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THIS IS THE END, MY ONLY FRIEND, THE END
to Jim Morrison.)
• Many, many mythoi have apocalyptic tales. For our purposes,
though, I am classifying “apocalypses” mainly as end of the world
scenarios. Some myths, such as floods, are “mini” apocalypses,”
but humanity manages to revive itself. Some cultures, such as the
Greeks, have stages of humanity; one stage ends, another begins.
• I cover some apocalypses in videos, but I also want to hit some
“highlights” (if the end of the world can be classified as such), in
Greek gods were (are?) immortal; they could not die, which ruled out an
apocalypse that included the death of deities. Although the Greeks had stages
of humanity, there was not an end-all for the world.
Egyptian deities could die, but again, no myth of the world coming to an end; the
Egyptians saw the afterlife as a continuation of this world. Sumeria was
threatened with an apocalypse when Ereshkigal said she would loose the dead
on the living, but it did not happen.
Like other polytheistic mythoi, the deities of the Norse pantheon are not
immortal but are subject to death like humans. The gods and goddesses of
Asgard know their ultimate fate, but do not even try to circumvent it because
they know that to do so would be futile. Instead, they spend their time going
about their business and partying in Valhalla.
Of all the mythoi that have a concept of doomsday, the Norse, Christian and
the-did-not-happen Mayan versions are perhaps the best known.
Ragnarok is sometimes translated as “Twilight of the Gods,” but this is too
romantic and too kind! A much better and more apt translation is “Destruction of
the Gods.” This destruction was foretold in the Voluspa.
The first indication that doom is coming is Fimbulvetr, the winter of winters.
There will be three such winters with no summers in between. Conflicts and
feuds will break out, even between families, and all morality will disappear.
The wolf Skoll will finally devour the sun, and his brother Hati will eat the moon,
the stars will vanish from the sky and the earth will be dark. The cock Fjalar will
summon the giants and the golden cock Gullinkambi will crow to the gods. A
third cock will raise the dead.
The earth will shudder with earthquakes, and the terrible wolf Fenrir will break
free. The sea will rear up because Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, is twisting
and writhing in fury as he makes his way toward the land, poisoning the soil and
the sky with his breath. The waves caused by the serpent's emerging will set
free the ship Naglfar, and with the giant Hymir as their commander, the giants
will sail towards the battlefield.
From the realm of the dead a second ship will set sail, and this ship carries the
inhabitants of hell, with Loki as their helmsman. The fire giants, led by the giant
Surt, will leave Muspell in the south to join against the gods. Surt, carrying a
sword that blazes like the sun itself, will scorch the earth.
• Heimdall, the guardian of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge to
Asgard, will sound his horn, calling the sons of Odin and
the heroes to the battlefield. From all the corners of the
world, gods, giants, dwarves, demons and elves will ride
towards the huge plain of Vigrid ("battle shaker") where
the last battle will be fought. Odin will engage Fenrir (the
wolf) in battle, and Thor will attack Jormungand (the
serpent). Thor will be victorious, but the serpent's poison
will gradually kill the god of thunder. Surt will seek out the
swordless Freyr and kill him
• The one-handed Tyr will fight the hell hound Garm and
they will kill each other. Loki and Heimdall, age-old
enemies, will meet for a final time, and both will die. The
fight between Odin and Fenrir will rage for a long time,
but finally Fenrir will swallow him Odin. Odin's son, Vidar,
will jump at Fenrir and kill him with his bare hands,
ripping the wolf's jaws apart. (Notice the balance—the
combatants tend to kill each other or one dies shortly
after his opponent.)
FENRIR AND ODIN AT RAGNAROK
LOKI AND HEIMDALL
• Then Surt will fling fire in every direction. The nine worlds will burn, and
friends and foes alike will perish. The earth will sink into the sea.
• After the destruction, a new and idyllic world will arise from the sea and
will be filled with abundant supplies. Some of the gods will survive, others
will be reborn. Wickedness and misery will no longer exist and gods and
men will live happily together. The descendants of Lif and Lifthrasir (a
couple who hides in the roots of Yggdrasil) will inhabit this earth.
• It has been suggested that the revival of the world(s) is a later addition by
Christian translators and scribes. In particular, one myth relates that
Baldur will return from Helheim to head a council of new gods—this
sounds like a polytheistic version of the resurrection of Christ! Also, if the
cosmos is destroyed, there would be no Yggdrasil to hide a couple.
Heimdall’s sounding of the horn is also close to the trumpet blast from
the archangel Gabriel.
The Christian tale of the apocalypse varies as much as do the denominations of
Christianity—and Islam. (And please note—NO disrespect is meant in
discussing the apocalypse of the Christian Scriptures. The battle has many
elements found in other religions.)
Armageddon is the final battle on Earth, and is often cited as to take place in the
Valley of Megiddo. According to some accounts, a battle between nations will
take place, resulting in a desolate, wasted Earth.
Jesus will return, wage a battle between earthly and supernatural enemies, and
a new heaven and new earth will be established.
As we saw earlier, a huge battle between good and evil is seen in Norse myth;
we see this scenario played out in fiction (Lord of the Rings, Narnia Chronicles)
and in real life—both sides of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and WW I
and II thought this.
THE APOCALYPSE THAT WASN’T
I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the Mayan apocalypse of 2012! I will not go into
detail, but many people believed (and partially believed) that the world would come to an end
in December 21, 2012. This belief was based on the absence of a long count Mayan calendar
for December 22 and upward. Astronomical events that occurred around the same time also
contributed to the idea that the world would end or, at least, undergo a huge transformation.
I kept suggesting that in order to prevent the end of the world, we should start sacrificing the
winning Super Bowl team to appease the Mayan deities—after all, the Mayans sacrificed the
winning ball team to their gods.
My advice was not needed, however, as nothing happened. The willingness to believe that
something would happen, thought, is a constant in our society. When the calendar changed
to 2000, many people thought a catastrophe would occur. The more rational ones said it
would be due to computer malfunctions; others said even if it were the WWW crashing, the
millennium would be the real culprit. The latter seemed not to realize that the millennium did
not truly begin until 2001.
AND, OF COURSE, THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE IS
• I posted some links on the coming ZA but I am not going
to discuss it! I want the class to theorize on why the ZA
is so popular, but I will ask a question:
• Is the ZA symbolic of real issues in the world? How does
it embody our fears of both the known and the unknown?