One Day before Ragnarök
So far, everything seemed to be quiet and in good order. Odinn was properly holding his powers, each of the living races was devoted to its role and Valkyries would carry to Valhöll the dead warriors.
During the morning of this disastrous day, though, the Æsir felt that something wrong was happening somewhere. This ‘something’ obviously was a hostile one, it threatened the divine order very base. A foreign runic magic was at work, one different from the gods’ and humankind’s. The Norn in charge of assessing all beings’ actions, Urdr, brought mistaken accounts and did not know anymore who had done what. Poetry-Mead, great master of poetry that brings wisdom to gods and humankind and saves our ancestors’ memories, had to help Urdr in order to delay the terrible winter, the one foreshadowing Ragnarök.
Poetry-Mead feels that he has to hasten but he is unable to find assistance. Huginn does not bring any news, humanity is in danger, Dwarves doze or belong to the plot. These last ones will attack humankind, as we will see soon. The four Dwarves who support the world start weakening. Sun weakens also and cannot any more bring back all the worlds that disappeared during its absence: some far-off spots on Earth simply wink out during the night.
Earth nor Sun
stand ever quiet
in an ever stormy atmosphere
polluted with imposture;
human beings’ wisdom
shelters in famous
Idunn, the enquiring goddess of immortality apples, leaves Æsir’s world, Asgard. She chooses to glide down along Yggdrasill tree until the Giants’ abode. The gods watch her and they believe she feels bad in her new home, rustic compared to these of Asgard. She dresses herself in a wolf skin similarly to the princess of a later tale, Donkeyskin. A wolf skin does a large difference with a donkey one: Donkeyskin keeps a human form even if a wretched one, whereas a wolf skin makes of Idunn a dangerous monster. She learns from the Giants how to become a powerful witch and her appearance becomes similar to the one of a wild beast.
Odinn wishes to gather from her some information about Ragnarök to come. She should know fresh news about it since she lives among Giants, who will lead the attack against the Æsir and who will destroy the existing divine order. For this, he sends three envoys, each one of them able to make Idunn talkative. First is Heimdall, the god in charge of warning against Ragnarök beginning. Heimdall is the god who recovered Freyja’s necklace, the ‘Garland of Flames’, which had been stolen by Loki to humiliate the goddess. Heimdall is not likely to dupe her and should give confidence to Idunn. Second is Bragi, Idunn’s ex-husband whom she left. She may feel some guilt in front of him and open her heart to him. Bragi is also the god of poetry and he brings a splendid poem intended to stir Idunn’s heart. Third is Loki who has to keep somewhat away from her. He is nevertheless as intelligent as Odinn and he can suggest some relevant question to his partners. Moreover, Loki is a hybrid being and he brings with him his femaleness that might perhaps move in Idunn some recollection of her feminine past, belonging to her goddess times, before she became a monster knowing all forms of magic.
The male gods do not normally devote themselves to magic, except Odinn himself. For this very delicate mission, he entrusts to Heimdall and Bragi rune carved sticks and the way of singing these runes with a beautiful shriek. This powerful magic enables them to go all three towards Idunn.
Heimdall asks Idunn to tell them the complete gods’ history: origin, past, present and future.
This ‘complete history’ is what the Norse called “örlög.” Our nearest words are “fate” and “destiny.” They do not carry this complex meaning since they primarily relate to the future. Old Norse people did not conceive that past, present and future might part from each other.
During these times, “to fit in one’s örlög” was a kingly path towards a properly handled spirituality.
Our örlög is thus similar to a written novel each page of which flips open with a new day. The beginning of the novel does not start to make real sense until its last page becomes readable.
Therefore, Heimdall requires of Idunn to tell him Æsir’s örlög. But Idunn is unable to answer these questions, she feels nothing but a deep sadness, her reddening eyes fill up with tears.The lone information she can provide them is showing that the Dwarves who belong to the plot begin fulfilling the völur’s prophecy: a terrible winter will soon strike humanity. This winter is known as foretelling Ragnarök. In order to achieve this goal, these Dwarves collect ice thorns that grow in the Giant’s ‘fields’. Each night, they prick with these humankind’s dwellings in Midgard. The Æsir , cannot at first protect humankind from this disaster. Heimdall draws up his sword, he is nevertheless unable to hold it firmly in his shaking hands. The flow of madness running within Idunn’s mind rushes inside everyone’s mind and they all feel powerless. The gods however do not acknowledge being overcome and still press Idunn with many questions. Their restlessness however, brings no success and the goddess’ mind stays shut to their requests.
Heimdall, in spite of his relative weakness, does not remain inactive and, together with Bragi tries to bring help to Midgard’s Hamingja. (Odinn did already something similar before Baldr’s death… this is another tale: “Baldr’s death”).
In these Heathen tales, a significant semi-divinity is a Hamingja attached to each family line.We may imagine what they are by referring these Christian ‘angels’ called ‘guardian angels’. The main difference between the two is that a Hamingja does not loath to violence. For example she may in some circumstances claim a deadly revenge against someone humiliating or killing a family member.
Heimdall and his qualities of courage and vigilance combined to Bragi’s persuasion and poetry, are enough to wake up humankind’s Hamingja, thus preventing a terminal disaster. This mission being completed, Heimdall joins back Idunn’s but Bragi remains on the spot to continue supporting humankind’s resistance. Poetry, that is poems, songs and dances, favors remembrance of remote family lines and storing the traces of our past.This tale states a now long forgotten truth: The only possible, though precarious, way to humankind’s survival to Ragnarök is Poetry.
Heimdall and Loki have now nothing more to do at Idunn’s and they turn over to Asgard, again by magic means.Upon arrival to Asgard, they are welcomed with drinking horns they share with Odinn.
We note that the telling of their arrival only points at the joy of a safe return, whatever the news they bring back might be.In this warrior civilization, death is a familiar event and it is a shame to fear it. This is why the Norn in charge here is Verdandi, Norn of the ongoing action. This is also why she so often takes the lead. Stated in modern language this is said as “present time only dictates proper behavior.” When the envoys are rested, a feast takes place and they will not discuss the results of their mission before it starts. They then discuss this topic until twilight in the following pitiful way:
They clumsily did
of a failed mission
of little glory;
they need to wail
for giving shape to their failure.
The Æsir and Odinn understand that all the omens foretell Ragnarök and they are quite conscious of what tomorrow will bring forth: They will fight their ultimate battle during which the current divine order will be destroyed.They do not know yet exactly who will die, but certainly most influential of them, such as Odinn and Thorr will not be able to survive the day. They nevertheless understand that their existence cannot be eternal, no more than the one of our earth, sun, galaxy and perhaps even of our universe. Knowing all that, they are delighted since tomorrow will take place a basic fight they will lead at the best of their capacity. During it, they will try to add a last dash to Æsir’s magnificence. Skalds will go on telling of this fight, it will stay in human memory, at least for these who understand its severe poetry.
“Night shall bring
a new good advice;
let him think until morning
who thus works at
an advice in order to add
glory to the Æsir!”