The Optimism of Ragnarok

Like many apocalyptic tales in myth, the norse tale of Ragnarok, the end of all things, seems quite bleak from the outset. And like many apocalyptic tales in myth, the truth is much more optimistic.

Firstly, Ragnarok is foreshadowed in many of the other tales of norse mythology, from the beginning to the end. The tale that gives the origin of the world references Ragnarok, the tale of Loki’s children as well, and others. Every time, Ragnarok is referenced by name and as the end of all things.

What happens when we reach the end of the book and must learn the tale of Ragnarok? It is not the end of all things. (per se). Yes, it is the end of all things in the way that we understand them (or rather the norse). The sun is eaten by Fenrir the giant wolf, all the gods die in a great war against Loki, his children, and the frost giants, and so on. Except not quite. A few gods remain and think of the old times, the sun’s daughter replaces the sun, and at least two humans survived to repopulate humanity.

The interesting sidenote is that the tale of Ragnarok we have today sounds oddly similar to the christian book of revelations, of the four horsemen heralding the apocalypse, of a great war between good and evil taking place at a specific field, and so on. Additionally, the norse ending of two humans surviving in the Worldtree and surviving off its fruit as they repopulate the world, the rest of which is barren, is oddly similar to the tale of Genesis. Given that Norse mythos was largely an oral tradition for many many years before being written down by christian scholars, it seems reasonable to assume the tales have been tainted, and perhaps this one particularly so.

Regardless, like Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman where the tale of revelations, the end of all things, end with the beginning of the world to come, the tale of Ragnarok (the version I read being prepared in english by Neil Gaiman) also is the so called end of all things and is also about the world to come afterwards.

Tales of the apocalypse often seem scary, and dark, and bleak but if we care bear the depths of sorrow there is often an underlying optimism to be found. The story never end in death, and it ends not in rebirth either. The story takes a cyclical route through death and rebirth, much like the cycle of samsara or other theories of reincarnation. Find the hope.