Of Wolf And Dragon 

Recently, we ran a piece which looked at a perhaps surprising ‘transition’ within the Nordic mythos – namely, how the Fenris Wolf appeared plausibly to be a ‘carrying forward’ of what is otherwise a Serpentine or Draconic adversary confronted by the Sky Father deific in other Indo-European perspectives

Now, that’s … quite a surprising thing for a few reasons. One of which being that a Serpent and a Wolf, upon the surface are not easily cognate creatures. One’s got legs, for example, and warm blood, for a start. 

And yet … the more I considered it – the more it seemed that there was quite the underlying coterminity of conceptry to be explored.

So here we present a few notes upon the phenomenon. 

It is a curious thing, but it appears that this is something that was a known poetic thing amidst the Norsemen.

The major example I was aware of is in Grimnismal 34, wherein some of the Serpents that are found beneath Yggdrasil are given names –

There we hear of a ‘Grafvitnir’ (or, rather, Grafvitnir’s Sons), translated by Bellows as ‘Gnawing Wolf’, others have ‘Grave-Wolf’

It also occurs in the Krákumál (‘Pronouncements of the Crow’) … which, given the context of the poem – the famed Ragnarr Lodbrok being put to death via Snake-Pit, makes for an … interesting resonance.

Meanwhile, ‘Dragon’ should seem apt for the central creature of “dúni Grafvitnis” and “Grafvitnis beð” encountered in ‘Bjarkamál in fornu 4’ and the ‘Øxarflokkr’ (6) of Einarr Skúlason

Effectively, the ‘feather-down’ / ‘bed’ (respectively) of Grafvitnir – and understood as Gold

We are thus unsurprised to encounter it in the Þulur / Skaldskaparmal in amidst the attested ‘orma heiti’ – the ‘namings of wyrms’.

[I’d also be tempted to speculate that some of the other such heiti – Grabak, for instance, ‘Grey-Back’ – seem rather similar to wolfish terms, but that is complete speculation on my part]

The real point of interest that had occurred to me, however, is that as we know – the Sky Father deific is prominent in Wolf association & form in various IE mythocultures.

And also has an array of Serpent/Dragon form attestations as well.

We are therefore intrigued to note that a number of the prominent heiti for Dragons or Serpents also exist as Odinic theonyms [‘Ofnir and Svafnir’, per the Grimnismal and Bellows’ commentary on verses 34 and 54].

And we would also note that just as there is the prominent ‘Serpent- / Dragon- Gaze’ conceptry for the Noble in various IE spheres [think the Rigsthula’s  “ötul váru augu sem yrmlingi” for the young Jarl] or the ‘Gorgon-gaze’ for Hector iirc.

We have also frequently encountered – at least, in Europe – the Wolf, too, as a totemic animal & association for the nobility with accompanying essence-tial characteristics for same.

Indeed, my own illustrious forebear Rolo [‘Famous Wolf’] is just such an exemplar.

And, while I am looking through these things .. we are currently pondering the situation of (Old Icelandic) ‘Vitnir’ as not only ‘Wolf’ but also ‘Poet’. Ostensibly a case of [homophonic] ‘convergent evolution’; either ‘Vitta’ as in ‘Incantation / Charm’ or ‘Vit’ (as in ‘Wits’), from *Weyd.

However, given that within the Nordic sphere, it is a quite prominently Wolf associated figure that is the Lord of Eloquence and Mantras and Wisdom, I would suggest it is not so ‘coincidental’ at all.

And we are well acquainted with the Serpent and Speech / Wisdom likewise.

Effectively, it would seem that the conceptual associations of each animal may align enough for Nordic poetic usage – even despite the otherwise quite differentiated nature of the creatures in question in physical / natural terms.

(and I am also recalling the … seeming ‘co-expression’ amidst the Dacians – this being the famous ‘Dacian Draco’ standard depiction from Trajan’s Column which may, perhaps, be regarded as having something of a ‘canine’ visage. )

To all of this we might further add the further more ‘inferential’ potential evidence to be considered

Now, there is a mention in the Ynglinga Saga for the ‘Temple Wolf’ [which may in fact be the sacral fire – given that King Olaf is er .. fed to said Wolf / into said fire as an offering to Odin , following an ecological crisis allegedly the result of human royal neglect].

The ‘Temple Wolf’ [Hofgylðir] typology is clearly in evidence in the Classical sphere – we find quite prominent mention, for instance, for that Wolf of Apollo’s Temple at Delphi [and acting as a ‘Kshetrapala’ / Vastopati, indeed – c.f. our previous work connecting this Shaivite expression to the ‘Sons of Sarama’, the Wolves.]

And whilst I know it is the custom these days to translate SalaVrka / ShalaVrka as ‘Hyena’ in light of later texts; I much prefer to read it directly – the Wolf of the Enclosure, the Wolf of the Temple.

Where am I going with all of this?

Back to the Classical. Where we keep running into Sacred Groves (particularly of Ares, interestingly – the Colchisian & Ismenian specimens for eg; but also of Zeus – as at Nemea).

Now there is some speculation that the situation at Nemea may have been a ‘double-up’ – with the Dragon and the Lion perhaps being differing expressions of the same archaic thing – c.f. the origin(s) of the Nemean Games, as we have examined in the course of our Dragon work some time prior

In essence – it should seem to me that we find the same relevant role of ‘Defender of the Grove / Temple / Polis / House’ on some occasions being Wolf-expressed [viz. Vastopati], and on others, Serpent/Dragon [and c.f.also Erechtheus of Athens, etc. etc.].

So, all in all, it would appear that there are quite a spate of potential underpinnings for a later mythic coterminity of Wolf and Dragon as we seemingly find occurrent in that particular Nordic mythic instance. And visible on a rather more pervasive basis than just the Germanic sphere. 

3 thoughts on “Of Wolf And Dragon 

    • Good catch. Hadn’t thought of that here so much because I didn’t have a direct ‘Wolf’ comparanda to link it to – although i suppose it goes with the .. well .. point around ‘eloquency’ made viz. ‘Vitnir’.

      I’d presumed it was a metaphor for the ‘flow’ or ‘stream’ of the elixir from between the press-stones.


  1. Pingback: Of Wolf And Dragon  – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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