Originally published May 2016
Considering the most recent information regarding the release of the “Rise of Iron,” I'd like to take a moment to discuss the Iron Lords and the Iron Wolves and their relationship to Norse mythology. I would also like to explain why, Bungie rumors notwithstanding, I find it likely that the Fallen will be the primary antagonists (or at least primary feature) of this expansion.
First, the Guardians themselves:
For the sake of some background and an initial link to Norse myth, let’s talk about the Beasts of Battle. Eagles, Ravens, and Wolves are recurring symbols in both Anglo-Saxon and Norse literature. None of these animals are particularly associated with good news - they’re what you find on the fields of slain, picking through the dead. Carrion eaters. Scary things. Their appearance means (usually) that a lot of things are dead, or are about to die, and each of Destiny’s classes is associated with one of these animals.
The link between Titans and Eagles was finally made explicit after the release of The Taken King. Take a look at the Hammer of Sol.
Yep. And there's the whole “Death From Above” thing. In Norse legend, an Eagle named Veðrfölnir flew above the Yggdrasil and kept an eye on the worm (Nidhoggr) beneath, in the same way that Titans patrol and guard the Walls.
Bungie’s changed that up by adding - as with all Guardian classes - the nobility aspect. Titans are the closest-linked with medieval knights; from the armor to the chivalric ideals. But it’s interesting that the foundation of the in-game lore is not nearly so idyllic.
Aside from the scattered armor bits - Raven Sheath is a dead giveaway - Ravens appear quite a bit in Norse myth. As beasts of battle, they’re also associated with death and gore, but they do appear outside the context of scavenging corpses.
Huginn and Muninn, Odin’s ravens, are one example, but since these birds (trans. “Thought” and “Memory) are never particularly associated with ravens as beasts of battle, the link in-game is more broadly symbolic: wisdom, curiosity, mystery, and secret-keeping are all associated with Warlocks. In particular, there is one case (Hrafnsmál) in which a raven has a discussion with a Valkyrie on a battlefield.
We have our own Valkyries (lit. “Choosers of the Slain”) in Destiny - yes, the Ghosts; who search through the fields of dead and resurrect old heroes to engage in endless combat with the forces of Darkness. You can’t find a more explicit parallel than that.
This reinforce the link between Warlocks - Ravens - and death. Ravens are the most likely to speak with Valkyries, and by extension, Warlocks are likely to be the most interested in the mysteries of the Risen - in Thanatonautics, as it were.
I’ll cut this short and say that Ravens appear in a whole lot of cultural myths - but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention in passing the link between Ikora Rey and the Morrigan, which I hope to explore later.
This is the most obvious connection. The Wolfswood Cloak, the Strength of the Pack - almost every bit of lore associated with Hunters makes mention of wolves. But in Norse myth, wolves weren’t noble creatures. They were mad, slavering beasts; wild and uncontrollable, often a bad omen - but strong, and worthy of fear. Their predilection for sass is not mentioned.
The biggest, baddest wolf of all? Fenrir, offspring of Loki and a giantess named Angrboða (“she-who-brings-grief/sorrow”). Two others, Sköll (he who mocks) and Háti (he who hates), devour the sun and moon during Ragnarok, respectively (there’s disagreement on this, as well as on their actual relation to Fenrir).
Again, Bungie has interwoven this framework with the Spaghetti Western Gunslinger trope and the idea of the loyal and noble wolf, about which I have no complaints. And European Heraldic imagery features lots of wolves - both as images to inspire fear, as well as representations of courage, valor, or nobility.
Thematic or stylistic elements such as these gave Germanic authors a framework of imagery and emotion that could support a narrative - when these animals appeared, audiences were trained to recognize what they signified. If you’re familiar with stock epithets in Greek poetry, these operate similarly. Bungie uses them in comparable manner in all discussions of Guardian class, perhaps best summed up by this excellent post:
TITANS: THE WALLS THO WARLOCKS: Vague philosophical bullshit HUNTERS: Something smartass
What does it all mean? From Bungie’s point of view, it offers a framework to build a story upon, rather than being a story in itself. The player identifies with the imagery associated with their chosen class, and this reinforces their connection to their character, and influences how they experience Destiny’s narrative structure.
The Ironwood Tree
Post-Taken King, Destiny’s Iron Banner competition featured a new group in addition to the Iron Lords of Year 1: The Iron Wolves, accompanied by the Ironwood tree.
The Járnviðr, or Iron-Wood, is attested in the Poetic Edda as the location of a troll-woman or giantess responsible for the upbringing of Fenrir’s (the end-wolf) offspring. There’s good reason to think that this very same giantess is Angrboða, waiting for the world to end. The Ironwood, as the home of trolls and giantesses, is not a particularly pleasant location - it is, in fact, a source of ruin, as this is the nursery of the wolves Sköll and Háti.
To complicate this, you’ll note that in the Iron Banner emblem the tree looks a whole lot like interpretations of Yggdrasil, the world-tree that links the Nine realms of Norse myth. In the emblem below, the tree is shown to have nine main branches (four on each side of the trunk, surrounding a crown), which then split further.
The roots rising from below also resemble claws, which would not be of note except that one of the great worms of Norse myth - the Nidhoggr - is described as chewing on Yggdrasil’s roots.
Here's the emblem.
I happen to have a particular obsession with the Ironwood tree (x), both in a Norse sense and because of recurring in-game references to ritualistic murder and the Sacrificial/Year King mythology. That’s a huge topic for a future post (particularly as relates to the Hive), but I do want to talk about Odin giving himself a ritual spear wound and hanging himself from a tree (maybe Yggdrasil) for nine days and nine nights in order to harness rune-magic. The passage in Hávamál discussing this is one of my favorites:
Veit ek at ek hekk vindga meiði á nætr allar níu(I know that I hung / upon a windy tree / nights full nine)...nam ek upp rúnar œpandi nam fell ek aftr þaðan(I took up the runes / I took them screaming / then fell from there)
Veit ek at ek hekk vindga meiði á nætr allar níu
(I know that I hung / upon a windy tree / nights full nine)
...nam ek upp rúnar œpandi nam fell ek aftr þaðan
(I took up the runes / I took them screaming / then fell from there)
The reason I love it is the line about screaming. Purely from a readerly perspective, that’s awesome. Forbidden knowledge, sacrifice for the sake of power - that is some DEEP SHIT.
Let’s compare it to what we know from the Y2 Iron Banner armor lore:
In our darkest hour, nine Iron Wolves emerged from the ruins. [Wolfswood Cloak]Under a red dawn, the Iron Wolves gathered beneath the Ironwood. [Wolfswood Bond]And beneath its branches, the Iron Wolves forged an unbreakable oath. [Wolfswood Mark]
In our darkest hour, nine Iron Wolves emerged from the ruins. [Wolfswood Cloak]
Under a red dawn, the Iron Wolves gathered beneath the Ironwood. [Wolfswood Bond]
And beneath its branches, the Iron Wolves forged an unbreakable oath. [Wolfswood Mark]
Just as was the case with Odin, it appears that the Ironwood tree is the source of some power - whether symbolic or physical isn’t stated. But it’s an important sign, and sacred groves, year-kings, and fertility rituals will be the topic of a future post. If you look at the emblem - which is also based on heraldic images - the wolves appear to be facing each other under the tree. We know the Iron Wolves met beneath the Ironwood tree - perhaps now they are guarding it? Perhaps the fact that they are facing each other with teeth bared suggests they also fell to infighting.
For now, my personal theory is that the Ironwood Tree granted the Iron Wolves some kind of power to drive away their enemies, but that it demanded a sacrifice in return - which is why neither Iron Wolves nor Iron Lords are still around. I’d also link this to Germanic berserkers, who traded their humanity for extreme prowess in battle - often at the cost of their lives (Mothyards example can be read here).
The Rise of Iron is speculated (I’ll say speculated until Bungie officially confirms) to be Fallen-related. This makes a ton of sense, and regardless of the rumors I think it’s true.
The Fallen are also heavily linked to Norse myth. Perhaps you’ve heard Rahool mutter “A wind age, A wolf age?” Well, that’s a reference to Völuspá and Ragnarok. And it’s important to note that Völuspá ends with an oft-debated image of a world re-born, in the same way that Destiny takes place in a world that is post-Collapse but still full of hope (Deej made mention of this in the last few Twitch broadcasts).
Rahool wonders if this line is a “Presentiment of the collapse,” and poetically speaking, he’s not wrong. But it doesn’t just apply to humanity’s collapse (reading through Völuspá offers innumerable parallels to Destiny’s backstory). In fact, it’s more apparent that it’s a discussion of the Fallen’s own ruin.
Here’s what is stated in Voluspa:
Hard is it on earth, | with mighty whoredom; Axe-time, sword-time, | shields are sundered, Wind-time [age], wolf-time [age], | ere the world falls; Nor ever shall men | each other spare.
(Source), emphasis mine
Here’s Variks’ Grimoire, in which he talks about just that: the Eliksni “Fell to fighting. Fell to hate” after the “Whirlwind ripped away our past.” From what we know of humanity’s own attempts to rebuild, something very similar happened. Humanity was able to rebuild, perhaps due to the continued presence of the Traveler - but the Eliksni, abandoned by that same Great Machine in the face of a Hive onslaught, were not so lucky.
The Fallen also seem to be the race most similar to humanity - they’re what we would be if we gave in to the Sword-Logic. They fled their own Ragnarok (“The Whirlwind”) at the end of the Eliksni Golden Age, and as a result they’ve given up on their former greatness in the pursuit of power. They are also routinely linked with wolves, and it’s apparent that they’ve entered their own age of Wind (Whirlwind) and Wolf (House of Wolves, Fallen Infighting, etc.).
Finally, I agree with this theory stating that Skolas has a brother - probably Hati - who is potentially the Kell of Kings. There are simply too many coincidental parallels for me to think otherwise.
Skoll is the wolf | that to IronwoodFollows the glittering god,And the son of Hrothvitnir, | Hati, awaitsThe burning bride of heaven.
Skoll is the wolf | that to Ironwood
Follows the glittering god,
And the son of Hrothvitnir, | Hati, awaits
The burning bride of heaven.
And here’s my own take on a Fallen creation myth: (x)
As a side note, in the stanza following the one mentioning the Wind and Wolf Ages, we get a mention of Gjallarhorn, whose own narrative trajectory; that is, the mini-Ragnarok that was Twilight Gap is followed by reconstruction of a golden weapon born of sorrow; mirrors the narrative of Destiny on a much smaller scale.
To sum up, the lore surrounding the Fallen and their journey to our own solar system is very similar - both thematically and narratively - to our (humanity’s) own history. They’re shown to be at least somewhat sympathetic (see: “That One Fallen” to humans, Norse myth is (so far) the foundation of their backstory, and our shared similarities make our conflict with them more poignant.
I don’t want to talk too much about Worms just yet, but In Norse myth, Worms are a big deal. The most famous is the Jormungandr, the world-serpent that is coiled around the whole of Midgard, and is a constant antagonist and a big deal in Ragnarok. It’s eventually killed by Thor, but not before adding to the general frenzied chaos of the end of the world.
The Nidhoggr (”biter-gnawer”) is the second - this is the dragon that gnaws on the roots of Yggdrasil, and is finally released during Ragnarok. In the last, heavily-debated stanza of Völuspá, the Nidghoggr is shown rising from the ashes of the re-born world.
There are a lot of worms in Norse myth, but one in particular is of note because it captures a maiden and demands flesh as tribute, growing continually larger until it is finally killed by a hero (Ragnar Lodbrok).
In Grimnismál, Odin names eight worms in addition to the Jörmungandr: Níðhöggr, Grábakr, Grafvölluðr, Ofnir, Svafnir, Grafvitni, Góinn, and Móinn. Most of them are chewing on Yggdrasil. You know, down in the...depths.
There’s an Egyptian parallel in Apep, a serpent god; the “Lord of Chaos” and “Enemy of light and order” (Wiki). That’s out of my personal wheelhouse, although you can read my take on the Book of the Dead and how it may relate to Osiris and the Vex here. This, in my mind, supports the theory that the Darkness is entropy. There is, apparently, mention of nine worms in Taoist or Buddhist philosophy as well, but I know even less about that.
The Number Nine
It’s a shame that the Iron Banner doesn’t last for nine days, because I like the idea of mirroring Odin’s sacrifice for the sake of power (read: sick loot drops). My guess is that this would be too difficult to build into the game schedule. Perhaps in D2?
The Nine Worthies are a group of semi-mythical heroes, often treated in Medieval literature. They are: Hector, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon.
They were viewed as moral idols (there is a lot of religious symbolism tied up with the Nine Worthies), or as the embodiment of Chivalric ideal in a lot of medieval texts. Let’s ignore them, as well as their religious links, and note instead that there are (of course) Nine Iron Lords and (you guessed it) Nine Iron Wolves; all steeped in myth and about which very little is known.
However, the in-game worthies don’t appear to be quite so unimpeachable as their historic parallels, since all the lore we have associated with the Lords and the Wolves points to at least one tragedy befalling our Iron forebears.
What’s to Come
I don’t have a ton of predictions, but based solely on the Norse links here’s my guess:
Because of the connection between the Iron Banner/Iron in Destiny, Ragnarok, and the Fallen, I think we’ll learn a little bit more about the Eliksni. Who they are, where they came from, and their connection to humanity, the Traveler, and the Deep. And due to the heavy symbolism of the number 9 in Norse myth, I also anticipate learning more about the Nine - as well as the Ahamkara/Worms, even if it’s only in passing.
It’s possible that (given the snow show in the poster) it’ll take place in a new location: namely, Europa, which would make sense if we do indeed learn more about the vast and terrible worm-things. I hope that, just as the Books of Sorrow gave us background on the Hive, Rise of Iron gives us a similar look at the Fallen - perhaps in the form of Epic Poetry preserved by the House of Rain.