The Wolf’s Jaw: an Astronomical Interpretation of Ragnarök

The Wolf’s Jaw: an Astronomical Interpretation of Ragnarök

By Johnni Langer

Archaeoastronomy and Ancient Technologies, Vol.6:1 (2018)

Abstract: This paper aims to explain the eschatological outbreak that occurred during the 10th century in Scandinavia and northern Europe, which gave rise to a great iconography of Ragnarök, stemmed primarily from the Old Norse mythology. Our basic hypothesis is that various astronomical phenomena which occurred during in the eighth and ninth centuries (total eclipses of the sun and passages of comets, both related to the constellation of Wolf´s Jaw – the Hyades) have aroused in the Nordic man his eschatological fears, impelling him to create a large amount apocalyptic images close of the year 1000 AD.

We identified thirteen celestial phenomena (comet passages and total eclipses of the Sun) that may have been collected in the construction of the Ragnarök image among the ancient Norsemen. Our main methodology is the Cultural Astronomy, coupled with the prospects of the cultural history of myths. Aided by several studies on medieval astronomical folklore, especially those related to comets and eclipses. We also use some recent research on the theme of celestial myths and Old Norse Astronomy developed by European and American scholars, such as Gísli Sigurðsson, Thomas DuBois, Christan Etheridge and Dorian Knight.

Introduction: The relationship between astronomical phenomena and mythology is nothing new in academia. During the early nineteenth century, several scholars attempted to study the origin of mythical narratives from the glimpse of nature, as, for instance, Max Müller and Paul A. Krappe Decharmedid. Even among Scandinavian scholars the naturalistic theory was very common, with frequent systematization of that time – as in the book Northern mythology by Benjamin Thorpe – who regarded the gods as personifications of meteorological, astronomical or atmospheric events.

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Top Image: This image shows the Hyades star cluster, the nearest cluster to us. Image by NASA, ESA, and STScI

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