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Thor’s Fishing Trip: a Meteorite Impact?

The gods of Asgard all have their own enemy to face in the final battle against chaos. Thor’s ultimate nemesis in the myths is the giant World-Encircling serpent Jormungand. Before Thor, champion of the gods and protector of humans meets his doom, he has several encounters with this poisonous serpent. 

When Thor fights giant monsters, this usually results in thunder and lightning, and a battle of the elements. Could the ancient Norse, or their ancestors, have witnessed real events that may have inspired Thor’s thunderous battles with giant monsters?

In the poem Hymiskvitha (“The Fetching of the Cauldron”), Thor decides to go on a fishing trip together with the giant Hymir to catch the ultimate prize: the Midgard Serpent. The two go far out towards the edge of the known waters, where the serpent lurks. Thor uses the head of the giant’s best ox as bait. This attracts the serpent, making it rise from the deep.

What follows is a swift encounter between Thor and the beast. The giant Hymir, becoming nervous, cuts the fishing line in one version of the story. Thor manages to give the beast a good whack on the head before it descends into the deep. The violent throes of the monster cause volcanoes to erupt, the earth to shake, and the waves to stir.

What is described here in the allegory of a fishing trip might be a mythical description of a meteorite impact, possibly an impact into the sea. Before we can examine the connections between the myth and real-world catastrophe, let’s first look at this comical story of Thor, the giant, and the snake.

Aegir the Brewer, from Liebig Meat Productions trading cards (1934) – source

A Cauldron for the Sea Giant

The story of Thor’s fishing trip is found in both the Poetic Edda and in Snorri’s Prose Edda. It begins with a great feast in the hall of Aegir and Ran, two giants who dwell deep below the sea. Thor, who is not too fond of giants, quickly gets into an argument with the sea giant Aegir. In revenge, Aegir challenges Thor to fetch him a cauldron that is large enough to hold all the beer that is to be brewn for the feast.

The god Týr confides to Thor that he knows of a cauldron that is large enough to do the job. His giant father Hymir the wise owns a cauldron that is a mile deep. It is “the biggest cauldron of them all”.

What cauldron could be a mile deep? Are we talking here about a purely fictional object, a large crater or caldera, or some kind of cosmic cauldron? David Mathisen, in his book on Norse Star Myths, has provided a celestial explanation for the curious events in this myth, which we will examine at a future date.

Ancient peoples would have recognized all sorts of symbols in the constellations that were a part of their everyday world. A cauldron could have been one of these symbols from the every-day world of the Norse that was attached to a certain constellation.

In this part of the investigation, we’ll explore this myth on a layer of meaning that is placed somewhere in between the stars and the depths of the sea, at the border between heaven and earth.

A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie. Oil on canvas, Albert Bierstadt (1866) – source. The high mountains of the Rockies come close to what the mountainous home of the giants would look like.

At the Giant’s Home

After a day-long journey from Asgard, Thor and Týr arrive in the land of the giants. Glaciers are shaking as the giant Hymir comes home from the icy heights. Hymir was not happy at seeing Thor, the slayer of giants coming forward out of hiding. But as a good host should, he ordered three oxen to be killed to serve his guests a good meal. Thor ate two whole oxen, to the giant’s dismay.

Here in the poem is where a lot of bull symbolism is first mentioned, the significance of which we will examine later. Seeing Thor’s unsettling appetite, the giant exclaims: “If all three of us want to eat tomorrow, then we’d better go fishing.”[1]

The Fishing Trip

So it was decided that Thor and the giant would go fishing together. Hymir would row the boat, and Thor would prepare for the trip by going to forest to fetch some bait from the giant’s herd of oxen. Thor followed the giant’s advice and chose the best ox out of Hymir’s herd, took the beast by its horns, and ripped off its head.

Again, the giant was filled with horror and dismay by Thor’s brutality, and worse, the jovial manner in which he did so. With the bait in hand, Thor asked the giant to row out far into the sea. The giant was reluctant to do so, but he did as he was asked. At the edge of the encircling sea, he managed to catch two big whales.

Thor meanwhile, was baiting his own hook with the giant ox-head. The blood of the ox attracted the Midgard Serpent. The giant worm rose out of the water with gaping jaws. Thor took his chance and struck the poisonous beast with his hammer. 

Thor dragging in the Midgard Serpent from the deep – source

The Old Earth was Shaken

Jackson Crawford, in his 2015 translation of the Poetic Edda, translates what happened next:

The monster howled,

Volcanoes erupted,

And the old earth

Trembled all over,

But that sea monster

Sank back into the waves.

Hymiskviða 24

Volcanoes, earthquakes, and probably monstrous waves beating against the shore as the monster sank back into the depths – it’s all in there. What we have here it seems, is a mythical account of some kind of catastrophe. Natural disaster made into art, a work of poetry. What do other translations of this poem say about this event?

The monsters roared, 
and the rocks resounded,
And all the earth so old was shaken;
Then sank the fish in the sea forthwith.
(Bellows)
The icebergs resounded, 
the caverns howled, 
the old earthshrank together:
at length the fish back into ocean sank.
(Thorpe)
Moaned the wild monster,
the rocks all rumbled,
the ancient earth shrank into itself.
Then sank the serpent down in the deep.
(Bray)

The above fragments are all written in a more archaic English – making it more difficult to follow the story for the modern reader. Compared with these older translations, Jackson Crawford’s modern translation is refreshing in its clarity of words. But what’s also noticeable, is how the details in these four translations differ.

Where Crawford translates “volcanoes”, Thorpe says “howling caverns”, and Bellows and Bray simply mention “rumbling rocks”. Confronted with such different interpretations of the Old Norse text, it’s hard to get specific details of the event. It’s clear though that the monster’s retreat makes the earth tremble amid a lot of roaring noise – something catastrophic is being described here.

Even when we take a look at the original Old Norse text, we see slight variations in spelling.

The Olive Bray translation has the word Hreingölkn, whereas the Bellows translation gives Hraungalkn. Hreinn could be translated as “bright”, while “hraun”  is an Icelandic word for lava. 

I’m not trained in Old Icelandic myself, but even those who master the language come to quite different interpretations of the original text. Where most translations give the word “monster” or “wild monster”, Thorpe gives “icebergs”. The serpent is also called físk (“fish”) in two of the translations. Serpents in skaldic poetry are often symbolically described as fish.

Myths are notorious for their use of puns, and one word can often be translated in more than one way. Such is the nature of poetry and of language itself. Still, the general picture of catastrophe is clear.

Thor and Hymir go fishing for the Midgard Serpent. From the 18th century Icelandic manuscript SÁM 66 – source

Fishing with Meteorites

I’m not the first person to notice the possible links between Thor’s Fishing Trip and a meteorite impact – possibly an impact into the sea or ocean. Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried on his The Norse Mythology Blog sees in this story a poetic metaphor for the perturbation of natural phenomena by larger-than-life forces, personified in the battle between the thunder god Thor and the monstrous Midgard Serpent.

To be more specific, he thinks that the story might even refer to two meteors falling from the sky. The remote location of the fishing trip far out into the sea could be explained because of the perceived remoteness of the meteor strike, Seigfried explains. Midgard, the world of humans, is encircled after all by the outer ocean that separates it from Jotunheim, the “Home of the Giants”.

When the Midgard Serpent takes the bait, Thor’s legs break through the bottom of the fishing boat, as described in Snorri’s Prose Edda. Since Thor is able to touch the ocean floor with his feet, Seigfried reasons, he must have grown to enormous size himself. When he throws his hammer towards the serpent’s head, he does this from a great height.

The name of the ox is a strong clue in itself. Himinhrjód (“heaven-destroyer”) or Himinbrjoter (“sky-cleaver”), is an apt name for a large meteorite. The fishing line according to Karl can be seen as a symbol for the meteor’s bright trail, with the rocky core as the ox’s head attached to the line. In the striking of Thor’s hammer, he sees a possible second meteorite.

And what about the oxen that are killed and eaten by Thor from the giant’s herd, before they go on a fishing trip? Are these a meteoric precursor for the larger objects that were to follow?

Thor’s ox head on a fishing rope imagined as a meteor with a fiery debris trail. Ox head (source), meteor (source). Illustration by Arthur Koopmans.

While there are some intriguing connections between Thor’s hammer and meteorite stones, it’s also quite possible that the meteorite entering the atmosphere goes paired with a lightning discharge. The possibility of two large meteorites could be explained by a meteor shower, or a meteor that has fragmented into more than one piece.

Volcanoes erupting, rocks rumbling, and the earth shaking could all be explained as the secondary effects of a cosmic impact. Crawford’s mention of volcanoes and even lava giants also makes one wonder about the volcanic element in all this.

Monsters howled and “volcanoes erupted” says Crawford’s translation, as Jormungand sank back into the sea. Painting by Mezey Lajos (c. 1860) – source

Volcanoes and Cauldrons

After the serpent has broken free – or after being cut free by Hymir – Thor sees his greatest foe sink back beneath the waves. It’s time to head back home. The giant Hymir rows back in a gloomy mood, and what follows is a duel in which Thor is challenged to break Hymir’s wine cup. 

Breaking the cup he does, by throwing it against Hymir’s rock-solid skull. The shattering of the cup could itself be a reference to a cosmic event of some kind.

Thor and Týr, having earned Hymir’s cauldron after winning the duel, head back towards the sea-feast, but they are being chased by the obligatory army of giants. Thor throws his hammer Mjollnir at them, killing what Jackson Crawford translates as “lava giants”.

The mile-wide cauldron that Hymir possesses might be poetic imagery for the caldera of a volcano, a connection which Dr. Seigfried among others has also made. With Crawford’s mention of erupting volcanoes and lava giants, this is a serious possibility. The very word caldera is Spanish for “cauldron”.

Another challenge in deciphering poetic imagery for catastrophic events is that some of these events can have overlapping symbolism. A “cauldron” could just as easily refer to a meteor crater. An image like a “fiery sword that splits the sky in two” (found in the Ragnarök myth) could refer to both the trail of a comet or meteor, or to the fiery column of an erupting volcano.

Whether the fire comes from above or below, the same symbols may have been applied in myth to both cosmic impacts and volcanism. But science also shows us that impacts and volcanism can go hand in hand, as a large enough impact could trigger volcanic events of several kinds.

The intricacies of impact and volcano symbolism is another subject that we will look at in more detail. There are some more clues hidden in this myth however, that do seem to point at the possibility of a cosmic impact.

Left: Thor Obtains Bait from an Ox by W.J. Weigand (1871) – Right: Thor and Hymir fishing for the serpent by Jenny Nystrom (1893) – source

The Cosmic Bull and the Cosmic Serpent

Quite possibly, this myth may even contain clues that tell about where these impacts came from, and possibly even a broad time-frame in which this impact may have occurred. One major clue lies in the symbols of the two great beasts that are mentioned in this poem: the bull and the serpent.

In myths from all over the world, both the bull and the serpent are connected to godhood, and also to cosmic destruction. Thor slaying Hymir’s “sky-cleaving bull” reminds of the Tauroctony, the “slaying of the bull” of the Roman Mithraic cult. The (poisonous) World Serpent, encircling both heaven and earth, is encountered in other mythical traditions as well.

And more than once, we find both the bull and the serpent together in the same myth, in different traditions across the world. Marduk, the “Calf of the Sun” fighting the watery monster Tiamat in Babylonian myth is one example of this. Are the bull and the snake universal symbols of divine entities who have shook the world to its bones?

Victor Clube and Bill Napier, two of the world’s leading astro-phycisists, argue in their book The Cosmic Serpent that a hero’s mythical fight with a snake is poetic imagery for episodes of cosmic bombardment. In Chapter 8 we find the following quote:

“The earliest recorded myths are those of combat, between a god or hero and a dragon. The dragon was a familiar figure in Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Babylon, India, China, North America and elsewhere. Usually, he has the form of a winged serpent. He is a gigantic monster; he spouts fire and smoke; bellows and hisses; he throws rocks, and is the creator of terrible destruction; and his home is in the sky. ”

clube and napier, “the cosmic serpent”

While the Midgard Serpent is described as a sea monster of the deep, there is more than one myth in which a serpent of the depths once had its home in the sky, before it was cast out of heaven.

There’s another detail in this story that resonates with observations of cosmic impacts and the harm that they can do. During the fishing trip, the giant Hymir catches two whales, while Thor is aiming for the World Serpent. Sagan and Druyan in their book Comet mention the Chinese saying: ‘When comets appear, whales die’.

It must be said though, that this detail can also be a reference to a specific celestial detail that we become aware of when we look at this myth from a Star Myth perspective. We’ll look at some examples from David Mathisen’s analysis as well in our investigation.

Close-up of the the Pleiades in the constellation Taurus. Photo by Kees Scherer (2018) – source

The Myths in the Stars

It is heavenwards that we shall look for more clues that will help us awaken the memories of ancient monsters that lurk between the lines of this old Icelandic poem. In only a few generations, memories of a cosmic disaster may have been largely forgotten, remembered in stories that are increasingly harder to believe with the passing of time.

It’s because they are woven into the greatest poetry, that these memories have survived. Their riddling language continues to fascinate and inspire us. Star Myth researcher David Mathisen makes the case that these myths are linked to the undying stars – another path to eternity.

What we have here perhaps, is a memory of cosmic events passed down in the form of a myth that is written in the language of the stars and constellations – a myth about the eternal struggle between the champion of the gods and the great beasts of heaven.


Notes

[1] The Poetic Edda, Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes by Jackson Crawford (2015).

The Norse Mythology Blog by Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried’s 

Myth Science: Thor’s Fishing Trip

Clube and Napier

The Cosmic Serpent (1982)

Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan

Comet (1985)

David Mathisen

Starmythworld.com

Star Myths of the World Vol.4: Norse Mythology

The Wisdom of the Dead: A History of Comets and Catastrophe

Odin was on an urgent mission to gather as much knowledge as he could. The fate of the whole world was at stake. The Doom of the Gods was already woven into the tapestry of the Norns.

The Allfather, with his long cloak and broad-brimmed hat, travelled all the Nine Worlds on his steed, searching for knowledge in all directions. He hung himself for nine nights from the World Tree Yggdrasil to gain greater awareness. Then, he wounded himself with a spear, and deprived himself of food and drink.

Odin even sacrificed an eye to obtain a drink from the well of the wise Mimir, to gain knowledge of all the things that happen outside of ordinary reality. But dropping his eye into Mimir’s Well was still not enough to turn the wheels of fate.

The Völva

There was more wisdom to be gleaned. Not from the world of the living, but from the world of the dead. In the Völuspá, the first poem in the Poetic Edda, Odin summons a dead seeress from her grave to question her about Ragnarök, the Doom of the Gods.

The dead have witnessed events that we, the living, have long forgotten. Whatever the dead have experienced in their lives, and whatever wisdom and intellectual treasures they have amassed, they have taken it with them into the grave. It makes sense that in the Norse poems, Odin disturbs the slumber of a dead völva, a seeress of a past age, to question her about what is to come.

In Norse society, the völva was seen as an oracle, a seeress who could travel the webs of Fate and predict the future. In the Völuspá, the “Witch’s Prophesy”, Odin summons the old woman from her grave, and she gives him her prediction of the future.

The seeress says:

Hear my words, all the holy races,

All of Heimdall’s sons, both high and low;

You summoned me, Allfather,

To tell you what I remember,

Old tales of men long ago.

Völuspá, stanza 1[1]

Ragnarök and Cyclical Time

Predicting the future becomes a lot easier when you have knowledge of what happened before. Our future is written in the tales of men and women long ago.

In our modern era, we perceive time as something linear, a continuous progression from the Stone Age up to the technologically advanced age that we’re living in now. But if we look at the passing of the seasons, from winter to summer and back, we should know that time is also cyclical.

The seasons faithfully return each year, alternating in cycles of growth and decay, of death and rebirth. The years that we wander this earth can be counted in the number of winters or summers that we have experienced.

We see similar cycles repeated on different scales, on different levels of existence, and we can observe these cycles of death and rebirth on a larger, cosmic level as well. The Ragnarök myth, as it is presented in the Poetic Edda, is a cyclical event. It’s not a definite end to all life, as in some doomsday prophecies; it is the cyclical end and rebirth of our world.

Battle of the Doomed Gods by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1882) - Ragnarök
Battle of the Doomed Gods” by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1882) – source

Odin presses the völva to give him all the details of the disaster that awaits. She explains to him how the sun and the moon will be devoured by wolves. Snow will start falling in summer, and people will feel the bite of a terrible cold. The World Tree will shake in agony. 

There will be violence and moral decay. Brothers will fight brothers, while the gods are launched into a war with giants of frost, fire, and venom. Heaven and earth will be cloven. The Bridge to the Gods will burn, and the earth will sink beneath the sea…

Digging up the Records of the Past

Like Odin, we too are digging up the past. Archaeologists are excavating ancient sites, disturbing the remains of men, women, and animals of ages long ago. Tombs and their treasures tell the story of the past. Each new find is a new verse to be told.

The earth itself has kept a record of the past in layers of rock and ice, with ancient fossils and pockets of air trapped inside. Trees have kept a record of how well they liked each year in their rings.

By examining ancient records, scientists have found increasing evidence for several major tears in the fabric of the past. More than one major catastrophe has struck humans during their time here on earth. Many of these episodes of cosmic catastrophe have happened since the Last Ice Age, and many went before.

Excavation of the Oseberg Ship (1904-1905)
Excavation of the Oseberg Ship (1904-1905) – source
What secrets have ancient peoples taken with them into their graves?

We tend to think that major comet impacts only happened to the dinosaurs around 65 million years ago, but something nearly as catastrophic happened as recently as 12,800 years ago. Just when the earth was finally escaping the Last Ice Age and started to warm up, a bombardment from space sent the Northern Hemisphere back to a world of ice and snow for another 1000 years.

The Younger Dryas

This episode of global cooling is called the Younger Dryas, named after an alpine flower that grows in arctic conditions. Across multiple continents, scientists have found a black mat layer, dated to the Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB). This black mat layer contains proxies that point to a cosmic impact, and the global wildfires that ensued, burning 10 percent of the planet’s biomass.

At the base of this layer, scientists have found nanodiamonds, microspherules, melt glass, platinum particles, and other indicators strongly suggest that there was a major bombardment, likely from multiple fragments of a large comet.

One of the famoes Joe Rogan interviews with Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson about the onslaught of the Younger Dryas Impact Event.

Several large fragments likely hit the North American ice sheet, which was two miles thick at the time, launching football-stadium-sized chunks of ice across the continent.

As pieces of space rock hit the ice sheet, some of them might not have left a crater, as they ploughed through two miles of ice, or exploded in the air. But two large craters have been found under the ice of Greenland, and the preliminary dating of one of them is close to the Younger Dryas Boundary.

Impacts in the ice would have caused enormous, catastrophic meltwater floods, scarring the landscape, and leaving behind giant erratic boulders.

According to catastrophist geologist Randall Carlson, the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington are the physical evidence of a single catastrophic meltwater flood.   Left: A topographic map of the Scablands (source). – Right: A view in the “Channeled Scablands” of eastern Washington. Washington, Wenatchee, by Harley D. Nygren, 1948 (source).

Tales of catastrophic floods that cover the tops of mountains are found in myths worldwide. We find it in the story of Noah’s Ark, and flood myths are also found all across the American continent. Often, they describe the sun growing dark, black rain and hail, indescribable cold, and fire or snakes falling from the sky.

Now, with all the research that has been done on the YDI event and other episodes of cosmic upheaval, we know that humans have actually witnessed events on the scale that is described in these myths and legends.

Not only was the onset of the Younger Dryas catastrophic, this thousand year period came to an equally abrupt end around 11,600 years ago. The climate suddenly took a turn for the better, and a large pulse of meltwater from melting glaciers set the tone for the large rise in sea levels that was to follow.

Interestingly, 9600 BC is also exactly the date that Plato gives for the sinking of Atlantis. Many ancient continents, like the former Indonesian continent called Sundaland, and the landmass of Doggerland in Northern Europe were submerged beneath the waves as the sea level rose with about 150 meters since the end of the Ice Age.

comet impact into the North American ice sheet at the Younger Dryas
Several large fragments of a comet likely hit the North American ice cap at the YDB. Stock image by Max Haase (2010) – source. Edited by the author.

The events of the Younger Dryas Boundary would have been catastrophic for human populations living at the time. Clovis arrowheads were not found above the black mat layer, indicating that an entire North American culture had been wiped out. In Europe, it was the Federmesser culture that was erased from existence.

The majority of the different species of megafauna, including various species of bison, horses, and mammoths, were exterminated during this cataclysm.

A Timeline of Catastrophe

Between the end of the Ice Age and the present day, many other periods of cosmic bombardment followed. There were also the so-called kiloyear events, which were episodes of change in global climate, causing droughts in some regions, and excessive rainfall and floods in other regions. These kiloyear events too, were likely caused by fragments of comets falling down to earth, causing major disruptions in ancient cultures and civilizations.

In the timeline below, you can see several of the larger episodes of cataclysm and global climate change of the last 15,000 years:

A timeline of cosmic catastrophe and comets (Arthur Koopmans)
A timeline of catastrophic and cometary events that have shaped human history since the past 15,000 years. Illustration by Arthur Koopmans.

Most of these impact events would have been caused by comets and meteors from the Taurid Meteor Stream, which the earth passes twice each year. Every 3000 years or so, the earth passes through the densest part of the stream. It is this heavier part of the stream that contains some real monsters, that are bound to descend upon our planet at some future date.

The last time that the earth crossed the most dangerous part of the Taurid Stream was at the time of the Dark Ages. There are many accounts from that time, speaking of fire and brimstone, poisonous dragons, falling stars, and the desolation of the Wasteland left in the wake of disaster.

Another such episode was the Late Bronze Age collapse, which was also a time of increased migration from the frozen north, along with volcanism and global cooling, resulting in the collapse of almost every major civilization of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Comet Gods

A close encounter with a large and bright comet can have profound effects for life on earth. Dust from the comet’s tail can fill the inner solar system with particles that block the light of the sun, causing a drop in temperatures here on earth. The gravitational effects or the shock of an impact of a comet might even disturb the earth’s crust, possibly triggering more than one volcano to erupt.

Great Comet of 1861 by E. Weiss
The “Great Comet of 1861”, drawing by E. Weiss – Source

The sight of an especially large and bright comet alone could have had profound effects on the human psyche. Encounters with large comets may have been encoded in myths, and in symbols found at ancient sites. Martin Sweatman, by decoding the imagery on the pillars of Göbekli Tepe and other ancient sites, reconstructed an ancient zodiac.

Animals linked to this zodiac depicted at Göbekli Tepe seem to describe the path of the nucleus of the Taurid Meteor Stream around the time of the Younger Dryas.

Was Göbekli Tepe, possibly the oldest megalithic site to date, a memorial to the Younger Dryas Impact Event? The animal reliefs, symbolizing the constellations, seem to function as a cosmic clock that is frozen in time, forever pointing at the sunset of the summer solstice of 12,800 years ago.

The site itself has been radiocarbon-dated to about 9600 BC, right at the end of the Younger Dryas. But what has been uncovered so far is only 10 percent of the entire site. What more secrets are buried beneath all these layers of soil? The oldest layers could be as much as 20,000 years old…

Researchers like Martin Sweatman and Mike Bailie think that the gods in the world’s myths are comet gods. Once you see the myths from this perspective, and you let this idea sink in for a while, it starts to make an increasing amount of sense.

Shining gods with flashing swords and burning spears, evoking equal amounts of beauty and terror, winged serpents and dragons – these could all be descriptive of encounters with fiery comets and meteorites.

Myth and Memory in the Stars

Seeing the gods as comet gods seems to be close to the truth, but there is another major aspect to the gods and their myths. Star Myth researcher David Mathisen has amassed a huge amount of evidence over the past 10 years that shows how the myths are based on the stars and constellations.

Many scholars would admit that there is probably some element of astronomy in the myths, but most of them are unaware it seems, of the idea that entire myths can be linked to the stars, word for word.

constellation Ophiuchus and the god-self icon of Richard Cassaro
The gods and their myths can be linked to an ancient worldwide system based on astronomy.

If we see the stars as a repository for all kinds of knowledge and past experiences, then we can understand how entire myths could have been written in the stars. Even encounters with comets could have been preserved in the form of Star Myths.

The Norse myth of Ragnarök too can be linked to the stars, as David Mathisen has demonstrated in his book Star Myths of the World Volume 4 (Norse Mythology). In future blog posts, we will look at the Ragnarök myth in detail, and we’ll see what more ancient memories and age-old wisdom we can dig up out of this celestial memory system.

And if we see the stars as the book of myths, or even as the nightly Otherworld itself as described in the Egyptian Book of what is in the Duat, then we can find Odin and the völva too up in the stars on a clear night.

Preventing the Next Ragnarök

The myths mostly speak in metaphors, but sometimes there is little room for ambiguity as to what message they are trying to convey. In this stanza of the Völuspá, the myth clearly speaks of a cosmic bombardment:

The sun turns black, earth sinks into the sea,

The hot stars are whirled down from heaven;

Fierce grows the steam, and the life-feeding flame,

Till fire leaps high about heaven itself.

Völuspá, stanza 59[2]

Odin tried to do everything in his power to prevent the inevitable, but by doing so, it seemed that he only hastened the demise of the gods, by creating some powerful enemies. The ancient Norse strongly believed that Fate was set for everyone. It can’t be changed, so it’s best to make the best out of this live. Are we, like Odin and the gods of Asgard, in for another Ragnarök?

Modern science shows that an event on the scale as described in the Ragnarök myth has happened at least once in the human timeline, as recently as 12,800 years ago. Science also shows that the next Ragnarök, or some smaller version of it, is bound to happen, as long as there are still threats lurking in the cosmic ocean. 

In about 1000 years, the earth will again pass the densest part of the Taurid Meteor Stream. But even in the parts of the meteor stream that contain less rocky material, there area few really big objects, each with the power to destroy our world as we know it.

Even the smaller fragments can pose a threat to millions of people. A chunk of rock the size of the one that caused the Tunguska airburst could level a city the size of London. The next Ragnarök doesn’t have to be inevitable though, as long as we don’t wipe ourselves out. 

While modern technology on its own could probably cause another doomsday, it could also achieve that which Odin could not do: preventing the next Ragnarök – either by altering an object’s orbit, or by destroying the sources of the threat altogether.

Whatever solution for this cosmic threat we’ll come up with, we may still have a thousand years or so to prevent the next end of the world from happening…


Notes

[1] my adaptation of the Saemund Edda translation

[2] Olive Bray translation of the Poetic Edda

The Völuspá

OIive Bray translation

Benjamin Thorpe translation

The Cosmic Tusk

Younger Dryas Impact Evidence

Martin Sweatman

Prehistory Decoded

Mike Bailie

Exodus to Arthur

David Mathisen’s Blog

Star Myths of the World

Joe Rogan Interview

#872 – Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson

Mind Escape Podcast #139: Comets and Catastrophe in Norse Myth

In episode #139 of the Mind Escape podcast, we talk about how comets and cosmic catastrophe may have left its marks in the Norse myths

I have been invited to Mike and Maurice’s Mind Escape for a second time to have an interesting discussion about the Norse myths again. In the first episode, we talked about how the myths of the Norse  can be linked to an ancient astronomical tradition. This second time, we talked about the possible role of comets and cosmic catastrophe in the Norse mythological poems.

In this episode, I gave an introduction into the catastrophic periods that have happened on the human timescale. Cosmic impacts were not just a thing that the dinosaurs experienced – we have received a decent dose of cosmic catastrophe ourselves. I think that it’s likely that this has found its way into our myths as well, and it’s probably one of the crucial components in understanding myth and religion.

If this topic interests you, I’d say, jump right into the episode. If you have seen it already, or if you’d rather  read a bit about it first, then here you can find more about this subject.

Some interesting questions were asked to me during the interview, and here in this blog post, I have provided some additional answers to these questions, as well as other important questions to think about. I’ve also added some links to articles and websites on the subject for those who’d like to explore this further.

If I’ve left you still with some questions, I wouldn’t consider that a bad thing. I’m having a lot of questions myself about what the myths are about, and how comets and catastrophe may be involved in them. It’s these questions that are driving me to research these topics. Some of the answers I’ll leave for future blog posts, but I’ve provided some additional information on the topics discussed in this episode here below, summarizing some of the key points:

What evidence is there that the Norse gods are linked to comets?

At this point, my research into the links between Norse myths and comets, meteorites, and cosmic impacts is still in a beginning stage, although I have consumed much information about these topics in the past few years. Any links between the Nore gods and comets are still speculative, but I have amassed enough data to strongly suspect that there is a connection between the two. 

Ever since seeing Martin Sweatman’s conclusion that the gods are comet gods in his book Prehistory Decoded, I started paying more attention, and when I started looking at the myths more and more from this perspective, several puzzling things in the myths and in ancient artwork started to make more sense.

The winged disk symbolism for example, with its fan-like rays, may not resemble so much the disk of the sun, but rather a large comet for example, as Graham Philips shows in his book End of Eden.

The winged sun disk, the Faravahar of the Zoroastrian tradition
A zoroastrian winged disk symbol with what appears to be a deity or king on it source

Researching the myths is speculative by definition. By nature, myths lend themselves to multiple interpretations, and I don’t think that these have to be mutually exclusive. I think that multiple different avenues deserve to be explored in a search for answers.

Science has proven without doubt that catastrophic events did happen in the human timeline, more than one time. We also know that giant comets are a part of the human experience. Both the rarity and magnitude of these events would have contributed to the mark that they would have left on the human psyche, when such an event did occur. Yet at the same time, these cosmic events have happened in the human past more often than we have for a long time believed.

Here below, you can see a timeline I’ve made of several major cosmic impacts and cometary events of the last 15,000 years:

A timeline of cosmic catastrophe and comets (Arthur Koopmans)
A timeline of catastrophic and cometary events that have shaped human history since the past 15,000 years. Illustration by Arthur Koopmans.

The myths are also quite clear about the existence of these recurring cosmic events, sometimes explicitly mentioning falling stars and natural disasters, which we see in the Norse myth of Ragnarök and also in other Norse myths, such as Thor’s fishing trip. When Thor fished for the World Serpent, the line snaps, and the serpent is thrown back into the water, causing volcano eruptions, earthquakes and large waves.

I think that the ancients would have used symbols that were familiar to describe those things that words themselves could hardly describe. The snake as a symbol of a comet or meteorite would have been one of the most prominent symbols. This, we may see reflected in the giant serpent Jormungandr of Norse myth, whose battles with Thor have destructive consequences, or in the evil spirit Angra Mainyu from the Avesta, falling out of the sky like a snake, causing a terrible winter.

Not only giant monsters are probably linked to cosmic impacts, but the gods themselves as well. The Mayan Quetzalcoatl is known to be linked to comets, and around 1500 BC, when a giant comet visited the earth, we see the rise of monotheism and winged disk symbolism with deities in them, such as Ahura Mazda. With all these links between gods and comets in different traditions, it would be no surprise if the Norse gods too could be linked to such phenomena.

What makes it harder to find links between the Norse myths and comet phenomena, is that there is less of it left, due to the persecution of European paganism by Christianity. Also, the runic script was not suited for writing down large stories. Only when the latin alphabet came into use in Iceland, these myths could be finally written down, ironically enough, by Christian writers.

In late Scandinavian folklore, we find the belief that pieces of meteoritic rock are pieces of Thor’s hammer. His hammer Mjollnir was originally a grindstone or whetstone, which he hurled at giants. So, was Thor as a sky god hurling meteorites at giants? And if the Norse peoples would have seen comets as well, then which parts of the myths can be linked to these bright visitors?

A sky god hurling meteors is something that can also be found in Phoenician mythology, where the god Baetylus hurled down life-endowed meteorite stones from the sky. The evidence points to a similar meteorite link with the god Thor.

Mjollnir, Thor's hammer pendant from Skane, a meteorite?
Thor’s hammer was originally not a hammer, but a whetstone or grindstone, possibly meteoric in origin – source

Speaking of grindstones, what about the cosmic mill, which grinds out wealth in several myths, like a cornucopia? The Finnish version of the cosmic mill, the Sampo, is also called the “bright-lid”. This bright mill ultimately sank into the sea, like the bright Phaëton crashing his chariot in the river Eridanus.

The suspect list

In this podcast episode, I have presented a small suspect list, with symbols in Norse myth that I think could be linked to comets (among other things). This is only a small list, with four examples that I will explore further in future blog posts here at Secrets of the Norse. 

Surtr’s flaming sword

The first on the list is the fire giant Surtr, who splits the sky in two at Ragnarök, with a sword that is brighter than the sun. Comets were also envisioned as flaming swords. In 1910, when comet Halley visited the earth, the comet appeared to an observer in Accra, west Africa ‘like a flaming sword with jewelled hilt’.  Meteorites and comets have been proven to be blinding to the eye when they descend upon the earth, as was also observed when a meteorite hit the Russian town of Chelyabinsk in 2013.

Notable comets from 1577-1652, like a flaming sword
Excerpt from “Notable comets of the period 1577-1652”. Notice how a comet might have been seen as a flaming sword? – source

Odin’s golden spear

Randall Carlson has written a great series about the Grail Legends, whose origins can largely be found in the period of the Dark Ages – a period, which I have shown in this interview to be a period of cosmic disaster. In his grail series, Randall explains how the four major grail symbols are possibly metaphors for cosmic impacts. The spear would have been one of the symbols used by ancient peoples to describe the long shape of a bright comet or meteorite’s tail. Is Odin’s golden spear Gungnir linked to comets and meteorites as well?

Comet symbols in Norse mythology, Mind Escape Podcast with Arthur Koopmans
List of suspected comet symbols in Norse mythology – from the Mind Escape Podcast.

Freyja’s Necklace

The Norse goddess Freyja has a golden necklace, called Brisingamen. The name means something like “fiery or glowing necklace”. When Thor tells her that she is to be wed to a giant, she bursts into anger, and her fiery necklace drops. Then, the mansions of the gods tremble. In other words, a fiery, golden-hued object falls down, causing tremors large enough to shake the mansions of the gods. 

Here, we could see a more subtle reference to a cosmic impact. One of Freya’s names, Mardöll, has the linguistic element in it that refers to something shining or bright. Heimdall is also called the white god, or the shining god. Could this refer to more than simply the sun, moon and stars? Was Freyja also linked to a bright comet?

Sif’s golden hair

The word comet itself means “long-haired”, from Ancient Greek kometai, “letting the hair grow long”. Milton describes comets like this in Paradise Lost (1667):

Just as a comet in the burnished air

Is wont to burn with bloody, horrid locks,

And, wrecking realms, still new disasters bring —

An omen of ill-luck to crimson kings.

Milton, Paradise lost (1667)

In the Greek myth of Medusa, we find the monstrous gorgon women with their snake-hair, deadly gaze and roaring screams. Medusa was once, like the Norse Sif, a golden-haired maiden.

In Norse myth, Sif’s golden hair gets cut off by Loki. The dwarves then have to make a new set of golden hair, and Loki sets two groups of dwarf smiths up against each other to produce even more golden objects, including Odin’s spear. Freyja’s necklace too, was made by the gold from the dwarfs.

Like Sif’s hair, comets can grow and lose their “hair”, their coma. Could this be subtle symbolism for a comet phenomenon? Possibly. I’ve written an entire three-part series about this topic on my blog (part one, part two, part three). Since then, I found more links between hair symbolism in myths and comets and catastrophe.

In the Finnish Kalevala for example, the divine singer Väinamöinen makes a musical instrument out of a lady’s seven locks. When he plays it, the hills and mountains shake, trees get uprooted, and boulders fall from the cliffs. Compare this to the story of Phaëton, the son of the sun, who crashes his father’s sun chariot with the seven rays of the solar crown on his head, possibly reflecting the multiple tails of a comet.

Phaëton by Gustave Moreau (1878)
Excerpt from “Phaëton” by Gustave Moreau (1878) – source. The artist depicts Phaëton with long, disheveled hair.

Cosmic Battles

Here we have a golden spear, a golden necklace, golden hair… in fact, there are many golden objects in possession of the gods that were important in their defence against the giants. Do we have here in the wars between gods and giants a symbolic struggle between the elements of the earth meeting those of the sky? Science has shown that cosmic impacts can profoundly alter the geography of the earth, causing earthquakes, tsunamis, and even causing volcanic activity.

Are the ancient Norse and their myths linked to Göbekli Tepe?

The Old Norse culture and that of Göbekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey are far removed, both in place and in time. Yet both can be argued to have their myth and religion based upon an ancient astronomical system. David Mathisen has, to my mind, made a convincing case that the world’s myths are part of an ancient worldwide system.

The myth of Thor’s fishing trip is also found in Polynesian myth for example, in the story of Maui’s fishing trip. It is also reflected in the battle between Marduk and Tiamat, in ancient Babylonian myth. All of these myths can be argued to be based upon the constellations. The world’s myths and ancient civilization itself can be traced back to Göbekli Tepe – the first sign of civilization since the last ice age, and a monument that incorporates both megalithic architecture and a link with an ancient form of the zodiac.

Martin Sweatman, in deciphering this ancient zodiac, has come to the conclusion that the monument is dated to the Younger Dryas Impact Event, and sees in it a monument to an ancient cataclysm. Later civilizations used the same symbols linked to the stars that were used in Göbekli Tepe, although these would have been somewhat altered over the course of thousands of years, and after several more cosmic interruptions.

It is likely, he thinks, that the gods in the world’s myths actually represent comet gods. In this blog post, Martin Sweatman has collected a number of ancient symbols from ancient artwork, which he suspects are linked to comets. It is these giant comets that he thinks inspired the construction of Göbekli Tepe, and thus also the first signs of organized religion.

In the screenshot of his website below, we see first several different illustrations of comet observations:

Martin Sweatman, Prehistory Decoded, collage of comet illustrations
Screenshot from Martin Sweatman’s blog, showing a collage of comet illustrationssource

And below, we see a collage that Martin Sweatman has made of what he suspects is comet symbolism:

Martin Sweatman, Prehistory Decoded, comet symbolism
Screenshot from Martin Sweatman’s blog, showing a collage of suspected comet symbolssource

Eventually, this ancient astronomical system would have also reached the Proto-Indo-Europeans of the Eurasian steppes, who later conquered Europe, and from which ultimately the Norse myths of Scandinavia were derived. 

Andrew Collins thinks that the builders of Göbekli Tepe were denisovan hybrids, possibly the Swiderians. This hybrid offspring of humans and Denisovans would have come from an ancient Eurasian homeland. This takes us closer to the original homeland of the ancient Norse as well.

Denisovan DNA has even been found in modern Icelandic and Finnish people. So Iceland, the land where the Norse myths were ultimately written down, even has some genetic affinity with who Andrew Collins suspects were the builders of Göbekli Tepe.

But ultimately, this system with its astronomical tradition has dispersed around the world, and according to Laird Scranton, there were multiple key centres of learning. One of these would have been Skara Brea in the Orkney Islands around 3200 BC – again, close to Iceland, the later home of the Norse myths.

Are comets and catastrophes what the myths are all about?

I don’t deem it necessary at this point to settle for one explanation only of what the myths are about. What is sure though, is that catastrophe on an epic scale is found in myths worldwide, especially in myths dealing with the end of a world age. Martin Sweatman thinks that the experience of the Younger Dryas Impact Event was sufficient motivation for people to come together and establish the basis for an organized religious tradition, and the creation of myth.

But before the Younger Dryas, there were not only earlier episodes of cosmic catastrophe, but also long periods of relative peace and prosperity. In these periods with a more stable and favourable climate, the human spirit and civilization flourishes. It could be that in these more climatically favorable times, the horrors and the religious awe of cosmic encounters were largely forgotten, and the reverence for the sun and stars becomes more prominent. 

A giant comet, Graham Philips, Mind Escape Podcast with Arthur Koopmans
The author Graham Philips has pointed out that around 1500 BC, a giant 10-tailed comet visited the earth – screenshot from the Mind Escape Podcast

Still, comets might have been on the radar even in less cataclysmic times, as they would still visit the earth century after century.

But when disaster strikes again, this may revive tales of gods, giants and monsters fighting each other in epic battles. When excessive rainfall due to global cooling plagues farmers, with floods swallowing their lands, a new water-based religion may ensue. This could explain the many archeological finds of sacrifices of weapons, utensils, and people into bogs and lakes.

When being confronted with the role of comets and catastrophe in the myths, one could get the idea that this is what it’s all about. The myths do take us from one conflict to another, because what’s a story without a conflict? But I think there’s much more to the myths than fire and brimstone. The myths to me, seem to reflect the entirety of the human experience, but played out in stories that centre around the world of the gods.

This would include knowledge of the stars, and quite probably, our experiences with entheogens. Forces that are larger than life were I think, personified in the form of gods, giants, elves and dwarves, so that we could relate to these phenomena on a personal and societal level. The result would have been the splendid poetry that continues to inspire and intrigue us.

David Mathisen has shown evidence that these poems are written in the stars.

How can the myths be about comets and about the stars and constellations at the same time?

Through the work of Star Myth researcher David Mathisen, I came to learn of the connections between the myths and the stars. Many scholars would admit that there is at least some presence of constellations in Norse myths and in archaeoastronomy, dealing with ancient sites. But David Mathisen has shown through numerous examples, how practically all of the world’s myths can be seen as written in the constellations.

He himself also readily admits though, that the stars were not the end-point. They were not the object of worship, but they were used as the closest metaphor for the divine realm, that part of us that is less concerned with material reality, and more concerned with spiritual matters. The Otherworld, A world outside of ordinary reality is also found in altered states, which can be accessed through entheogens and a wide variety of shamanic techniques.

The stars then, could have been used as a metaphor for explaining the world of consciousness and a connection to the larger cosmos, and how this is integral in living a fulfilled and complete life. The stars form the language in which these experiences were captured, personified in the tales of gods and other beings with humanoid qualities.

Another interesting question: could the use of psychedelics have somehow enhanced the stargazing experience? Could they have played a crucial role in the shaping of Star Myth poetry? This reddit thread contains anecdotal evidence, which shows multiple people experiencing the stars in a different state while under the influence of LSD.

But if the stars were used as a language, could they have been used as a metaphor for other experiences as well? If the stars and constellations can serve as a metaphor to explain realms outside our own, then could they also describe events that may be seen as forces of the divine or chtonic realm invading the ordinary world in world-changing or world-ending events? I would say yes.

The visitation of a giant and bright ten-tailed comet would have been like a psychedelic experience. A giant comet or cataclysm would be a paradigm-shifting experience of its own. One that I think was likely passed down in the form of Star Myths, connected to an ancient astronomical tradition.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the Aten
Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the multi-rayed Aten, 18th Dynasty. Notice how they’re holding what seems like hallucinogenic blue lotus flowers? Perhaps they were tripping while basking in the light of a giant comet! – source

So, what came first? Star Myths, or tales of cosmic catastrophe? This seems to be a chicken or the egg question. Human beings have lived with both for a long time. The two have likely co-evolved, and since the stars are a more stable and more permanent feature in our lives, I think it’s likely that this is the reason that the stars were used as the basis for this ancient system of knowledge.

Civilizations come and go, but the stars are largely in the same place as they were tens of thousands of years ago. See also this blog post for more information on how comet symbolism may be linked to certain constellations (example: a snake deity can be linked to both the tail of a comet and to a snake-like constellation).

Comets and the constellations Scorpio and Coma Berenices
Depictions of comets compared with the constellations Scorpio and Coma Berenices. Experiences with large and bright comets were likely passed on in the form of Star Myths.

What good is knowledge of catastrophic events in my personal life?

Imagine a giant ten-tailed comet appearing in the sky, the size of four full moons. You could call it a giant piece of ice and dust lighting up in the sun’s heat, but when you as a human being are confronted with such an awe-inspiring sight, words would not suffice to describe it. To the ancients, it would have been like a god or a giant visiting the earth, or even plunging into it.

Giant comets really are a thing from the world of giants, who in Norse myth, are related to the gods themselves. In Norse myth, the realm of giants is called Jotunheim, a world on the periphery of Midgard, the world of humans. Per definition, giants and giant comets are not part of our everyday experience. Volcanic eruptions and tsunamis are the forces of giants as well, and luckily, we do not encounter these every day.

Great Comet of 1861 by E. Weiss
The “Great Comet of 1861”, drawing by E. Weiss – Source

But when such an extraordinary thing does happen, it can challenge our entire worldview. It makes us realize that we humans are part of a much larger cosmic scheme. And once in a blue moon, these forces invade the human world. The sight of a giant comet alone would suffice to profoundly alter the course of human history, let alone any cosmic cataclysm it leaves in its wake.

I think it’s good to challenge once in a while the way we view the world, and not become too complacent with what we think is ordinary reality. A giant comet may challenge our worldview, just like a psychedelic experience would. Both may have found their way in myth, possibly represented by the gods themselves. 

Psychedelics may have even helped humans deal with the trauma caused by such events. And when the planet cools down due to cometary dust, and rain keeps on falling, wouldn’t that in some places have contributed to the growth of psychedelic mushrooms?

What both the science and the myths also teach us about catastrophic events, is that life goes in cycles, both on the cosmic scale and on the scale of the human experience. No matter how catastrophic and chaotic things get when the forces of chaos threaten the established order, life will triumph eventually. This, to me, is a hopeful message.

This chaos doesn’t have to be all bad either. It’s how we grow. The comet that killed the dinosaurs paved the way for us humans (and chickens). And sometimes, we look for chaos ourselves, when too much order and routine gets into the way of growth. This is also why some of us use mind-altering substances from time to time, to break free from old patterns (or something more mundane such as taking a vacation or watching a great movie would help as well).

Ragnarök, falling stars, a screenshot from the Mind Escape Podcast with Arthur Koopmans
The Ragnarök myth explicitly mentions the falling of stars from heaven – screenshot from the Mind Escape Podcast

What’s driving me to research comets and catastrophe in myth?

The subject that we talk about in this episode is not the only way in which I view the myths, but it is a subject that fascinates me, and might be crucial in understanding what the myths are about. The cryptic language of symbolism that we finds in the myths triggers curiosity. It’s curiosity which makes us human, and not programmed automatons that are satisfied with one single script.

It’s this curiosity that is driving me to research the myths. So far, it has taken me to distant lands and distant times, to the stars, and to falling stars, and from the fruit of knowledge to the plant of immortality.

Cosmic catastrophe, and the appearance of exceptionally large comets is one of these many subjects that I find utterly fascinating, and in continuing blog posts, I will continue to research this subject further, as well as its place in an ancient astronomical tradition based upon the stars and constellations.

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