Last Friday we posted a commentary on the prediction that May 21, 2011 will be the end of days. Basically, we said that prediction story was nonsense. But it is not a unique story, as religions across time have proffered apocalyptic tales. I wondered if Dr. Jung had anything to say about the psychology of apocalypse and, of course, he did. In a nutshell, Jung described an apocalypse as a fundamental shift in the collective world view — like what happened when the Roman Empire declined.* The decline occurred over time and was arguably (at least in part) the result of shifting cultural priorities and changing social institutions.
Regardless of the psychology behind it, apocalyptic stories are woven into human stories across time and across religions. Here are several ancient apocalyptic tales.
Religion: Ancient Norse / Germanic
Story: Ragnarök is literally the “final destiny of the gods”, including Odin, Thor,** Týr, Freyr, Heimdall, and Loki. Ragnarök is not a single event; it is a series of events that culminate in a fierce battle between good (the Æsir) and evil (opponents of the Æsir). It was foretold to Odin by a völva (a soothsayer). In the beginning humanity will turn against itself in war and a long, harsh winter will descend on Midgard (Earth). This acts as a harbinger of evil challenging good. Among the evil challegers…The jötnar (giants) of Múspellsheimr will come set fire to the world. Jörmungandr (the Midgard Serpent) will writhe in the sea creating tidal waves. Naglfar, a ship build from the fingernails and toenails of the dead, will sail from the Hel carrying armies to battle the gods. Hræsvelgr, another giant, will descend in the form of an eagle. The war will begin. Odin will battle the wolf Fenrir and be swallowed whole. His son Víðarr will avenge his death by tearing Fenrir’s jaws apart and spearing him in the heart. Absent his magic sword (which he abandoned for love), Freyr will be defeated by Sutr, ruler of the fire giants. Thor will engage the raging serpent Jörmungandr and defeat it, but will die from mortal wounds immediately afterward. After these Æsir fall, the sun and stars will be swallowed in blackness by wolves, the earth will be swallowed into the sea, and the sky will be swallowed in flame. Ragnarök will be complete. But this will not be the end of days. After Ragnarök, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two humans that Odin hid from the destruction.
Event: The Great Renewal
Story: Zoroastrians believe the end of times will mirror the beginning of times. Good and evil have always existed in the divine Ahura Mazda and the malevolent Angra Mainyu, respectively. Ahura Mazda created the material world as a battlefield where he could defeat Angra Mainyu. Ahura Mazda created all good things on earth, including light, truth, health and life. Angra Mainyu countered by creating evil: darkness, falsehood, sickness, and death. Humanity has a special place in the creation because people have free will. Every person is a participant in the ongoing battle between good and evil via his or her actions and choices. Zoroastrians believe too few people follow the right path and one day the Ahura Mazda will rectify things at the Great Renewal. Ahura Mazda will sacrifice the universe by consuming it in fire. The good will be separated from the evil at a “Last Judgment” presided over by the savior, Saoshyant. The resurrection of the bodies of the good will take place and a new Golden Age will follow in the material plane. [Sources: PathsOfDevotion.com and Answers.com] [Note: I’m including this story as an example of a pagan apocalyptic story because, while Zoroastrianism is monotheistic, it is not Christianity. Though, I am sure you see the stark similarities.]
Event: Doomsday Hound Devours Ursa Minor
Religion: Slavic Mythology / Slavic Paganism
Story: The Zorya are the three (sometimes two) guardian goddesses, known as the Auroras or stars. The Morning Star opens heaven’s gates for the chariot of the sun in the morning. The Evening Star closes the gates of heaven each night as the sun returns. Each night, the sun dies and is restored in the Midnight Star’s arms (some legends omit this Zorya). Together, The Zoryas guard and watch over the doomsday hound that threatens to eat the constellation Ursa Minor, the ‘little bear.’ If the chain breaks loose and the constellation is devoured, the universe will end. The Zorya are sometimes associated with the Triple Goddess mythic archetype, representing the maiden, mother, and crone.
Story: This story is a retelling on an apocalypse gone by. The Sumerian hero Gilgamesh traveled the world seeking immortality. On his journey, he meets an old man who is an immortal, Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh the tale of how he earned his immortality from the gods. Centuries ago, the gods were angry at mankind and so brought a flood that swallowed the earth. The god Ea, warned Utnapishtim and instructed him to use his house to build an enormous boat. Ea told Utnapishtim to save his family and “the seed of all living things.” The boat was built in five days. Utnapishtim loaded the vessel with his silver and gold, relatives and craftsmen, and “all the living beings.’ The gods brought thunder, lightening, wind and rain. The flood, which lasted six days and seven nights, had flattened the land and turned all other humans to clay. When the rains subsided, the boat landed on a mountain, and Utnapishtim set loose first a dove, then a swallow, and finally a raven, which found land. The god Ishtar, created the rainbow and placed it in the sky, as a reminder to the gods and a pledge to mankind that there would be no more floods. The god Ea granted Utnapishtim and his wife immortality (presumably for saving “the seed of all living things”). [Source: HistoryWiz.com] [Note: This tale is one of many flood myths across time and religions. And I am sure you notice stark similarities between this story and another famous flood survivor.]
Event: Water and Earth Fall Out of Love
Religion: West African Mythology
Story: Yemaya is the spirit of water; the waters of the world are the blood in her veins. As the essence of all fertility, she is the Queen of the World. Yemaya married Aganju, the first man, so she became the first mother of people and spirits. As a mother she brought compassion into the world. Her marriage to Aganju is the marriage of water to earth. Their love is the greatest in the world, but when it ends, water and earth will separate again and it will be the end of the world. [Source: Beautiful-mermaid-art.com] [Note: This is a lovely story, but I cannot verify it on any other site. There are many variations of the goddess Yemaya online, but none included this story or something like it.]
These are just a few of the apocalyptic stories I could find online. What about you readers? Have you seen or heard other stories of the end of days? Please share them!
Alas, this is probably just the beginning of the “end of days” predictions. Next year is 2012 and I am sure there will be much speculation and pondering on whether or not the Aztecs knew something we don’t, or whether they just got tired of calculating that confounded calendar.
** Speaking of Thor, Jax and I saw the movie with TheScott. Jax will be posting her review next Tuesday!
+ Featured image is “Fenrir and Odin” by Frølich.