Barbarian at the Gates: On the Things of Ragnarok

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    • #373624
      Ohio Barbarian
      Moderator
      • Total Posts: 20,625

      Thing is an Old Norse word, and originally was used to describe a council of political power; be that a clan council, a council of tribal chiefs, a meeting of the nobility, eventually a true democratic council of all free adults or of their elected representatives.

      For that matter, thing can be a meeting of a corporate board of directors. Much as one of our American English words for that which exists is real, from the Spanish which literally means royal, so our “It’s a thing” or “It’s not a thing” is the description of the very reality or existence of an item or an idea. Or of a thing.

      Nonetheless, at the time the Norse legends which were the basis of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, when people spoke of Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the coming of the Wolf that devours all things, they understood that “all things” and “the gods” was nuanced. Sometimes these council meeting things worked, sometimes they didn’t.

      My Norse ancestors understood that, as I personally interpret Ragnarok as a warning that all leaders, all governments, all the economic systems created by human beings eventually fall and are replaced by other…things. “The gods,” if one looks at the legend satirically, as many of the Norse and their descendants always have, can easily be whoever the rulers of society are.

      The Wolf which comes to devour all things, and sometimes is killed by Thor in a final act of destruction when it’s too late, can be seen as anything that destroys the old order. The impacts of sudden climate shifts over a few generations. An invasion. A revolution. An assassination by another aristocratic rival. Whatever, Ragnarok can be seen as a satirically accurate tale of rulers and things of rulers ceasing to exist in both the past and the future.

      In popular revolutions, the people become the Wolf, and can be even more savage than their mythical namesake. Pagans a thousand years ago probably saw people’s and rulers’ conversion to Christianity as being the Wolf. The legends of Odin as a wandering fugitive come from that period, and eventually morphed into Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings.

      The point to all of this is that Ragnarok doesn’t describe the end of the world or the destruction of humanity, but it does describe the collapse and destruction of existing political, economic, and religious systems and structures. Then new things, and sometimes new gods, will emerge, hopefully at least as successful as the last lot, for that’s about the best we sorry humans seem capable of.

      Another thing the Ragnarok legends teach us is that it will happen whether we want it to or not, or even whether we believe in it or not. If we are fated to live in such times, well, all we can do sometimes is to wait and see what the fates have in store for us this time around. Do the best you can do in the now, and that’s the best you can do, and for the gods’ sakes enjoy yourselves when you have the time and the chance.

      That’s what the stories tell me, anyway, and I find it comforting somehow. If it does for you, great, if not, nichevo and no harm done.

      It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.--Eugene Debs

      You can jail a revolutionary, but you can't jail the revolution.--Fred Hampton

    • #373683
      GZeusH
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      • Total Posts: 3,871

      Corporate America consists of totalitarian entities laser-focused on short-term greed.

    • #373686
      Ohio Barbarian
      Moderator
      • Total Posts: 20,625

      @gzeush

      It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.--Eugene Debs

      You can jail a revolutionary, but you can't jail the revolution.--Fred Hampton

    • #373701
      soryang
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      • Total Posts: 1,256

      I was discussing the antagonistic role of shaman superstition v. science in the Korean tradition, with a family member.    The conservative elements used superstitious beliefs to make predictions particularly in connection with the marriages and births in royal lineage to manipulate power.

      The  very nature of literacy in the far east is initially associated with the recorded Chinese characters inscribed on animal bones.    The most powerful family lineages were referred to as “sanggol”  or sacred bone in Korean.  (coincidentally sounding like sang graal in the Templar myths.)   The characters commemorating auspicious events in the aristocratic lines were inscribed on baked animal bones, among them the shell of turtles.   The cracks forming in the bones while baked were interpreted by the shaman to foretell the family fortune.  Later the bones became evidence of pedigree.   I was fortunate once to see some of these early turtle shell writings in the Chinese National Museum in Taipei.   Some of them were 3600 years old.

      The emergence of a scientific tradition was opposed by those elements among the powerful aristocratic families always jockeying for power in the Chosun royal court.  They preferred superstition in suppression of  scientific knowledge and the technology connected with it.  The conservative elements wished to retain their stranglehold on society’s worldview to support their unjust order against more enlightened tendencies.   For example a solar eclipse or plague portended the end of a royal family line or other disaster.   These nobles resisted reform during the Renaissance like period of the rule of Sejong the Great, who promulgated the efficient Korean alphabet called  Hangul as a written language of the people.   During the same period the study of physics and astronomy had a brief appearance sponsored by the court which was quickly suppressed by the forces of reaction.

      In response my son who knows a lot about Norse myths then brought the same Ragnarok analysis you make above to our contemporary situation.   Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get it at the time, knowing nothing really about Norse mythology.   Thanks for explaining the Ragnarok.

    • #373708
      Ohio Barbarian
      Moderator
      • Total Posts: 20,625

      @soryang I should have mentioned that the Raganarok sagas were often sung in the halls of kings, some of whom were very hostile to any open discussion of how rulers are subject to overthrow. In philosophy we see the same thing in Hobbes and Adam Smith; in literature we see it in Jonathan Swift.

      There’s no reason the Koreans would be any different. This serendipity of yours has a Zen feel to it.

      It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.--Eugene Debs

      You can jail a revolutionary, but you can't jail the revolution.--Fred Hampton

    • #373824
      snot
      Participant
      • Total Posts: 1,191

      However, I’m becoming very concerned about the idea I’ve been encountering lately here and elsewhere that somehow out of massive destruction something better spontaneously emerges.  I don’t think human history supports that idea; rather, the “something better” is usually the product of either long, slow, highly painful evolution, or a helluva a lot of careful research, discussion, and design.

      Destruction is easy; creation is hard, but more interesting.

    • #373857
      Ohio Barbarian
      Moderator
      • Total Posts: 20,625

      @snot I don’t want to live through a real revolution and the inevitable ensuing chaos before a new order takes shape. Now I think I have a good chance of doing just that, whether I want to or not. Hubris goes before the fall, and out top 1% positively stinks of it, not to mention all the cock ups caused by this relatively mild pandemic show just how unstable our whole system is.

      It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.--Eugene Debs

      You can jail a revolutionary, but you can't jail the revolution.--Fred Hampton

    • #374138
      eridani
      Participant
      • Total Posts: 8,950

      thanks all!

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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