The Great Winter, and the Hungry Wolf

Ragnarök, or the Twilight of the Gods, is the great Norse Apocalypse. While two human youth will survive, hidden away in what may be the alcove of Mimir, deep in the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, it doesn’t change the fact that the Nine Realms will have already been wiped out by an interminable frost, a winter that appears endless.

How long does it last, you ask?

Three unforgiving years. Pure Winter, Pure Darkness.

This, among the Norse, was known as Fimbulwinter, the Great Winter.

To understand what leads to the Great Winter, and subsequently to Ragnarök, we have to look away from the usual cast of characters: Odin, Thor & Loki.

Not that Loki won’t be playing a pivotal part.

However, we need to start with a jötunn, a giantess, named Angrboda.


The giantess old in Ironwood sat,
In the east, and bore the brood of Fenrir;
Among these one in monster’s guise
Was soon to steal the sun from the sky.
There feeds he full on the flesh of the dead,
And the home of the gods he reddens with gore;
Dark grows the sun, and in summer soon
Come mighty storms: would you know yet more?
Völuspá (stanzas 40–41)

One day, Loki went on a solo adventure. During his travels, he met the witch Angrboda, and they had an intimate relationship, resulting in three children:

  • Fenris the Wolf (see a Boy And His Dog)
  • Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent (see Thor & Loki get Punk’d by a Giant)
  • Hel: Half dead and necrotic on one side of her face, alive on the other. Queen of the Underworld, and busy raising an army of the undead to match Odin’s warriors from Valhalla, all to avenge her father, Loki. Incidentally, it was Odin who made her Queen of the Underworld, moved by compassion for her condition, something he might later regret at Ragnarok…

Angrbod’s children would lead the march against the Aesir, as well as their children, the Vanir.

The gosl: complete annihilation.

However, not before Fimbulwinter…the unforgiving winter.


As someone with a predisposition towards science, I am confused – truly confused – by those who deny climate change.

As a parent, I am terrified at the world we might be leaving our children.

As a mythologist, I understand.

Fimbulwinter is coming.


So, what is the Fimbulwinter ?

Three years of unending winter: snow, hail, freezing rain.

Something fierce enough to make the Norse Gods tremble

(and shiver to their bones).

The stars grow dim; the earth is fallow;

When even the Gods hide in fear

How should mortals feel?


At the end of it all, maybe we can just end with words of wisdom

from short lived poet, Dylan Thomas;

Because even if the end is nigh, and the Fimbulwinter – the unforgiving winter –

awaits us,

We do not have have to go gently into that winter night…


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

– Dylan Thomas


But then, of course, there is still Ragnarök, always waiting.

And Fenris Wolf, who is always hungry.

So what do we do?

The only thing we can do, Dylan Thomas style

Rage, rage against the dying of the light…

Photo by Nick Eugenis


Suggested Reading:

Mythcrafts’ page with academic and pop culture links to Norse Mythology.

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