By Jackson Crawford, University of Colorado, Boulder
It is foretold that certain signs will precede the final battle of Ragnarok. First, there will come a monstrous winter, with snow blowing from every direction and great frosts, and unending, sharp winds. The sun will be hidden by gray clouds, and these conditions will last for three straight years with no intermission of spring or summer.
Wolves Will Make the World Plunge into Darkness
Humankind will turn to desperate wars and battles for survival amid these conditions. Brother will turn against brother, and incest will run rampant amid the filthy, wretched last humans trying to eke out their survival in a dying world.
Then, the two wolves who have been chasing the sun and moon will finally catch and swallow them, plunging the earth into total darkness. The dwarves will tremble before the doors to their stone halls. Then, the stars will fall from the sky, while the earth quakes and the mountains break and all chains holding prisoners crack and let their holdings run free.
Among them will be the monstrous wolf, Fenrir. And Jormungand, the Midgard-serpent, churning the waves as it approaches Midgard from the east, will heave itself up on land amid horrible tidal waves. Above, eagles will cry out in their hunger for the feast of corpses soon to come.
Surt, the fire-wielding being from Muspell, also comes forward along with these awful beings, with the Midgard-serpent spewing poison all over the land and sky, while the wolf Fenrir emits fire from his eyes and nostrils. Eagles and other carrion beasts will eagerly follow the monsters, assured of a good feast on the dead.
The ‘Nail Vessel’
The doomed evil ship called “Nail Vessel,” or in Old Norse Naglfar, will sail from the homes of the anti-gods westward toward the unprotected enclosure of humankind. The name of this ship is ambiguous on the surface, as just like in English, Old Norse uses the same word for both the nail of a finger and the nail that one hammers.
But Snorri states that it does mean ‘fingernail vessel’ because it is built of the portions of human nails that are still untrimmed when each person dies. Loki, too, will break free of his chains and come at the head of the troops of the anti-gods, as the captain of the ship Naglfar. Behind him in this grotesque ship will come legions of the undead, released from their graves in Hel.
This article comes directly from content in the video series Norse Mythology. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
The Forces of Good Get Ready
As these regiments of monstrous troops approach their final battlefield, the guardian of the gods, Heimdall, will blow his horn to alert the forces of good. The horn he uses on this occasion, Gjallarhorn, must mean ‘horn of Gjoll’—and Gjoll is the river one crosses to go into Hel.
While the great tree Yggdrasil trembles in the quaking earthquakes that seize the whole world, Odin will consult with the pickled head of the sage Mimir at his well of wisdom, seeking some final bit of wisdom to forestall the inevitable downfall of all he holds dear.
Finally, the gods, too, and Odin’s troops in Valhalla, will dress in their armor and ride out to the immense field of battle—said to be a hundred miles wide in every direction—against these monsters and anti-gods.
Odin will ride out to fight his last fight adorned in a gilded helmet and with his own spear Gungnir in hand. Next to him will be his son Thor, who will single-handedly take on the titanic Midgard-serpent.
Centuries of Preparation for the Final Battle of Ragnarok
Now, Thor will have his battle against the serpent and will kill it with his hammer. But Thor will then walk only nine steps after his victory before he, too, dies, succumbing to the poison that the serpent spat upon him. Odin’s battle will be short and simple, as all his centuries of preparation will be for nothing when the wolf simply swallows him.
But then Odin’s son Vithar will step forward and stomp one foot down on the outstretched lower jaw of the immense wolf, using a shoe assembled over the ages from the scraps of leather trimmed off of people’s shoes.
But because of this massive shoe, Vithar will stomp the wolf’s fearsome jaw without injury to himself, and he will then tear the wolf’s jaws asunder, killing it. And after Vithar’s defeat of the wolf in this manner, now Loki and Heimdall will likewise kill one another, bringing their strange ancient rivalry to an end.
Not one human being will survive if any are left who could have survived the three years of continual warfare and famine during the unending winters. Even Odin’s chosen warriors in Valhalla will fall for their final time, apparently joining the other dead for a more final afterlife in the grave or in Hel.
Common Questions about the Final Battle of Ragnarok
Naglfar translates to ‘Nail Vessel’ in English. It is the ship that is made out of human fingernails which sails from the home of the anti-gods toward the unprotected lands in which humankind lives. The captain of the ship was Loki who had broken from his chains.
Before the final battle of Ragnarok, Heimdall will blow into a horn called Gjallarhorn, which refers to the river called Gjoll which one has to cross to go into Hel. The horn will alert the forces of good to the approach of into the battlefield.
In the final battle of Ragnarok, Odin will ride out to fight after centuries of preparation and consulting Mimir. But his preparation will mean nothing when the wolf he faces simply swallows him whole. But Odin’s son will avenge his father afterward.