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
It was the time when giants stormed heaven and a giant snake lived in the Uunilo.
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, the great Thunder God, could still restrain them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Far over the field of the welling waves the night fell, and sky high the waves roared with their frothy heads.
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.
Many sad times past, in which the terrible winter giant[3.4] reigned supreme.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gustaaf van de Wall Perné
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wolfsbergen – There are multiple places in the Netherlands with the name “Wolfsberg” (“Wolf Hill”)
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.
Donderberg – Hills with the name Donderberg (“Thunder Hill”) are said to have been devoted to the god Donar (Thor), or in this case, Thunar.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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).
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 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)
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
And below, we see a collage that Martin Sweatman has made of what he suspects is comet symbolism:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.