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In Norse mythology, Fimbul Winter is a long and bitterly cold period of time, preceding the end of the world. The Fimbul winter takes its name from the Old Norse words for mighty (fimbul) and winter (vetr).
In Snorre's Edda it is described that the Fimbul winter lasts for three whole years with no summer in between. Relentless snowstorms sweep across the world, the frost becomes as hard as iron and the winds are so grim that the sun's warmth is consumed. The world is covered in snow and ice and in desperation people begin to fight each other. Eventually, Sköll the wolf devours the sun, while the stars fall from their mounts in the darkening sky. The people who have not died in the wars succumb to cold and starvation.
Fimbulvinter of Reality
In modern times, several scientists have suggested that the myths of Fimbul Winter may reflect popular memories of a climate catastrophe. In 536 and 540, two violent volcanic eruptions occurred somewhere on Earth, causing large amounts of particles to accumulate high in the atmosphere. For several years, this reflected away the sun's heat rays and plunged Europe into a cold period. In Scandinavia, where people were already living on the edge, the consequences were devastating. It is thought that up to half the population died. It is likely that disease and war also followed in the wake of the cold. For the people alive at the time, it must have seemed as if the end of the world was approaching.
Some archaeological finds from this period testify to the despair and powerlessness felt by the people of the time. Large quantities of gold objects were sacrificed to the gods, but there are also finds of images of the gods that have been desecrated in various ways. Perhaps people abandoned their faith in disappointment at the gods' lack of response.
Over time, the memories of this cruel period may have become part of the myths woven into the religion.
Branston, Brian (2016), Nordic mythology. Gods and heroes of the Viking Age, Ordalaget.
Egerkrans, Johan (2016), Norse gods, B. Wahlströms book publisher
Fritiofsson, Svipdag (ed. 2015), Edda: Snorre's Edda and the Poetic Edda, Mimers book publishing house
Hultkrantz, Åke (1991), Who is who in Norse mythology. Characters and adventures in the world of Eddan's gods, Rabén & Sjögren
Rydberg, Viktor (2014), The fathers' god saga, Mimers Book Publishing
First published on Cultural memory
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