Ettin Worship and Ragnarok
Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Heathenry, Cosmology, Heathen worldview, Heathen worship, Myths, Rants, Reconstruction, Updates
Wes hāl!1 It’s been a whirlwind of a week. A lot of accusations have emerged about the Fyrnsidu server. Most of these accusations have been dealt with (the tldr of it is that they were all false accusations, based upon a mix of straight up lies and half-truths lacking context), but there’s one accusation that I haven’t seen addressed. We were accused of believing that ettin worship will cause Ragnarok.
In preparation for this blog post, I polled the mod team. I asked “Do you think that ettin worshippers will cause Ragnarok?” Unsurprisingly, the results were 0% answered Yes, and 100% answered No. It turns out that none of us even believe in Ragnarok. So basically, this is another example of a lie spread by a much larger community trying to smear a server that is 3% of its size.
I could end this blog post here, but we’re going to dig into this a little bit more. Let’s break this up into 2 separate topics: ettin worship and Ragnarok.
I define my understanding of an ettin in my blog post Fyrnsidish Cosmology: Gods & Ettins. To summarize, the ettins are primordial beings that oppose the cosmic order. They are the English equivalent of the Norse Jötnar. So, ettin worship includes the worship of beings such as Grendel or his mother. From a more Norse perspective it might include beings like Jormungandr, Fenris, and Surt. While Loki does not play a role in Anglo-Saxon cosmology or belief, using the lore the Norse have, Loki would also be classified as one of the Jötnar (ettins in English) since he betrays the gods and joins the Jötnar.
We theologically disagree with ettin worship within our tradition based upon our understanding of Fyrnsidish cosmology and theology. Within the confines of our tradition, we feel it’s not a good idea to worship entities who oppose the cosmic order. However, we only oppose ettin worship within our own practices, and recognize that other Heathens have the right to worship whoever they want. The argument is a theological one, and we respect people’s right to disagree with us on theology.
There’s accusations that we believe that ettin worship is linked to mental illness. No one on our mod team believes that. This is an example of one of those half truths that lack context. Six months ago2, one of our mods posted a particualrly ill advised and poorly thought out hot take that all the ettin worshippers he knew in person were mentally ill, but there’s missing context behind that. He meant it as an attack upon certain individuals that he had considered friends who had begun to engage in controlling and passive-aggressive behavior in our Gatehouse the previous week over a newcomer that they had a vendetta against. He even clarified when challenged that he didn’t think correlation equals causation on the matter. The server admin, when he saw the remarks, publicly challenged the idea that ettin worshippers were mentally ill, and the mod team had private conversations about the incident, in which the person who had made the comments saw that he was wrong. It was pointed out to him that although it was targeted at individuals, mental illnesses should not be used as insults as it furthers the stigmatizing of an already heavily stigmatized group. He agreed with the mod team’s correction, and publicly apologised for his comments. By that time, however, the people who had initially challenged him on it had already left.
So where do the accusations come from that we believe ettin worship causes Ragnarok? Before answering that question, let’s talk about Ragnarok.
In Norse mythology, Ragnarok happens when Loki breaks free of his bonds and leads an army of Jötnar in an assault upon Asgard. The ensuing battle kills almost everyone and destroys the human world. Only two humans and a handful of gods survive Ragnarok. Loki and the Jötnar are the clear aggressors in the way the Norse sources portray Ragnarok, and so are sometimes called world-ending beings. The gods are only defending their home, and it’s the action of the jötun Surt that rains fire down upon the rest of the cosmos and burns down the world tree Yggdrasil.
I would stress again that Ragnarok is not part of Anglo-Saxon belief or lore. I think it’s due to their own discomfort with the way the world ending beings are portrayed in this final battle that causes Norse heathens to project upon us in Fyrnsidu a belief we just don’t have. Ragnarok is not attested in any Anglo-Saxon sources, and as a result none of the Fyrnsidu mod team even believes in it. We do not have an eschatology, we do not believe the ettins will destroy the world. We believe that the ettins want to destroy the world, because that’s what opposing the cosmic order means in our cosmology. But we do not think they’re going to be successful. In other words, we do not have an eschatology in our theology. It’s only in the Norse sources that the Jötnar end up destroying the world.
Looking at the larger family of cultures that the Germanic speaking tribes came from, there’s only one branch which contains any eschatological battles at the end of time (excluding the Norse), the Indo-Iranian branch (the surviving religions among speakers of this branch of the Proto-Indo-European language family include Hinduism and Zoroastrianism). In the Indo-Iranian religions, the final battle(s) are between good and evil, and evil is destroyed. This is most clearly seen in Zoroastrianism. There are elements in the Ragnarok myth that are common to the Indo-Iranian eschatological battles, but there are also major differences. For example, with Ragnarok it’s the Jötnar that win, whereas good triumphs over evil in the Indo-Iranian myths.
Still, it’s valid to ask how the common elements got into Norse mythology in the first place. There’s a few theories. One is that it goes all the way back to the Proto-Indo-Europeans and was simply dropped by the Hellenists, Romans, Celts, Slavs, and West Germanic peoples. I don’t think there’s enough evidence for this, so I’m inclined to examine other theories.
Another is that they picked it up through cultural exchange along their massive trade network. We know that Zoroastrianism heavily influenced early Christianity, and that Islam took eschatological cues from Christianity. We also know that the Norse did a lot of trade with the Christians and Muslims. They could have picked up the elements for their Ragnarok myth from the regular cultural exchange that often happens with trade.
Another theory is that it originated with the volcanic winter of 536 CE. Volcanic eruptions of that year caused a year long winter which led to famines and war over scarce resources. In an article entitled Fimbulwinter 536 AD: Ragnarok, demographic collapse, and the end of Proto-Norse language, it is suggested “Perhaps the story of Ragnarok was really a fossilized, metaphorical account of the traumatic experiences of their migration era ancestors.”3 This volcanic winter was global, being recorded around the world and evidence being found in the geologic and archaeological records4. Descriptions in historical accounts sound a lot like the events that lead up to Ragnarok in the Norse sources.
My personal opinion is that Ragnarok is a combination of these last two theories, cultural exchange and trade with the Christian and Islamic worlds. But the fact remains that there aren’t any Anglo-Saxon Heathens I’m aware of that believe that Ragnarok will happen, much less that worshipping any specific beings is going to cause it to happen.
The Connection Between Ettin Worship and Ragnarok
So, what’s the connection between ettin worship and Ragnarok? Frankly, there isn’t one. Even in the Norse sources, it’s the Jötnar themselves that cause Ragnarok and it has nothing to do with anyone worshipping them.
I’ve seen the claim that since we believe that the gods get something out of our offerings (based upon our understanding of reciprocity), that we believe that ettin worship is what empowers them to do start Ragnarok. This simply isn’t true. As established already, no one on the Fyrnsidu mod team even believes that Ragnarok is going to happen.
Wes hāl and Beo gesund are Old English greetings and farewells that literally mean Be well/whole/healthy. The first seemed to be more common among the Anglian dialects and the second more common among the Saxon dialects. I prefer to use both though, the first as a greeting and the second as a farewell. ↩ ↩2
The conversation happened 2022-10-17, yet all the screenshots say Today. This indicates that they simply sat on these screenshots for six months. I’ll leave speculation on their motivations for this to the reader. ↩
Fimbulwinter 536 AD: Ragnarok, demographic collapse, and the end of Proto-Norse language ↩
For more information about what some call “the worst year history”, check out the Smithsonian article Sixth-Century Misery Tied to Not One, But Two, Volcanic Eruptions. ↩