Fimbulwinter and The End of the World
Feel like this winter is lasting forever? Do recent events have you feeling like this cold, awful world is ending? It just might be.
Fimbulwinter is the period of time preceding Ragnarok. If you don’t know what Ragnarok is, well, it’s the end of all things. That’s right– just like the Christians, the Mayans, and basically every other race on Earth, the Norse had their own end-of-days, mythological apocalypse.
Fimbulwinter (or fimbulvinter) is straight out of Game of Thrones: it’s a winter that lasts three LONG years. Not just any years– they are looooooong years. And throughout all this winter, people are battling one another. Brothers fighting brothers, lovers fighting lovers, and general, awful, personal discord runs rampant.
Where did this idea come from? Well, take a gander at this verse from the Vafþrúðnismál, the third poem of the Poetric Edda which deals with Odin meeting the giant Vafthruthnir and tricking him into telling the fate of the gods. Like Bilbo with Gollum, Odin challenges Vafthrunthnir into a wisdom contest by asking him questions that the wise giant must be able to answer:
“Much have I fared, | much have I found,
Much have I got of the gods:
What shall live of mankind | when at last there comes
The mighty winter to men?”
“In Hoddmimir’s wood | shall hide themselves
Lif and Lifthrasir then;
The morning dews | for meat shall they have,
Such food shall men then find.”
Around 650 BCE, there was an Ice Age-like event in Scandinavian– the world got a whole lot colder in those already-cold areas. This was during what is considered the Norse Bronze Age, so it’s fair to imagine that such an awful, cold, and long winter made a lasting impression on the psyches of the Norse. Now, the Prose Edda that the above verse comes from wasn’t written until the 13th century and the Viking legends that we have today come from that time period, but it’s fair to say that some memory of this event had probably been passed down through oral tradition and distorted into this tale. After all, we only know of these super cold years due to archaeological records.
Lif and Lifthrasir might sound somewhat similar if you’ve read our creation myth. Lif (meaning ‘life of the body’) and his wife Lifthrasir (meaning ‘Lif’s lover’) are the only two to escape the cold. They hide in a grove called Hoddmimir. Some scholars have posed that since the name Hoddmimir is so close to the name of the tree thought to be Yggdrasil, Mímameiðr, and since there’s no mention of how the tree of wisdom makes it through Ragnarok, that the tree Lif and Lifthrasir find themselves in may just be Yggdrasil.
Which could be taken to mean that humankind might be able to survive the worst of conditions only with the shelter of their wisdom and knowledge. So no matter how cold it gets this year, take comfort in the knowledge that spring is just a few short months away.