“When Christianity arrived at Scandinavia in the middle of the Viking Age (793-1066), the pagans did not entirely reject it, recognizing in it that Ragnarok—the twilight of the gods—was on the horizon.3” (Stone)
According to Stone, Norse architects intentionally depicted Ragnarök in their stave church designs. Roofs and interiors represent the inverted ship, Naglfar. Doors had the images of Nidhoggr and Yggdrasil carved on them to represent a person’s passage through the devouring of their external pagan world and the rebirth into their new Christian world.
Scandinavians had knowledge of the spreading conversion across N.Europe, and it would make sense that they understood it in the language of their culture: Ragnarök.
For example, Fenrir, whose name translates to fen-dweller, swallows Odin. Fen is, of course, water, and therefore, the Wolf’s Water swallows Odin. I believe this could be in reference to Christian baptismal practices, which were forcefully and brutally performed in some cases. The serpent Jormungandr poisoned Thor, and Saint Boniface felled his oak in Hesse. Could the world serpent represent the great girdle of Catholic Rome encircling the earth?
Swallowed up and poisoned by is language reminiscent of assimilation and syncretism. Freyr (who symbolizes sacral lordship) died because he gave his sword for a wife. One of the most significant early conversions in European history was that of Clovis, warrior king of the Franks, who converted to his wife’s religion of Catholicism. Centuries later Charlemagne would continue converting Europe with brute force. The Aesir were going to fall. The world was going to change. But, like anything in nature, there is a spring after winter.
If Stone is correct in that heathen architects built their churches to depict the heathen apocalypse, with the World Tree on its doors, then he may also be correct in that the churches represented Lif and Lifpasir taking shelter within. If heathen traditions were to survive Christianity they had to become a part of it. And to this day, the Western world has a Christian worldview that is drastically influenced by those surviving traditions. Heathenry and Christianity absorbed one another. So much so, that it’s almost impossible to separate them and go back. But… is it possible to go forward?
I’m of two minds:
A) The Edda’s contain post-conversion mythology, structured by people, to explain why Christianity had defeated their old way of life and their old gods, while still maintaining the overall spiritual worldview. Example: Why didn’t the Alfather defeat God? Because all things perish. So some day God will also perish, and the sons of our gods will return. Winter and Spring. While we wait for spring, Vidar will silently wait with us, and the gods of our gods will remain. The literary and traditional folklore is of the people.
B) The Edda’s contain mythology, structured by spiritual truths, to explain the timeless nature of life, the mysteries of the universe, and why things change but always stay the same. Example: Why did our god change but death and love did not? Because there will always be Death and Love, no matter who wears the mantle. There will always be an ‘Odin’ no matter who that ‘Odin’ is, because that is a the nature of the world. So all the literary and traditional folklore is of a timeless truth. (And I think this is compatible in allowing some to believe in either pre- or post-Ragnarok.)
More to the point, regardless of if my interpretations are right or wrong: If I believe that Ragnarök occurs when the literal universe collapses and swallows Odin than that hasn’t yet happened. If I believe Ragnarök occurs when Odin and the old gods are no longer reginn, then that happened ages ago.