Ragnarok, in Norse and Germanic mythology, is the final inevitable battle between the gods and frost giants which ultimately results in the end of the world and the death of most of the gods.
The world was doomed from the start, they say. When the earth and its creatures emerged from the extremes of fire and ice, they were flawed and fragile and were destined for a destructive climax. Apocalypse is a common occurrence in mythologies and religions of the world, but the Norse version is unique in that it includes the death of the gods themselves. Is it any wonder that modern Scandinavians love Metal so much?
The end would be heralded by three years of solid winter, called the "wind age and wolf age" and before that, there would be a "sword age and axe age" which is a time in which great warriors could prove themselves worthy of serving Odin. The Vikings believed that they were living in this age, which explains their preoccupation with violence and glory.
In some versions of the story, Ragnarok is it. The End. Game over, thanks for playing. In other versions, a few of the gods and two humans manage to survive and create a new world, cleansed by blood and fire. This "rebirth" version was the most popular among Norsemen of the day, and also among scholars in the present.
Probably because it's less depressing.
But even the glimmer of hope couldn't stop Ragnarok from ranking #1 on Cracked's list of the 5 Most Kick-Ass Apocalyptic Prophecies.
Let's take a look at some of the key players in Ragnarok...
Odin is the chief of the gods, father of Thor, Balder, Vali, and Vidar. He has one eye because he sacrificed the other one for the power to see the future. He carved the earth out of the body of a dead giant. He has two ravens which fly out across the world and gather information for him, so that he is all-knowing. He also has two wolves which will seriously fuck you up if you piss him off. All in all, he's a pretty awesome god.
Odin could inspire Buddha to want to kick some ass.
But Odin was more than just a badass, he was also the wisest of the gods. Besides the ravens and his ability to look into the future, he had also made an attempt at preventing Ragnarok by setting down laws to be followed by men, gods, dwarves, and giants. In order to learn these laws he had to hang himself from Yggdrasil, the tree of life, and be brought back to life after death. After all that trouble, most people didn't follow the rules.
Odin is destined to be eaten by Fenrir the wolf at the battle of Ragnarok.
Loki was the god of fire and the embodiment of evil. He actually started out as a minor trickster - getting the gods into trouble, but then getting them back out again with his clever wit. He came close to tricking Thor into an early death a few times, but also recovered Thor's hammer when it was stolen.
As Loki grew older he became more and more evil until one day he orchestrated the death of Balder, Odin's son and a very beloved deity. He then showed up at a dinner party and starting insulting everyone, so they tied him up in a cave, with his son's intestines, under the dripping mouth of a poisonous snake.
That'll teach him!
Loki would be imprisoned in this way until Ragnarok, but luckily had gotten it on with a giantess named Angrboda beforehand. She gave birth to three horrible offspring: Fenrir the wolf, Jormungand the sea monster, and Hel the ruler of the underworld.
Thor was the favorite and most powerful of Odin's sons. He had a magic hammer named Mjollnir with the power to kill, raise the dead, and grant fertility. This meant he could kill you, zombify you, and impregnate you all with one well-placed whack to the head. He also had a flying chariot pulled by goats and controlled lightning and thunder.
Hold on, we'll get to the gayness later.
Thor spent most of his time killing giants, boning giant women, and throwing fits of rage that caused thunderstorms, but in between all his ass-kicking he seemed to get tricked a lot by Loki.
In one story, Loki tricked Thor into being taken captive by a giant, so that Loki could barter for his own freedom. In another story, Thor's hammer had been stolen by a giant and Loki traded the giant a woman for it. The woman turned out to be Thor in drag, who then vanquished all kinds of giants while wearing a dress and took his hammer back.
Maybe it was this one episode of cross-dressing that gave modern storytellers the idea to turn this macho god into a prancing studmuffin.
Thor doing ballet with a robot on rollerskates.
The homoeroticism of Thor is a more modern phenomenon, and would likely infuriate people from 600 AD. Nevertheless, Thor made it onto our list of 5 Upcoming Comic Book Movies that Must Be Stopped.
Fenrir is the giant wolf offspring of Loki and Angrboda. It is said that his jaws open so wide that the lower touches the ground, the upper touches the sky, and he will run across the earth like this swallowing everything in his wake like a toothy, snarling, vacuum cleaner.
When Fenrir was a pup, he was captured and brought to Odin by the war god Tyr (and I bet you thought Thor was the war god! Haha...well actually he is. There's like 5 or 6 war gods at least.)
Odin was going to kill the puppy Fenrir, but was told by the Fates not to. So instead, he tied up Fenrir with a magic chain made by dwarves and when Ragnarok comes, Fenrir will have finally grown large enough to bust out and eat Odin.
Jormungand is another of Loki's monstrous children. Jormungand is a giant poisonous sea-serpent who is coiled around the earth. When Ragnarok comes, he will burst out from the water and spew venom all over the world. A venomous bite from Jormungar will eventually kill Thor, but not before Thor kills Jormungar with his hammer and demonstrates the inferiority of melee weapons to missile weapons when dealing with a poisonous foe.
Any AD&D player could've told you to use a bow, but whatever...
Through all the time leading up to Ragnarok, Odin will be amassing his armies. He does this through use of his Valkyries, beautiful women who ride through the sky snatching up the souls of the bravest and strongest men who die during battle.
Pick me! Pick me!
These brave men are taken to Valhalla, where they will feast with Odin and be treated to non-stop beer and sex with the Valkyries. Sure beats harps and halos, doesn't it? Of course eventually they'll have to go fight and be killed in the battle of Ragnarok, but so does everybody.
Hel, much like Santa Barbara, is the name of both a woman and a place. Hel was the daughter of Loki and sister to Fenrir and Jormungad. She ruled over the Germanic netherworld, also called Hel, which was such a fearsome and awful place that the Christians later took the name and used it.
Hel was a giant woman who was half human, half zombie.
And all sexy.
Hel was very powerful within her own domain, even more powerful than Odin. She was able to hold onto Odin's son, Balder, after his death even though Odin tried to get him back. Hel is where souls go that have died of old age or illness. This was thought of as a dishonorable way to die and considering the abundance of plagues at the time, it seems like a lot of sick people got screwed.
When Ragnarok comes, Hel will rise up to earth with an army of undead servants and fight the armies of Valhalla. Which side will you be on?
Balder was the sweet and gentle son of Odin who had a premonition of his own death. It was foretold that he would be killed by the blind god Hodr, with a branch. In order to prevent such a thing from happening, Frigg, his mother, went around the earth and got a pledge from every single living or nonliving thing that it would never harm Balder. This was not difficult actually, because Balder was such a popular guy.
Just look at that handsome devil.
But Loki was jealous of Balder's newfound invincibility and set out to find anything which had not given its pledge. He found it: mistletoe, a plant so small and harmless that it was overlooked.
So one day all the other gods were having fun with Balder by throwing rocks at him and stabbing him with spears. Typical Viking stuff. He was invincible after all, so he didn't mind. Loki showed up with a branch and handed it to Hodr, telling him to go on and join in the fun. Predictably, the branch had mistletoe on it and went right through Balder like a hot knife through butter, killing him instantly.
Translation: "Oh snap!" said Balder.
Hodr felt like an ass after that, but at the time everyone's hatred was directed at Loki. This was the point where he changed over from harmless jokester to sadistic super-villain.
One of Balder's brothers went to Hel to ask for his soul back, but she said she wouldn't let him go unless every creature on earth wept for his death. Just like with the oath, this wasn't hard to do: everyone freaking loved Balder. But there was one being who refused to weep: Loki.
Balder got the first-ever funeral by flaming ship, and kings and warriors did it that way ever since. It was foretold that at Ragnarok, when Hel rose up with her undead minions, Balder would not be among them. Rather, he would be one of the few survivors of Ragnarok and would rule in Odin's place, as god of a new world cleansed by catastrophe. This death and resurrection story predates Christian influence and was used by missionaries as a way to get the Norsemen sold on the idea of Jesus.
This story is also the inspiration for the pinata, where a blind man whacks at something with a stick until it is dead.
Is there candy? Is there candy? I can't see!
Lif and Lifthrasir are the man and woman destined to survive Ragnarok and repopulate the human race in the new world. They will survive by hiding in Yggdrasil, the great ash tree that connects the worlds.
And they'll find gold on the way out.
Surprisingly, Lif and Lifthrasir were not at all popular names for baby vikings. Seems like poor planning on the part of the parents.
Vali and Vidar are two more sons of Odin, by different mothers. When you're king of the gods, you get a lot of wives.
Both of them were born for vengeance. Vidar would kill Fenris the wolf after it had eaten Odin. He would do this by grabbing its upper and lower jaws and tearing Fenris in half from the mouth downward.
Too much awesome for red velvet to contain.
Vali was destined to kill Hodr, the blind god who had been tricked by Loki into accidentally killing Balder.
Kills an old blind man with a bow and arrow.
In the convoluted sense of honor held by the Vikings, these two feats must have seemed equal because both Vidar and Vali get to survive Ragnarok.
Magni was the half-giant son of Thor who was stronger and tougher than his father at the age of three. Once when Thor was battling Hrungnir, the strongest of the frost giants, Thor got pinned under one of Hrungnir's legs shortly after cutting it off. The giant was still in good enough shape to fight though, which meant Thor was kind of screwed.
Thor was helpless and so scared that he wet himself, when along came his three year-old son who lifted the leg to free him. He then called his father a pussy and said he could've taken the giant himself, bare-fisted. Thor was so pleased by this (really??) that after he changed his pants and stopped crying, he gifted a magical horse to Magni.
Magni is more butch than his dad in the comic books, too.
This level of toughness makes it unsurprising that Magni would be among the few gods to survive Ragnarok. Modi, on the other hand, is famous for absolutely nothing except being Magni's brother. He will also survive Ragnarok and we can only hope he goes on to do something awesome in the next world.
Ragnarok Online is a Korean MMORPG based loosely on Norse mythology with a heaping dose of other cultural influences as well. It came out in 2001 and looks like this:
Ok, no actually it looks like this:
And the toys look like this:
It's no World of Warcraft, but apparently it was pretty popular back in its day. It inspired an animated series and a sequel game, Ragnarok II which is not doing well these days. As of 2008 they were down to just 2 servers. The concept art is full of hot anime babes, but the real gameplay simply lacks the detail most MMORPGers want in their Night Elves.
Sure she's hot, but can you make her DANCE?!?