Surtr is the ruler of the fiery realm of Muspelheim and prophesized to fight on the side of evil during the huge battle of Ragnarök, the Norse end of the world. Surtr is a primeval jötunn, half-brother of Ymir and Audhumbla’s half-brother, and the chaos and fire incarnate.
If you’ve seen Thor: Ragnarök, you’ll remember the opening scene where a fire giant, Surtr, has Thor captive in his cave. Surtr and his flaming sword are also destined to destroy Asgard during Ragnarök.
You might not know that Surtr also plays an important role in Viking mythology.
Surtr, The jötunn Ruler Of Muspelheim
Surtr is mentioned in the Prose Edda as the guardian of the fire realm of Muspelheim. He stands at the entrance brandishing a flaming sword.
The other attestations are about him leading his fellow fire giants to fight in Ragnarök.
With the constant references to fire and flame, it could be imagined that the legend of Surtr has its origins and inspiration in the volcanic landscape of Iceland.
A 12th-13th century Icelandic text called Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements) mentions a ritual conducted in “Hellsins Surts” or Surt’s Cave. This activity suggests that the ancient Icelandics worshiped Surtr.
What Is The Meaning Of The Name Surtr?
In Norse mythology, Surtr is Old Norse for “the swarthy one” or simply “black.” It is written “Surtur” in modern Icelandic, and its modern English spelling is “Surtr.”
Is Surtr Evil In Norse mythology?
Surtr is evil in Norse mythology.
Surtr’s Role In Ragnarök
Surtr leads his army of fire giants “from the south” to the battlefield at Vígríðr or Óskópnir. There he fights the Vanir god Freyr.
Who Kills Surtr?
Some sources state that Freyr killed Surtr with a stag’s antler before dying from wounds inflicted by the fire giant. However, Gylfaginning tells us that Freyr killed Beli with an antler, so these sources might have become confused.
There is no account of Surtr dying in any ancient Norse texts.
Surtr appears on two occasions in the poem Völuspá. Odin questions a witch or völva about his son Baldr’s nightmares. The völva tells him about Ragnarök and how the fire giant Surtr will join the battle from the south, carrying a flaming sword (stanza 52).
Surtr comes from the south
with the bane of branches [fire],
the sun of the Gods of the Slain
shines from his sword
Stanza 53 says the following:
Now comes to Hlin [Frigg] another hurt,
When Othin fights the wolf,
And Beli’s fair slayer [Freyr] seeks Surt,
For there must fall the joy of Frigg [Odin]Comparative Völuspá – Mimisbrunnr Info
So, Surtr fights “Beli’s fair slayer” or the god Freyr (Freyr killed the giant Beli with an antler because he had surrendered his magic sword to win the hand of Gerðr, the giantess).
In stanzas 14 and 15 of the poem Fáfnismál, the dying dwarf-turned-dragon Fafnir tells the warrior Sigurd the rainbow bridge Bifrost will collapse when Surt and his giants ride over it on their horses.
How call they the isle where all the gods
And Surt shall sword-liquid [blood] mingle?
Fafnir said:Fáfnismál – Voluspa Org
Oskopnir is it, where all the gods
Shall seek the play of swords;
Bifrost will break when they cross the bridge,
And the steeds shall swim in the flood.
Stanzas 17 and 18
Surtr appears in stanzas 17 and 18 of Vafþrúðnismál. We learn where Ragnarök will happen and that Surtr will fight against the Aesir.
Speak forth now, Gagnrath [Odin in disguise], if there from the floor
You would make your wisdom known:
What name has the field where in a fight shall meet
Surt and the gracious gods?
Odin said:The Poetic Edda – Internet Archive
Vigrith is the field where Surt
and the sweet gods shall meet in battle
It measures a hundred miles each way.
And so are its boundaries set.
Stanzas 50 and 51
He appears again in stanzas 50 and 51. Here we are told about how the world will be after Surtr’s fires have gone out. The sons of Odin will live “in the gods’ home,” and the sons of Thor will have his hammer after he is killed by the giant serpent Jörmungandr.
Much have I fared, much have I found,
Much I have of the gods:
Who then will rule the realm of the gods,
When the fires of Surt have sunk?
Vafthruthnir [a wise giant] said:The Poetic Edda – Sacred Texts
In the gods’ home, Vithar and Vali [sons of Odin] shall dwell,
When the fires of Surt have sunk;
Mothi and Magni [sons of Thor], shall Mjollnir have
When Vingnir [“the hurler” or Thor] falls in battle.
Stanza 24 of the poem Fjölsvinnsmál mentions Surtr:
Vithofnir is his name, and now he shinesVithofnir – Pantheon Org
like lightning on Mimameith’s limbs;
and great is the trouble with which he grieves
Both Surt and Sinmora.
Sinmora is believed to be Surt’s wife or mate but is never mentioned in any other known text.
The Prose Edda
In chapter four of Gylfaginning, we learn that Surtr lives in Muspelheim in the south of the Norse universe. He defends his realm with a flaming sword:
And Thridi said: “Yet first was the world in the southern region, which was named Múspell; it is light and hot; that region is glowing and burning, and impassable to such as are outlanders and have not their holdings there. To defend the land, he who sits there at the land’s-end is called Surtr; he brandishes a flaming sword.”
Stanza 52 of Völuspá is then quoted.
In chapter 17, Gangleri (King Gylfi in disguise) asks Hár (an alias of Odin) who will guard Gimlé (the place where the survivors of Ragnarök will live) when Surtr’s fire has rained down:
Then said Gangleri: “What shall guard this place when the flame of Surtr shall consume heaven and earth?”
Chapter 51 describes how the events of Ragnarök will unfold:
“Surtr shall ride first, before and after him, burning fire…”
“Freyr shall contend with Surtr, and there will be a violet battle them before Freyr falls: it is to be his death that he lacks that good sword of his, which he gave to Skírnir.”
Skírnir is Freyr’s servant, who he gave his sword to give to in return for the servant bringing him Gerðr.
“Then straightway shall Surtr cast fire over the earth and burn all the world; so is said in Völuspá…”
Surtr is mentioned again in chapter 53 as the story quotes more excerpts from Völuspá (see above). A little more information about where the sons of Odin and Thor will live – a place called “Ida-Plain,” which will stand on the ruins of Asgard.
Chapter 53 also mentions that two humans, Líf and Lífthrasir, survive Surtr’s fire by hiding in Hoddmímir’s Holt, believed to be part of the World Tree, Yggdrasil.
“In the place called Hoddmímir’s Holt, there shall lie hidden during the Fire of Surtr two of mankind, who are called thus: Líf and Lífthrasir.”
The poet Eyvindr sings the following in Skáldskaparmál:
The mead which forthThe Prose Edda
From Surtr’s sunk dales
“Surtr’s sunk dales” refer to the deep valleys of the jötnar’s (giants’) realm.
Surtr’s Influence On Modern Culture
Surtsey is a volcanic island about 19 miles south of Iceland in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago.
Surtr appears in the opening scene of Thor: Ragnarok and then again towards the end when he destroys Asgard, killing Hela in the process.
He appeared in the October 1963 Marvel comic Journey into Mystery.
Kili Surtr Muspelheim is an anime character that appears in the Unlimited Fafnir series.
Arknights: Surtr and Skadi feature in this mobile anime game.
Surtur is a moon of Saturn and Surt is a volcano on Io, a moon of Jupiter.
Denmark has named a dwarf star Surtr and its Jupiter size orbiting planet Muspelheim.
Related Modern Works
Austrian philologist and religious studies scholar Rudolf Simek talks about Surtr at length in his dictionary of Northern Mythology.
John Charles Dollman’s painting The Giant with the Flaming Sword depicts the part of Gylfaginning that describes Surtr guarding the entrance to Muspelheim.