Thursday, September 29, 2016

What Ragnarok means

So . . . I've written a lot about this in the past 24 hours and hopefully some of that will eventually be fit for public consumption, especially the bit where I was basically doing a play by play of Ragnarok in Snarky Twilight form.

But the core of all of this disorganized tangent-following writing has been about what Ragnarok actually is.  It is not the old Norse term for "the end of the world/universe", it isn't another religion's version of "apocalypse", it's not quite "Judgment Day", and it only meets one of the definitions of eschatology.

To understand how different Ragnarok is from, say, the Christian end times popularized by Hollywood, hucksters, and (occasionally) theologians, consider that it starts thus:

Freedom Rings Throughout The Lands
Then the gods say, "Oh shit!"

You see, the gods have been around a very long time.  In fact, if they stay away from deadly things and have an apple a day they're effectively immortal.  Some of them predate the creation of the universe having instead showed up in the pre-universe state and then made it into a universe through the cunning use of dead guy parts.

Since they're flawed beings, they've been around long enough for those flaws to accumulate.  A lot.  Also, one wonders a bit if them being way more powerful than humans and having way longer lifespans than humans might be part of a package deal where the flaws are also larger than human.

Then again, maybe it's a question of leadership.  Some gods are, after all, good exemplars.  We might ponder if perhaps strange women lying in ponds distributing swords hanging from a tree for nine days is no basis for a system of government.

Doesn't matter.  Ragnarok is about the rulers of the universe.  The powers that be.  The people in charge.  As in, the word that's the "Ragna" part of Ragnarok is a word that can also mean ruler instead of the other options for saying "god" (there were at least two others that could have been used.)

And here's why this all matters:

There's basically no check on Odin et alia.  There was no check on Loki until the gods broke even more of their oaths, Odin's in particular, to . . . let's just say bind and torture Loki for centuries and skip over the brutal murder and violation of bodily autonomy and free will of two innocents that was used to do it.

When we get to that point Loki and his brood have been punished, even the ones who were blameless, the matters between the Aesir and the Vanir have been long since settled, and the only group of wrongdoers who have eternally escaped the consequences of their actions are the Aesir themselves.

Now it's very important we're clear here.  Ragnarok is not justice.  It's consequences.

There is no blameless completely just individual or group with the power to hold the gods to account and mete out justice.  There are only consequences.

The rulers of the Aesir have escaped consequences for the entire history of the universe and Ragnarok is when that stops.

"Rok" isn't twilight, that's "rokr" which results in some confusion and some poeticism.  Rok is destiny and/or fate.  Rok is when all of the things that they'e done come back at them, often with a vengeance, and they finally have to reap the strange harvest they've sown.

A lot of these people are pissed off, some of them have been tortured.  They're generally after vengeance, not justice, and the resulting clash is apocalyptic in nature and it does end the world and the gods do experience their twilight, dusk, darkest night, and a select few even make it to the dawning of a new age.

But all of that is collateral damage.  What Ragnarok is is when it comes to pass that EVERYONE even the most powerful, even the Ragna, have to face the consequences of their actions.

You ordered the loyal puppy (who apparently bore no grudge about the fact you'd kidnapped him) tied up in magic rope and left to die?  Congratulations: you're going to get eaten by a giant wolf.  And guess what, the "left to die" thing didn't work (not that you were expecting it to) because of the kindness of strangers protecting him from starvation and dehydration and natural hardiness protecting him from death by exposure, meaning that the wolf that eats you?  Totally the puppy you mistreated.

What's that you say?  You're the All Father?  Don't give a shit.  Into the wolf's maw with you.  Maybe you should have pet the dog instead of kicked it.  Oh well, too late now, time for you to die great All Father.

And so forth.

Wanna know why Baldr lives?

He totally could have been in the grudge match battle because the dead (of which he was one) were freed in the pre-battle "Olly olly oxen free" and some of them even followed Loki into the battle, so he wasn't protected because he was dead at the time.  No, he lives because he doesn't have anyone he wants vengeance on and no one wants vengeance on him.  That's the destiny he's set up for himself.

Ragnarok is when all of the stuff (notably the bad shit) the gods did wraps back around on them and they finally have to deal with the consequences of what they've done.  Even they can't escape destiny because actions have consequences.  For everyone.  No matter how powerful.


And this is of interest beyond just the Norse case because we can look at other religions (real and fictitious) and be like, "Someone needs to pull a Ragnarok."  Consider God as portrayed in the best selling yet completely horrible novels Left Behind; someone needs to Ragnarok his ass.

Not apocalypse --he's doing that himself.  Not end of the world.  Not any of a thousand other end times things.  Ragnarok.  Because Ragnarok is the fate/destiny/thing of the rulers of the universe and the rulers of that universe have set up a truly damning fate for themselves and yet they never have to face it.

That's not fair and it's no fun.  You know what would be fun?  If Hell's Pride Battalion stormed Heaven looking fabulous and being fierce while unicorns farted rainbows at Turbo-Jesus.  A lot of people are unjustly damned in Left Behind so let freedom ring, grab some popcorn, make sure it's filmed in color, and have a Ragnarok.


  1. This is very interesting.

    So, it's less "Twilight of the Gods", and more "The Gods Get What's Coming To Them"?

    1. I think I actually used the "The gods get what's coming to them" description at one point.

  2. I always found it intriguing that it's the big, aggressive males who are killed. If you read the Eddas carefully, it's clear both that the calmer goddesses survive and pass on to the next world... as do the sons and daughters of some of the gods. Also, at the very beginning of the stories where Odin makes the deceased volva he's summoned tell him the future, she specifically notes this particular Ragnarok he asks of will be the third such cycle of life, death, and rebirth of the worlds.

    Norse mythology is wonderfully mind-bending sometimes! :)

  3. And of course, the thing that sets the whole mess in motion is Odin telling Loki to do something about that horse so the Aesir can get out of paying for that wall they wanted built.

    Oh geeze,is that a metaphor for the Republican presidential candidate this election?

    1. He certainly behaves like a horse's ass, if that's what you're implying? :)

    2. I was thinking more of the "Build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it," actually.

    3. OMGs, I now have horribly-appropriate visions of Marvel!Odin (the DickFather?) but, like, with more Trumpian hair, yelling at people that they're fired. (Like Thiazi? *rimshot*)

    4. He's building a wall, a thousand feet tall!
      Don't worry cause the Jotuns will pay for it all

      Adapted from the story that starts off funny and then gets really, really depressing.