This time, Odin's story is about the fearsome Midgard serpent.
The first time we see the name "The midgard serpent" in Snorre's "Edda", where it is called Jormungandr, which means "World Snake".
The worm / snake was born of the giantess Angerbode and the father Loki, who together had three children: the Fenris wolf, the goddess of death Hel and the Midgard serpent. The three were born in Jotunheim / Udgård, and after their first year, Odin brought them to Asgård and their three different destinies.
Odin threw the Midgard Serpent into the sea to drown it, because the worm was considered a cosmic being whose forces could both create and destroy the balance of the cosmos. At Ragnarok it would break out, come up out of the sea and create chaos.
However, Odin did not succeed in killing the worm, and instead it grew huge, "so that it lies in the middle of the sea, spans all lands and bites itself in the tail", as Snorre writes in the Edda. When it struck with its tail, there were mighty waves, and when it seriously writhed, there was a storm surge.
As a demon warrior, Thor had the task of killing his arch-enemy, and they had several duels before Ragnarok, where they would fight the final battle. It was predicted that Thor would kill the Midgard serpent, but then also die himself from the poisonous spider that the serpent spits.
There are several myths that describe the struggles. One of them is the myth of Thor, who went on a fishing trip with the giant Hymer. When Thor for a short while had the Midgard Serpent on the hook, the two opponents looked at each other, and Snorre describes it thus: . ” Hymer changed color in horror and chopped Thor's string. Thor threw his hammer Mjølner against the worm, and it is said that he struck his head off it.
Another myth is about Thor's visit to Udgårdsloke and how Thor was cheated. Here, the Midgard Serpent appears in the form of a cat, Thor tried in vain to lift. Udgårdloke was very surprised, however, when Thor managed to lift one of the cat's legs. For the Vikings, the Midgard serpent had great significance and influence, not only in their beliefs and sagas, but also in their art. It is seen i.a. in the heads of the Viking ships, the many pieces of jewelery with twisted worms and the many images of the Midgard serpent, i.a. carved in stone and preserved to this day. It all underlines how important a figure the Midgard Serpent has been to the Vikings.
The Vikings perceived the Midgard serpent more as a dragon than as a worm or snake. Dragons have always been part of folk tales, with many shapes and properties. Some could fly, some could walk, while others could only twist. Some could spew fire, others poison, but the same for all of them was that they were perceived as being evil. Dragons have therefore given rise to much fascination and inspiration - both in the stories and in the art.
The above story about Thor's fishing trip with Hymer is a well-known motif and is known from a rune stone from Altuna (Altuna U 1161 from the 1000s) and a Gotland figurine from Ardre, (Ardre VIII from the 700s). In addition, the motif is also depicted on the stone from Hørdum (ca. 800-1250) and on fragments of a stone cross from Gosforth in England. All the stones are dated back to the 700s until the 1000s. The same for all these depictions of the Midgard Serpent is that I often appear in the same image in the form of a mask or human-like figure.
Some of the best known motifs with animals can be found on the Jelling Stone. Here it is assumed by some that they show the Fenris vulture and the Midgard serpent as well as Odin as Christ. Others think it's just decoration.
The Vikings' fascination with dragons has also led them to design beautiful jewelery with the dragon in focus. It is seen i.a. by the many buckles in the Urnes style, which have been found in countless places in the Nordic countries.
The most famous is the buckle with the dragon head from Birka in Norway. See a copy here:
It is difficult to predict why animals and especially the Fenris vulture and the Midgard serpent have been depicted in jewelery, on picture stones and on the Jelling stone. It may be because the Vikings had a very numinous relationship with their gods and the cosmos they lived in. So it may have been pure worship and fear that has made the Vikings portray Middle-earth serpents so much. At least it emphasizes the animal's great importance to the Vikings.
It's nice to see that you have read along.
Year and peace.