How Did Odin Die in Norse Mythology?


To those who believe in Norse mythology, Odin will not die until Ragnarok, which is the end of the world (and the beginning of a new one). Since most believers think Ragnarok hasn’t happened yet, in theory, one could argue that Odin is still alive. Even so, this article will examine how he dies in the tales.

In Norse mythology, Odin dies during Ragnarok. He fights the giant wolf, Fenrir, and Fenrir kills him. Some modern retellings of the myths claim that Fenrir devours Odin, though others only say he kills him. Odin’s son, Vidar, then kills Fenrir to avenge his father’s death.

This article will further explore the events of Ragnarok, including notable battles and deaths. It will also reveal who survives the great war and how the world will be reborn after its end.

Ragnarok and the Death of Odin

Also known as the Twilight of the Gods, Ragnarok is the cataclysmic event that ends the world in Norse mythology. It’s a terrible battle between Odin, the Aesir, and their allies, and Loki, his children, the giants, and their allies.

How Does Ragnarok Begin?

According to the Eddas, which provide most of the information scholars have about Norse mythology, there are several precipitating events for Ragnarok. The official beginning of Ragnarok starts with a long, unending winter – the bitterest the world has ever seen. 

However, other things must happen before Ragnarok’s opening winter. After all, Odin and Loki began as blood brothers, so something must happen before they became enemies.

It starts with the death of Baldr, the most beloved of all the gods. Though nearly unkillable, Baldr had a single weakness – mistletoe. Upon discovering that mistletoe is the only thing that can kill Baldr, Loki tricks Baldr’s blind brother Hod into killing him with a mistletoe dart. 

As punishment, Odin transforms one of Loki’s sons into a wolf, who kills the other son. The gods then use the second son’s entrails to tie Loki up, trapping him in a cave with a poisonous snake above him, dripping venom onto his head.

When the unending winter (Fimbulwinter) comes, humankind will turn against each other, fighting and killing one another for food and other resources. [1] Hati and Skoll, the wolves who chase the moon and sun, will finally catch and swallow them whole, plunging the world into total darkness.*

Yggdrasil, though typically strong and unshakeable, will shake, causing all kinds of natural disasters, including:

  • Earthquakes
  • Hurricanes
  • Volcanic eruptions
  • Falling mountains
  • Etc.

At that point, Loki will break free from his chains, as will his giant wolf son, Fenrir. Loki’s other son, Jormungandr, will rise from the sea, causing the water to flood the earth, and Loki’s daughter, Hel, will join Loki at the head of an army of giants and the dead.

At that point, the battle will begin in earnest. 

*Some sources insist that Fenrir is the giant wolf who will swallow the sun. It seems that, over the centuries and various retellings, Fenrir’s, Hati’s, and Skoll’s stories have been confused. [2]

Odin’s Death

Odin’s death will come at the jaws of Fenrir. 

The two will fight, but despite being the supreme leader of the gods, Odin is not immortal. Fenrir will kill him, possibly by swallowing him as Hati and Skoll swallowed the sun and moon. [2] 

Then, enraged over his father’s death, Vidar attacks and kills Fenrir. Accounts differ on how he does this. Some claim he stabs Fenrir with his sword, impaling and killing. Others insist that he stabs his sword through Fenrir’s lower jaw, pinning it to the ground and ripping his head apart. 

Still a third account says that Vidar steps on Fenrir’s lower jaw with his magic boots, grabs his upper jaw, and splits him in half. (A variation on this myth says Vidar steps on the lower jaw, holds the upper jaw, and uses his other hand to slash Fenrir’s insides with his sword.) [3]

Other Notable Battles and Deaths

Odin and Fenrir’s deaths aren’t the only essential ones at Ragnarok. It is, after all, the twilight of the gods and the end of all things. The Eddas don’t outline how all the gods die, but it speaks explicitly about some of them. These notable deaths include the following:

  • Heimdallr and Loki will fight each other to the death.
  • Thor and Jormungandr, the world serpent, will fight one another. Jormungandr will bite Thor, sending his venom into his veins.** Thor will kill the giant snake but then take nine steps and die. [4]
  • The one-armed god Tyr will fight Garm, a guardian dog of Hel, and they will kill each other.
  • The fire giant, Surtr, will kill Freyr because Freyr gave away his magical sword in exchange for love. Surtr will then go on to spread his fire across the world.

**Sources vary on whether Jormungandr bites Thor and poisons him or spews venom across the field as he dies. Either way, Thor dies shortly after killing Jormungandr.

Which Gods Will Survive Ragnarok?

Though Ragnarok is the end of everything, there are a few gods who survive. These include:

  • Thor’s sons, Magni and Modi, who will wield Mjolnir after Thor’s death
  • Odin’s son Vidar
  • The Vanir god Njord
  • The daughter of the sun, named Sol after her mother
  • Hoenir, who is possibly Odin’s brother

Additionally, Hodr, Baldr, and Baldr’s wife, Nan, will all return from Hel to help rebuild the new world. This also seems to indicate that Hel dies during Ragnarok. At the very least, she no longer seems to have control over the realm of the dead.

Will Humans Survive Ragnarok?

Like most of the gods, humans also die at Ragnarok. The only two who don’t are a single male and female named Lif and Lifthrasir.

They survive by retreating to Hoddmimir’s Holt, a safe place inside a large tree (or group of trees). They eat the morning dew during the battle and survive until the remaining gods bring them out of Hoddmimir’s Holt. 

As the only living humans, they’ll repopulate the earth and teach the new humans to worship Baldr, the light god. [5]

References

[1] Source

[2] Source

[3] Source

[4] Source

[5] Source

Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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