How’s that for a sensational headline? But according to some, Ragnarok, the “Viking apocalypse” is due on Feb. 22. The countdown began when the horn of Heimdallr was blown on Nov. 14th in York. According to legend the god himself would have blown the horn to warn that the end was a mere 100 days away. At which point, theoretically, the Vikings would have thrown the biggest party the world had ever seen.
Putting aside the question of who decided it was a good idea to blow Gjallarhorn, I have a few problems with this.
One, why isn’t the apocalypse of my people being taken seriously? Mayan civilization hasn’t been a force in hundreds of years, but everyone knew the date of their apocalypse decades out. The Dec. 21 end of the Baktun was big news worldwide, and people gathered at the pyramids for special celebrations and experts repeated over and over that the end of the calendar didn’t necessarily mean anything, and even that the astronomical event it was meant to coincide with had already come and gone.
Where is the hype over Ragnarok? I mean, it’s a pretty great apocalypse. Before the apocalypse proper, all morality will disappear from the world and fights will break out (possibly this has happened already). A terrible winter will last for three years (hmm. Polar vortex?). The wolf Skoll will devour the sun, while his brother Hati eats the moon, causing eternal darkness. Odin will be killed by Fenrir. Then there will be huge earthquakes, the sea will rear up, and the sky will be stained with poison. This sounds a lot more exciting than a plague of zombies, and they get a lot of ink. I’m not even sure, for all the hype, what exactly was supposed to happen on 12/21/12.
Second, at the risk of sounding like a third-rate stand-up comedian, what’s up with the apocalypse, anyway? Does it seem like we’ve faced one after another with barely any space in-between? Is this a statistically high occurrence of apocalypse predictions? I have read that millennia and turns-ofcenturies are always rife with doomsayers. But isn’t it getting a bit old? Perhaps that’s why people aren’t giving Ragnarok the time of day.
Except, no. One look at popular media in the U.S. spoils that hypothesis. You can’t swing a cat without hitting an apocalypse, or a dystopia, or a zombie plague. There’s probably even some sort of cat-swinging apocalypse. Even relatively mundane disasters get apocalyptic names. A couple years ago in Seattle we had “snowpocalypse” when we got a few inches of the white stuff (don’t judge us; we’re awful with snow). And in southern California they had “carmageddon” because of road work (come to think of it, like these other apocalypses, carmageddon was largely hype).
So what is it about the end that we find so compelling? I think it’s a particular kind of solipsism that’s currently common, at least in American culture. We are the only thing that’s important, so how could the world go on without us? It can’t. Our deaths must therefore mean it’s the end. Or, even better, we believe that we will survive the end, to struggle on in whatever wasteland remains. We will outlive civilization! What power!
At least old-fashioned apocalypses like the end of the Baktun and Ragnarok are of divine origin. The more common storyline these days is that we humans will cause our demise. And inasfar as these are used as cautionary tales, I support them. It’s good for us to be reminded from time to time that if we genetically engineer dinosaurs they will probably eat us. But the narrative is also very prideful. We believe we are capable of ending the world. What hubris!
I’m sure Odin and the others will set us straight. Before they die.
The battle begins in just over a week. Even though at the end of it only two human survivors will be left to repopulate the renewed, beautiful earth, which means you will probably die, you may as well make a go of it. I recommend stocking up on batteries for your flashlights. It’s going to be a long night.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 14, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call (206) 784-4617.