The Nine Worlds: Their Shaping and End
We know of the making and ending of the worlds from three sources: Völuspá, Vafþrúðnismál, and Snorri's retelling in his Edda. As usual, the latter is the most complete and neatest, adding many details that the others leave out (for instance, the fires of Muspell-Home are not spoken of as part of the first world-shaping in either of the poetic sources).
In the eldest times, there was nothing except the ice of Nibel-Home (Níflheimr - world of misty darkness) in the North and Muspell-Home in the South. Between them stretched Ginnungagap ("gap charged with magical potential"). A number of rivers collectively called "Élivágar" ("Stormy Sea") flowed from the well Hvergelmir ("Bubbling Cauldron") in Nibel-Home, dripping down from its glacial edge. At the same time, sparks flew from Muspell-Home. When the two of them met in the middle, they whirled together and from them were born the hermaphroditic ur-etin Ymir ("Twin") or Aurgelmir ("the Roarer born from Sand") and the ur-cow Auðumla, "hornless cow with lots (of milk)" (Simek, Dictionary, pp. 22, 24). Auðumla licked the glacier's salty rim and gave forth milk which fed Ymir; he slept, and the effluvia of his body brought forth a male and a female beneath his armpit, while one leg got a son on the other leg. Meanwhile, Auðumla's licking also brought a bright being forth from the ice - the ur-god Búri ("producer"), who then brought forth a son, Burr. Burr wedded with Bestla, the daughter of the etin Bölþorn (Bale-Thorn), and their sons were Wodan (Óðinn), Will (Vili), and Wih (Vé - "Holiness") - or, according to Völuspá, Óðinn, Hoenir, and Lóðurr.
Wodan and his brothers slew Ymir; the icy rime that flowed from his corpse became the sea, drowning all the etins except two, Bergelmir and his wife, who got away on a raft. All etin-kin today are descended from them. This story of the drowning of the etins also appears in Beowulf, being told in runes on the hilt of the sword which Beowulf brings up from the underwater hall of Grendel's mother. But Wodan and his brothers dismembered Ymir's corpse: from his body they made the earth, his hairs became the trees, his bones the rocks, his skull the dome of the sky (held up by the four dwarves North, South, East, and West), and his brains the clouds; but with his eyebrows they fenced the inner world from the outer realm where Bergelmir and his kin dwelt, and that inner world is the Middle-Garth where we live. They took sparks from Muspell-Home and fixed them in the sky as stars; two other wights, a woman named Sun and a man named Moon, they set to drive a course across the sky. The Sun's horses are called Alsviðr (Very Fast) and Árvakr (Early-Awake), or Skinfaxi (Shining-Mane), and her shield and a bellows must protect them from her heat; the Moon's horse is called Hrímfaxi (Rime-Mane), for he is cold. But one of Bergelmir's kin, the Hag of Iron-Wood (perhaps the same person as Loki's wife Angrboda?), bore two troll-sons, Skoll and Hati, who run after these drivers in the shape of wolves and will eat both Sun and Moon at Ragnarök.
As we see the worlds now, they are arranged both on a level plane and as a tree - the great World-Tree Yggdrasill (Ygg-Steed - a name speaking of Wodan's nine nights' hanging, as the gallows is often called the steed of the hanged). There are nine worlds: the Ases' Garth (or God-Home), Light Alf-Home (or Elfhame), the Middle-Garth (Middenerd, Middle-Earth, or Man-Home), Nibel-Home, Etin-Home, Muspell-Home, Wan-Home, Swart Alf-Home, and Hel-Home (which also includes Niflhel, "Misty-Dark Hel", a lower realm into which, according to Vafþrúðnismál, "men die out of Hel").
On a level plain, there are four rings (see discussion of the Frowe's necklace); and the terms Middle-Garth and Ases' Garth probably derive from this plain-view, whereas Man-Home and God-Home are more general terms. The outer one is the Outgarth (Útgarðr), where all etins, trolls, and outlaws dwell: it is the realm of untamed might and wild magic. Between the Outgarth and the Middle-Garth lies the stormy sea under which the Middle-Garth's Wyrm twines in a ring. Simek suggests that this sea stems from the river Élivágar, which, in the "Skáldskaparmál" part of his Edda, Snorri identifies as the border of Etin-Home (Dictionary, p. 73). The passage between the worlds inside the great Garth and the Outgarth is often seen as a river, as in Hárbarzljóð, where Óðinn appears in the shape of a ferryman who might (but doesn't) take Þórr back across to Ásgarðr. The ring of the Middle-Garth is within that sea; and within it is a yet holier garth - the Garth of the Ases. The outer ring is split into four parts: Nibel-Home in the North, Etin-Home in the East, Muspell-Home in the South, and Wan-Home in the West (note: in Old Norse, heimr actually means "world", but it is the same word as our "Home"). Some like to call on the Nine Worlds as the eight winds around the Middle-Garth, in which case they are: Nibel-Home = North, Swart Alf-Home = Northeast, Etin-Home = East, God-Home = Southeast, Muspell-Home = South, Light Alf-Home = Southwest, Wan-Home = West, Hel-Home = Northwest. The winds of woe are those which blow from the East and the three Northern directions; the winds of weal blow from the West and the Southerly angles. However, the North is also the greatest source of might, and the East is also the direction of new birth. True folk today usually carry out their rites facing North for most things, East especially for Ostara's feast. Some also choose to face West for rites that deal especially with the Wans.
Seen as a tree, the worlds are arranged with God-Home at the crown, with Light Alf-Home between it and Man-Home. Around Man-Home, beyond the stormy waters, are the four elemental worlds: Nibel-Home (ice), Etin-Home (sometimes seen as air; in Thorsson's cosmology, venom), Muspell-Home (fire), and Wan-Home (water, or yeast). Nibel-Home is tilted downwards (often seeming to be actually set below Hel-Home), Muspell-Home upwards. Below Man-Home is Swart Alf-Home, and below that, Hel-Home. The World-Tree itself is usually understood as an ash, though many folk today think that it is actually a yew. The reasons for the latter are that it is called "needle-ash"; in Völuspá 20, it is said to be ever green (and an evergreen stood by the well at the Old Uppsala hof); and the Abecedarium Nordmannicum includes the verse "yew holds all". In Svipdagsmál, the World-Tree is also said to bring forth fruit, which sounds more like a yew than an ash. However, ideas differ: many true folk in Northern California, for instance, have found that their own vision of the World-Tree is as a redwood. In a larger view, the tree-shape is made of three realms pierced by the single axis: the Overworld (God-Home and Light Alf-Home, perhaps with the upper/southerly realm of Muspell-Home as well), the Middle World (Man-Home, Wan-Home, and Etin-Home), and the Underworld (Swart Alf-Home, Nibel-Home, and Hel-Home). Great rivers roar between the Middle-Garth and the Ases' Garth, and between the Middle-Garth and Hel-Home, as well as between the Middle-Garth and the worlds of the Outgarth. A like picture is described by shamans the world over; this universe-shape, and the waters which separate each realm from the other, are the most "objective" and least culture-specific elements of the realities beyond this world.
It may well be asked how, if the worlds are arranged so, the etin-kind (for instance) can also be seen as kin to the land-wights and dwelling in certain places that can be reached by travellers on this earth. The answer is that the sundry ways in which we can see the shaping of the worlds are not physical, but spiritual boundaries. The Nine Worlds are separate, but they also overlap and sometimes blend with each other. For instance, Skaði's home, Þrymheimr, was first owned by her father, who surely dwelt in the reaches of Etin-Home; yet in Grímnismál, it is counted among the holy dwellings within the garth of the gods. When Skaði married Njörðr, she and her realm became no longer spiritually part of the Outgarth, but of the holy lands within, although Þrymheimr still stands in the howling wilds. The parts of this earth that are the "Middle-Garth" are only those parts which are fenced and settled - the lands of humans. One may find the Ases' Garth on mountaintops or in holy groves; one may wander into the Outgarth, or walk into a cave and enter Swart Alf-Home. The holiest steads on this earth are those which have been marked off as the garth of the gods - the wih-steads - and to come into such a hallowed place is to step into God-Home. Such overlap can also be temporary, and happen even in an ordinary living room or cluttered bedroom. It is the aim and function of those rituals which are done at the beginning of all rites for the purpose of marking a place off as holy to bring the realms together in a single stead of might, in which the elder kin, the living kin, and the god/esses can meet for a time. Here, we see the special meaning of the Middle-Garth: we stand between all the worlds, and all of their mights are blended about us. The Middle-Garth is the realm of becoming, the heart of the Tree which both mirrors and shapes all that comes to pass in the other homes. When this world is whole and fares well, so it is with the worlds around us; but when things fare ill in the Middle-Garth, then we know that the whole of the World-Tree is ill at ease - and our works, our holy blessings and our most ordinary deeds, can help to shift the Tree's balance.
Another Norse view of the arrangement of the worlds, as described by Snorri, shows them as beneath the roots of the World-Tree. There are three great roots, one over the Ases' Garth, one over Etin-Home, and one over Nibel-Home. As soul-lore, we understand that these three "roots" are the three stems of might - the white brightness of the Overworld (God-Home), the rawest red strength of the Middle World (Etin-Home), and the blackness of the Underworld (Nibel-Home), from which the strands of being are braided and the Tree and the worlds find their shape.
Beneath each root is a well - the Ases' well is the well of Wyrd, the etins' is the well of Mímir, and Hvergelmir stands in Nibel-Home. In The Well and the Tree (the work which laid the foundation for the whole following discussion of Wyrd) Paul Bauschatz showed that this triplicity was probably an over-systemization of three different levels, or aspects, of the Well. According to his model, which is accepted by many among both mundane academics and true folk, Hvergelmir, the bubbling cauldron of venom, yeast, and icy water, is the lowest level and the source of raw might. Mímir's Well is the next level, that where all that is is kept and shapes the waters rising up from Hvergelmir. The highest level is Wyrd's Well, where the Norns lay ørlög and the Ases come to deem at their Þing. The roots of the Tree are sunken into the Well; the waters of Wyrd flow up again and again through its branches (the embodiments of time/space), shaping a new layer of events each time and dripping back. Those drops that fall into Hvergelmir - happenings of little worth - are simply recycled as part of the general might of the Well. Those that fall into Mímir's Well are the happenings that build on what is already set and help to bring it to being, without making any change. But those drops that fall into Wyrd's Well are the drops of might: these are the magical, ritual, or heroic actions that work the willed turnings of Wyrd.
According to Völuspá, the three Norns Urðr (Wyrd), Verðandi (Werðende - Becoming), and Skuld (Should [Become]) "lay laws and choose lives" at the Well of Wyrd. These Norns, the embodiments of causality, are probably the three maids spoken of in stanza 8, "maids of the thurses, awful and mighty, (come) out of Etin-Home)". They are the great ones who shape the wyrd of the worlds; but the greatest of them is Wyrd, for it is by her might that the other two work. Superficial texts often explain the Norns as "Past, Present, and Future", but this is not correct: the Germanic time-sense is not triple, like that of the Greeks and Romans (from whom contemporary Western culture inherited it) but dual. For our forebears, there was only the great structure of "that-which-is", in which the eldest and the youngest layers were at the same time and the one was just as close and real as the other, and the current moment, "that-which-is-becoming". There was no sense of future as such: spae-sayings, that told of what "should" happen, were literally statements of Wyrd - that-which-is, seen with the wisdom that knows what must then arise as the effect of an existing cause. This is one of the reasons why the religion of the North has always placed so much trust in forebears and tales of old, why the Germanic peoples have often been accused of living in the past and dreams of the past - we, like Wodan, ever have one eye in the Well of Memory and one eye on the moment of becoming. To us, that-which-is, "the past", is not gone or lost: it is forever living and green, and more, it is the source from which all springs, even as the roots are the source of the tree. New branches can spring forth if the crown is chopped off; but the destruction of the roots is the end: and thus it is with our folk. To lose the ways of our forebears - to lose our foothold in that-which-is, or get too far from their thoughts and beliefs - is to be rootless trees and to die. Yet the roots need the strength and growth they get from the branches and leaves as well; so it is likewise part of our troth to feed the old lore with what we learn, to give our worship to our forebears and the hero/ines of elder days, and to make the whole Tree greater by so doing.
The image of the World-Tree growing from the Well of Wyrd, with the Nine Worlds in its branches and roots, is the centrepoint of the Troth - the axis of the worlds. Our forebears often carried out their worship around holy trees; the Continental Saxons had the Irminsul ("Great Pillar" - destroyed by Charlemagne in 772), which was probably their earthly embodiment of the World-Tree. In our hofs and homes, it is represented by the high-seat pillars or the Bairnstock: it is the heart of every holy stead. Grønbech mentions that "At first sight (the description of the three worlds/wells under the three roots) impresses the reader as lacking inner coherence...but it is by no means improbable that the altar contained several representations of the water....The sacred tree and the well belonged to the holy place outside, but the principle of the blot rendered it indispensable that they should be represented on the altar. When it is said that the rivers take their rise in the centre of the world, it is identical to saying that they flow from the feast and spring from the ideal - i.e. the real - world situated on the altar in the sacrificial place" (II, p. 195).
The Tree itself is home to many wights. On the top sits an eagle, with a falcon perched between his eyes; the dragon Nith-Hewer (Níðhöggr) coils about its roots, with a nest of lesser wyrms who gnaw at it. The squirrel Ratatosk runs up and down to carry malicious messages between dragon and eagle. There are four stags - Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyr, and Duraþror - who gnaw at the bark; as spoken of in "Alfs, Dwarves, Land-Wights, and Huldfolk", these are probably dwarves in their daylight shape, since Dáinn and Dvalinn are two of the greatest among the dwarves.
In his Edda, Snorri also tells us that the Norns take water and mud from the well every day and pour it over the Tree to heal its hurts and keep it from rotting, and that the water is so holy that whatever is put into the well turns white as an egg's membrane. He adds that the drops falling onto the earth are called honeydew, and bees feed on it; also that there are two swans that feed in the Well.
Saying that the Norns cast water upon the Tree is another way of saying that they cut runes, lay laws, and shape ørlög. This is the same rite that is carried out when a child is given its name (see 'Birth'): the moment when the bright water of life strikes the newborn and the words are spoken is the moment when its wyrd is shaped. This rite in the Middle-Garth shows forth the greatest working of the worlds all around us: the water of wyrd-speaking is the might that rises from what is, gives life to what is becoming, and shapes that which shall be.
The Norns are also compared to spinners and weavers (as in the beginning of Helgakviða Hundingsbana I), and this image offers another way at looking at being and causality, as told by Eric Wodening:
...the process of wyrd can be seen as the process of spinning thread and weaving cloth. To understand this comparison, one must know a little bit about spinning and weaving.
Thread is spun by using a spindle and a distaff to twist animal (wool) or vegetable (flax, nettle, or cotton) fibres. A bundle of the fibre is wound loosely around the distaff, which is held in one hand or tucked in one's belt. The spindle is a smaller, tapered rod, the turning of which gives the twist, and around which the thread is wound as it is twisted.
Weaving itself is a process whereby a set of crosswise threads, the woof, are interlaced with a set of lengthwise threads, the warp. Each warp thread is stretched out parallel to the others upon the loom. The woof thread is then passed back and forth between the warp threads by way of the shuttle. A comb is afterwards used to force each individual woof thread against the one before it, thus forming the woven cloth or web. The web is then taken up on a roll, or cloth beam, at the front of the loom. As weaving continues more warp is provided by way of a roll at the back of the loom, the warp beam.
Viewing the process of wyrd as one of spinning and weaving, then, the various actions occuring throughout the Worlds would be the fibres used in the spinning. Some of those fibres, those with no real impact on the worlds, would be useless for spinning and would be thrown out. Other fibres, those with some impact on the worlds, would be spun into thread. These threads would consist of fibres related to each other in some way. Each person's life would make up a thread, and the significnt actions in his life would make up the fibres.
Within the process of weaving itself, series of interrelated actions taking place in the present would make up the woof threads. The influence of the past upon the present would be the warp, through which the present passes back and forth according to the ørlög spoken by the Wyrdæ, which acts as the shuttle. The past - the great realm of "that-which-is" - is represented by the web itself, ever growing as more and more woof is woven in with the warp.
Seeing the process of wyrd as one of spinning and weaving emphasises the interconnectivity of all things. Consider, each thread represents a number of interrelated actions. These threads are further interlaced with, and structured by, influences from the past ("warp threads") to form one great web.
Of course, some "threads" would be more closely related to each other than they would to yet other threads. A husband's life (his "thread") would be more related to his wife's than that of a total stranger. In such cases where threads are interrelated through kinship, alliance, and so on, it may be safe to say that such interrelationship are manifested as "patterns" upon the web of Wyrd, not unlike the patterns found in a tapestry or carpet. The web of Wyrd, then, is a colourful cloth indeed.
Within this web, or the branches and roots of the Tree, we find the Nine Worlds, each with a shape and might of its own. Some of these are well-known; some have yet to be sought further into.
Hel-Home is divided into Hel's realm - which, despite Snorri (see "Soul, Death, and Rebirth") seems not to be a bad place - and "Niflhel", that worst of realms where those go whose deeds have made them outcast from all the halls of god/esses. That is the hall the seeresss of Völuspá sees standing "far from the Sun on Corpse-Strand, with doors turned towards the north - drops of venom fall in around the smoke-hole; the hall is all wound with the spines of wyrms...There she saw main-sworn men and murder-wargs wading the swift-flowing stream...There Níðhöggr sucks dead corpses, and the warg slits men" (38-9). The river that runs between Hel-Home and the other worlds is crossed by a broad bridge, the Gjallarbrú (Resounding Bridge), warded by the etin-maid Móðguðr (Brave Battle) who, as described in Snorri and Helreið Brynhildar, challenges those who would pass. In the soul, Hel-Home is also the realm of the deep subconscious. It is to Hel-Home that spae-seers fare to bring forth their wisdom, as Óðinn called forth the völva of Baldrs draumar, and it was in Hel-Home, at the roots of the worlds, that the runes shone forth to Wodan as he gazed down from where he hung on the World-Tree.
Of the geography of Swart Alf-Home, Light Alf-Home, and the four "elemental worlds" we know little or nothing. However, we know much about God-Home. It is seen as being either on top of a mountain or at the World-Tree's crown, and is reached by crossing the rainbow bridge called Bifröst, "the shaking road to heaven" or Bilröst, "the fleetingly glimpsed rainbow" (Simek, Dictionary, pp. 36-7). In Grímnismál, Óðinn tells us a great deal of lore about the god/esses and their dwellings. There are twelve great halls counted as part of God-Home: Þórr's Þrúðheimr (Trud-Home - Home of Strength), Ullr's Ydalir (Yew-Dales), Valaskjálf (Crag of the Slain) or Válaskjálf (Váli's Crag) - either ruled by Óðinn or Váli; alas, the manuscript has no acute-marks, so there is no way to tell which was the original meaning - Sökkvabekkr (Sunken-Benches), where Óðinn and Sága drink together, Glaðsheimr where Valhšll stands, Skaþi's Þrymheimr, Baldr's Breiðablik (Wide-Gleaming), Heimdallr's Himinbjörg (Heaven-Mountain, which is also the name of Denmark's highest, or rather least low, hill), Freyja's Fólkvangr (Army-Plain), Forseti's Glitnir (Glistening), Njörðr's Nóatún (Ship-Garth), and Víðarr's land, Víði (The Wide). Freyr's Álfheimr is also named, but not numbered, perhaps because it is a whole different world (though, as the Ases and alfs are so close together, it may still be thought of as within the holy garth). As well as these, Frija has her own hall, Fensalir, and we may guess that many of the other less well-known god/esses have theirs as well; it is unlikely that Tiw, for instance, does not possess his own dwelling and judgement-seat. Whether a full tally would agree or not, however, twelve is one of the great numbers by which our forebears counted holy things (along with nine, three, and their various multiples); and the gods and goddesses are also tallied respectively as twelve and twenty-four. It has been suggested that the twelve halls of Grímnismál correspond to the signs of the Zodiac, beginning with Þrúðheimr in Capricorn and ending with Víði in Sagittarius, and certainly similarities can be seen by those who want to see them; this is not necessarily a reflection of our forebears' star-lore, but has found a place in the practices of some today.
For human folk, the span of life-age (aldr) is given at birth; and so it is with the worlds: they shall not last forever, and the manner of their ending is well-known - the final battle which is called Ragnarök, "The Doom of the Gods". A corrupt form, ragna rökr ("Twilight of the Gods") appears in "Lokasenna" 39 and Snorri's Edda. This has led to the German translation "Götterdämmerung", best known as the title of the last opera in Wagner's Ring Cycle (the one in which it is proven that a good Heldentenor can sing on for half an hour with a spear through his lungs).
One of the oldest descriptions of Ragnarök, and certainly the clearest, is found in the poem Völuspá (the Spae of the Völva"), in which an ancient etin-seeress tells î_inn of the beginning of the worlds and their end. This poem was probably composed around 1000 C.E., when the end of the world was much on the minds of christian Europe and the fate of the gods a matter of some concern to the Heathens of Scandinavia. The author's own spiritual orientation is unknown: some elements suggest a degree of christian contamination (for instance, the stanza that begins with the Sun turning black is from the book of Revelation, and contradicts the poem's earlier reference to the troll-wolf swallowing her), but the general attitude is one of love and respect towards the Heathen god/esses, so that Völuspá is often thought to have been produced by a person of mixed troth. Still, whoever the composer was, s/he was clearly rich in old lore.
Certain signs will lead up to the last battle. According to Vafþrúðnismál, there will come a time called "Fimbulwinter" (the Great Winter), which Snorri describes as three very hard winters with no summer between them. Brothers will battle and slay one another, and sister-sons will destroy their sibs. It will go hard with the world; there will be an axe-age, a sword-age, a wind-age, a warg-age before the world ends, and no human shall spare another. Then Eggþér, the troll-woman's herdsman who watches from the mound where he sits, shall gladly strike his harp. The fair-red cockerel Fjalarr shall answer him from the gallows-tree (or the "great tree" - text uncertain, but Yggdrasill is probably meant here); then Gullinkambi, the gold-crowned cockerel of the Ases who keeps watch for Óðinn, shall crow, and he shall be answered by the soot-red cockerel from Hel's hall beneath the earth. The hound Garmr will bay mightily before Gnipahellir (perhaps the cave at the entrance to Hel?), and fetters shall be broken; Yggdrasill shall tremble, and the etin (probably Loki) shall be loosed. All shall be fearful on the Hel-ways. Hrymr comes from the East, lifting his shield before himself, and Jörmungandr (the Middle-Garth's Wyrm) turns in etin-mood; the wyrm thrashes the waves, but the eagle screams, slitting corpses with his beak, and Naglfar (the ship made of dead men's nails) is loosed. A ship fares from the East: the Muspilli shall come travelling over the water, and Loki steers; the monsters' sons fare with all greedy ones, and Býleist's brother (Loki?) fares with them...How fare the Ases? How fare the alfs? All Etin-Home resounds, the Ases are at Þing; the dwarves groan before stone-doors, rock-wall's princes...Surtr fares from the South with the harmer-of-twigs (fire), the slain gods' sun (fire) shines from sword. The cliffs collapse, and troll-women wander, heroes tread the Hel-way, and the heaven is cloven. Then Hlín (Frigg) has a second sorrow, when Óðinn fares to battle the wolf, and Beli's-Bane (Freyr), bright, against Surtr; then shall Frigg's sorrows fall upon her. Then the mighty son of Sigfather, Víðarr, comes against the Beast of the Slain; with his hand he lets the blade stand in the heart of Hveðrung's son; thus is his father revenged. The girdle-of-Earth (Middle-Garth's Wyrm) yawns aloft, the terrible jaws of the Wyrm gape on high. Óðinn's son shall meet the Wyrm...then comes the mighty son of Hlóðyn (Earth)...he slays in fury, Middle-Garth's Warder; all heroes must ride from home-steads; Fjörgyn's bairn steps back nine feet from the Adder, fearing no shame. The Sun is blackened, earth sinks into sea, the glorious stars fall from heaven; steam gushes forth with life-nourisher (fire), tall flames play up to heaven itself.
She (the Völva) sees the earth coming up a second time from the sea, renewed-green; waterfalls stream down, an eagle flies above, hunting fish from the fell. The Ases find each other on Iða-Fields, and deem concerning the mighty earth-rope (the Middle-Garth's Wyrm - likely speaking with honour of Þórr's battle against it), and remember the mighty doom for themselves there, and Fimbultýr's ancient runes. And afterwards they must find the wondrous golden tafl-pieces in the grass there, which they had in earliest days. Unsown acres shall wax, and all bale be made better. Baldr shall come; Höðr and Baldr shall dwell there, the Slain-Gods well in Hroptr's sig-steads (Valhöll?)...Then Hoenir shall be able to choose the lot-woods, and the two brothers shall dwell in wide Wind-Home...She sees a hall stand, fairer than the Sun, thatched with gold, in Gimlé. There shall the doughty troops dwell, and enjoy the pleasures of ancient days. Then the mighty one shall come to the gods' deeming, powerful, from above, who rules all. Then the dark dragon shall come flying, the Adder forth from below, from Niða-Fells; Níðhöggr bears corpses in his feathers, flies over the field - now she shall sink (speaking of the seeress who has finished her prophecy; an alternate manuscript has "now he shall sink", speaking of the dragon)".
Vafþrúðnismál adds to this that two humans, Líf (Life) and Lífþrasir (Stubborn Will to Live, or Striver After Life), will survive by hiding themselves in "Hoddmímir's (Treasure-Mímir's) Wood", and nourish themselves on morning dew. "Hoddmímir's Wood" is often taken to be the World-Tree, or its young shoots. The etin Vafþrúðnir also says that the Sun shall bear a daughter before the wolf (here, Fenrir) swallows her; that Víðarr and Váli shall dwell in the wih-steads of the gods when Surtr's flames are slaked, and Móði and Magni shall have Mjöllnir. Likewise, he mentions that Njörðr shall return to Wan-Home. Interestingly, Wan-Home is the only worlds which is not specifically mentioned as being disturbed by Ragnarök: the alfs are coupled with the Ases, Etin-Home resounds and the mountains fall, the dwarves groan, the Muspilli are on the move, Nith-Hewer is stirred from his stead in Nibel-Home, and even Hel is not untouched by the world-shaking last battle. Only Wan-Home and the Wans (apart from Fro Ing, the world's last warder) take no known part in it - though some may perhaps see their might in the rising of the new earth from the sea.
Snorri's version of Ragnarök differs from the poems in only a couple of particulars: he adds the hosts of the frost-giants and Hel (problematical, giving Baldr and Höðr's later return from her realm) to those fighting against the gods; he informs us of a few more single combats (Heimdallr and Loki, Týr and Hel's hound Garmr, shall slay each other; and Freyr fights against Surtr with a stag's antler); and, according to him, Víðarr does not stab Fenrir, but rips his jaws apart with a great leather boot made from the cast-off scraps of all human leatherworkers. The last element is thought to preserve an older tradition; the motif of the beast who swallows someone whole, only to be ripped apart so that the swallowed one may spring alive from its belly, appears frequently in Germanic folk-tales ("Little Red Riding Hood" probably being the best-known example), and many true folk think that this shows that Wodan shall come forth again in some form - perhaps embodied in one of his kinsmen. In Runelore, Edred Thorsson suggests Hoenir, who now handles the lot-woods (runes); Óðinn's sons Balder and/or Höðr and/or his avenger Víðarr are all also possibilities. Þórr's might is reborn in Móði and Magni (and, we may expect, Þrúðr as well): his Hammer, like the sword of the Völsungs and Týrfingr, is the embodiment of the Thonarings' clan-soul, passed on and brought forth in generation after generation.
As for the "mighty one" of Völuspá, there are different readings. Some see this stanza as a christian interpolation giving the southerners' god a place among ours; others compare it to the section of "Hyndluljóð" which is called "Völuspá hin skamma" (the Short Spae of the Völva), in which a "mighty one" who, because of his birth from nine mothers, is generally thought to be Heimdallr, is spoken of in similar terms (see "Heimdallr"). As Járnsaxa (Thonar's concubine) is one of the nine women named in "Hyndluljóð", the possibility that these references could perhaps speak of Magni - physically the mightiest of the Ases, even at three years old - has been suggested as well in Freya Aswynn's runic correspondence course.
To true folk, Ragnarök is not something to be feared, no more than death is; the two are essentially the same on different levels. The great beasts of death for our forebears were the wolf and the wyrm (in its various shapes from maggot to dragon); Surtr's fires might well be seen as the flames of the funeral pyre leaping up to eat the whole of the world - as they do for the individual at cremation. However, as spoken of in "Soul, Death, and Rebirth", death takes many shapes, and many things may lie beyond it, according to how life is lived and how death itself is met. Thus, our need is to strengthen ourselves and the god/esses so that it will be possible for them to fulfill their parts in the battle and for the new world to be born again. It could happen at any time - "the gray wolf gapes ever at the gods' dwelling" - and we must be ready for it. This is not a call to stockpile guns, as some christians do in the expectation that their myth of Armageddon will soon play itself out in physical form; rather, our readiness lies in warding and healing the Earth, in strengthening our own selves so that we will be able to fight alongside the holy ones when the time comes, and - most of all - in seeking to know the god/esses, to work with them, and to give them might and bring them through more strongly into this world by holding the blessings of the seasons and living as true folk who call on them every day.
Freya Aswynn, Elder (Runic Correspondence Course, Lesson 8)
Sunwynn Ravenwood, in "Letters from Midgard", Idunna V, ii, 19 (For-Litha 1993 C.E.)
Eric Wodening, Elder-in-Training, from "Heathen Cosmography", Idunna V, i, 18 (Rhedmonth 1993 C.E.)