Like other world religions, Viking paganism included an apocalyptic vision predicting that the existing world will be destroyed by cosmic forces and characters, and will then be reborn into a new, more perfect age.

This scenario is most vividly brought to life in a 10th to 11th-century poem called Voluspa (‘The Prophesy of the Seeress’), possibly developed from a series of dreams experienced by a real-life wise woman.

As horror overwhelms the world, causing it to freeze and wither, gods, monsters and giants engage in cosmic battle until even Odin and the sun itself are vanquished. However, the poem ends with the optimistic promise of a new world rising from the ruins of the old – a powerful and haunting tale.

Ragnarök, (Old Norse: “Doom of the Gods”), in Scandinavian mythology, the end of the world of gods and men. The Ragnarök is fully described only in the Icelandic poem Völuspá (“Sibyl’s Prophecy”), probably of the late 10th century, and in the 13th-century Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson (d. 1241), which largely follows the Völuspá. According to those two sources, the Ragnarök will be preceded by cruel winters and moral chaos. Giants and demons approaching from all points of the compass will attack the gods, who will meet them and face death like heroes. The sun will be darkened, the stars will vanish, and the earth will sink into the sea. Afterward, the earth will rise again, the innocent Balder will return from the dead, and the hosts of the just will live in a hall roofed with gold.

Disjointed allusions to the Ragnarök, found in many other sources, show that conceptions of it varied. According to one poem two human beings, Lif and Lifthrasir (“Life” and “Vitality”), will emerge from the world tree (which was not destroyed) and repeople the earth. The title of Richard Wagner’s opera Götterdämmerung is a German equivalent of Ragnarök meaning “twilight of the gods.”

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