The End, Always Near: Ragnarok

ragnarok is near

According to “ancient Viking prophecy” Ragnarok, the final battle of the Norse Gods at the end of the world, is scheduled for Saturday. I have not been able to discover via the Innertubes how the precise date was determined, but it conveniently coincides with the weekend on which the Jorvik Viking Festival is held in the city of York in merry old England. The Jorvik site has a handy countdown clock.

In North America, the oscillations of the polar vortex, writhing like the Migard serpent Jormungand, have riled up the snow giants or maybe Jim Cantore and the Weather Gang, and visited upon us the “mighty winter,” the Fimbulvetr, which, according to the aforesaid “ancient Viking prophecy” precedes Ragnarok. The 13th century Icelandic bard Snorri Sturluson, in his Edda, records a sybil’s prophetic doggerel regarding the events of that winter:

an axe-age, a sword-age,
shields will be cloven,
a wind-age, a wolf-age,
before the world’s ruin.

In old Norse mythology, the Fimbulvetr lasts for years. The winter of 2014 only feels like it has lasted a wolf-age, to the thin-skinned. I’ve enjoyed the lovely cold weather. Police riot shields have indeed been battered if not cloven in twain in this winter of discontent (Can the sons of York make glorious summer out of that?).  After all the cold war, Snorri says, a giant wolf swallows the sun. And we’re off to Ragnarok. In the finale of the final battle, this Fenrisúlfr, the Fenris Wolf, also swallows Odin, the Norse All-Father. One of Odin’s sons kills the wolf. Everyone kills everyone else. The ruins smoke. The End.

The Norse conception of time is cyclic, so the end is also the beginning; a new world, or rather worlds–the Norse mytho-cosmos had nine–arise from the wreck of the old. This is pertinent, because in these latter days of our industrial civilization, people are grasping at apocalypses, hoping the end is near, rather than face the dreary prospect of an extended decline and fall, the present artifactual world crumbling away on a long bumpy arc of depletion and collapse. But the truth is that world has already ended, and we are already living in the ruins; poet Randall Jarrell was only a little bit prescient when he wrote, “America is full of ruins, the ruins of hopes.” We are living in the ruins of hopes.

The science fiction writer R.A. Lafferty a couple of decades ago wrote of “an almost impenetrable amnesia that obstructs the examination of the actual catastrophe.” Lafferty thought that we’d “been carrying on about near-future or far-future destructions” and that our mindset did not allow us “to realize that the destruction of our world has already happened in the quite recent past, that today is ‘The Day After The World Ended’.” He continues:

I am speaking literally about a real happening, the end of the world in which we lived till fairly recent years.  The destruction or unstructuring of that world, which is still sometimes referred to as ‘Western Civilization’ or ‘Modern Civilization’, happened suddenly.  That world, which was ‘The World’ for a few centuries, is gone.  Though it ended quite recently, the amnesia concerning its ending is general.  Several historiographers have given the opinion that these amnesias are features common to all ‘ends of worlds’.  Nobody now remembers our late world very clearly, and nobody will ever remember it clearly in the natural order of things.  It can’t be recollected because recollection is one of the things it took with it when it went…

The longing for the End is always with us. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus “said:” πυρ ηλθον βαλειν εις την γην και τι θελω ει ηδη ανηφθη … “I came to throw fire on the earth, and how I wish it was already kindled.” That dark hope kindles in every human heart at some point. Indulge it. Crank Ride of the Valkeries to 11. Götterdämmerung is coming, just in time for the weekend. This doom isn’t for Rapture-ready Christians, this doom’s for you. Lift your drinking horns overflowing with mead and toast the Fenris Wolf as he lunges at the sun. And after the Ragnarok countdown runs down to zero, pour yourself another round. Skål!

The End is near, folks. It’s right behind you. The Beginning is nigh.


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