Introduction by Arthur Koopmans
In an old Dutch tome of local folklore and sagas of the Low Countries, I have found a detailed version of the story of Thor’s battle with the Midgard Serpent. What can this Dutch saga tell us about the events of Ragnarök? I have provided here my own translation of the saga in English, so that non-Dutch speakers can also enjoy this wonderful story.
The following saga from the Veluwe region of the Netherlands might justifiably be called a myth instead of a saga, for it tells us an epic tale about the thunder god Thor, and his struggles with a giant serpent. In this saga, the god we know best as Thor is called by his old Saxon name Thunar, as this would have been his name in the eastern parts of the Netherlands in a time long past.
This “saga” is not only very entertaining, but also very valuable for those who study Norse myth, for it provides us with an alternate account of Ragnarök, the “Doom of the Gods”, focused on the battle between Thunar and the serpent.
Many of the details which we find in the Icelandic version of the Ragnarök myth are also found in this saga. Here too, the serpent has poisonous breath, to which Thor succumbs, leading to his death. Here too, the sky is on fire, and the earth sinks into the sea at the world’s end. And here too, Ragnarök is not the final end of the world, but rather the end of an era.
Is this saga then the Scandinavian myth transposed on local Dutch geography? Maybe not, because the saga provides interesting details that are not mentioned in the Ragnarök myth. The saga also tells us how Thor crashed to earth with the snake and his hammer after their fight, leaving behind two holes in the ground, which only later became lakes.
A terrible winter king reigned for a long time, after the giants had made their pact with the serpent, and more details are told about the flood that washed over the land. Many more interesting details are mentioned in the story, which is told anew here below.
I have also provided notes with additional background information, on the bottom of the page.
The Origins of the Uddelermeer and the Bleeke Meer
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.
Source: De Wolfskamer
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.
Source: Donderberg (Maasniel)
The sea god – presumably Aegir.
Winter giant – In Norse myth, the frost giant Ymir ruled for a long time, until Odin and his two brothers slew him, and created the world out of his body, and the sky from his skull.
Dieren – In Dieren, there is a place called Geitenberg (“Goat’s Hill”).
Featured Image: “Thor and the Midgard Serpent” by Emil Doepler (1905) –Source. Photo background by Agnes Monkelbaan – Source
Bundle 1 (contains Thor’s saga on page 21)
The Dutch Saga of Thor’s Skyfall