have experienced expanded states of consciousness often encounter a period of inner chaos or disorientation. This has been described as a Death, the Dark Night, a Fall into Formlessness, Being Swallowed by a Monster, Entering Hell or the Void, and so on.²

One of several versions of the painting "...

One of several versions of the painting “The Scream”. The National Gallery, Oslo, Norway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Butcher says it’s essential for the seeker to “integrate a new way of seeing with old interpretations or constructs.”³ In Jungian terms, the psyche must achieve a new balance between unusual inner experiences and the practical demands of the outside world. And after a period of possibly alarming disorganization, the self must successfully reorganize into a greater whole.4

The notion of the world tree also has links to occult, Runic and Tarot lore because the most important world tree, Yggdrasill, is where the Norse god Odin hung himself upside down for nine days and nights in search of the secret of immortality.

Odin’s self-imposed ordeal is reflected in the Tarot mystery card of “The Hanged Man.” And it has also found its way into commentaries on Kabbalic mysticism.

¹David Leeming, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 404.

² Peter Butcher, “Art Images Associated with States of Expanded Consciousness: A Study of the Individual Case,” Leonardo, Vol. 16, No. 3, Special Issue: Psychology and the Arts (Summer, 1983: 222-224), p. 222.

³ Ibid., p. 223.

4 But the issue is complicated. Take, for instance, the brilliant artists Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch. Both feared losing their grip on “reality” at various times in their lives. Both spent time in psychiatric clinics. And yet both gave so much to the world. So to say that it’s best to achieve “wholeness and peace” according to the Jungian schema seems a bit pat. If these artists didn’t suffer their respective bouts of alienation, they probably wouldn’t have left such a wonderful legacy.

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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.

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