Virtually every western religion or mythos has an
end of the world story, an episode in which all the evil of the world comes
against all the good, and man and god alike often suffer and even die.
Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all have an end of the world story, and a
story of restoration afterwards. Greek mythology and Roman mythology both
also contained end of the world stories. The world's end does not set Ragnarok, the Norse
version of the world's final days, apart from other belief systems but the
dark language of this event in this Norse legend, the same tone taken in
many of the Norse myths, along with the way in which the world does end, are
among several factors that do tend to make Norse mythology appear much more
pessimistic than its counterparts.
Norse myths are known for the dark tone of voice,
and the constant pointing towards Ragnarok and the destruction of the world.
H.A. Guerber, in Myths of the Northern Lands, comments on the unique aspects
of Norse mythology by saying: "The most distinctive traits of the Northern
mythology are a peculiar grim humor which is found in the religion of no
other race, and a dark thread of tragedy which runs through the whole" (5).
In this paper I will study the theology of the Norse, and attempt to help
shed light on what exactly gives their religion the darker and more
pessimistic reputation it holds. One strategy to bring a stronger sense of
understanding to Norse mythology is to understand the culture it comes from
and compare it to a more familiar belief system. In the Book of Genesis,
there is one God who simply speaks the world into existence. There is a
void, and God's mere words fill it, and build it. Man is made from the sand,
and woman is made from the rib of man, but with no negative consequences to
that man. The Norse explanation of how the world came to be, by contrast, is
filled with violence, blood shed, and the beginning of a war that will last
through all of time until the final confrontation at Ragnarok...
For centuries, they have been stereotyped as marauding barbarians arriving in their helmeted hordes to pillage their way across Britain. But now a group of academics believe they have uncovered new evidence that the Vikings were more cultured settlers who offered a "good historical model" of immigrant assimilation.The evidence is set to be unveiled at a three-day Cambridge University conference starting today, when more than 20 studies will reveal how the Vikings shared technology, swapped ideas and often lived side-by-side in relative harmony with their Anglo-Saxon and Celtic contemporaries. Some may have come, plundered and left, but those Vikings whodecided to settle rather than return to Scandinavia learnt the language, inter-married, converted to Christianity and even had "praise poetry" written about them by the Brits, according to the experts.The conference, entitled "Between the Islands", draws on new archeological evidence, historical studies and analysis of the language and literature of the period, and shows that between the 9th and 13th centuries, the Vikings became an integral part of the fabric of social and political life that changed Britain and Ireland far more profoundly than previously realised.
The academics hope it will tip the balance still further in the "raiders or traders" question.
Scholars will argue that
they should be seen as an early example of immigrants who were
successfully assimilated into British and Irish culture.Their
so-called "invasion" led, to some extent, to the creation of
trans-national identities, a process that has particular relevance to
Dr Fiona Edmonds, of Cambridge University's department
of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, said: "The latest evidence does not
point to a simple opposition between Vikings and natives.
"Within a relatively short
space of time – and with lasting effect – the various cultures in
Britain and Ireland started to intermingle. Investigating that process
provides us with a historical model of how political groups can be
absorbed into complex societies, contributing much to those societies
in the process. There are important lessons that can be gained from
this about cultural assimilation in the modern era."
Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, who
is co-organising theconference......
In Norse mythology, Ragnarok ( "fate of the gods") is the battle at the end of the world. It will be waged between the gods (the Aesir, led by Odin) and the evils (the fire giants, the Jotuns and various monsters, led by Loki). Not only will the gods, giants, and monsters perish in this apocalyptic conflagration, but almost everything in the universe will be torn asunder.In the Viking warrior societies, dying in battles was a fate to admire, and this was carried over into the worship of a pantheon in which the gods themselves were not everlasting, but would one day be overthrown, atRagnarok.Exactly what would happen, who would fight whom, and the fates of the participants in this battle were well known to the Norse peoples from their own sagas and skaldic poetry.
The Voluspa (Prophesy of the Völva (shaman)), the first lay of the Poetic (or Elder) Edda, dating from about 1000 AD, spans the history of the gods, from the beginning of time to Ragnarok, in 65 stanzas.
(or Younger) Edda, written two centuries later by Snorri Sturluson,
describes in detail what would take place before, during, and even
after the battle.
What is unique about
Ragnarok as an armageddon tale is that the gods already know through
prophesy what is going to happen: when the event will occur, who will
be slain by whom, and so forth. They even realize that they are
powerless to prevent Ragnarok. But they will still bravely and
defiantlyface their bleak destiny.
Ragnarok will be preceded
by the Fimbulwinter, the winter of winters. Three such winters will
follow each other with no summer in between. As a result, conflicts and
feuds will break out, and all morality will disappear.
The wolf Skoll and his
brother Hati will finally devour Sol and her brother Mani respectively,
after a perpetual chase. The stars will vanish from the sky, plunging
the earth into darkness.
The earth will shudder, so
violently that trees will be uprooted, and mountains will fall, and
every bond and fetter will snap and sever, freeing Loki and his son
Fenrir. This terrible wolf's slavering mouth will gape wide open, so
wide that his lower jaw scrapes against the ground and his upper jaw
presses against the sky. He will gape evenmore......
The Valkyries had often inspired poets
as women-warriors. Their name means, "Chooser of the Slain", and were often
called battle-maidens, shield-maidens, swan-maidens, wish-maidens and
mead-maidens. As these names suggest, they had various functions. Their main
duty was to select the slain warriors, who had fallen in battle or other combat,
such as quest or killing dragon, etc.
These slain warriors were known as the Einherjar (Einheriar), and were chosen to fight alongside with the Aesir gods at
Ragnarok. The Einherjar waited for Ragnarok, in Odin's hall, called Valhalla.
They were sometimes called "Swan-maiden", because they wore garments made of
swan feathers that allowed them to fly, carrying off the slain warriors to the
hall called Valhalla. Their other duties included serving mead or ales in
drinking-horns or mugs to the Einherjar in Valhalla. Three Valkyries appeared in the Volsunga
Saga. Sigrun ("victory-rune") married the hero Helgi, the son of Sigmund. The
other two Valkyries were Brynhild ("bright battle") and Gudrun ("battle-rune"),
and these two were associated with the hero Sigurd, another son of Sigmund.
Gudrun had also been associated with Helgi in other sources, as the hero's first
wife.Brynhild was the most famous of all the Valkyries. In the Volsunga Saga,
Odin punished Brynhild, for assigning the wrong king to die in battle. Odin
condemned her to marry a mortal. Brynhild vowed that she would only marry the
bravest of warriors, so she slept in the Ring of Fire, until the bravest hero
could ride through the flame. Sigurd had rode through the flame, twice. The
second time, she was duped into marrying Gunnar, the brother of Gudrun, while
her hero married Gudrun. In the end she caused Sigurd's death. Brynhild overcome
with grief, died in Sigurd's funeral pyre. See Volsunga Saga for the whole tale
about Brynhild. Brynhild goes by a different name in the one of the poems of
Poetic Edda. In Sigrdrifumal ("Lay of Sigrdrifa"), Brynhild was known as
Sigrdrifa ("victory-urger"), where she taught the hero runic magic...