The concept of an inescapable fate was deeply inbedded in the whole of Norse mythology, for the myths told of a future catastrophe, Ragnarok, in which gods and mankind would be entirely destroyed. Although it lay in the future, its every detail was described as though it had already taken place. The Norse people imagined the creation of the world, its cosmology, and its inevidable final destruction, as a single unit in a continuing cycle of creations, each of which ending in an apocalypse before the world was renewed. Humans fitted into this cosmic scheme as one of several types of beings, each group contributing to the life of the others. But although they cohabitated with the gods, dwarves, animals and giants, people were unable to influence fate and change the course of events. The end of the world was inherent in its very beginning: its doom was conceived even as the shape and form of the world was revealed.
Life began in the fusion of two elemental extremes, fire and ice, and was doomed to end when flames and water would once again engulf all that had been engendered. A chain of episodes, expedited by the rancorous Loki, was to end in a final confrontation in which the forces of chaos and evil would be pitted against the gods, and each side would destroy the other in the dramatic finale known as Ragnarok. But like the ancient whirling wheel, (a symbol often found on Viking picture stones) the cycle would turn again.
The catastrophe was to be triggered by the death of Balder, son of Odin and Frigg, who was considered the purest of the gods and the most popular among them. Yet he was destined to return to life afterwards and preside over a newly-created, more peaceful world. For, having purged the earth of evil, Ragnorok would lead to the regeneration of life: the earth would reappear from the waters of chaos, washed clean and made anew.
Yggdrasill, the ash tree that was guardian and protector of the universe and absorber of its stresses and woes, was foreordained to remain standing throughout the onslaught of the final battle. In its eternal branches it sheltered a man and a woman - Lif and Lifthrasir - who would become the first of a new generation of humans, destined to people the earth again.