Something which has long played upon my mind is a most curious discrepancy between the Nordic mythology – and seemingly every other Indo-European canon of belief.
The subject of this purported disunity? The Dragon-Slaying of the Thunderer-Striker Deific.
For as everybody knows – in the major, indeed downright iconic cases of Indra contra Vritra or Herakles against the Hydra … these are events which are said to have already occurred in the escalating distant past.
Yet when it comes to the Scandinavian Striker/Thunderer, Thor, His successful combat is said to take place in the (perhaps-not-all-that-)far distant future – at Ragnarok: the War at the End of Time.
There IS an earlier encounter, wherein Thor manages to fish up the Encircling World-Serpent – however, while the demonic beast struggles mightily, and the mighty God exerts no less furious force … the combat is said to be ultimately inconclusive. A matter deferred to the End of Days.
Or is it …
The Gylfaginning phrases it thus:
“In the very moment when Thor clutched his hammer and raised it on high, then the giant fumbled for his fish-knife and hacked off Thor’s line at the gunwale, and the Serpent sank down into the sea. Thor hurled his hammer after it; and men say that he struck off its head against the bottom; but I think it were true to tell thee that the Midgard Serpent yet lives and lies in the encompassing sea. But ‘Thor swung his fist and brought it against Hymir’s ear, so that he plunged overboard, and Thor saw the soles of his feet. And Thor waded to land.”
So as we can see, there is an acknowledgement in the scriptural presentations of Sturluson for at least some ambiguity to the matter. Or, rather, an acknowledgement that the dominant mythic recounting amidst the Germanics was that Thor had indeed decapitated Jormungandr – which Sturluson seeks to refute by placing words in the mouth of the certain Great God to whom Gylfi is speaking.
Why might he have done this? Well, I am often loathe to presume that this or that seemingly curious element to Sturluson’s effort is the direct result of creeping Christianization – but in this instance, deferring the combat to the Apocalypse may indeed be just exactly that. The Revelations (‘Apocalypse’ in another language) at the Last Days of the World per John on Patmos most certainly do entail a great Serpent arising from the Sea as an essential, adversarial ingredient. And even if this were not the ultimate inspiration for Sturluson’s recasting of the event – it cannot be denied that there is something resonant in the manner that at the Final Battle, the Dragon is slain and not before … in a manner which also happens to slay, in exactly the same fashion as it attempts to do so here (i.e. with poison-breath), its vanquisher.
There is, we may say – both a ‘symmetry’ and a ‘finality’ to the Sturluson-sourced account.
Yet while I do not dispute that there is an underlying truth to this setup – based around the strong and increasingly escalant immanency of evil and iniquity within the universe as we slouch toward the point at which setting the entire world afire counts as a net improvement … it presents some obvious problems for us in a comparative Indo-European theological sense.
And so it was therefore with great reassurance that I found the account in the Husdrapa, whilst – as is my way – looking for something completely different. For there, we have something completely different in its conclusions. Which does most definitely accord with several of the salient details cited by Sturluson in the Gylfaginning presentation – yet which is much less ambiguous as to its immediate outcome.
To quote in the Old Norse:
“Víðgymnir laust Vimrar
vaðs af frônum naðri
hlusta grunn við hrǫnnum.”
Which, to translate from the millennia-ancient ecclesiastical language in question – gives us :
“The Wide-Wader of the ford of Vimur struck the ground of the ears [i.e. the Head] off the gleaming serpent into the waves.”
This is in reasonable accord with another pre-Sturluson accounting which has come down to us of the deed – that of Gamli Gnævaðarskáld:
“Meðan gramr, hinns svik samðit,
snart Bilskirnis, hjarta,
grundar fisk með grandi
gljúfrskeljungs nam rjúfa.”
Or, in translation –
“While the ruler of Bilskirnir [i.e. Thor], the one who did not plan treachery in his heart, quickly smashed the fish of the sea-bed [i.e. Jormungand] with the destruction of the gully-whale [i.e. Mjolnir].”
There is also a potential ‘missing line’ in verse 25 of the Hymiskviða immediately prior to Jormungandr sinking to the bottom and following the serpent roaring in pain at being struck, where a Smiting in the more lethal sense
But let us bring things back to this Husdrapa account – for there are several other elements within it of salient interest to us from a comparative Indo-European mythological view.
The first of these concerns the immediately preceding lines of the Husdrapa verse in question –
“Fullǫflugr lét fellir
fjall-Gauts hnefa skjalla
— ramt mein vas þat — reyni
reyrar leggs við eyra.”
“The most powerful feller of the mountain-Gautr let his fist slam against the ear of the tester of the bone of the reed [alt.trns: ‘log of the reed’]; that was a mighty injury.”
This is a curious verse, and there is considerable scholarly debate as to just who is doing what here, and unto whom. Some say that it is Hymir, Thor’s companion in the boat, who is being recompensed for daring to cut the line which had raised Jormungand (a detail interestingly not mentioned in the Husdrapa account as it has come down to us). Others suggest that it is the World-Serpent which suffers this grievous injury.
The adjacent characterization of the struck party as “the tester of the bone of the reed” adds little in the way of clarity to matters.
The ‘Mountain-Gautr’ element is even less understood – with many ascribing it a meaning of ‘Stone-Giant/Mountain-Giant’ due to the role of ‘Gautr’ underpinning various Germanic ethnonyms … although it has been acknowledged that this is a rather awkward fit, especially in light of the more usually encountered Gaut figure and the associated etymology for same – Odin Himself, and the terms for the pouring of libations [Proto-Germanic – Geutana; the sense of a Goði, a priest, is also most relevant here – both for Odin specifically and in general terms].
Predictably, I have a different view.
In the course of the Vedas, we frequently find the Mountain invoked as a metaphoric rendering for the Press-Stones with which Soma is extracted from the stems of the Soma plant. I have earlier demonstrated this understanding to be similarly preserved (uncoincidentally, in relation to Odin and His Deeds and venturings) amidst the Norse via the Hnitbjorg (‘Clashing Rocks’/Opening Mountain) conceptry between which the Mead of Poetry is to be sourced. When the stalk in question is pressed, the libation of the Soma juice is enabled to flow forth. Something which is directly associated in the Vedic poetic perception with the Strength of Indra (utilized to slay Vritra), indeed to the point of occasional understandable direct conflation stating Soma is what strikes down Vritra.
‘Fellir’, as in ‘feller’ – to cause to fall – has obvious saliency for ‘slayer’, yet there is a rendering in Eilífr Goðrúnarson’s Þórsdrápa which renders this instead as “prepares”. Whether “Prepares” or “Exerts crushing force”, I do not think it hard to see how the pulverization of the stem of the plant would be a logical deployment for such a term. Particularly when it comes to utilizing ‘press-stones’ (the ‘tester’, or ‘explorer’ of the contents of the reed in question).
The ‘most powerful’ exerter of the force in such a manner, which brings forth the libation in question [‘Gautr’ – that which pours forth], would assumedly be a quite potent Priest – a scenario which would fit with the accompaniment of Indra in His Vritra-smiting endeavours by either of Brihaspati/Agni/Vayu [aka Odin – c.f my earlier works demonstrating direct scriptural concordances in these regards; and recalling also Odin as Gaut, for reasons that are now plainly apparent] or Trita Aptya (a more human Priest). Tellingly, we frequently find Indra accompanied by Parvata [that is to say Mountain] upon His adventures, as well – with the ‘Parvata’ in question plausibly meaning either or both those aforementioned Press-Stones, and/or the Sky Father deific acting as Their employer or in the similar guise to the Axis Mundi (the World-Mountain – or, if we were speaking in Old Norse terms, a certain Yggr-related Tree).
The pattern of there being two (male) Dragonslayers making use of an otherwise overtly pious element to carry out the deed is not confined to the Vedas, either – Iolaus being guided by Athena to utilize Fire in the course of the Hydra-slaying also fits this typology, for example.
Although the association of Hymir (Thor’s companion in the vessel upon the water), presents further intriguing resonancies. Other than the fact that there is a brewing-vessel under his ownership (something we should perhaps expect with relation to the production of the empowering elixir, for reasons that should be fairly directly apparent), there is the most curious situation in the Hymiskviða of Hymir being presented as Tyr’s father – which upon the surface would seem to contrast rather heavily with Tyr being regarded as Odin’s Son. A contradiction which can be easily resolved if we presume that it is in fact no contradiction at all – and that Hymir’s goading reactions to Thor are broadly in the spirit of the rivalry expressed between the disguised Odin and His Son in Hárbarðsljóð.
Now I may, perhaps, be accused of decontextualizing this one verse in order to highlight a potential Vedic parallel which does not fit with the broader presentation of the relevant mythic encounter in the Nordic texts. Except that’s just the thing – the incredibly fragmentary state of the Husdrapa means that it is almost, by default, decontextualized. We are only able to tie verses together upon the fact that they’re stated to be by the relevant author (or, in one case, inferred to be) in the relevant poem – there is ample room for occurrences, surrounding contextual information being omitted in those portions of the poem which have not come down to us.
A third detail of interest for us from the Husdrapa concerns this Víðgymnir epithet of Thor. Ostensibly, this directly connects to another quite specific Thor myth – that of the fording of the Vimur River during the course of Thor’s pursuit of Geirröðr. However, I have reason to believe that this, too, is a broader Indo-European typology finding oblique expression via now-barely-understood kenning form. There are a few competing theories as to what Víðgymnir is actually supposed to mean. Víðr should likely mean ‘Wide’, and thusly informs either the ‘Giant’ interpretation, or the ‘Wide-Wader’ one. I suspect that the latter has the right of it, upon the basis of RV VIII 100 12’s description of the ‘Wide Stride’ of Vishnu, a characteristic also attested via the ‘Urukramah’ epithet of that figure. Vishnu (and more especially Krishna), I have long suspected to harbour decisive elements of the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer deific – including, in a rather prominent encounter, a Dragon-subduing upon the waters [c.f my earlier work “Perseus , Krishna , Karna – Three Perspectives Upon The Origin Myth Of The Indo-European Striker/Thunderer”]. RV VIII 100, of course, being also quite salient for this Nordic encounter with the Demon Dragon in question, as it presents Indra accompanied by an unspecified “comrade” in the course of His dragon-slaying venture, with the ‘wide-step’ in question undertaken (or at least mentioned) immediately prior to the Smiting is to ensue. In other words – exactly where it is in its Husdrapa context.
To add to these, a fourth – that mention of the Reed has another potential (albeit non-exclusive) explication. This is not the place to get into the underlying meaning of them (which may accord with the notion of the ‘power’ of the Thunder God being housed within), but suffice to say that in both the Hindu and also intriguingly the Armenian Indo-European renderings of the myth of the dragon-slaying Striker/Thunderer – we find this aforementioned deity taking up residence within the stalk of a lotus or reed respectively. It is mentioned here due to another detail which unifies these varying accounts somewhat.
In the Armenian account of Vahagn (as in, Vritraghna – the Smiter of Vritra), it is phrased thusly:
“The labour in the sea seized a red reed. Along the reed stalk smoke ascended; along the reed stalk fire ascended. And out of the fire leapt a golden-haired boy. He had fiery hair and a fiery beard, and his eyes were little suns.”
A ‘fiery beard’, eh? Gosh, now Who does that remind one of!
Quoth the Husdrapa:
“Innmáni skein ennis
ǫndótts vinar banda;
ôss skaut œgigeislum
orðsæll á men storðar.”
“The interior-moon of the forehead [i.e. the Eye] of the Gods’ fierce friend [i.e. Thor] shone; the renowned God shot terror-beams at the necklace of the earth [i.e. Jormungandr].”
This is corroborated via the Gylfaginning’s presentation of the episode:
“And it may be said that no one has seen very fearful sights who might not see that: bow Thor flashed fiery glances at the Serpent”
There is quite an array of conceptry for rather powerful and luminous eye-beams resultant from the investiture of the divine energy of the Furor – Diomedes, granted the Menos-power by Athena, presents with Flaming visage about His helmet as the dulling mist is lifted from His Eyes, and it is similar with regard to Achilles. To quote directly from the Iliad:
“Howbeit, when Achilles saw the arms,
then came wrath upon him yet the more,
and his eyes blazed forth in terrible wise
from beneath their lids, as it had been flame;
and he was glad as he held in his arms the glorious gifts of the god.”
“when Athena had dropped Nectar and Ambrosia into Achilles
so that no cruel hunger should cause his limbs to fail him,
She went back to the house of Her mighty Father.
[…] he gnashed his teeth, his eyes gleamed like fire,
for his grief was greater than he could bear.
Thus, then, full of fury against the Trojans,
did he don the Gift of the God,
the armor that Hephaistos had made him.”
Read that second swathe again – Achilles samples of the Empowering Elixir, and in a mighty rage, “his eyes gleamed like fire”.
We know that the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer consumes the Empowering Elixir prior to wading forth into warfare with the Demon Dragon of the Waters (the RV VIII 100 hymnal aforementioned is prominent in its direct description of this up-arming). We know that this is described, it would appear, in terms pertaining to the Eyes of the mighty figure ‘lighting up’ with terrific radiancy. I do not mean to propose Achilles as an instance of the Striker/Thunderer typology – only to observe that via the triangulation afforded to us of the Iliad, the Armenian epic aforequoted from, and other such conceptry … that this would appear to support rather strongly the idea of Thor’s evident Terrifying Gaze of celestial energy, is also similarly resultant from the imbibing of the Empowering Elixir.
Or, in other words, its position immediately prior to the actual Dragon-Slaying carried out by Thor in the Husdrapa, and also theoretically proximate to this Reed/Stalk business, further supports that the Husdrapa account is in fact a quite close resonancy with the broader and underlying Indo-European typology to the myth in question.
And by that I mean that it appears to contain elements which had fallen out of some of the later Eddic presentations of the tale – the major instances of which being, of course, somewhat ‘hack-job’ presentations drawing together and editorializing in decidedly imperfect manner, the contributions of earlier generations of Skalds.
Now does this mean that the original Husdrapa, in its fully-expansive rather than merely excerpted-from format may have included verses in which Thor drank an Empowering Elixir immediately prior to sailing out into the wide-gulfs of the world to slay the Serpent? I am not sure. We simply cannot tell based around the limited material that has come down to us. Although there is certainly reasonable support for an endeavour to link the preceding occurrences of the Hymiskviða to the ritual preparation for the brew at the ‘Feast of the Gods’ in our more familiar Vedic context (as entailed, again, in RV VIII 100). And that ‘Wide-Wading’ epithet, likewise, seems too close in its occurrence to the last lines of RV VIII 100, with the ‘Mountain-Gautr’ too otherwise inexplicable via the more frequently encountered attempts-at-rendering to be anything other than what we find in the comparative Vedic expressionism.
I am occasionally accused of having a totalitarian approach to these matters – downright mono-myopic (that is to say – ‘one-eyed’) in my perspective – as applies re-viewing various other Indo-European mythic accounts which seem to me to be obviously ‘incomplete’ via the Vedic lense that comes most natively to me. Yet I do feel it quite clearly the case that our extant ability to read these fragmentary or bowdlerized later Germanic texts in the absence of the actual original Skaldic forms in something approaching their entirety, is contingent upon bringing these other, non-Germanic sources to bear upon what has come down to us as well.
After all – even if it is disputed that the precise illustrations of the occurrences as found in these Eddic materials are close 1:1 parallels of those found in the far more ancient Vedic verses and ritualine metaphysics … it absolutely cannot be disputed that the events they record are indeed the fundamental same.
Ever since the Urheimat, it has been known that there is the Encircling [‘Vritra’] Demon-Dragon of the Waters.
And ever since the Urheimat, it has been known likewise that there is the Striker/Thunderer Deific Who Slays Him.
Ever since the serious application of the developments of Indo-European linguistics and comparative mythology to the Germanic sphere, it has also been known that Thor is this Striker/Thunderer – and correspondingly, that Jormungand is this Serpent who is to be Slain.
Now, we can say with great surety thanks to the more comprehensive application of these above-aforementioned rubricae:
That Jormungandr Is Undone!
And it is Thor Who Has Done It!
Therefore, upon this Thursday – Thorsday – we Hail to the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer!
Hail Thor !