The time has come to write about the most prominent serpent in the history of the Norse universe. Of course, we will talk about Jormungand (Old Norse: Jǫrmungandr).
Jormungand was one of the most powerful and savage creatures in the whole Norse mythology. Its name means "huge monster," and the creature is also known as the World Serpent or the Midgard Serpent.
The Serpent also plays one of the key roles during Ragnarök, where the Serpent is destined to battle no one other than the God of Thunder himself. But, more on that a bit later.
In this article, we are going to cover everything you might want to know about this famous monster. We will discuss its family, its life, and of course, the three surviving Norse myths involving the Midgard Serpent.
So, let us not waste any more time and get started.
Just like for many other Gods and Creatures in Norse mythology, Snorri Sturlusson's Prose and Poetic Edda's are the oldest sources of information about the Midgard Serpent. In case you don't know, those writings date back to the thirteenth century!
The primary source of information for myths involving Jormungand is the Eddic poems Völuspá and Hymiskviða as well as the skaldic poem Húsdrápa.
However, there might be other sources of information about Jormungand even older than Prose and the Poetic Edda. Certain stone carvings predate the 13th century but are so worn down that it is impossible to be sure that they indeed describe the Word Serpent.
After all, it looks like we have to stick only with the Prose and the Poetic Edda.
The Midgard Serpent was the middle child of Loki, the Norse God of trickery and mischief, and a giantess Angrboda. As it is believed that Loki's parents were actually giants, naturally, Jormungandr can be considered as a giant as well.
The Serpent had two famous siblings: Hel and Fenrir the Wolf. Hel was the ruler of Helheim, the realm of the dead, while Fenrir is renowned for two things. Firstly, he tore off the hand of the Norse God of War, Tyr, and secondly, he killed Odin, the All-father, during Ragnarök.
All things considered, if you say that Loki's offsprings were the harbingers of Ragnarök, you won't be mistaken.
Now, let's talk about the famous Ragnarök prophecy and Jormungand's role in it.
It was foretold that Ragnarök will begin once the Midgard Serpent releases its tail. Jormungand will rise from the dark depths of the ocean and spill the seas all over the earth. The water will allow the ship Naglfar to sail freely across the flooded land.
Naglfar was built from the toenails and fingernails of dead men and women, and it carried an army of giants. The captain of the ship is going to be Loki, who will manage to break free from his bindings.
Jormungand's sibling, Fenrir the Wolf, will run all over the earth spreading fire from his nostrils and eyes and devouring everything that stands in his way. The World Serpent will use his venom to poison water, land, and air alike.
Odin was so afraid of this prophecy that he threw Jormungand into the dark depths of the ocean while the Serpent was very young. As time was passing by, Jormungand was growing. Eventually, the Serpent grew up so large that he held his tail in his mouth and surrounded the whole Midgard. This is how Jormungand got its name - the World Serpent, or the Midgard Serpent.
Jormungandr's Encounters with Thor
Only three surviving myths are telling about Jormungandr's encounters with his arch-enemy, the God of Thunder. Keep on reading as we are going to do a short recap of all of them.
1.The Fishing Trip
Let us start with a myth known as "The fishing trip."
During a time of peace, Ran and Aegir, two kind giants living under the sea, invited the Gods to a feast. The Gods had to bring a cauldron with enough capacity to brew mead for all guests. As the guests were going to be Gods and giants, it was quite an obstacle.
After nearly giving up, the Gods remembered a giant who had a cauldron big enough to make mead for everyone. The giant name was Hymir. At the time, Thor was young and reckless, and he volunteered to go to the realm of Jotunheim and to ask Hymir to borrow the cauldron.
The giant was an excellent host and being aware of Thor's legendary hunger, he killed three bulls to have enough food during Thor's visit. However, Thor's appetite was underestimated once again. He ate two bulls in one meal, and Hymir realized that the bulls he killed are not going to be enough. As he didn't want to kill any more of his cattle, he told Thor that they would go fishing tomorrow.
The next morning the giant sent Thor to look for some fishing bait. The young God returned with the heads of the Hymir's remaining bulls. Hymir was so angry, but as he was afraid of the young God, he chose to say nothing, and the two of them went fishing on the giant's boat.
Thor used his divine strength to quickly get them to the Hymir's fishing spot. It turned out that bull's head was an excellent bait. Hymir was in a good mood as he managed to catch two whales in a short time. However, Thor was not fishing but merely staring into the horizon, and this annoyed Hymir.
After a while, the giant told Thor that they have enough food and can return to shore. But, Thor had other plans in mind. He started rowing further into the ocean. Hymir was becoming more and more nervous, and he reminded Thor that they are entering Jormungandr's home ground.
The God of Thunder, stubborn as he was, ignored Hymir's warning and kept rowing, carefully looking at waves around them. Finally, Thor stopped the boat. He took the biggest hook, placed a bull's head onto it, and his legendary fishing adventure was about to begin.
A few moments later, something pulled Thor's line so hard that he barely managed to stay on the boat. In no time, the young God recovered his composure and started reeling in his catch.
Hymir noticed how Thor was using all of his divine strength to bring his catch out of the water. The giant knew that only one creature in the ocean was powerful enough to test the young God. It had to be Jormungandr. Additionally, Hymir knew that if he allows Thor to pull the Midgard Serpent out of the water, Ragnarök will begin.
The giant was nervously watching the epic battle between the unseen sea monster and the mighty Thor. It looked like the young God was going to prevail. In the end, Jormungandr's head emerged out of the water, and the God of Thunder reached for Mjollnir.
In a blink of an eye, the giant took his knife and cut the fishing line. The World Serpent dropped back into the depths of the ocean, creating enormous waves that nearly destroyed Hymir's boat.
Thor was so angry that he threw the giant into the ocean. The young God rowed back to the shore and left their fishing catch in front of Hymir's house. Then, he took the cauldron he came to borrow and went back to Asgard.
2.Lifting the Cat
The next myth telling about the encounter of Thor and Jormungand is known as "Lifting the cat."
Once upon a time, Thor and Loki were traveling in Thor's chariot far away from Asgard. Their destination was the ream of the giants, Jotunheim.
Shortly after their arrival in Jotunheim, they came across a vast castle. The gate of the castle was closed, and there was no one to open it. The gate was so huge that both Thor and Loki could easily pass through between its bars. They went inside the castle and came across a hall where giants were having a feast.
On a throne within a hall, sat a giant called Utgarda-Loki (Old Norse Útgarða-Loki), who was the king of the castle. He recognized his guests and started insulting them for their tiny size.
After a series of challenges that Loki and other members of their party lost, it was time for Thor to fight for the honor of the Gods.
After failing to win a drinking contest, Thor's next challenge was to try and lift the king's cat from the ground. However, the mighty Thor was not able to do this either. Thor lost one more contest before Utgarda-Loki announced that it was enough challenges for one night.
The next morning Thor and Loki were preparing to leave, and Utgarda-Loki was showing them out. Once they exited the castle, the king told them what actually happened the previous night. He told Loki and Thor how he tricked them.
During the drinking contest, one side of the drinking horn Thor used was connected to the ocean, and at a certain point, the giants were afraid that Thor is not going to stop until their whole ocean is gone. On the other hand, the cat Thor tried to lift was, in fact, Jormungand, the World Serpent.
Thor felt so humiliated and angry for being tricked like this, that he wanted to kill Utgarda-Loki on the spot. He took his hammer and turned around to end the king's life, but there was nothing behind him. There was no trace from the castle or Utgarda-Loki, just an empty, vast field. And just like that, Thor was tricked once again.
The last clash between Jormungand and Thor occurred during Ragnarök, the final battle the Gods of Asgard fought against the giants of Jotunheim.
It was foretold that the Midgard Serpent himself will be the one who triggers the series of events that would lead to Ragnarök.
It will start with the harshest winter in the history of the Norse universe that will last for three years. Jormungand will grow uncomfortable in the cold and dark depths of the ocean. The serpent will finally release its tail and go straight for the surface.
Jormungand movement will cause unimaginable earthquakes all over the nine realms, which will eventually break the magic bonds that held both Fenrir and Loki imprisoned. Soon after, Loki and his offsprings will head for the home realm of the Gods, the Asgard.
Loki will command an army of giants looking to slay all Norse Gods. Meanwhile, Fenrir the Wolf will spread fire and destruction all over the Norse universe. He will run with his mouth wide open and devour everything on his path, even the might Odin himself. Lastly, The World Serpent will poison the earth, air, and water with his terrible venom.
In the end, the mighty Thor will fight his way to reach his arch-enemy, Jormungand. The battle was something to behold. Thor fought like never before and eventually managed to slay the most prominent serpent that ever existed. Unfortunately, the wounds inflicted by Jormungand were so great that the mighty God only managed to walk nine steps before falling down. After a few seconds of agony, Thor, the God of Thunder would meet his demise.
Jormungand in Pop-Culture
The Midgard Serpent is an example of an ancient symbol called Ouroboros. The symbol depicts a dragon or a serpent eating its tail and forming a circle. Ouroboros represents the eternal cycle of life and death or creation and destruction. The symbol can be found on many pieces of Viking jewelry today.
We are sure that you realize why it comes as no surprise why the symbol of Ouroboros is used to describe Jormungand nowadays. The Serpent's role in Norse mythology was to start Ragnarök and bring destruction to the whole Norse universe. However, the destruction of the Old World will also bring about the creation of a new one.
Finally, can you guess what is one of the most popular Viking Tattoos today?
Of course, it is the Ouroboros symbol, and we can thank Jormungand for this.
There is no doubt that Jormungandr has one of the most influential roles in Norse mythology. Perhaps the Midgard Serpent can even be considered as the most powerful creature in the whole Norse universe. After all, Jormungandr was the one to slay the God of Thunder, the strongest of all Norse Gods.
In any case, it is time to conclude our story about this magnificent beast. As in the previous articles of this series, feel free to let us know your thoughts about Jormungandr, or if you have an Ouroboros tattoo, feel free to share it. Skaal!