Category: Catastrophism (Page 1 of 3)

The White Lady in the Hollow Tree: The Hidden World of Gods, Fates and Fairies

In the time of year when the veil between the world of the living and the dead becomes blurred, I stumbled upon a ghost story that has some ancient ties to Norse mythology. 

In the Veluwe region of the Netherlands, the story is still told of a ghostly white lady who lives in a hollow tree. There in that hollow beech tree in the forest of Soeren, she spins her threads. It has been said that she is none other than one of the Norns, the Germanic goddesses of Fate.

The spinning woman that haunts this tree may be the youngest of the Norns, named Urth. Usually, the Norns are three in number, but in this story there is only one. An old 855 AD charter from the Gelderland region of the Netherlands speaks of the Urthensula, the “Pillar of Urth”, found in the Veluwe forest. 

Could the wood with the hollow tree be the same wood that was home to Urth’s pillar? Or, as van der Wall Perné asks in his Veluwsche Sagen[1], was this place once home to the World Tree, the great ash tree (or yew tree, many say), where the Norns weaved their threads of Fate for all the world?

But why, do I ask, does the lady reside in a hollow tree? That question made me ask myself why trees are hollow in the first place? Let’s first look at the folk tale and then let’s see to what realms our investigation takes us…

De Witte Juffer by Perné - The Norn in the hollow tree
“The White Lady of High Soeren”, by Gustaaf van der Wall Perné (1909)

The White Lady of High Soeren

Gustaaf van der Wall Perné was a collector of old folk stories from the Veluwe. The name of this region with its dry forests and heathlands was said to come from the Vale Ouwe, “the Pale Old One”. In his time already, around the turn of the 20th century, these old tales were almost forgotten. 

The tale of the Witte Juffer van Hoog Soeren, the “White Lady of High Soeren”, is one of several that he has collected around the hearth fire. The old people of the region told them that the tree was so hollow, that one could stand in it upright.

When one came into the forest at night, one could see a small light burning, and one could hear the Lady spinning inside the tree. Sometimes people heard knocking from inside the tree. At times, a black dog was seen with fiery eyes, prowling the forest. 

Several folk tales relate how common people were punished by the lady for their pride and the rude intrusions into her domain. One fellow met the black dog, and a little girl was grapped by her hair when she dared stick her head inside the hollow tree.

Those who were more cautious and respectful towards the spinning lady would be rewarded rather than punished. As one story goes, a blue light and two black ravens reveal the location of Urth’s treasure, which lies buried in the ground in a big and heavy chest.

Through the centuries, the goddesses of Fate that we know from the myths have been remembered in later folktales. No doubt, this came with many later variations and ideas on how the Norns manifest themselves to us. First, let’s look more closely at the hollow tree – that tree which may be a late memory of the old Germanic World Tree known as Yggdrasil by the Norse.

The hollow tree of Hoog Soeren
The old and decaying “Jufferboom”, the hollow tree where the White Lady is still said to reside. Photo source: Natuurmonumenten.

What Makes Trees Hollow?

We can ask ourselves: what makes trees hollow? There are several natural factors that can damage the outer layers of the tree, and expose the tree’s heartwood. Once a hole is created, it can grow larger as animals further develop the hole using their break, teeth or claws.

The hollow tree in the Dutch folktale has a very large cavity, large enough for a grown-up person to stand in. Such large holes tend to form in older trees, so the hollow tree of High Soeren was probably an old one already when tales about the hollow tree formed. But there is something else that causes trees to become hollow, eating away the wood of decaying trees: the bracket fungus.

The bracket fungus eats away at both living and dead trees. When the fungus works its way into the wood of the tree, it weaves a tangled web of usually colorless threads called the mycelium. Just like the Lady in White, who spins the threads of Fate inside the hollow tree, the bracket fungus (some of which are white in color) weaves its web of mycelium.

Mycelium growth on beech trees
Fungal Mycelium growth on beech leaves. Like the web of the Norns, the mycelium has power over life and death in the forest. Full Photo by Rosser1954 (source).

The Fate of the Forest

Networks of mycelium can grow to gigantic proportions, covering hundreds or even thousands of acres of woodland. It’s the mycelium which determines the fate of the entire forest. It’s a gigantic network of tentacles and sensors which decides to which plants or trees the nutrients should be distributed, deciding the fate of the entire food chain. In turn, it takes nutrients for itself, feeding off dead organisms.

The mycelium gives and takes life through an intelligent network of colorless wires and visible fungi. There is one problem though in trying to establish a link between tree fungi and the Norn in the hollow tree. The threads of the mycelium are usually too small to be seen with the naked eye. Only when they form together in big lumps can they be seen more easily[2].

The most noticeable way in which the fungus network reveals itself, is in the fruiting bodies that it sprouts on the surface that it lives on. These are what we would call the fungus or mushroom itself.

A nice analogy can be drawn between the threads of the Norns and the (almost invisible) threads which mushrooms weave through the forest, and through the wood of trees. But that doesn’t suffice to prove any connection between the Norns and (white) mushrooms growing on trees.

There are a more clues to be found though, when we look at the myths and folklore, and their implied connections with all that grow, including fungi…

Artist's Conk (Ganoderma Applanatum) on an oak tree
The Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum) on an oak stub. An example of one of the species of bracket fungi that grow on the wood of trees. Full photo by George Chernilevsky (source)

Gods and Trees

In the Eddic poem called Völuspa, the Norns were said to reside in a dwelling beneath the Tree. There, as the poem says, they carved into wood [3]. One could see the poetic link between the carving Norns and the mushrooms that eat their way into the tree.

David Mathisen, who explains the myths by showing the correlations with the stars, also suggested the possible link between the Norse god Odin and the mushroom. Odin is one of the gods who is strongly associated with the World Tree, and with all the flora and fauna that dwell in its roots and branches. 

It is not too far-fetched to suggest a link with that other forest-dweller: the mushroom. The mushroom often grows between the roots of the tree in a symbiotic relationship, and it’s from the roots of the Yggdrasil Tree that Odin carves his runes.

The Norns share the same strong link with the Tree as Odin does, and as they live at the base of the tree, they also live in the same place where mushrooms tend to grow. There, they are said to control life and make the laws of nature, either by spinning, carving on wood, or by singing.

Mushrooms could be called protectors of the forest. But when they appear on a tree, it’s usually a sign that the tree is becoming old, and decay starts setting in. But the Norns were said to protect the Tree of Life by spraying snow-white clay onto its trunk to prevent it from rot. When mushrooms cause white patches to appear on a tree though, it’s called “white rot”. It’s a sign of decay rather than something that keeps the tree healthy.

Be that as it may, we do find some more clues in the realm of the fairies…

Meadow Elves by Nils Blommér (1850)
Meadow Elves by Nils Blommér (1850) – source. Banks of mist or fairy rings were often linked to fairies, elves, or the ghosts of wise women or witches.

The Fair Folk

The Goddesses of Fate are not only similar to other gods, but they also have strong links to the fairy faith that is found in later folklore. In fact, the very word fairy has been derived from Fata, one of the Roman goddesses of Fate. The name Fata can be derived from Latin fatum: “fate, lot, destiny, death…” etc. This in turn comes from fatus: “having spoken, said”.

Urth and other goddesses of Fate have their counterpart in the Queen of the Fairies of the fairy faith that was prevalent across Europe. Like the Norns, the fairies were regarded as “beings of light”, or as “white beings”. Fairies are also called “the Fair Folk”, because they share this same luminous quality. This connection to light and brightness is found among the elves of the Old Norse faith, who are also described as supernatural beings of light.

In Scandinavia, the fall was the time when ancestors were worshipped. In this time of year, the sacrificial feast called the Álfablót was held behind closed doors. The Álfablót is the sacrifice to the elves – the sacrifice to the ancestors. And as Fjorn the Skald points out in his podcast called Fjorn’s Hall, the fall is also the time of year when mushrooms start popping out of the ground. Helped perhaps, by a sacrifice of blood.

There is a link between elves, ancestors and fertility. The earth provides the fertility of the land. The earth gives life, but it was thought necessary to nourish the earth with a sacrifice to give it something in return. New life can only grow out of the old, out of the ancestors who dwell beneath the earth.

It was thought in old folk belief that when one died and was buried, the deceased ancestor would continue to watch over the living from the grave. As the ancestor became one with the earth, the ancestor would also receive the powers of fertility, and help the living by providing them with all that grows.

The fairies too were said to live underground, in hollowed-out hills. The fairies of Ireland were once proud gods who were driven underground when mortals took over. This reminds us again of the White Lady living in the hollow tree. Even the afterlife of Odin, the great Valhalla with its army of the dead, was thought to be located in a hollow mountain or under the ground in older times. 

In the realm of fairies, which is so much bound to the earth and fertility, we also find a lot of clues that would link them to mushrooms. We have all heard of those rings of mushrooms called fairy rings or witches’ rings. In Ireland, the psychedelic Liberty Cap mushrooms are also called pookas, linking them to the Puck, the trickster spirits of the earth.

Woodcut of fairies dancing in a ring with giant mushroom
A woodcut of Fairies dancing in a ring near a large mushroom and a hill with a doorway (source). As David Mathisen has shown, there is a constellation which can play the role of both a hill or a mountain, and also a doorway. 

Spirits in the Sky

The Otherworld of gods, elves, and fairies can be found beneath the ground, in dreams, in psychedelic visions, and most probably in the stars of a moonless night as well. In the darkness of the night, the lines between sky and earth become blurred. They merge in the absence of light, with only the stars to guide the way.

As David Mathisen has convincingly demonstrated in Star Myths of the World Volume Four, the Norns and their weaving may also be seen in the stars. There, the Norns can be seen spinning where the Milky Way is brightest, near the Core of our own Galaxy. And there too we may see the hollow mountain of Valhalla, and perhaps also the hollow tree of the Lady in White of Dutch folklore.

In the sky, we may even see the black ravens of the folktale reflected in the celestial birds Cygnus and Aquila. And the dog with its burning eyes is perhaps none other than the dog of the Underworld, the hound of Hel, which we can find in a constellation with a fiery red star. And between the ravens and the dog, you may just find the chest of treasure that is alluded to…

As I found out by reading the experiences of people who have used psychedelic substances like magic mushrooms, some interesting things can happen when combining the effects of psychedelics with stargazing. Many users have reported seeing lines appear between the stars in an interconnected web.

This too reminds us of the fact that we can see similar phenomena on different planes of reality. Here too, the Norns can be seen “weaving their threads”.

The fairies, who are so similar to the Norns, were not only said to reside underground, but also in the air. Sometimes they were said to be engaged in aerial battles with shimmering armor and a clamour of weapons. This again, is a late echo of the former cosmic battles between the different tribes of gods.

Perhaps the ancients also saw the weaving and spinning of threads in the multiple tails of bright comets, which from time to time pass the earth. Coming closer to the sun, they often flare up like a torch, gliding slowly through the air like a white ghost. Or perhaps like shining gods, witches in white ( like Hecate with her torches), like shining elves or as the spirits of ancestors

Psychedelic mushrooms and constellations
Many people who have combined a psychedelic experience – whether from LSD or magic mushrooms – with stargazing, have reported seeing lines form between the stars like an interconnected web.

Finding Explanations

The myths are written like riddles, and to truly understand them, we have to look at them from various different perspectives. The language they are written in is likely linked to the stars, but I suspect that they contain additional layers of meaning on different levels.

One critique that I have encountered in trying to find explanations for the myths is that these explanations are “naturalistic”, and distract from the profound metaphysical truths that they want to convey. But I would like to object by pointing out that nature is the way in which these metaphysical laws manifest themselves to us, and this language of nature is what has been used to explain in metaphor that which is beyond words.

David Mathisen too emphasizes that while the myths are found in the stars, they are not merely about astronomy. The stars are used as a metaphor for explaining the world beyond our own, that world which is more spirit than matter. When looking for natural or celestial explanations, it’s good to be reminded of the spiritual value of myths.

The inhabitants of the Veluwe saw the Norn Urth in the hollow of a tree. In the eastern parts of the Netherlands, the Norns are also linked to the banks of mist that form above the ground when the days are getting colder. Here they are called witte wieven, “the women in white” or the ghosts of  “wise women”, who were often said to dwell amid the old grave mounds as the spirits of dead witches.

Seeing the Norns manifested in so many possible ways, we can conclude that all along, they are not really of this world, yet they are still part of it. They are of a world that is not our own, yet the threads that they weave manifest in the physical reality that we find ourselves in.

As the Dutch folk tale shows, the powers of Fate are neither good nor bad. They can both reward and punish. They tend to treat those well who do well, and punish those who had it coming. 

We find the same moral ambiguity among the Irish fairies, who can both help and hurt. The laws of cause and consequence are essentially those of past, present and future. This trio is found again in the three Norns Urdr, Verdandi and Skuld: “Origins” (Past), “Becoming” (Present) and “Debt” (Future). 

By understanding the ways in which the powers of Fate manifest themselves, we can enrich our understanding of how the laws of this world work, and how those transcend the world of matter. As a consequence, we may better understand the poetic minds of ancient peoples, and how they shaped history and myth.

Featured Image: Samlede Eventyr, the “Gathering at Dusk” by Theodor Kittelsen (1907) – source

Map:


Notes

[1] Perné, Gustaaf Frederik Wall. Veluwsche sagen. Sirius en Siderius, 1993.

[2] Structure of Fungi

[3] Völuspa 20 (Bellows)

Veluwsche Sagen by Gustaaf F.W. Perné

Bundle 1 (contains the Lady in White Saga)

Bundle 2

The Völuspá

Bellows translation (stanzas 16-20)

The Norns

Fjorn’s Hall

Álfablót: Sacrificing to the Elves

Fairies and Psychedelics

Otherworld Gnosis: Fairy Ointments and Nuts of Knowledge by Dr Norman Shaw

The Mysterious and Lost Magic Mushroom Rituals of the Ancient Celts

David Mathisen

Starmythworld.com

Star Myths of the World Volume Four: Norse Mythology

Buddha, Odin, Mushrooms

Myths, Meteors and Comets

Myths and Meteors: How Ancient Cultures Explained Comets and Other Chunks of Rock Falling From the Sky


Sagas of the Veluwe: Thor’s Skyfall Translated

Introduction by Arthur Koopmans

In an old Dutch tome of local folklore and sagas of the Low Countries, I have found a detailed version of the story of Thor’s battle with the Midgard Serpent. What can this Dutch saga tell us about the events of Ragnarök? I have provided here my own translation of the saga in English, so that non-Dutch speakers can also enjoy this wonderful story.

The following saga from the Veluwe region of the Netherlands might justifiably be called a myth instead of a saga, for it tells us an epic tale about the thunder god Thor, and his struggles with a giant serpent. In this saga, the god we know best as Thor is called by his old Saxon name Thunar, as this would have been his name in the eastern parts of the Netherlands in a time long past.

This “saga” is not only very entertaining, but also very valuable for those who study Norse myth, for it provides us with an alternate account of Ragnarök, the “Doom of the Gods”, focused on the battle between Thunar and the serpent.

Many of the details which we find in the Icelandic version of the Ragnarök myth are also found in this saga. Here too, the serpent has poisonous breath, to which Thor succumbs, leading to his death. Here too, the sky is on fire, and the earth sinks into the sea at the world’s end. And here too, Ragnarök is not the final end of the world, but rather the end of an era.

Is this saga then the Scandinavian myth transposed on local Dutch geography? Maybe not, because the saga provides interesting details that are not mentioned in the Ragnarök myth. The saga also tells us how Thor crashed to earth with the snake and his hammer after their fight, leaving behind two holes in the ground, which only later became lakes.

A terrible winter king reigned for a long time, after the giants had made their pact with the serpent, and more details are told about the flood that washed over the land. Many more interesting details are mentioned in the story, which is told anew here below.

I have also provided notes with additional background information, on the bottom of the page.


The Origins of the Uddelermeer and the Bleeke Meer

Thor / Donar by Gustaaf Perné
“Thunar” by Gustaaf van de Wall Perné, detail, 1911, ink on paper

It was the time when giants stormed heaven and a giant snake lived in the Uunilo[2].

The rough giants, vassals of the mighty Winter Giant, started the fight with the Gods of Summer. From the sand of the wolfskamer[2.1], they built up the Wolfsbergen[2.2]; but Thunar[3], the great Thunder God, could still restrain them.

Three Clovers Ornament by Gustaaf Perne

Already, some autumn mists waved over the woods, like grizzled banners of the approaching Winter Army, and large cloud wolves[3.1] struggled with the Sun God.

Fiercely, the Thunderer growled in his red beard, so that the giants, for a while, gave way in fear. The herons and the swallows, terrified and frightened by the commencing battle fled southwards on quick wing beats.

The Winter Giants withdrew into the forest, and there, they called for the help of the great monster snake, who with her lethal breath discoloured and withered the leafs of the trees, and where she had crawled, poisonous mushrooms sprang up. In that forest of hellish red and yellow colours, the giants made a pact with the snake. The trees were so moved by this terrible pact, that they let fall many leafs.

Three Clovers Ornament by Gustaaf Perne

The next day, the snake coiled itself upward around the highest oak tree, with the view to spit her venom towards heaven, and the giants hurled handsfull of hail.

From all sides, Thunar now drew together his great and monstrous clouds to bar the entrance. From over the endless fields of clouds he came riding himself, in his fiercely rolling chariot, drawn by two black goats.

Three Clovers Ornament by Gustaaf Perne

Like a red banner, his beard flapped in the wind, and the goats shot sparks out of the pavement with their hoofs.

The entire sky was on fire, and the blows of the hammer rumbled, making the earth shake.

Three Clovers Ornament by Gustaaf Perne

There, the snake lifted her mighty head up through the clouds, with jaws wide open, and she blew her stinking breath in the blue dome of heaven, which suddenly turned black. Then, Thunar lifted his never missing thunder hammer, and struck it, with bolts of lightning, down upon the gaping snake head with such a force that both the giant monster, crushed,  and the hammer, sunk down seven miles deep into the shaking earth.

Creaking, the high oak tree collapsed into the depths.

The scorching lightning fire made a foul stench rise up from the searing venom. In foul brown clouds it rose up around the golden head of the Thunder God.

He staggered in his chariot, and dizzied and intoxicated, he tumbled backwards out of his carriage.

With a terrible blow, he crashed out of heaven into the earth, close to the place where he had crushed the serpent.

It was as if heaven was ripped apart, and the earth was torn apart.

His empty chariot, behind the runaway goats without a driver, eventually crashed down upon the Donderberg[3.2].

Then it became silent and the earth sunk into the sea.

Three Clovers Ornament by Gustaaf Perne

Far over the field of the welling waves the night fell, and sky high the waves roared with their frothy heads.

Three Clovers Ornament by Gustaaf Perne

There the cloud covers tore apart at the bilges. The sea god[3.3] blew on his blaring horn, and he came riding over the wide waters in his great dark ship. He took the dead Thunar with him. Now the fleet of icebergs of the white winter giants of the north came floating in, and it made the god’s ship flee.

Three Clovers Ornament by Gustaaf Perne

Many sad times past, in which the terrible winter giant[3.4] reigned supreme.

Three Clovers Ornament by Gustaaf Perne

After the earth had become dry again, two lakes remained, as deep as the world, and the one was called the Uttiloch, and the other the Godenmeer or Witte Meer, and the place where the goats fell is called Dieren[3.5].

Three Clovers Ornament by Gustaaf Perne

It is likely that the Thunder God was worshipped at the Godenmeer, and when Thunar’s hammer, which had risen out of the depths by itself, was found at the other lake, the people founded there a place of sacred offerings, and burned there the woodpiles of the dead.

Three Clovers Ornament by Gustaaf Perne

The forest rose again around both lakes, and it grew so fast, that it soon threatened to grow over the Uttiloch, where the monster still lay buried, and threatening to erase all traces of its existence. The plants twined over the water, and the roots grew into the weeds.

But one day – people lived by the shrunken puddle for a long time already – the entire hell and underworld came into resistance against this. A hellish flame sprang up from the whirlpool, and all the fire devils wriggled upward.

Cheering, they chased through the forest, they burned the peat and the entire great forest[2].

The blazing flames licked high across the sky, and out of the smoking fumes, the spirit of the giant snake coiled upwards, and it fled away with the speed of an arrow.

The great and proud forest was destroyed and became a wild and barren plain, wherein both lakes still lie.

Three Clovers Ornament by Gustaaf Perne

Afterwards, when the people had become Christians, and the old gods were driven away, it was told until the day of today, that a Golden Calf had sunk into the Bleeke Meer; but that was only a manner of speaking, because it was a heathen god who sunk into that lake.[6]

Thor's Hammer Mjollnir by Gustaaf Perne

Notes

Gustaaf van de Wall Perné

2. 

Uunnilo – Uunni-forest, is the name of the wood, which in former times stood on the vast heathlands wherein lie the Uddelermeer and Bleeke Meer – was destroyed in 1222 by fire.

3.

Thunar – the name of the old Saxon thunder god is used here deliberately, as it was used in the east of our country more widely – still clearly heard in Tinaarlo, i.e. Thunar’s Forest, The hammer sign in the final part on page 25 is the symbol of the Thunder God. The name of the hammer “Mjöllnir” is written above it in old Germanic runes.

Such hammer signs were worn in the old Germanic times as a talisman, on a cord, around the neck.

For a long time it was custom to attach this sign to a stable or a house. People believed in this as a means of protection against lightning. After the introduction of Christianity, it was slowly replaced by the cross.

Our letter T (the first letter of Thunar) comes from the hammer sign, as it is found in the runic writing.

The runes were signs for writing, invented by Wodan. Run = secret.

The Germanic runic alphabet that is used here contains 24 letter signs. The smaller alphabet of 16 letters was only used in the North. The runes come from the 4th and 5th century and were still used in Gottland up into the 16th century.

6.

According to another saga, that perhaps emerged through time out of the first, there must have stood, many centuries ago, at the place where the lake is located, a large and strong castle, in which lived a very rich man, who was so mean and malicious, that he looked like the devil himself. One night, during a terrible thunderstorm, the giants took away the ground beneath the castle, so that the entire stronghold, with its evil inhabitant and all of its treasures, sunk away into immeasurable depths.

Oftentimes, people attempted to fish for the treasures; but the only thing that has ever been retrieved, is the iron fire plate of the hearth; and according to yet another saga, there lie deep beneath the Bleeke Meer, the sunken treasures of the earlier Frisian kings. The history writers make mention of a stronghold or a summer palace of the Frisian kings, built in 323 by king Ruchold at the Godenmeer or Witte meer, on the Veluwe.

(I was assured by one of the residents that golden jewels have been fished up here, that there were many terpen (“mounds”) around the Bleeke Meer with countless urns, and that heavy oaks are unearthed to this day.)

Yet another saga of the Bleeke Meer mentions that a Christian preacher threw a golden statue of the Thunder God in the lake.

Whichever way it may be, everything points to a very ancient origin for this saga.

Cross - Veluwsche Sagen by Gustaaf Perné

Arthur Koopmans

2.1 

Wolfskamer – The word “wolf” in wolfskamer could point at the presence of wolves, but it could also mean maelstrom or vortex. Local names suggest that the wolfskamer was located near present-day Huizen, near the shore of the former Zuiderzee. The latter part, “kamer”, can be translated literally as “chamber”. In former times, it referred specifically to the storage chamber in a castle. This chamber was often places outside of the castle, which living quarters attached to it. It is unknown to which castle the wolfskamer belonged, if it ever did. The name wolfskamer fell in disuse around 1900.

Source: De Wolfskamer

2.2

Wolfsbergen – There are multiple places in the Netherlands with the name “Wolfsberg” (“Wolf Hill”)

3.1 

Cloud wolves – The Dutch words wolk (“cloud”) and wolf (also Dutch for wolf) are quite similar. The word wolf is ultimately from the reconstructed PIE *wlkos, while Dutch wolk is can be traced back to Proto-Germanic *wulkô.

3.2

Donderberg – Hills with the name Donderberg (“Thunder Hill”) are said to have been devoted to the god Donar (Thor), or in this case, Thunar.

Source: Donderberg (Maasniel)

3.3 

The sea god – presumably Aegir.

3.4 

Winter giant – In Norse myth, the frost giant Ymir ruled for a long time, until Odin and his two brothers slew him, and created the world out of his body, and the sky from his skull.

3.5 

Dieren – In Dieren, there is a place called Geitenberg (“Goat’s Hill”).

Cross - Veluwsche Sagen by Gustaaf Perné

Featured Image: “Thor and the Midgard Serpent” by Emil Doepler (1905) –Source. Photo background by Agnes Monkelbaan – Source


Veluwsche Sagen

Bundle 1 (contains Thor’s saga on page 21)

Bundle 2

Blog Posts

The Dutch Saga of Thor’s Skyfall


The Dutch Saga of Thor’s Skyfall

There is a lake in the Netherlands that has a very interesting story attached to it. This story may even shed new light on what we know about Norse mythology. It’s about how Thor fell out of the sky after a battle with a giant snake, and then crashed down to earth.

The lake lies in the central part of the Netherlands near the city of Apeldoorn. It’s name is Uddelermeer, but in the Early Middle Ages it was called Uttiloch. According to the website Pagan Places, it is a sacred lake that was created after Thunar (the old Saxon name for Thor) battled with a serpent.

The local folklore tells us that Thor’s hammer and the serpent fell down to earth and then created the lake. Thor himself came crashing down somewhere nearby, creating a second lake called the Bleeke Meer.

This piece of local mythology thus suggests that both Thor and his hammer, and the snake seem to be associated with falling meteorites. The link between Thor and meteorites has been made before (also on this blog), but there was still a lack of concrete evidence to connect the thunder god and these heavenly stones. 

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)

In Scandinavian folklore, meteorite stones were associated with pieces of Thor’s hammer. Benjamin Thorpe, in Northern Mythology, notes that the Swedes believed that meteorites were hurled by Thor, because only he was strong enough to lift them. Both traditions were recorded at a relatively recent date however, no earlier than the year 1851.

The local Dutch saga does add further weight to the idea that Thor’s thunder weapon Mjöllnir was actually of meteoritic origin in the Norse myths, by saying that its crash left a hole in the earth. More than that, Thor himself and the snake can be linked to the same phenomenon. The snake as a symbol for falling meteorites and comets is not a new one either, as it can be found in Clube and Napier’s book the Cosmic Serpent for example.

Thor / Donar by Gustaaf Perné
“Thunar” by Gustaaf van de Wall Perné, detail, 1911, ink on paper (source)

The Saga Continues

The image of Thor, hammer, and snake falling from the sky is a striking one. Could there be more details to this story? Are there more variations of this tale? Let’s investigate this story further.

A local Dutch website provides a more detailed version of this story. According to this version of the saga, Thunar fought a giant snake and hit it on its head – the blow making him lose his hammer. Both snake and hammer crashed down to earth, the hammer penetrating seven miles deep into the earth.

The poisonous breath of the serpent made Thunar fall out of his chariot. He landed close to the snake, creating a second hole in the ground. It gets more interesting. Following this great celestial battle, a terrible winter giant ruled the earth for a long time.

After the long winter, two lakes remained. The lake where the hammer and the snake crashed was called Uttiloch (Uddelermeer), and the lake where Thunar fell was called the Godenmeer (God’s lake), Witte Meer or Bleeke Meer (White Lake).

Winter on the Veluwe
A terrible winter king ruled after Thunar’s clash with the snake. Photo by Henk Monster (source)

When we read this saga closely, we can see that the impacts did not cause the two lakes to form directly. The lakes are what was left of the impact craters, with Thor’s hammer penetrating seven miles deep.

In the previous blog post, we have seen how the stony giant Hrungnir owned a cauldron that was a mile wide. The number seven for Thor’s hammer may have been chosen for symbolic reasons, but the saga suggests that the crater must have been a large one.

The mention of a terrible winter king fits very well with what we know of the effects of cosmic impacts. Periods of heavy cosmic bombardment were often followed by long periods of extreme cold. The dust emitted by comets and the dust clouds generated by an impact event can block the light of the sun, causing a cometary or meteoritic winter.

What does science have to say about these two lakes? Is there evidence of an ancient impact on the heathlands of the Veluwe, or does science provide a different explanation?

The Bleeke Meer, where Thor crashed
The Bleeke Meer, where Thor crashed down according to the saga. Source: Pagan Places

Ruins of the Last Ice Age

A Dutch geology website provides a scientific explanation for how the Uddelermeer was formed. The lake is described as one of the largest pingo ruins of the Netherlands. This lake is also special because for the scientists, it provides an uninterrupted geological archive from the Last Ice Age up to the present.

A pingo is a hill made purely out of ice, that typically forms under very cold conditions, when the ground is in a permanently frozen state, also known as permafrost. A pingo can form when groundwater is pushed up into the permafrost layer under pressure, along a crack in the ground.

When the groundwater penetrates the permafrost, it freezes there, creating an ice lens. This growing ice lens slowly pushes up the soil on top of it, creating a hill. This hill of ice, covered with soil, keeps growing as long as groundwater keeps feeding it from below. 

When it grows big enough, the soil can’t cover the entire ice lens anymore, and the hill bursts open. The ice mass is now exposed to direct sunlight, causing it to melt. As the ice core melts and the soil collapses around the hill, a crater is left in its place. What remains looks much like the crater of a volcano.

Even when the ice hill does not collapse immediately, it will eventually melt and create a crater with a rim of earth around it. The melting ice often leaves behind a lake in the central crater. As the earth wall slowly erodes, all that’s left is the lake.

The Uddelermeer is extraordinarily deep for a pingo ruin, with a depth of 17 meters . It must once have been of great size, covered by a very thick ice lens. It’s unusual size can be explained by the presence of clay from the Salian Ice Age.

This clay formed a barrier which prevented groundwater from seeping away. The pingo then formed during the later Weichselian glaciation at the end of the Last Ice Age.

A pingo is an ice hill that forms in the permafrost
Freezing groundwater keeps feeding the pingo ice hill until the topsoil bursts open (source)

The Snake that Froze the World

During the ice age, the Netherlands was home to a cold tundra environment. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the Dutch pingo ruins were formed around 12,000 to 11,000 years ago. In other words, they were formed within the period of the Younger Dryas

This gives us another dimension to the story. Just when the earth was waking up out of the Last Ice Age, something happened which caused a sudden and dramatic return to freezing conditions around 12,800 years ago. For another thousand years, large parts of the Northern Hemisphere of the planet became locked in ice. 

What caused this climatic downturn is still heavily debated, but evidence is more and more in favor of an extraterrestrial impact. Large fragments of a disintegrating comet likely impacted the Northern Hemisphere, with the ice sheet of North America being the epicentre of the bombardment.

Other elements such as volcanism and massive floods were likely triggered by the impacts, but not the primary cause for the downturn in global climate.

The Dutch saga tells us that after the crash of Thor, his hammer, and the snake, an ice giant ruled for an extended period of time. In Norse mythology, the world is created out of the dead body of the ice giant Ymir, after the long reign of him and his giant kin. This primordial giant can be traced back to ancient Proto-Indo-European mythology.

Global temperatures during the Younger Dryas
Evolution of temperature in the Post-Glacial period according to Greenland ice cores. Source: Platt et al.

An Iranian cognate of Ymir can be found in the mythology of the Avesta, the sacred book of the zoroastrian faith. The story of Yima has some striking parallels with the events told in the Dutch saga. Yima was instructed by the god Ahura Mazda to build an underground shelter for a select group of survivors, because a terrible winter was coming.

Then, the evil spirit Angra Mainyu fell down out of the sky like a mighty serpent at noon, plunging the world into darkness, turning day into night. Winter now reigned for most of the year. Graham Hancock in Magicians of the Gods, suggests that the rule of Yima in his underground vara may be an ancient memory of the Younger Dryas, when fragments of the Taurid meteor stream collided with the earth.

Ancient Memories

Could the saga about Thor and the snake contain the remnant of a memory of the end of the Last Ice Age, when winter ruled for a thousand years? Or do the events in the saga refer to a more recent cold period? The dendrochronological (tree ring) record shows that there were several periods since the ice age in which global temperatures plummeted for an extended period of time.

The Dark Ages was the most recent cold period, but severe as it was, it was not nearly as catastrophic as the Younger Dryas. Also, myths about a hero battling a mighty serpent go back to a time thousands of years before the Dark Ages. These myths go back to a time when the ancestors of the germanic peoples still roamed the Eurasian steppes, before the start of the Bronze Age.

Star myth researcher David Mathisen suggests that mythical rulers like Ymir go back to the zodiacal Age of Gemini, which he thinks might be linked to a mythical “Golden Age”. This is the epoch when the sun rose in the constellation of the Twins at the spring equinox. The name Ymir is also derived from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European name Yemo, which can be translated as the “Twin”.

Ymir the frost giant
The world was created out of the body of the ice giant Ymir according to the Norse myths (source)

Fire and Ice

The Younger Dryas was a period of cosmic bombardment, but according to Dutch geologists, the pingo was created not by impacts, but by a slow build-up of ice in the permafrost. It is only natural that in a period as cold as the Younger Dryas, pingos would form across the frozen tundra.

If the two lakes indeed started out as ice hills, then they would have formed during or sometime after the period of heaviest bombardment. In the Netherlands too, we can still find traces of this great clash between fire and ice. Not too far from the two lakes, geologists have found evidence of the so-called “black mat layer”. 

This layer of black soil has been found across four different continents, and dates to the Younger Dryas Boundary. In this layer, impact proxies such as nano-diamonds have been found. These microscopic minerals suggest a cosmic origin for the global conflagrations that caused this black layer to form.

The Usselo horizon black mat layer of the Younger Dryas
The Usselo horizon. Dutch geologists attribute the black mat layer simply to climate change. Impact scientists found evidence for a cosmic impact as the cause of this abrupt climate change.  Source: The Cosmic Tusk.

While the science gives a slightly different origin story for the two lakes, it is not necessarily in conflict with the events in the saga. As we have seen, science itself points to a time period of global catastrophe. The saga seems to describe real events, symbolized by a battle between gods and giants.

It is not unlikely however, that these cosmic battles were attached to the Uddelermeer and Bleeke Meer at a later time, to provide an explanation for their origins. Coincidentally, both the saga (in its earliest form) and the two lakes may have originated around the same time, but maybe not in the same place. 

If the saga did originate elsewhere and was added later, then we would expect to find other locations in the Germanic world that have a similar origin story. If you happen to know a similar local saga, by all means, let me know.

Thor and the Midgard Serpent by Emil Doepler
“Thor and the Midgard Serpent” by Emil Doepler (1905) – Source. The events in the Dutch saga mirror those in the Icelandic Edda, but provide additional details.

The saga: a Sequel to Ragnarök?

It’s evident that this story is more than just a local saga. The story shows clear parallels with what we know of Norse mythology from the Eddas of Iceland. The battle between Thor and the mighty serpent Jormungand  is also told in the Völuspá, which relates the events of Ragnarök.

After some searching on the internet, I found the original saga in all its detail. An illustration of the saga from 1911 by Gustaaf van de Wall Perné (see the image above) accompanied a document which described the history of the Uddelermeer. 

Searching for the name of the artist quickly revealed the old book Veluwsche Sagen that he himself has written, bound and illustrated. Part one and two of the book can be found here and here (the saga can be found in part one, page 21).

Veluwsche Sagen by Gustaaf van de Wall Perné (1911).
“Veluwsche Sagen” by Gustaaf van de Wall Perné (1911).

The original saga provides a lot more detail to this story than has so far been covered. It provides us with a unique version of the Ragnarök myth, and gives an alternate account of what happened afterwards. As in the Norse version, Thor succumbs to the poisonous fumes of the serpent. He falls out of his chariot driven by two black goats, and crashes into the earth.

The saga speaks of a pact between the serpent and the ice giants, and how the whole sky was in flames when they clashed with Thor. It seemed as if the whole world was ripped apart. As Thor fell, his empty chariot continued its way across the sky, eventually crashing at the Donderberg (“Thunder Mountain” or “Thor’s Mountain”).

As in the Ragnarök myth, the earth sank into the sea. The god of the sea came sailing over the waves in a great dark ship, fishing the dead Thor out of the waters. Then the icebergs came floating in over the water, and the rule of the winter giants started. 

After a long time, the waters receded and the two lakes remained. So according to the saga, the lakes were not formed immediately, but only after a giant flood had filled the two craters. A giant flood is also described in the Yima myth, mentioned earlier: “Every single drop of rain became as big as a bowl and the water stood the height of a man over the whole of this earth.”

The Deluge by J.M.W. Turner
The Deluge by J.M.W. Turner (source). After Thor fell dead, the waves washed over the land.

The end of a heathen god

The saga from the book provides more interesting details that are of great interest to scholars and enthusiasts of Norse mythology. I am planning to provide an English translation of this saga in the near future, so that more people can enjoy and study this story.

One question that remains a bit puzzling is this: if this saga speaks of truly ancient events, then why was Thor worshipped in later times if he died that long ago? And if Thor had died, then who brings us the lightning?

Was his death a more recent addition to the story? Was this story perhaps influenced by later encounters with fragments from a comet, at a time when Thunar was waning in power? Or was Thor’s death not so permanent? 

The saga ends on this note:

Afterwards, when the people had become Christians, and the old gods were driven away, it was told until the day of today, that a Golden Calf had sunk into the Bleeke Meer; but that was only a manner of speaking, because it was a heathen god who sunk into that lake.

Veluwsche Sagen by G.F.W. Perné (translation by Arthur Koopmans)

Thor's fall in Uddelermeer
A map showing the location of the Dutch saga, with the places where Thor, his hammer, and the serpent fell.



Veluwsche Sagen

Bundle 1 (contains Thor’s saga on page 21)

Bundle 2

Pagan Places

Uddelermeer

Bleeke Meer

Places in the Netherlands

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