Ragnarok is the cataclysmic destruction of the cosmos and everything in it – even the gods. When Norse mythology is considered as a chronological set of tales, the story of Ragnarok naturally comes at the very end. For the Vikings, the myth of Ragnarok was a prophecy of what was to come at some unspecified and unknown time in the future, but it had profound ramifications for how the Vikings understood the world in their own time. We’ll explore some of those ramifications below.
The word “Ragnarok” comes from Old Norse Ragnarök, “Fate of the Gods.” In an apparent play on words, some pieces of Old Norse literature also refer to it as Ragnarøkkr, “Twilight of the Gods.” The event was also occasionally referred to as aldar rök, “fate of mankind,” and a host of other names.
Without further ado, here’s the tale itself:
The Fate of the Gods
Someday – whenever the Norns, those inscrutable spinners of fate, decree it – there shall come a Great Winter (Old Norse fimbulvetr, sometimes Anglicized as “Fimbulwinter”) unlike any other the world has yet seen. The biting winds will blow snows from all directions, and the warmth of the sun will fail, plunging the earth into unprecedented cold. This winter shall last for the length of three normal winters, with no summers in between. Mankind will become so desperate for food and other necessities of life that all laws and morals will fall away, leaving only the bare struggle for survival. It will be an age of swords and axes; brother will slay brother, father will slay son, and son will slay father.
The wolves Skoll and Hati, who have hunted the sun and the moon through the skies since the beginning of time, will at last catch their prey. The stars, too, will disappear, leaving nothing but a black void in the heavens. Yggdrasil, the great tree that holds the cosmos together, will tremble, and all the trees and even the mountains will fall to the ground. The chain that has been holding back the monstrous wolf Fenrir will snap, and the beast will run free. Jormungand, the mighty serpent who dwells at the bottom of the ocean and encircles the land, will rise from the depths, spilling the seas over all the earth as he makes landfall.
These convulsions will shake the ship Naglfar (“Nail Ship”) free from its moorings. This ship, which is made from the fingernails and toenails of dead men and women, will sail easily over the flooded earth. Its crew will be an army of giants, the forces of chaos and destruction. And its captain will be none other than Loki, the traitor to the gods, who will have broken free of the chains in which the gods have bound him.
Fenrir, with fire blazing from his eyes and nostrils, will run across the earth, with his lower jaw on the ground and his upper jaw against the top of the sky, devouring everything in his path. Jormungand will spit his venom over all the world, poisoning land, water, and air alike.
The dome of the sky will be split, and from the crack shall emerge the fire-giants from Muspelheim. Their leader shall be Surt, with a flaming sword brighter than the sun in his hand. As they march across Bifrost, the rainbow bridge to Asgard, the home of the gods, the bridge will break and fall behind them. An ominous horn blast will ring out; this will be Heimdall, the divine sentry, blowing the Gjallarhorn to announce the arrival of the moment the gods have feared. Odin will anxiously consult the head of Mimir, the wisest of all beings, for counsel.
The gods will decide to go to battle, even though they know what the prophecies have foretold concerning the outcome of this clash. They will arm themselves and meet their enemies on a battlefield called Vigrid (Old Norse Vígríðr, “Plain Where Battle Surges”).
Odin will fight Fenrir, and by his side will be the einherjar, the host of his chosen human warriors whom he has kept in Valhalla for just this moment. Odin and the champions of men will fight more valiantly than anyone has ever fought before. But it will not be enough. Fenrir will swallow Odin and his men. Then one of Odin’s sons, Vidar, burning with rage, will charge the beast to avenge his father. On one of his feet will be the shoe that has been crafted for this very purpose; it has been made from all the scraps of leather that human shoemakers have ever discarded, and with it Vidar will hold open the monster’s mouth. Then he will stab his sword through the wolf’s throat, killing him.
Another wolf, Garm, and the god Tyr will slay each other. Heimdall and Loki will do the same, putting a final end to the trickster’s treachery, but costing the gods one of their best in the process. The god Freyr and the giant Surt will also be the end of each other. Thor and Jormungand, those age-old foes, will both finally have their chance to kill the other. Thor will succeed in felling the great snake with the blows of his hammer. But the serpent will have covered him in so much venom that he will not be able to stand for much longer; he will take nine paces before falling dead himself and adding his blood to the already-saturated soil of Vigrid.
Then the remains of the world will sink into the sea, and there will be nothing left but the void. Creation and all that has occurred since will be completely undone, as if it had never happened.
Some say that that is the end of the tale – and of all tales, for that matter. But others hold that a new world, green and beautiful, will arise out of the waters. Vidar and a few other gods – Vali, Baldur, Hodr, and Thor’s sons Modi and Magni – will survive the downfall of the old world, and will live joyously in the new one. A man and a woman, Lif and Lifthrasir (Old Norse Líf and Lífþrasir, “Life” and “Striving after Life”), will have hidden themselves from the cataclysm in a place called the “Wood of Hoddmimir” (Hoddmímis holt), and will now come out and populate the lush land in which they will find themselves. A new sun, the daughter of the previous one, will rise in the sky. And all of this will be presided over by a new, almighty ruler.
The Meaning of Ragnarok for the Vikings
As the above implies, two versions of the myth of Ragnarok seem to be present in the Norse sources. In one of them, Ragnarok is the final end of the cosmos, and no rebirth follows it. In the other, there is a rebirth. What are we to make of this conflict?
In my book The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion, I argue that the version in which no rebirth occurs is the older, more purely pagan view, and the rebirth story is an addition that developed only late in the Viking Age under Christian influence. Ragnarok had been reinterpreted to describe the religious transformation the Viking world was undergoing, in which the old gods were indeed dying, but were also being replaced with something else. A relatively short article such as this isn’t the place to present this argument and the evidence for it as I do in the book, so if you want to see my reasoning, read the book. Half a chapter is devoted to this topic. But here’s the gist: the rebirth addition comes only from three late sources, one of which was dependent on the other two, while all previous mentions of Ragnarok speak only of the destruction, and never of any kind of rebirth.
What would such a belief have meant for the Norse?
Imagine that you’re a Viking. You live in a world that you know will one day be obliterated. The very gods themselves will perish with it. Nothing of value will be spared – not even the memory of anything that ever had value. How does such a world look to you in the present moment, given that the seeds of that final destruction have already been sown, and the world is careening inexorably toward that final decisive moment? Would this not cast a dark hue of tragedy, senselessness, and futility over the world and everything that occurs within it? Indeed, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this was how the Vikings saw the world on one level.
Yet Ragnarok also carried another meaning for them, one which complemented yet altered this tragic view of life.
In addition to being a prophecy about the future that revealed much about the underlying nature of the world along the way, the myth of Ragnarok also served as a paradigmatic model for human action. For the Vikings, the tale didn’t produce hopelessness as much as inspiration and invigoration. Just as the gods will one day die, so too will each individual human being. And just as the gods will go out and face their fate with dignity, honor, and courage, so too can humans. In this view, the inevitability of death and misfortune should not paralyze us, but should instead spur us to hold noble attitudes and do noble deeds – the kind worthy of being recounted by bards many generations after we ourselves are gone.
Looking for more great information on Norse mythology and religion? While this site provides the ultimate online introduction to the topic, my book The Viking Spirit provides the ultimate introduction to Norse mythology and religion period. I’ve also written a popular list of The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books, which you’ll probably find helpful in your pursuit.
 Turville-Petre, E.O.G. 1964. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. p. 280.
 Simek, Rudolf. 1993. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. p. 226.
 Ibid. p. 361.
 Ibid. p. 189.
 This retelling is based on three sources: Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda (Gylfaginning, chapters 51-53) and the poems Völuspá and Vafþrúðnismál in the Poetic Edda.
Mimir, Old Norse Mímir, in Norse mythology, the wisest of the gods of the tribe Aesir; he was also believed to be a water spirit.What is Ragnarok in Norse mythology? ›
In Scandinavian mythology, Ragnarök is a series of events and catastrophes that will ultimately lead to the end of the world. Ragnarök culminates in a final battle between the gods and the demons and giants, ending in the death of the gods.Did any god survive Ragnarok? ›
Hoenir, Magni, Modi, Njord, Vidar, Vali, and the daughter of Sol are all stated to survive Ragnarok. All of the remaining Æsir then reunite at Ithavllir. Baldr and Hod return from the underworld - Baldr having been killed by Hod, and Hod by Vali, before Ragnarok.
In Norse mythology, Lif and Lifthrasir (also spelled Life and Leifthrasir) were two people designated to be the sole human survivors after Ragnarok, the battle at the end of the world. In the battle of Ragnarok, all the gods were doomed to be destroyed, but the forces of evil would also be killed.What is Mimir's IQ? ›
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Odin. The supreme deity of Norse mythology and the greatest among the Norse gods was Odin, the Allfather of the Aesir. He was the awe-inspiring ruler of Asgard, and most revered immortal, who was on an unrelenting quest for knowledge with his two ravens, two wolves and the Valkyries.What powers do Ragnarok have? ›
|Notable aliases||Thor, Clor, Project Lightning|
|Abilities||Superhuman strength, speed, agility, stamina, durability, reflexes and longevity Master hand to hand combatant Immunity to all Earthly diseases Via high tech hammer: Flight Energy absorption and projection Lightning manipulation|
In Norse mythology, Ragnarök (/ˈræɡnəˌrɒk, ˈrɑːɡ-/ ( listen); Old Norse: Ragnarǫk) is a series of events, including a great battle, foretelling the death of numerous great figures (including the gods Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdallr, and Loki), natural disasters, and the submersion of the world in water.Who kills who in Ragnarok? ›
Loki and the god Heimdall kill each other, Freyr is killed by Surtr, Týr and Garmr wind up killing each other, and the gods Mani and Solveig are slain by Sköll and Hati. Surtr sets fire to the world with his sword and the Nine Realms fall in flames, ending the cycle of life that began with the gods' act of creation.Who kills Odin? ›
During this, Odin will ride to fight Fenrisúlfr. During the battle, Fenrisúlfr will eventually swallow Odin, killing him, and Odin's son Víðarr will move forward and kick one foot into the lower jaw of the wolf.
Loki and Heimdall are frequently implied to be enemies in Old Norse texts, there's even mention of the two turning into seals to fight each other. The rivalry comes to a head in Ragnarok when Heimdall kills Loki.What gods return after Ragnarok? ›
The returning gods will include Vithar, Odin's avenger, and Vali, Balder's avenger. Now Vithar and Vali will reunite at the former site of Asgard with Thor's sons Magni and Mothi, who will bear their father's hammer. Then Balder himself will emerge from Hel, together with his blind brother and accidental slayer, Hoth.Does any human win in Ragnarok? ›
Each side picks thirteen fighters, who will fight one-on-one fights to the death and the winning side is the one that gets seven victories first. If the Gods win the Ragnarok, Humanity's fate is sealed and it will be extinguished. However, if the Humans win, they will gain the right to live for another 1000 years.Who kills Thor in Ragnarok? ›
Who kills Thor at Ragnarok? Thor will fight the Midgard Serpent and kill it, but he will die of the poisonous wounds left behind by the Midgard Serpent. Freyr will be killed by the fire giant named Surtr. Finally, Surtr will set all the nine worlds on fire and everything sinks into the boiling sea.Do humans fight in Ragnarok? ›
The constitution of Valhalla specified that Ragnarok is a “one-on-one” battle between humans and their creator, which will decide their fate. 13 gods will fight against 13 humans, and whichever side achieves seven victories first will win. If humans win, they'll be granted another 1000 years of existence.Who took Mimir's eye? ›
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Mímir (Old Norse: [ˈmiːmez̠]) or Mim is a figure in Norse mythology, renowned for his knowledge and wisdom, who is beheaded during the Æsir–Vanir War. Afterward, the god Odin carries around Mímir's head and it recites secret knowledge and counsel to him.Did Odin take Mimir's eye? ›
But he wanted to know everything and gain wisdom and knowledge of things hidden from him. This was a desire that drove him to sacrifice himself. He sacrificed his eye in Mimir's well and he threw himself on his spear Gungnir in a kind of symbolic, ritual suicide.
- Apollo, god of artistic knowledge, music, education, and youth.
- Athena, Olympian goddess of wisdom, knowledge, civilization, weaving, and war strategy.
- Coeus, Titan of the inquisitive mind, his name meaning "query" or "questioning". ...
- Hermes, god of cunning and eloquence.
Hod, also spelled Höd, Hoder, or Hodur, in Norse mythology, is a blind god, associated with night and darkness. Hod was the son of the principal god, Odin, and his wife, Frigg. He was tricked by the evil fire god Loki into killing his brother Balder, who was the most beautiful and perfect of the gods.
Tyr, Odin's son, is the god of war and justice in Nordic mythology, belonging to the Aesir saga. He was a god considered the bravest of them, respected and revered by other gods, as well as loved by the Nordics.Who is the main God in Ragnarok? ›
The supreme deity of Norse mythology and the greatest among the Norse Gods was the Allfather Odin, King of the Æsir.What does Ragnarok stand for? ›
Rag·na·rok ˈrag-nə-ˌräk. -rək. : the final destruction of the world in the conflict between the Aesir and the powers of Hel led by Loki. called also Twilight of the Gods.Who is the demon from Ragnarok? ›
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For the Vikings, the myth of Ragnarok was a prophecy of what was to come at some unspecified and unknown time in the future, but it had profound ramifications for how the Vikings understood the world in their own time.What did Ragnarok destroy? ›
The Destruction of Asgard was the result of the Fire Demon Surtur being released by Loki in order to enact the doomsday prophecy known as Ragnarök, as it was the only way to kill Hela before she could lay waste across the Nine Realms and beyond.What killed Thor? ›
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In chapter 50 of Gylfaginning, to punish Loki for his crimes, the Æsir turn his son Váli into a wolf and he dismembers his brother, "Nari or Narfi", whose entrails are then used to bind their father.What wolf kills Odin? ›
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So, what exactly happens at the end of the game? Well, teaming up with various armies from around the Nine Realms, Kratos brings the fight to Odin's Asgard in the final act of God of War Ragnarök. Thor arrives and has a big bust-up with Kratos, only for Odin to ultimately kill Thor.What is the prophecy of Ragnarok? ›
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The ending of God of War Ragnarok concludes the end of the Norse saga in that yes, Ragnarok does in fact come, Asgard is destroyed and characters like Odin and Thor are dead, albeit not butchered by Kratos like the Greek pantheon were. Thor is killed by Odin for disobeying his orders.Who wins Zeus or Adam? ›
Adam and Zeus hit each other with everything they had, until Adam finally landed the definitive punch, sending Zeus to his knees. The god's final form dissipated, as his body was now an injured, shriveled husk. Zeus pronounced that the fight was over, as he had been defeated, but Adam had died standing on his feet.
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Odin has pretty clearly been shown to be demonstrable more powerful than the other gods. Odin's Odinforce has far outstripped anything Zeus's magical lightning bolts have ever done.Who can beat the Thor? ›
Cap is one of the few mortals able to not only lift Mjolnir but wield its full power, making him someone who can beat Thor. Assuming the reason for their battle is because Thor is possessed or tricked, Cap would be able to use Mjolnir against him.
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Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and returning gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors . Ragnarök is an important event in the Norse canon, and has been the subject of scholarly discourse and theory.Who eats the moon during Ragnarok? ›
Snorri also names a wolf named Mánagarmr ("Moon-Hound", or "Moon's Dog") as the most powerful of the giantess's progeny, and goes on to say that he will swallow the Moon and gorge on the dead. This is presumably an alternate name for Hati or Sköll that Snorri took from folklore.Who wins humans or gods Ragnarok? ›
In the first two fights, humans Lu Bu and Adam lose to the gods Thor and Zeus, respectively. But in the season 3 finale, the human champion Kojiro defeats Poseidon, finally giving humanity a win.Who is the most powerful in Norse mythology? ›
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The most well-known deity of the Nordic pantheon is Thor. He bore the all-powerful hammer Mjolnir and was revered as the god of thunder and civilization. He was the guardian of Asgard and Midgard as a warrior deity (the Earth). He was indeed a living embodiment of the Viking virtues of courage and power.
In Roman religion, the genius (Latin: [ˈɡɛnɪ. ʊs]; plural geniī) is the individual instance of a general divine nature that is present in every individual person, place, or thing. Much like a guardian angel, the genius would follow each man from the hour of his birth until the day he died.Who is the goddess of smartness? ›
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Hermod. Hermod may or may not have been a son of Odin. Known as the Messenger of the Gods, Hermod was the fastest of all Asgard.Who beat the Norse? ›
Finally, in 870 the Danes attacked the only remaining independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Wessex, whose forces were commanded by King Aethelred and his younger brother Alfred. At the battle of Ashdown in 871, Alfred routed the Viking army in a fiercely fought uphill assault.Are Norse or Greek gods stronger? ›
Comparing both mythologies, Greek gods appear stronger and possess more divine powers than their Norse counterparts. Also, the Greek gods are immortals while the Norse gods are mortal. Thus, the Greek deities of war will win this one.Who did the Vikings fear? ›
They were particularly nervous in the western sea lochs then known as the "Scottish fjords". The Vikings were also wary of the Gaels of Ireland and west Scotland and the inhabitants of the Hebrides.Are there any female Norse gods? ›
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Loki ('allure' or 'fire'; also known as Loder, Loke, Lokkju, Lopter and Lopti; German Loge), in Nordic myth, was both the oldest and the youngest of the gods.