Sunday, 22 July 2012

Ragnarok: the End-Time Flood and the Giant with the Flaming Sword

The Giant with the Flaming Sword (1909), by John Charles Dollman

There are some interesting parallels between the major themes of Norse eschatology with the sequence of end-time events that I attempt to outline in my book Unveiling the Apocalypse. As we have already discussed in greater depth in the post The Date of the End-Time - 2012 or 2087?, Catholic theology teaches that other cultures and religions outside the Faith can be capable of genuine prophecy. So it is possible that exploring the end-time prophecies of different belief systems can help to shed light on eschatological events from a different perspective. Given that the Norse epics were composed relatively late in comparison to the eschatological texts of the major world religions, most scholars feel that they were influenced to a large extent by Christian eschatology. Indeed many extant Christian artifacts scattered throughout Britain (such as Thorwald's Cross and Gosforth Cross) bear syncretistic imagery depicting elements of Norse end-time mythology combined with certain Christian beliefs.
Chapter 51 of the Gylfaginning, found in the Prose Edda, tells how the wolf Sköll (possibly a representation of the god Fenrir) along with his brother Hati, consumes the sun and moon at Ragnarok - much like the widespread belief found in eastern cultures that solar eclipses were caused by a dragon attempting to devour the sun. The Norse believed that the sun resided in a heavenly chariot, and was constantly being chased by Sköll, and that at the end-time after the period of Fimbulwinter - when there would be three years without a summer (which sounds a bit like Ireland now at the moment:), the wolf would finally catch up on the sun and devour it.
If this tale of wolves consuming the sun and moon at the end-time refers to solar and lunar eclipses, then it would be a remarkable parallel to the biblical accounts of the eschatological astronomical phenomena we have already looked at in some depth in the post Signs in the Sky. Other events depicted in the Prose Edda speak of stars disappearing, great earthquakes and the collapse of mountains, which again strongly echoes the events I sketch out in the book. Then we are told that the great serpent of Midgard, Jörmungandr will cause the sea to violently swell over the land, before a final battle between the gods destroys the earth in a great conflagration (compare this with the post Mega-tsunami). During this battle, it is foretold that Surtr, a giant with a flaming sword, will engage in combat with the god Freyr. And at the end of this conflict, the flames issuing from the flaming sword of Surtr eventually consume the earth before the creation of the new order.
It is interesting to note that many scholars (such as Bertha Phillpotts, "Surt" in Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi, volume 21, pp. 14 ff.) believe that Surtr was a volcano god, and at least one academic on Norse mythology (Andy Orchard in the Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend) theorises that the imagery of Surtr was based on the angel with a flaming sword depicted in the Book of Genesis. We have already noted the depth of the symbolism behind the cherubim of Genesis in the post The Third Secret of Fatima and the Angel with the Flaming Sword. So once again, we have the theme of the world being destroyed after a great deluge, which will be brought about by fire falling from the sky. The relevant text of the Prose Edda can be found below:

Yet first was the world in the southern region, which was named Múspell; it is light and hot; that region is glowing and burning, and impassable to such as are outlanders and have not their holdings there. He who sits there at the land's-end, to defend the land, is called Surtr; he brandishes a flaming
sword, and at the end of the world he shall go forth and harry, and overcome all the gods, and burn all the world with fire; thus is said in Völuspá:

Surtr fares from the south | with switch-eating flame,--
On his sword shimmers | the sun of the War-Gods;
The rock-crags crash; | the fiends are reeling;
Heroes tread Hel-way; | Heaven is cloven."
(Gylfaginning IV)

Then shall happen what seems great tidings: the Wolf shall swallow the sun; and this shall seem to men a great harm. Then the other wolf shall seize the moon, and he also shall work great ruin; the stars shall vanish from the heavens. Then shall come to pass these tidings also: all the earth shall tremble so, and the crags, that trees shall be torn up from the earth, and the crags fall to ruin; and all fetters and bonds shall be broken and rent. Then shall Fenris-Wolf get loose; then the sea shall gush forth upon the land, because the Midgard Serpent stirs in giant wrath and advances up onto the land. Then that too shall happen, that Naglfar shall be loosened, the ship which is so named. (It is made of dead men's nails; wherefore a warning is desirable, that if a man die with unshorn nails, that man adds much material to the ship Naglfar, which gods and men were fain to have finished late.) Yet in this sea-flood Naglfar shall float. Hrymr is the name of the giant who steers Naglfar. Fenris-Wolf shall advance with gaping mouth, and his lower jaw shall be against the earth, but the upper against heaven,--he would gape yet more if there were room for it; fires blaze from his eyes and nostrils. The Midgard Serpent shall blow venom so that he shall sprinkle all the air and water; and he is very terrible, and shall be on one side of the Wolf. In this din shall the heaven be cloven, and the Sons of Múspell ride thence: Surtr shall ride first, and both before him and after him burning fire; his sword is exceeding good: from it radiance shines brighter than from the sun; when they ride over Bifröst, then the bridge shall break, as has been told before...

...Odin rides first with the gold helmet and a fair birnie, and his spear, which is called Gungnir. He shall go forth against Fenris-Wolf, and Thor stands forward on his other side, and can be of no avail to him, because he shall have his hands full to fight against the Midgard Serpent. Freyr shall contend with Surtr, and a hard encounter shall there be between them before Freyr falls: it is to be his death that he lacks that good sword of his, which he gave to Skírnir. Then shall the dog Garmr be loosed, which is bound before Gnipa's Cave: he is the greatest monster; he shall do battle with Týr, and each become the other's slayer. Thor shall put to death the Midgard Serpent, and shall stride away nine paces from that spot; then shall he fall dead to the earth, because of the venom which the Snake has blown at him. The Wolf shall swallow Odin; that shall be his ending But straight thereafter shall Vídarr stride forth and set one foot upon the lower jaw of the Wolf: on that foot he has the shoe, materials for which have been gathering throughout all time. (They are the scraps of leather which men cut out: of their shoes at toe or heel; therefore he who desires in his heart to come to the Æsir's help should cast those scraps away.) With one hand he shall seize the Wolf's upper jaw and tear his gullet asunder; and that is the death of the Wolf. Loki shall have battle with Heimdallr, and each be the slayer of the other. Then straightway shall Surtr cast fire over the earth and burn all the world; so is said in Völuspá:

Hrymr sails from the east, | the sea floods onward;
The monstrous Beast | twists in mighty wrath;
The Snake beats the waves, | the Eagle is screaming;
The gold-neb tears corpses, | Naglfar is loosed.

From the east sails the keel; | come now Múspell's folk
Over the sea-waves, | and Loki steereth;
There are the warlocks | all with the Wolf,--
With them is the brother | of Býleistr faring.

Surtr fares from southward | with switch-eating flame;
On his sword shimmers | the sun of the war-gods;
The rocks are falling, | and fiends are reeling,
Heroes tread Hel-way, | heaven is cloven...

...Now goeth Hlödyn's | glorious son
Not in flight from the Serpent, | of fear unheeding;
All the earth's offspring | must empty the homesteads,
When furiously smiteth | Midgard's defender.

The sun shall be darkened, | earth sinks in the sea,--
Glide from the heaven | the glittering stars;
Smoke-reek rages | and reddening fire:
The high heat licks | against heaven itself.

(Gylfaginning LI, the full text can be found online here).

Many scholars (such as Hilda Ellis Davidson in her book Gods and Myths of Northern Europe) argue that this last part, telling of the "earth sinking into the sea" and flames and smoke billowing forth to reach the heavens, was inspired by a volcanic eruption witnessed on Iceland. So it is of some interest that this activity is associated with the flaming sword of Surtr, which eventually consumes the entire world.

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