Ragnarök, the Doom of the Gods, is one of the most significant events in Norse Mythology. During Ragnarök, there will be an epic battle between the giants, gods, and creatures in which the heroes of the Aesir and their foes, including Loki, Thor, and Odin, are doomed to die.
These deaths will cause catastrophic disasters, and the world is prophesied to burn before all is ruined and submerged in water. But the world will rise out of the water, and the gods that have survived the battles will meet again, and two humans named Líf and Lífþrasir will repopulate the world.
Ragnarök and its associated myths have been a significant aspect of Germanic studies in colleges and universities. Many things must occur before Ragnarök officially starts, but one of the first signs of the world’s end is two wolves named Sköll and Hati eating the Sun and Moon.
Sköll, Hati and Fenrir
Sköll and Hati are two of the most mysterious entities in Norse mythology, but there is very little known about them, and they are only mentioned briefly in the Prose Edda. The Prose Edda was written by the Icelandic historian, politician, and author Snorri Sturluson and is considered the most detailed and complete source of Norse mythology.
Sköll and Hati are known as “chasers of the Moon and Sun” and are either the children of or an extension of the giant wolf Fenrir from Norse Mythology. Their chase seems endless, but if they ever capture the Moon and Sun they will usher in the end times.
Fenrir, often called Hróðvitnir, which means “Fame-Wolf,” has a significant role in Norse mythology. Fenrir, Hel, and Jörmungandr (the World Serpent) are all children of Loki and the giantess Angrboða.
It is prophesied that Fenrir is destined to kill Odin during Ragnarök, which is the end and destruction of the world. Fenrir is first mentioned in the Prose Edda during the story about the god of war, Týr.
The story goes that the gods attempted to bind Fenrir by constructing a chain or rope which seemed flimsy but was strong enough to hold the giant wolf. Fenrir sensed a trick, and would only allow the chain to be put on him if a god put his hand in the wolf’s mouth. Tyr volunteered, and when Fenrir found himself trapped he bit the god’s hand off.
Fenrir himself will escape at Ragnarök once again. Fenrir and an unnamed giantess are believed to be the parents of Sköll and Hati, who also have a role to play during Ragnarök.
Sköll’s name in Old Norse means either “Treachery” or “Mockery”. According to the Prose Edda, Sköll is a giant wolf in the sky who chases behind the sun and is personified as the goddess named Sól.
Sköll is mentioned during the story of Sól and how she drives her chariot of the sun across the sky. The wolf is mentioned after Sól receives her chariot. The Edda states, “[Sól] goes at a great pace; her pursuer is close behind her, and there is nothing she can do but flee… There are two wolves, and the one pursuing her is called Sköll [Treachery] is the one she fears; he will catch her [at the end of the world.].”
Sköll will catch up to the sun when Ragnarök begins, consuming her. When solar eclipses took place, it was believed that Ragnarök was starting and to try to prevent the fiery heat death of the world; people would make as much loud noise as possible in an attempt to frighten Sköll enough that he would drop the sun allowing their heavenly chase to begin again.
While Sköll is the wolf who chases the Sun, Hati chases the moon, who is personified as Máni, the brother of Sól. Hati’s name in Old Norse means “He Who Hates” or “Enemy,” and while Sköll chases the sun across the sky during the day, Hati chases the moon across the night sky.
When Ragnarök begins, Hati will swallow the moon, thrusting the world into total darkness. In the Prose Edda, Snorri speaks of the brood of Fenrir stealing the Sun and Moon from the sky. The text states, “Sköll is the name of the wolf, Who follows the shining priest into the desolate forest. And the other is Hati, Hróðvitnir’s son, Who chases the bright bride of the sky.”
What makes Sköll and Hati so complex is that conflicting myths do not clarify precisely which wolf chases and will eventually eat the moon or the sun. Their names may be interchangeable; they might be Fenrir’s children or, as mentioned earlier, some sort of celestial extension of Fenrir.
As you can see, Norse mythology is incredibly complicated, and the distinction between gods and other characters could be more explicit. In Norse mythology, the gods are divided into groups: Aesir and Vanir.
Then there are giants who came before the Aesir and Vanir (similar to the Titans who ruled the earth before the Olympians took over). The Aesirs include gods like Tyr, Odin, Loki, Thor, and Frigg. While fertility gods like Freyr, Freyja, and Njord best represent Vanir gods.
The Aesir and Vanir groups combine their powers in order for humanity and the world to exist. Beyond the gods and giants, several Norse characters are animals that fall somewhere between mythological creatures and gods—the World Serpent ( Jörmungandr), Sleipnir, an eight-legged horse, as well as Sköll and Hati.
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Sköll and Hati are descendants of giants and could be considered “monsters,” but at the same time, they chase after Sól and Máni, who are gods.
Sköll and Hati might have been worshiped like the Aesir. However, there is no evidence to suggest either way. Sköll and Hati are mentioned only concerning pursuing the Sun and Moon, which they eventually capture and devour.
Still, after the wolves plunge the world into darkness, they are not mentioned again. If they play a role later on during the later events of Ragnarök, it is unknown simply because the available information is minimal and conflicting.
A Common Myth?
Across mythology, there are often similar stories shared between cultures. Flood myths are found in the Bible, the Epic of Gilgamesh, Aztec mythology, the histories or legends of Native American tribes, as well as indigenous tribes in Africa.
While the figures of Sköll and Hati come from Norse mythology, they are not the only culture with tales of creatures that eat the Sun and Moon. Eclipses have been tied to figures stealing or eating the sun for centuries.
For example, in China, the word eclipse is “shih,” which translates to “to eat”. In Chinese mythology, a dragon who lives among the stars tries to eat the sun and is successful during eclipses.
Korea has a similar story to that of Norse mythology. In Korean mythology a pack of fire dogs are sent upon orders of a king to steal the Sun. The pack is able to get close enough to the Sun, and they take a bite out of it, triggering an eclipse.
According to indigenous Siberian and Mongolian myths, headless characters chase and eat the Moon and Sun, causing eclipses. In India, Indonesia, and Polynesia, there are myths of a demon named Rahu stealing and eating the sun, but because it is so hot, Rahu burns his tongue and spits the Sun out, which is why the Sun always returns after an eclipse.
The terror caused by eclipses and the legends of the world ending and being plunged into darkness led many cultures to do certain things to scare away the creature eating the sun, like making as much noise as possible which the Norsemen were known to do. Sköll and Hati are not alone in their endless quest to devour the Sun and Moon at the world’s end.
Top Image: Skoll and Hati, endlessly chasing the Sun and Moon. Source: John Charles Dollman / Public Domain.