I’ve been thinking about Ragnarok, lately; and no, I don’t mean the one involving Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo.
I’m talking about the original battle of Jotuns vs. Aesir vs. Vanir vs. Wolves and dragons free-for-all battle royale showdown, just for you on pay-per-view for the mild price of apocalyptic destruction.
It starts with the trickster Loki (who is kind of a dick) letting Holly, a sweet new object in the world that she should touch the best of dudes Baldr. Then Holly’s all like yo, I should totally do that. And Then this leaf touches Baldr, who is otherwise invincible, then he gets cartoon x’s in his eyes, plops dead, and shit sucks for everybody because Loki was sufficiently dickish enough to start the literal apocalypse for the lulz.
God I wish that really wasn’t the reason. It feels too close to home.
But anyway, because Loki is a fucking shit-whistle, the Jotun (frost giants…”yo-ton”) throw down with the gods (Aesir and Vanir) and basically *spoiler alert* everyone dies.
Really, that’s what happens. read about it here. Thor gets his ass wasted by Fafnir, Odin gets fucked with some spears. The Dwarves fight dragons and shit is more or less every power-metal album since the late 80’s
And when I first learned about this, I got fucking obsessed. To the point in my life where this mattered, I had never heard of god’s dying. I had never exposed myself to cultures that didn’t have a non-dualistic view of reality.
And then I read this frankly terrifying version of the apocalypse. Everyone battles everyone, basically for no reason, because they hate each other; and then everyone dies.
And that shit man, well, that’s scary.
I’ve lived with that terror for a long time too. It’s not like one day I was suddenly aware of the apocalypse. It was a slow creeping thing, that crawled up my spine and into my throat. One day I realized that things end. The world ends. And endings are fucking scary.
They make your throat seize up. They make you deny shit that’s right in front of you. They make things hard.
Especially when, at first glance, Ragnarok is more or less like every other destruction of the Universe myth out there.
It’s actually kind of funny, how people throw such bitch-fits these days about a lack of original materials in the world. Has there ever been an original fucking idea?
The concept of an apocalyptic event where the gods duke it out, or the universe is otherwise destroyed by the gods in some massive earth shattering force of destructive-y destructive-ness is hardly unique to Norse Mythology: in the Hindu Pantheon, one of Shiva’s most important functions is to end the universe at the end of the Kali (cough *iron* cough) yuga, and then, once destroyed, re-birth it.
It all ties back to the Phoenix: a creature defined by its horrible death by fire, and then subsequent rebirth.
And that’s a super important point: the apocalypse is never the end in these stories. The death has a purposeful function: to be reborn and to grow.
In fact, despite the generally krieg nature of ragnarok, it ends on a positive note: not all the gods died, like, two are still alive, and the world is reborn after being literally burned to cinder.
But no, that’s really valuable to me. To understand that earth shattering events serve a larger-scale purpose. That apocalypses don’t really hate you, it really is nothing personal from god’s perspective in these matters. it’s just…you know, shit’s gotta change, and no one’s trying to change it. that’s the essence of decay, which is what leads the apocalypse, which is what leads to rebirth.
That’s still hella scary. And no matter how many epic poems I find that cause almost genocidal levels of murderous mayhem, that end up being a form of divine population control, it’s still shitty and hard to deal with.
And, for the record, the Iliad and the Mahabharata’s motivations for the Trojan War and the Battle of Kurukshetra are, from a divine standpoint, purely utilitarian and easy ways to kill a bunch of people, so that the earth doesn’t get overburdened with too many humans. The large scale death is part of the point. You have to kill billions of people in order for the earthly organism to survive.
I feel gross.
But I have come to appreciate balance, in all things, and I’ve come to realize that all the apocallipses that humanity is put through – whether mythological, or, unfortunately real – do serve a purpose. It isn’t human, and that’s scary as fuck. In fact, if it were possible, I would prefer not having to wipe out large swathes of humanity to keep the world in check. I’d prefer like…colonization, or something.
But just as these myths are metaphorical by and large, I take them to heart, no matter how anti-human their message tends to be. When I head into a valley, I remember that destruction, chaos and pain are means for rebirth, order and growth to re-emerge, and change. Evolution thrives on disorder and chaos. The natural world abides by it.
And when I look at my life through that lens, it becomes much easier to bear. It becomes a matter of a storm passing, to make me grow, to make me improve, and to be the best version of myself I can be. If I’m suffering, I generally assume that there’s something I need to work on; it’s not the universes fault that it keeps moving at its own pace. Why should I make the assumption that it needs to bend over backwards for me. I like improving myself.
So when I feel Ragnarok, the approaching battle of gods and their subsequent twilight, I’m terrified, but I’m not defeated. I can look death in the eye, despite my desire for humanity, and see the tail of fire red on the other side. I can see the green spring forth from the blighted decay of life.
And that really isn’t so bad, all things considered.