Jan. 8th, 2010

eosin: (Default)
I was talking with [livejournal.com profile] vanirpriestess about about Surt vs. Frey, and I was thinking about each in a broader context, and then something clicked. And it completely changes the scope and meaning of Ragnarok.

We generally understand that the gods aren't literal, human-sized anthropomorphic representations walking around and hanging out in pubs. Rather, they represent forces, principles, ideas, and changes in the world around us, which is whey they are gods and not just random strangers on the street. With this in mind, we see Frey not just as a male figure, but also the fertile things in the world that he represents, such as new plants growing from the earth, strong trees, new baby creatures, and so on. Conversely, Surt isn't just just a big guy doing a fire dance, but represents the destructive nature of fire, even in indirect forms such as volcanoes (like Surtsey island in Iceland). It becomes apparent that one force (fire) tends to damage the other one (flora and fauna). Taken on a larger scale and modern scenarios, the biggest fire-forces in the world today are mass industrialization and pollution, and the largest representations of flora and fauna are ecosystems, such as forests; it is clear that one is quite destructive to the other.

The amazing thing is that in Ragnarok, this duality isn't just with Surt and Frey, but with the other gods as well.

Odin is killed by Fenris. When one thinks of Fenris, it's usually in terms of raw, uncontrolled rage and its destructive consequences. When one thinks of Odin, some things that come to mind are knowledge, wisdom, effective battle strategies, etc. It's not hard to see that uncontrolled rage in someone displaces and ultimately consumes more rational thought, usually with terrible consequences.

Thor is killed by Jormundgand. Thor isn't just big and strong, he's a loyal protector, with a lot of compassion for those he protects. Jormundgand, being a giant serpent, has the same essential traits of other large serpents--cold, unfeeling, operating entirely on killer instinct. The most cold and unfeeling forces in the world today are large institutions and bureaucracies that blindly follow their own internal policies, with mind-numbingly destructive consequences that produce pleas for more humanity. Thor's traits are seen in both individuals and groups that have a big heart and wish to protect others. In modern terms, it's not hard to see how unaccountable institutions attack and kill compassion in a society.

Tyr is killed by Garm. The representative of law and order is destroyed by an uncontrolled force that consumes whatever is before it. It's easy to see how base human emotions can destroy society through loss of law and order.

Taken as a whole, Ragnarok is an allegory for the inner conflicts in people and society. We've also seen a dramatic example of this in recent history. The Fenris vs. Odin battle was symbolically represented in the rise and activities of Hitler. His first name was Adolf, after the wolf. He was an angry person and a passionate speaker. He mentioned Wotan in disparaging terms, and imprisoned and killed Germanic pagans. And his furious obsessions with extermination and conquest ended up destroying his military progress, as well as rational thought among too many people that were involved. And to this day, that fury of hatred still haunts Heathens today, as we continually have to keep educating others that we are not the Nazis.

There has been talk of Christianity being an influence in the Voluspa, but rather than being a rendition of Revelation (which it doesn't really represent), we can see the addition (seen in the Hauksbok but not in the Codex Regius) at the end referencing the Christian God. Rather than a symbolic look at human nature as in the rest of the text, it's a comparatively clumsy (a half stanza at first) insertion that nods to God, suggesting that it's part of the Biblical struggle. But if it were only an odd version of Revelation, that leaves open too many questions, not the least of which is why pagans would be repeating and ultimately writing down such a story. However, since many parts of the Eddas deal with human nature (and very directly in the Havamal) and symbolism was used very directly (such as with Thor and the Giant contests), the tale of Ragnarok makes more sense.

Even if taken as direct prophecy, we can already see today how certain forces are destroying other ones (e.g., traditional living vs. modern urbanization, pollution vs. ecology, preparations for survival after war or government collapse, etc.). It still means that ultimately, humanity will continue even after many current things are destroyed. There is a notable lack of humans involved in that battle, as they are only mentioned as survivors, so the view of some that they will be directly involved in physically battling Giants in a literal battle between gods is a bit misplaced. In other words, the warning is to take heed of human nature, especially in yourself, and prepare to survive interesting times.

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The Pedantic Swordsman

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