Who is Jörmungandr in Norse Mythology?
Jörmungandr, in Germanic mythology, was the serpent son of Loki, god of fire, and the frost giantess Angrboda, and the brother of Fenrir and Hel. Odin arranged for these monstrous children to be kidnapped and brought to Asgard. He then threw Jörmungandr into the ocean, where he grew so long that he encircled the earth and was known as the Midgard Serpent. At Ragnarök, Jörmungandr was to come on to the earth and be slain by Thor. However, it was Jörmungandr’s poison from the battle that killed Thor.
In Norse mythology, there are many great beasts and monsters, that many of them pale in comparison to Jörmungandr.
In Old, Norse Jörmungandr meant Great Beast, and he was commonly referred to as the Midgard serpent because his body was so big that it couldn’t circle the entire of Midgard (Earth).
Jörmungandr was one of the three children of Loki and along with his brother and sister, Fenrir and Hel, their fate was decided when they were born.
Loki‘s daughter Hel was exiled to Niflheim, where she would rule over the underworld. Fenrir was left in Asgard to be fostered by the gods and Jörmungandr was cast into the ocean by Odin, where he had hoped the crashing waves would destroy the Beast. But to Odin‘s surprise, Jörmungandr consumed the ocean until he grew so big that with his tail in his mouth, he could encircle the entire of Midgard.
How Does Jörmungandr Looks Like?
Jörmungandr physical appearance does vary. In some depictions, he appears as a monstrous snake, and in others as a serpent-like dragon.
The Hatred Between Thor and Jörmungandr
Jörmungandr was particularly hated by the god Thor, and there are numerous tales of altercations between the two. The hatred began when Thor and a company of other gods visited the land of the Giants, where they came across a huge castle. The gates are so large that the combined force of the gods was not enough to get them open. Luckily for the gods, the bars are so big they could squeeze through them.
Upon hearing that he had guests, the king of the castle told the gods that if they expected his hospitality, they would first have to perform a series of feats to impress him. Thor was given the very simple task of lifting the King’s pet cat from the ground—a task that was considered so mundane that even the children of the castle could do it.
Despite his immense strength, Thor could not complete this task, only managing to little one of the cat’s paws above the ground.
Back home in Asgard, Thor was considered more than capable of handling his drink, and so, the King challenged him to drink the castle’s great drinking horn. Once again, Thor was unable to complete the task as the level of mead barely fell below the rim.
After these failures, Thor was furious and demanded to fight one of the Kings fiercest warriors. The King laughed and mocked Thor, telling him the early opponent that would be a fair fight would be the nurse of the castle. Thor begrudgingly accepted the challenge and began to wrestle with the elderly woman, but even in this task, he would fail.
The next morning when leaving the castle, the king confessed the truth to Thor and the rest of the gods. The tasks that he had given them were more than they appeared. The gods of Asgard had been tricked by powerful enchantment and magic.
The King’s pet cat that Thor had been asked to lift was, in fact, Jörmungandr in disguise, and Thor had nearly pulled the Great World Serpent from the ocean bed that he had been exiled to.
The great drinking horn that Thor had drunk from was connected to the ocean, and Thor nearly drained the entire sea.
The old woman who bested Thor was in fact ‘Old Age’, a feat that no one could conquer.
After hearing the truth, Thor turned and swung his hammer at the king, but he vanished along with the castle. From that day on, Thor swore revenge on the king and Jörmungandr, but he had no idea where to find either of them.
Some believe that the giant King was Loki in disguise, attempting to unleash his son Jörmungandr upon the world. After all, Loki was a renowned trickster and to spell that strong that it could fool the gods so easily would require the talents of someone as powerful as Loki.
The Death of Jörmungandr
It wasn’t until Thor stumbled across a giant named Hymir who agreed to take him fishing that Thor would stumble across Jörmungandr once again.
Thor had thrown a great hook attached to a strong line over the side of the boat in the hopes that the bait would attract the attention of Jörmungandr, and that, it did.
Upon seeing the monstrous serpent, Thor tucked on the line, bringing Jörmungandr to the surface and a fierce battle between the two commenced. The giant was so terrified by Jörmungandr and the rapidly sinking boat that he cut the line, returning the serpent to the deep.
Thor was so incensed by Hymir’s actions that he swung his hammer with such force that the giant fell overboard and drowned. Jörmungandr was so terrified after his close encounter with the god that he went into hiding and was rarely seen by humans.
AlthoughThor did not get revenge on the Midgard serpent during their last encounter, the two were destined to meet again while the world burn during Ragnarök.
Thor would eventually slay Jörmungandr, but during the confrontation, he suffered multiple bites from the serpent. Jörmungandr’s poison entered into Thor’s wounds and this would eventually result in the death of Thor.
Jörmungandr was a monster of such epic proportions that it’s hard to gauge his true size, and just like the rest of Loki’s children, he was prophesized to bring about the end of the world—a sequence of events that he most certainly aided.
Art Sources: Elenasamko, Takahito.