The wolf Fenrir | The giant wolf of desolation and the end of time!
The Viking civilization has one of the richest mythologies of humanity. This Scandinavian folklore is full of stories and legends, each more surprising than the last. From the story of the creation of the Viking world, to its destruction during the Ragnarök. There is a fantastic creature whose mere mention arouses fear and concern among men and Nordic gods: the famous wolf Fenrir.
According to the legends, the wolf Fenrir is described as a giant monster, whose ferocity would have of equal only size. Once a pet of the Aesir gods, he became a prophet of the apocalypse and the trigger of Ragnarök. According to this same prophecy, he will ultimately kill the god Odin and lead the nine worlds to their doom.
In this article, we tell you the whole legend of the wolf Fenrir. Find out why this mythical Nordic creature is both a source of terror and respect for men and Viking gods.
The story of the Fenrir Wolf: the Viking creature of desolation!
The wolf Fenrir is one of the three sons of the god Loki, god of mischief and deviousness. Although his legend is not as long as that of some gods, Fenrir occupies a major role in Norse mythology. From his birth, it is predicted that he will trigger the Ragnarök, the end of time!
The Norse sagas describe Fenrir as a wolf of immeasurable size and power. He is a creature of incomparable destructive strength, often likened to that of a titan. All the Viking gods, including the god Odin, feared him, so much so that he was nicknamed the titan of the apocalypse.
In reality, Fenrir is not an evil being, despite the fact that he is portrayed as such in popular culture. This subtle nuance comes from the fact that there is no such thing as the power of evil or good in Norse civilization. There is only a delicate balance between the forces of creation and destruction, which inevitably lead to cycles of renewal.
To fully understand the singular history of the wolf Fenrir, we trace the evolution of this Viking symbol according to ancient historical sources. This article will take you on a journey through the story of this mythical creature that marks the end and the renewal of the Viking world.
The origin and birth of the wolf Fenrir
Fenrir is the last child of the god Loki with the ice giant “Angrboda or Angrboða”. Loki, a polymorph with immense powers, was not initially an Aesir god. He was only elevated to this rank after having proven his worth to Odin.
The god Loki had the blood of giants running through his veins. This explains in part his deviousness and his incessant quest for power. This will lead him to give birth to the three most frightening creatures of Viking folklore, together with his mistress Angrboda, the giant bearer of misery and misfortune.
The wolf Fenrir, along with his siblings, posed too big danger to Asgard and the entire Viking world. The Aesir had to meet to decide what to do with Loki’s three children :
- Jörmungandr, the giant serpent: designated as an abomination by the gods, it was thrown by Odin into the oceans of Midgard, the land of men. Only, this snake survived and became so big that it encircles the whole earth. It is, along with Fenrir, one of the most feared creatures in Viking mythology;
- Hel, the goddess of the dead: sovereign of “Helheim”, the world of the damned where she was exiled. Hel welcomes in her kingdom all the Viking souls who did not die gloriously in battle. During the Ragnarök, they will reinforce Loki’s army of giants against that of the Aesir gods;
- Fenrir, the wolf of desolation: He posed the greatest danger. While Hel and Jörmungandr were banished, Fenrir grew too fast to be controlled. He soon became a giant wolf, or “jötunn”, with indomitable strength.
This is how the legend of the terrible son of Loki, the wolf Fenrir, one of the messengers of Ragnarök, begins. We will dive deeper into the rest of his story to understand the title that has been given to him. This controversial Viking creature predicted glory for some gods, and desolation for others.
The meaning of Fenrir and his many names
The wolf is an omnipresent symbol in Viking culture. According to the Poetic Edda and Snorri’s Edda, the majority of wolves mentioned in Norse literature are different versions and facets of Fenrir.
He is mainly mentioned under the name of Fenrir, or Fenris, which both mean in Old Norse “the wolf of the marshes”. However, other names refer to him:
- Hróðvitnir, which means “the glorious wolf”. It is one of Fenrir’s victory names. According to some hypotheses, it is attributed to him because he will defeat the god Odin alone during the Ragnarok;
- Vánagandr or Vanargand is a name that was given to him after he was captured and imprisoned. Its open mouth lets saliva flow out, which will create a river called Van over the ages. That is why this name means “the monster of the river Ván” in Old Norse;
- Garm or Garmr is a wolfhound associated with the forces of destruction. Little is known about him, except that he breaks free during Ragnarök, just like Fenrir. This analogy leads one to believe that this is one of his many epithets. In addition to this, it is written in the Grímnismál; a poem from the Poetic Edda, that Garm is to the canines what Odin is to the gods, that is to say the most powerful being of the people.
The children of Fenrir, prophets of destruction
In Norse mythology, both the sun and the moon are personified as goddesses. The sun goddess is called Sól, while the moon goddess is called Máni. According to Snorri’s Edda and the Poetic Edda, the two stars are tirelessly pursued day and night by two giant wolves:
- Sköll : from Old Norse ” Treachery ” or ” Mocker “. This wolf hunts the goddess Sól, personification of the sun;
- Hati Hróðvitnisson hunts the goddess Máni, personification of the moon. His name means “the hater” or “the enemy”.
In Snorri’s Edda, it is said that these two wolves are in fact the children of Fenrir, mentioned here under his epithet Vánagandr, and of a giantess with an unknown name. Sköll and Hati will continue this hunt without respite until Ragnarök, where they will end up devouring these two celestial bodies, as well as all the stars of the world.
Some sources say that Sköll and Hati are actually other names of Fenrir, who would devour a large part of the universe during Ragnarök.
The wolf, a sacred symbol for the Vikings
The Viking civilization is very much linked to its mystical symbols. The wolf in particular has a special place in Nordic folklore. It embodies strength, wildness, duty and bravery. According to Viking legends, female warriors wearing Viking wolf necklaces and bracelets could invoke its divine power.
Although Fenrir is seen as a destructive being, he has many qualities that make him a respected symbol:
- His loyalty to his clan and family: raised by the Aesir gods, he is betrayed and imprisoned until the end of time. His father Loki, his brother and his sister are all exiled one by one, in turn. It is this devotion and thirst for justice that gives him the strength to defeat Odin in the final battle;
- His savage and destructive power: even if he never used it against the gods, all feared him. It is the fear that he would rebel against Asgard, which pushes the Aesir to lure him and to imprison him;
- The desire for freedom and independence: Fenrir resists and escapes numerous attempts to bind him. Ultimately, he gives in to vanity and is imprisoned by a magical bond that no one can undo. Since then, he desperately tries to regain his freedom and becomes a Viking symbol of resistance and perseverance.
The wolf is also one of the symbols of Odin and the Scandinavian gods. The god Odin is protected by two wolves, Freki and Geri, who accompany him in all his battles. There is also a troop among Odin’s army that gathers the most feared warriors of Asgard, the ulfhednar: warriors who are dressed in wolf skins.
In addition, some Viking warriors can summon the power of the wolf spirit. They are known as Berserkers. When they summon their animal spirit, their strength and bravery are increased tenfold on the battlefield.
The imprisonment of the wolf Fenrir by the gods
Of all the children of Loki, Fenrir is the only one who surpasses the Viking gods in power. A being with such power could only be a bad omen. The fears and doubts of the Aesir gods are confirmed by the prophecy of the Völuspá, a witch with clairvoyant powers.
According to this prophecy, Fenrir would be the greatest enemy of the gods and of humanity. During the Ragnarök, he will start by devouring the skies and all the celestial stars, and end up killing the god Odin himself. This was enough to convince the Aesir to imprison Fenrir.
Chaining the terrible wolf Fenrir was no easy task, even for the gods. For this reason, they devised a subterfuge to convince Fenrir that it was all a simple test of strength. Fenrir, wanting to gain the respect of the gods, agrees to participate:
- To begin with, the best Aesir blacksmiths have made super-powerful chains, which they call Loeding. Fenrir manages to destroy them with a simple stroke;
- The second time, they make chains a hundred times stronger than the first time, the Dromi. For the greatest misfortune of the gods, Fenrir manages to break them without any effort. After this second attempt, the Aesir understand that they will not be able to imprison him alone;
- The god Odin, king of the Aesir, asks the dwarves of Svartalfaheimr to make magic chains, the Gleipnir. Only, Fenrir is wary of this link which had the aspect of a fine silk ribbon. He agreed to submit to this test, on the sole condition that a god put his hand in his mouth as a token to free himself. The only god who had the courage to do it was the god Týr, who paid with his arm the price of Fenrir’s imprisonment.
The Gleipnir chains finally manage to imprison Fenrir. They are tied to a rock on the island of Thviti, followed at the end of the world. To punish him for having torn off Týr’s arm, the Aesir gods thrust a sword into his mouth.
The wolf Fenrir and the Ragnarök
At the time of the Ragnarök, the end of the worlds, all chains will break. The god Loki and his children will finally be free. At the head of his army of giants, Loki will lead a bloody war against the Aesir gods. The most terrible creature of Ragnarök is unequivocally the wolf Fenrir.
According to Snorri’s Edda, Fenrir will single-handedly devastate a large part of the world. Just by opening his mouth, he will raze the earth using his lower jaw and with his upper jaw he will swallow the sky.
When the battle between gods and giants is in full swing, Fenrir will swallow the god Odin. Vidar, Odin’s son, will avenge his father’s death by killing Fenrir. The story of Fenrir’s death differs according to the sources:
- In the Poetic Edda, Vidar pierces Fenrir’s heart with a sword;
- While Snorri’s Edda states that it is the mouth of the wolf that will be torn in two by Vidar.
At the end of Ragnarök, a large part of the universe will be destroyed. However, very soon afterwards, the land and oceans will regenerate and regain their full splendor. A new world will be born for the survivors of Ragnarök!