Category: Norse Gods (Page 2 of 5)

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

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

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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