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Dubious prediction sets Viking apocalypse for Feb. 22

MOORHEAD, Minn. — The end of the world might be upon us again.

Little more than a year after the date the Mayans predicted the demise of the universe, the Vikings have us facing their own apocalypse, set for Feb. 22.

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At least that’s the final day predicted by the organizers of a Viking festival in England. The reason for the precise expiration date is fuzzy, though it’s worth noting that Feb. 22 happens to fall during the festival held on the site of an ancient Viking village.

So the date is dubious. But the Vikings really did have an elaborate mythology on how the world would cease to be.

“The creepiest thing is the Viking ship made up of fingernails and toenails of the dead,” said Tim Jorgensen, events coordinator for the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead.

Jorgensen’s declaration isn’t the result of eating too much lutefisk while watching “Game of Thrones.” The toenail-clipping clipper ship, which is supposed to break free of its moors to take us all to hell, is a part of the Norse mythology known as Ragnarok.

Ancient Vikings were so dead set on keeping Ragnarok from coming to pass, they obsessively trimmed their fingernails short, Jorgensen said.

Ragnarok means “Twilight of the Gods,” according to Milda Halvorson, an associate professor in the Scandinavian studies department at Concordia College in Moorhead.

Halvorson said Ragnarok was to begin when one god dies, signaling the gods are newly mortal. Odin, the leader of the Norse gods, is eaten by a wolf, Fenrir. Fenrir’s two children, Skoll and Hati, eat the sun and the moon. After that, the serpent that holds up the world with his tail in his mouth lets go, and all continents and land masses sink into the sea.

“It is an interesting concept,” Halvorson said. “I think it’s also the timing — we need those narratives around this time of year.”

There’s also another instance of eerie prescience from our Viking forebears. They predicted Ragnarok would be preceded by three back-to-back years of frozen cold. Jorgensen pointed out some scientists believe the reduced occurrence of solar flares may be predicating our own mini ice age soon.

And it’s no coincidence that Ragnarok is scheduled to happen just as the chill of winter is giving way to spring rebirth, Halvorson said. The tale is actually one of renewal, as the Earth burns into nothing and is reborn again, with a single man and woman to repopulate the world.

However, she points out, there’s no real justification in Viking history for Ragnarok to happen this February. That notion appears to have been launched by officials at the ancient Viking village at York, in England, who are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the museum and annual festival established there.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few true believers out there, though Jorgensen and Halvorson are not among them.

Jorgensen said he had to recently provide the Eddas, or ancient Viking texts, to an inmate in the Minnesota state prison system who’s a follower of the old faith. And Iceland granted recognition to its modern-day neopagan iteration, Asatru, back in 1973.

Jorgensen has gone to York, or Jorvik, as the Vikings knew it, for the museum’s festival for each of the past two Februaries, where he fits right in.

He often dons Viking gear for outreach programs at kids’ and senior centers in Fargo-Moorhead, and he said there are a lot of fellow re-enactors at York.

But if the shaky prediction does hold and York’s 30th Viking shindig turns out to be its last, Jorgensen won’t be around to see it. He and his wife are expecting their first child in May, and he’s not planning to return to York in February.

“Maybe that’ll be part of the next population,” he said, a wink in his voice.

Halvorson said the idea of Ragnarok is so ingrained in the Scandinavian identity that it has influenced some of the music that emerges from the region. It’s known for its heavy metal acts, who often sing about destruction and rebirth.

But it’s important that modern-day interpreters of Ragnarok and other elements of ancient Viking mythology don’t take it too seriously, since the historical record is limited at best, she said.

“I think in general people tend to romanticize the Viking Age,” she said. “It’s not just our (region).”

For students looking to get a better understanding of what we know — and what we’re only guessing about — with Ragnarok and the ancient Viking culture, the Hjemkomst has an exhibit on ancient Vikings that runs through the end of February. (The similarity in timing is a coincidence, Jorgensen assured.)

And Halvorson is teaching a spring semester class about Norse mythology. If we make it that far, that is.