The giantess old in Ironwood sat,
In the east, and bore the brood of Fenrir;
Among these one in monster’s guise
Was soon to steal the sun from the sky.
— Völuspá. 40 : (Translated by Henry Adams Bellows)
Ragnarök the doom of the gods, it is the end of the world, the gods, and of men. In Norse Mythology there are three main wolves that herald and participate in the end of all things. Well technically there is a fourth, Garmr but we will save him for another time. The three main wolves of Ragnarök this illustration represents are Fenrir, Sköll, and Hati. I chose to represent the three as one wolf for design purposes and this one wolf represents “the Brood of Fenrir” concept. There are a few different schools of thought about these three wolves. One thought is that Sköll and Hati are Fenrir’s offspring or “Brood”. There are multiple places where different Norse texts are interpreted as saying that at least Hati may be the son of Fenrir. The poem Grímnismál says “…Hati, Hróðvitnir’s son…” In other texts, Hróðvitnir is used as another name for Fenrir. Some scholars believe that Sköll may be Fenrir’s child as well. Another theory states that the word “Brood in the poem Völuspá may mean the breed of Fenrir where they aren’t necessarily his children but of the same kind or the same breed that Fenrir is, or even a type, that being a monstrous wolf that brings destruction. During Ragnarök, Fenrir kills Odin, and Sköll, and Hati swallow the sun and the moon. Yet other sources believe that Fenrir is the one that swallows the sun as well as kills Odin. With some of the inconsistencies that we have between the different poems and texts that were written afterward from spoken stories handed down through generations in different regions it can be hard to know for sure. So I chose one wolf to represent all three or just the one depending on the story.
The wolf of course represents Fenrir, Sköll, and Hati. The Ribbon around the Great Wolf is Gleipnir, the bonds that Fenrir breaks at Ragnarök. The sun and moon are being swallowed by the wolf/wolves and each represents the actions of Sköll, and Hati who will devour them. The center line represents Fenrir and his “brood” while the 2 smaller lines at the moon also represent Sköll, and Hati.
In Norse Mythology, Fenrir is one of Loki’s children with the giantess Angrboða. The gods bring him to their home in Ásgardr and Týr the god of war raises him from a pup. Fenrir grows to a monstrous size and keeps growing and getting stronger. The gods begin to see him as a threat, and Odin receives a prophecy that says that Fenrir will bring destruction and doom to the gods. So the gods devised a plan, they trick Fenrir into letting them chain him up to test his strength. He breaks the biggest strongest chains they can find several times. So the gods go to the dwarves to have them make a magical binding that Fenrir cannot break. The dwarves use 6 things to make the bonds;
- The sound of a cat’s footfall
- The beard of women
- The roots of mountains
- The sinews of the bear
- The breath of the fish
- The spittle of the birds
The dwarves name their invention Gleipnir, it is as thin as a silken ribbon but stronger than any iron chain. Some say the things used to make it don’t exist which makes the rope impossible to break because it’s made from impossible things. Others believe these things don’t exist “anymore” because they were used to make Gleipnir.
The gods then trick Fenrir into letting them tie him up with Gleipnir. He smells treachery and says he will only do it if one of the gods puts their hand in his mouth, if he is unable to break the chains they must free them, if not then he will take their hand. Týr volunteers for the job, and of course when Fenrir can’t break the bonds, and when the gods don’t free him, he takes Týr’s hand. The Gods then bind him up and pin his jaws open with a sword, where he will stay until he breaks free at Ragnarök. Fenrir swears he will take revenge on the gods for their betrayal. could it be they caused their own doom by trying to prevent it?
Sköll, and Hati are two giant wolves that chase the sun and the moon around the earth, causing the day and night. Ragnarök they will finally catch their prey and everything will be in darkness. Fenrir will finally escape his bonds and take revenge upon the Gods killing Odin.
The Norse culture and stories that inspired this illustration and my artist’s statement are far deeper and richer than I went into. I encourage you to do your own reading and research to learn more.
This illustration is hand drawn digital ink piece done in photoshop, using a Wacom Cintiq and True Grit Texture Supply Brushes.
Thanks for reading -Skål!
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