How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jotuns


Ragnarok forms an essential part of Asatru eschatology. No, scratch that. Ragnarok essentially IS Asatru eschatology. Which really makes me wonder why anyone even attempts to ignore it, or accord it far less than its due.

Being raised in a culture where the predominant religious motif is a linear eternity with no beginning and no end embodied in a single deity probably has a lot to do with it. The idea that even gods can die is just plain foreign to most folks. That's fine. There are plenty of religions, even non-christian ones, whose theology doesn't have to be warped to accommodate them.

But some who claim they want to follow a Northern path also want, with varying degrees of desperation, to find a way out of facing up to Ragnarok. Any excuse will do: "Maybe if Odhinn holds it off long enough, we won't have to go through it" is a only one I've run across. I suppose it's needless to remind them what happens to just about everyone who has put too much faith in Odhinn's actions. They'll find out eventually in any case.

Apparently, an indefinite time in Hel, Valhalla, or some other god's hall isn't enough. They really do want to go on forever and don't want to believe anything which tells them something to the contrary.

I can't say I think much of those who want the benefits they can derive from Asatru, yet refuse to accept the ultimate consequences of that belief. Any religion which becomes a something-for-nothing proposition by way of wishful thinking isn't even worth the trouble to examine in depth, because it hasn't any.

When the usefulness of this world is done, it's done; wipe the slate clean and start over. Rather than coming up with elaborate excuses for why Ragnarok isn't necessary, just accept it as an integral part of the religion and get on with your life. Just because it's going to occur some time in the indefinite future doesn't mean you should throw up your hands and surrender now. I believe doing one's best even in the face of unavoidable defeat one of the most noble manifestations of courage. And if one can't even put a finger on when that defeat might occur, there's really no excuse for whinging about it.

On another level, I appreciate Ragnarok because it makes my gods all that much more accessible to me, lessening the chasm between the us. Just as they seek to continually make the best use of the time allotted to them before the final cataclysm, so can we. Rather than a pessimistic or somber take on existential questions, I find it an injunction to live and appreciate what I do have to the utmost of my ability. The price of birth has always been death. The sooner we acknoweldge and accept that, the sooner we can make our lives and deaths meaningful.

Ragnarok tells us that the universe is finite and, therefore, all the more precious for it. Those things we are convinced will last forever (however mistaken our impressions may be) are the things we usually come to value least, simply because we can take them for granted.

It also tells us that nothing is perfect, since perfection implies no impetus towards change, and certainly none towards destruction. Not only are we unique and flawed, but our Gods and our universe are, also. And the flaws are often a lot more interesting and entertaining than endless superlatives.

I rather like Ragnarok as a metaphor. I think we're all the product of the trials we've endured, and hopefully the better for them. If the destruction of the world begets a new and possibly better one, can we not look to our failures as the crucibles in which our successes are refined rather than an inescapable weight, a view encouraged by a culture which lauds and encourages people to think of themselves as victims? While it's true our past actions are already woven into the warp and weft of wyrd, we can but envision where the threads we work with now will take us.

Ragnarok is always happening. In each age of the world, and in the lives of each of the world's inhabitants.

zoomorphic line

Yes, Loki is involved in Ragnarok, that much is true, but remember that it is as much of a beginning as it is an end. The old and outworn will be swept away in the cataclysm, leaving room for the growth of the new.

For those who would point their finger at this and say "aha!" as final proof of Loki's supposedly inimical nature, think about this for a minute: he dies anyway. Not only does he die, but none of his progeny are listed amongst those who survive into the next cycle of the world, although it's not unreasonable to imagine that Hel might.

What side he fights on is really immaterial in the final analysis. As much as I love Loki, even I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that if he sides with the Aesir it would make any difference to the outcome. A difference which makes no difference is no difference.

When Loki sides with the Jotuns during Ragnarok, what he's doing is showing loyalty to his family of blood and birth, rather than the one which adopted him after he swore blood-brotherhood with Odhinn. Even in spite of the binding and the serpent dripping venom, who's to say that Loki goes into Ragnarok with a glad heart, although many people seem to assume so?

To look at it with different eyes is to see the essence of tragedy played out so well elsewhere in the eddas and sagas. When Gudrun kills her children to revenge her husband's murder of her brothers in Atlakvida, she's exhibiting the same sort of natal loyalty at the expense of her acquired family which Loki shows at Ragnarok.

What if, for a moment, we forget all of those scurrilous "Loki goes bad" explanations for his behaviour at the end and imagine something like the following...

Loki, the unknown quantity, comes to Asgard as Odhinn's blood brother, saves the Aesir's bacon by getting the walls of Asgard rebuilt for nothing, showers the gods with gifts, and gets them out of trouble when they require it of him. So he has a slightly off-kilter sense of humour. Everybody has their quirks. And who's going to have the nerve to tell Odhinn he has terrible taste in blood-brothers, no matter how much they might believe it?

Gradually, as things become less and less idyllic, the gods feel the need for a scapegoat, and fasten their attention on Loki, the outsider in their midst. Baldr dies, and things are getting tense. Loki, embittered by the unjustified and unbridled suspicions which have been attached to him, gets really drunk at Aegir's feast and tells everyone off. He's sealed his own fate. They catch him, and bind him.

Odhinn doesn't get involved in the fray, although he allows the others to do as they will. By allowing their petty revenge against Loki, perhaps he hopes to stave off Ragnarok a while longer. Perhaps because of the length and depth of their relationship, there is an implicit understanding between the Loki and Odhinn on this point. Perhaps Loki is as much the sacrifical victim to Odhinn's plans as Baldr is.

But, the day of Ragnarok finally arrives and Loki is confronted with that most basic test of loyalty. Will he stand with his friend, or his family? In the end, he makes the only honourable choice he can, sides with the Jotuns, and perishes fighting Heimdallr.

Loki, the tragic hero, driven to his end (and, by extension the end of the world) by inescapable wyrd.


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