“The Giant with the Flaming Sword” by John Charles Dollman (1909)

Surt (Old Norse Surtr, “Black,”[1] presumably a reference to his charred appearance) is a fire giant who leads his kin into battle against the Aesir and Vanir gods during Ragnarok, the cyclical destruction of the cosmos. His particular destiny is to kill the god Freyr and to be slain by him in turn. He arrives from Muspelheim, the extreme southern region of heat and fire, bearing his weapon of choice of a burning sword, with which the world is razed before it sinks into the sea.[2][3][4]

Historian of religion Rudolf Simek has proposed that Surt is the animating force of “the (volcanic) fire of the Underworld,”[5] a personage who would surely have had a profound emotional resonance for any early Icelander.

If you’ve enjoyed this article and want to learn more about Norse mythology, I recommend picking up one of the books listed in this guide: The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books. And if you’re particularly interested in the worldview of the pre-Christian Norse and other Germanic peoples, you might want to take a look at my own book, The Love of Destiny: The Sacred and the Profane in Germanic Polytheism.

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[1] de Vries, Jan. 2000. Altnordisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch. p. 562.

[2] Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Gylfaginning 4, 51.

[3] The Poetic Edda. Vafþrúðnismál, stanzas 50-51.

[4] The Poetic Edda. Völuspá, stanza 52.

[5] Simek, Rudolf. 1993. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. p. 303-304.