I started writing in 2013. At that time I hadn’t ever read the Poetic Edda or the Prose Edda. I’d maybe read Padraic Colum’s book…maybe…and maybe some other secondary / derivative kid-focused books along with Simonson’s Thor stint, of course.
The Post-Ragnarok World
So when I read Voluspa (followed by the other Eddas) I was blown away for lots of different reasons. For example, I not only learned how the gods would die but that there was a world after Ragnarok.
This post, then, provides an overview of what that world looks like based first on the Voluspa and then on a stanza from the Vafthruthrismol. In the former, Odin summons a volva (yes, that’s the word. It basically means “seeress”) from the grave and asks her questions (see the footnotes for an intriguing, alternative interpretation of that poem). In the latter, Odin engages in a battle of wits with the wisest Jotunn, Vafthrudnir.
The poem can be found here. There are online sources, as well. So it’s clear, my commentary (though it’s hardly sophisticated enough to merit that word) precedes the quoted stanzas. I don’t do justice to the poems or their nuances so I encourage you to read them.
Stz 59 describes how the renewed earth rises from beneath the waves. This is after Surtr burns the whole shebang. The “I” probably refers to the seeress. The alternative interpretation referenced below suggests that the seeress has summoned Odin and is interrogating him. I need to read that paper again b/c it’s a really neat way to interpret the poem.
59. Now do I see | the earth anew
Rise all green | from the waves again;
The cataracts fall, | and the eagle flies,
And fish he catches | beneath the cliffs.
In Stanza 60, the gods meet in Ithavoll which is the original area where they had met pre-Ragnarok. However, the gods meeting after Ragnarok are only the survivors: Vidar, Vali, Magni and Modi, Baldr and Hodr. There may be more gods who survive but they are not named.
The “terrible girdler” is Jormungandr — the Midgard serpent; Loki’s son. He kills Thor. The “ancient runes of” refers to Odin.
I don’t understand that “golden tables” reference except that it probably means the surviving gods have reclaimed and/or found some of the old wisdom.
60. The gods in Ithavoll | meet together,
Of the terrible girdler | of earth they talk,
And the mighty past | they call to mind,
And the ancient runes | of the Ruler of Gods.
61. In wondrous beauty | once again
Shall the golden tables | stand mid the grass,
Which the gods had owned | in the days of old,
. . . . . . . . . .
In Stz 62, we learn that Baldr and Hodr come back from Hel to dwell in Odin’s “battle-hall.” Also, the fields are fertile and “all ills grow better” – describing a new fertility after the fire and flood. Note that the “would you know yet more?” is a repeated refrain. It’s almost a taunt, as if the seeress (or Odin) is saying “can you handle knowing more?” Also note that virtually the entirety of the Voluspa prior to these stanzas has dealt with how the world is destroyed and how the major gods die.
62. Then fields unsowed | bear ripened fruit,
All ills grow better, | and Baldr comes back;
Baldr and Hoth dwell | in Hropt’s battle-hall,
And the mighty gods: | would you know yet more?
Stz 63: For me, the meaning here is obscure since “Hoenir” is only referenced a few other times in other sources. In those references he’s associated with Odin but it’s never really clear exactly who Hoenir is. This line also says that the official brothers of Odin – Vili and Ve – live in “the Home of the Wind” now…but we’d no good idea of where they were prior to Ragnarok. Or does Vindheim perhaps mean “heaven” (as the Bellows notes state) meaning that the brothers are dead?
63. Then Hönir wins | the prophetic wand,
. . . . . . . . . .
And the sons of the brothers | of Tveggi abide
In Vindheim now: | would you know yet more?
In Stz 64 the seeress describes a hall “roofed with gold” which is where the righteous rulers dwell, and happiness will be there. Then in Stz 65 she continues saying that a mighty lord will come to rule in the hall upon Gimle. This sounds very Christian to me – which is what the footnotes in the Bellows translation suggest. But even that’s not entirely clear. In fact, the Bellows notes state that there may have been significant “interpolation” here and perhaps throughout the Voluspa (and other eddas). This simply means that new material was inserted at some point.
64. More fair than the sun, | a hall I see,
Roofed with gold, | on Gimle it stands;
There shall the righteous | rulers dwell,
And happiness ever | there shall they have.
65. There comes on high, | all power to hold,
A mighty lord, | all lands he rules.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
The Corpse-laden Dragon
In Stz 66 the dragon Nithogg flies from Nidjafjoll (the Dark Crags) with the corpses of men on his wings. Creepy and brutal.
Overall, I read it as Ragnarok happens, the world is roasted, flooded, some peeps and gods survive, re-emerge into a fresh new world with the best of the old world preserved…only for the dragon of death to make an appearance. Which is to say, sure, it’s good now, but just you wait…implying, perhaps, a cyclical view of time.
The Voluspa concludes with the seeress saying “but now I must sink” — i.e., back into the grave from which Odin summoned her.
66. From below the dragon | dark comes forth,
Nithhogg flying | from Nithafjoll;
The bodies of men on | his wings he bears,
The serpent bright: | but now must I sink.
The Tale of Vafthrudnir
I immediately liked Vafthrudnir; just a cool character. Which, I guess, is why he made it into my books. The poem itself is a battle of wits in which Odin learns about the world from someone who is wiser than he. And then Odin pulls a fast one, wins the duel and Vaft loses his head.
In Stanza 45 of the Vathruthnismol Odin learns that “Lif” and “Lifthrasir” will emerge into the world after Ragnarok and have the morning dews for meat. The Bellows footnotes state that this pair are Life and Sturdy of Life, presumably male and female (and perhaps the same as Askr and Embla?). It is implied (imo) that this pair repopulates the earth.
45. “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.”
In Stanza 50 Odin asks Vafthrudnir who will rule when the fires of Surtr have receded. Vaft answers indirectly saying that Vidar and Vali will dwell in the gods’ home afterward. And then he adds that Thor’s sons will have Mjolnir.
Wait, Who Dies?
When I was building my timeline for my books, this question implied that Odin already knew that the world was going to end…which meant he’d already spoken with the seeress in Voluspa. But, my hypothesis is contradicted elsewhere. Also, the first two lines are repeated throughout the poem.
50. “Much have I fared, | much have I found,
Much have I got of the gods:
Who then shall rule | the realm of the gods,
When the fires of Surt have sunk?”
In Stanza 52, Odin asks how Odin dies in Ragnarok. Again, this question implies that Odin has already spoken to the seeress. Is he checking his sources against each other, looking for inconsistencies? Maybe a way out of his doom? /wink
Vaft answers, saying that Fenrir will kill Odin and that Vidar will avenge Odin’s death.
53. “The wolf shall fell | the father of men,
And this shall Vithar avenge;
The terrible jaws | shall he tear apart,
And so the wolf shall he slay.”
The final stanzas involve Odin pulling a fast one and Vaft losing his head over it. Think Biblo versus Gollum and the “what do I have in my pocket” question? It’s a cheap question, but the rules of the duel permit it.
54. “Much have I fared, | much have I found,
Much have I got from the gods:
What spake Othin himself | in the ears of his son,
Ere in the bale-fire he burned?”
In Stanza 55, Vaft concedes. But, for me the “thou” on the second line makes me think that Vaft knew he was dueling Odin either for the entirety of the poem or at some point midway thru (I’ll have to read it again to try & pinpoint it).
The “fated mouth” makes me think that Vaft had foreknowledge of this duel. the Bellows notes suggest that Vaft only figured it out at the end of the duel and now he knows he’s going to die. (In Crawford’s translation it is “doomed mouth.”)
55. “No man can tell | what in olden time
Thou spak’st in the ears of thy son;
With fated mouth | the fall of the gods
And mine olden tales have I told;
With Othin in knowledge | now have I striven,
And ever the wiser thou art.”
I think it’s cooler if Vaft had Odin pegged from the get-go and went thru with the duel anyway.
Free will vs Fate / Doom / Wyrd
All of the above, and more besides, has had me thinking hard about free will versus determinism / fate. To the point of watching random YouTube videos about the topic.
I won’t go off the deep end into those topics because this post is way too long as it is and I haven’t figured out how I want to incorporate this theme of free will versus fate into my books. It’s central to Norse myths and Odin”s character arc…and my second book.
Note: Drinking from Odin’s Pledge, Henning Kure, 2006, is the paper that provides an alternate reading of the Voluspa.