• Ryan Smith

Facing Ragnarok

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

The sun turns black, | earth sinks in the sea,

The hot stars down | from heaven are whirled;

Fierce grows the steam | and the life-feeding flame,

Till fire leaps high | about heaven itself.


Voluspa 57, Bellows Translation


The world is on fire. In the Arctic unprecedented megafires have consumed over 13 million acres of forest in Siberia, Canada, Greenland and Alaska, fuelled by record-breaking summer heats and the accelerating feedback loop of climate change. Smoke released has choked nearby communities as the air grows thick with toxins. On the other side of the world the Amazon has been engulfed in fires deliberately set by mining and ranching companies seeking to drive out indigenous communities and turn their homes into desolate pits and overgrazed wastelands with the active support of Jair Boslonaro’s government. These infernos were so severe they blackened the skies over Sao Paulo, one of the largest cities in Brazil. The trees holding up life as we know it are on fire.


There is no downplaying the severity of these crises. The Earth’s ability to sustain life as we know it is teetering on the edge of collapse. As normal as it is to seek comfort in words that are explaining this all away with cherry-picked statistics and massaged data all meant to obscure the truth there is no reframing of the facts that makes them any less grim. It is also easy to respond to ever-increasing, seemingly unstoppable horror with numbed apathy and disengagement. Even so there is still hope that final crisis can be averted and a better world can be made for everyone. The answer lies in heeding the example of the Norse Gods in how they face their greatest crisis, the apocalyptic struggle of Ragnarok.


Ragnarok presents an existential threat to the Gods. Many of the Aesir and some of the Vanir will die in the Final Battle. All the worlds on Yggdrasil will be engulfed in flames. They know this catastrophe is inevitable and can only be delayed, not averted. Even so the Gods prepare themselves to stand firmly against their Doom. They gladly charge onto the field of battle, knowing many will fall in the struggle, showing it is better to always fight for what is right than to submit to danger and injustice.


Such a stand isn’t just a matter of one last, heroic rush into the jaws of death. In the Voluspa a new, green world full of life and new potential rises from the ashes of Ragnarok. Baldr returns from the dead while the children of Thor and Odin’s son Vidar will survive the blaze to help guide the new humanity that springs from the wreckage. The promise of ensuring the rise of a new, better world even though they won’t live to see it is more than enough to move the Gods into making the ultimate sacrifice.


You can see the same holding true for those fighting the climate crisis. Great work will be needed and much of the fruits of that labor won’t be seen by anyone currently living. Even so the efforts to mitigate and undo the damage done will be seen by the children and grandchildren of those who struggle now against the odds. No matter how dark the world is in this moment the promise of a better future shows the way forward to better possibilities.


These times are not only that of holding back the coming tide. In crisis there can also be opportunity to imagine a better world and build it from the bones of the old. After all the greatest hope for overcoming climate crisis lies in totally transforming every aspect of society from the ground up. When Odin, Vili and Ve faced a similar challenge in the days of Ymir they gladly took up spears to make it so, sharing the burden and joy of creation with all the Powers of the Nine Worlds.


Just as was true of the time of Ymir the causes of this crisis are no mystery. The culprits have names, addresses and powerful institutions protecting them. Their greedy, short-sighted scramble for more ill-gotten gains to feed their insatiable hunger has put all life in jeopardy. These reckless, all-devouring giants have made it clear they will do absolutely anything, even if that means ensuring there will be no future for anyone on this world, to live even more lavishly tomorrow than they did today. If they were monsters of saga and story there would be no question of their villainy.


The choice before everyone is simple, stark and couldn’t be more clear. Even though we face seemingly insurmountable odds the example of the Gods and sagas is undeniable. Immediate action is required from all who hold life, the natural world and everything around us as sacred. In this struggle all must go forward knowing what they do now isn’t just a question of fighting for themselves, it is a matter of ensuring there is a future worth living in at all. Whether your deeds in the coming days are great or small they will ensure that potential has a chance to happen.


The sluggard believes | they shall live forever,

If the fight they faces not;

But age shall not grant them | the gift of peace,

Though spears may spare their life.


Havamal 16, Bellows Translation

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