The Lagarfljótsormur is a legendary water serpent that is said to inhabit Lake Lagarfljót, Iceland. The earliest recorded sightings of the Lagarfljótsormur date back to the Icelandic Annals of 1345 and have continued to this day.
In their book “Icelandic Folk and Fairy Tales,” folklorists May and Hallberg Hallmundsson describe the origin tale of the beast:
At one time, long, long ago, there was a woman living on a farm in the Lagarfljót district, close by the stream where it broadens into a lake. She had a grown daughter. Once, she gave her daughter a gold ring. The woman instructed her daughter to catch a snake and keep the gold ring underneath it in her linen chest (as, apparently, one did long ago in rural Iceland). She did so, but when the girl went to look at her ring again, the snake had grown so large that the chest was beginning to come apart. Then the girl was frightened and she picked up the chest with everything in it and threw it into the lake. A long time passed, and gradually people became aware that there was a serpent in the lake, for it was beginning to kill both people and animals crossing the waters.
In 1963, the head of the Icelandic National Forest Service, Sigurður Blöndal, reported seeing the giant worm and in 1998 a teacher and students at Hallormsstaðir School also claimed to have witnessed the legendary creature.
In 2012, an amateur cameraman, Hjörtur E. Kjerúlf, accidentally caught what is thought to be the Lagarfljótsormur on camera. The Icelandic government set up a commission to determine whether or not the footage (shown above) was authentic and in September 2014 their report concluded that the footage was, in fact, genuine and recommended further investigation and research into the Lagarfljótsormur.
In Swedish folktradition, Gloson is a terrible ghost pig that was a part of the challenges a year walker faced on a year walk (Sw. årsgång). She, the pig is usually a sow, could run between the legs of a person and cleave him or her in half. Sometimes she carried a scroll or a book in her mouth, and the one who snatched it could learn magic.
The day which Heathens traditionally considered New Year was sundown on the night of the first full moon after the midwinter solstice. On this night, it was believed that the barriers between the realms were at their thinnest. It was a night when many would attempt to commune with the powers and attempt rituals that required crossing between planes of existence. Such rituals would include Årsgång (Year Walking), Spådom (Premonition), Trolldom (Nordic Folk Magic) and doing positive things that would help set a precedent for the coming year!
The artwork comes from an 1875 book and depicts someone partaking in Årsgång.
The following article was written by Elisabeth Keller of Forn Sed Norway. She is currently reading for a Master’s degree in Nordic, Viking and Medieval Culture at University. She works at the Norwegian Folk Museum. The original was in Norwegian so I thought I would translate it so that others may enjoy it. I have used some translations that include potentially offensive language (such as “gender bender” and “female magic”) but these are the closest translations and I did not wish to colour the article with my own interpretations.
Loki, “The One in the Middle”
Loki is without doubt one of the more controversial characters in the Old Norse pantheon. In this article I will examine his position as a mediator. Loki is constantly between the extremes. This applies to his allegiances, behaviour, morals, ancestry and more. I want to look more closely at three of these different aspects of Loki. His position in the middle of opposing forces, his position between man and woman and especially his intermediary position between the elements of fire, water and air.
Loki, “The Inbetweener”:
Loki is one of the most frequently occurring characters in the Norse myths but does not seem to have had his own following in the Viking Age, since we have not found archeological evidence of a cult or place of worship. The closest we come is the Snaptun Stone, an example of a rock that would protect the blower from the heat of a forge, which appears to be decorated with a figure with a sewn mouth. Such a stone is placed between the fire and blower, roughly halfway between the two.
He is often described as a beautiful young man, who has a bad character. In this aspect (along with some others) he resembles the Christian devil and he has been compared with both the name and function. I have no doubt that Christian ideas have played an important role in how the Norse myths were written down, and in all likelihood that the representation of Loki will be influenced by Christian ideals and made meaner in the process. It seems only logical, not least because it has the same thing that happened to the Christian devil too. Much of the earlier research has characterised him as a so-called ”evil god” or as a carrier of culture. I would argue that he is both and neither.
In my opinion, Loki is the element that causes change - both good and bad. He is the one who stands in the middle between extremes. Ursula Dronke has suggested that Lodur is part of Loki. This makes sense if we regard Loki as an intermediary between the beginning and the end. In the beginning, Lodur gives the very life blood to the first humans, Ask and Embla. Finally at Ragnarok, Loki leads the giants against the gods. One possible interpretation of Loki’s name is that it can mean “close”, but this is far from certain and there are several other possible explanations.
Some believe that, as a catalyst of advancement, Loki only contributed to the invention of the fishing net but, if we allow a broader definition of catalyst, I think Loki hass had many a success. Constantly challenging or forcing the gods to seek out new “technologies”, new solutions and not to get stuck in their ways. Ultimately to be prepared for the final battle. He is not chaos, although his actions may seem chaotic, but he has a predetermined goal as he works against the other Æsir. He is the force that drives the story forward, toward its inevitable conclusion at Ragnarok.
As a rogue god Loki breaks all the rules, he is witty and cunning, funny and insulting, but he is not just playing any pranks. He has a silver tongue and can convince anyone of what he wants but also causes much trouble with his tongue and so he gets his mouth sewn together.
He is a liar, a thief and a murderer, but friends of both Thor and Odin. He is a beloved husband, that commands the devotion of his patient and kind wife Sigyn after he is punished for the death of Balder. He sometimes causes both the gods and himself to get into trouble, both by lying and stealing, but usually it is also him who gets them out of it again. He does not do all this for his own amusement alone, but because he has to make sure that the cycle of existence for the world proceeds as it should. At the same time he also makes sure that everyone is prepared for the events at the end of the world.
Loki, “Gender Bender”:
Another great aspect of Loki as the middle person is his ability to change his shape. He is the child of giants but he is counted among the Æsir as a blood brother to Odin himself. Both he and Odin have forbidden knowledge of the female magic called seidr. As Brit Solli points out, this gives him the abilities and characteristics of a shaman. Apparently these skills transferred to him when he mixed his blood with Odin.
He is also a very liberal person and is not ashamed to transform or disguise himself as a women, unlike the other gods who regard this as perverse and shameful (as Thor does when he disguises himself as Freya). Loki has even given birth to several children in addition to being the father of a many too.
Loki’s disguises and transformations are a complete transformation, where he actually becomes whatever he turns into, rather than just taking on the appearance. When he becomes a mare to seduce the stallion Svaðilfari, he later gives birth a foal - Sleipnir.
In Lokasenna, Odin accuses Loki of having survived underground as a woman for eight years while he milked cows and gave birth. On one occasion he alleges that Loki must have eaten a woman’s heart and due to this he is the mother of all witches. His role as a mother is stressed several times, not least in terms of kennings attached to him. As a man or a woman, he is difficult to define. Using seidr magic he stays in this unsteady and intermediate position. A figure that is hard to understand, who consciously lives somewhere in between what is acceptable for most and that which seems unacceptable to many. Loki defies words and even gender norms and limits.
Loki, “Between The Elements”:
The third and final aspect of Loki’s nature that I want to take a look at is his connection to the elements. He has been proposed as a personification of three different elements. I think he should represent both all and none. Fire and water can only exist if there is something between them. The element with a mythological correlation between these elements must be considered to be air.
The most commonly proposed elementary link with Loki is that he is or may have been a fire god but he loses in a competition against wildfire fire and so I do not see him as a general deity of fire. He is commonly called flammehår and it is not unlikely that Logi is another aspect of him. Logi literally means “fire” and is the brother of Hler (water) and Kari (air). Which interestingly enough are the other two elements he is more or less often connected. Noke is said to be again another aspect of Loke and this name is connected to the element of air. He is also called the celestial wanderer and sky traveller, which are connected with the air and the sky. Loki turned into a fly in order to win a bet against dwarf blacksmith. He has also been interpreted as a water deity because many of his transformations are water-related. He does, for example, transform to both salmon and seals. If we are to accept Lodur as part of Loki, we can also use this to link him to the water-related domain. It is Lodur providing the first people with the life-giving blood and can be interpreted as a parallel to the life-giving water. In addition, he also brought the fishing net to the people, although Anna Birgitta Rooth has suggested that this is one of things that marked him as a spider-god.
In my eyes, the three elements on their own are unlikely to be found as representations in one person, especially since two of them would annihilate each other. Again I find the solution to this is in the intermediate area with Loki. He is extremity and also situated between extremes - fire, water and air.
As I have shown in this brief essay, Loki is not so much a god of contradictions, but a deity or spirit for those between extremes. He is the child of giants but counted among the Æsir by becoming a blood brother to Odin himself. Thus he puts himself in a intermediate position. He is a vile murderer but a beloved husband. A monster and a lover. He is a prolific and excessive man but not ashamed to be a woman. He is a handsome young man, but often with an ugly character. He can convince everyone, but also lie without scruples. He has been suggested as a fire, water and air spirit among many other things. He creates difficulties for both gods and himself, both by lying and by stealing, yet he is also the one that gets them out of the predicament again, often with new acquisitions for the Æsir.
He is neither good nor evil, despite his role in the death of Balder and Ragnarok. He is the agent of renewal and progress in the cosmic plan who always drives the action in the stories toward its inevitable conclusion.
Brunvand, Jan Harold: Review in Midwest Folklore, Vol. 12, No. 4, Bloomington, 1962
The Church Grim was the most feared creature in Scandinavian folklore and it was even considered bad luck to speak of it. There is a theory that it dates back to a nameless Bronze Age deity.
When a church was built in medieval times it was tradition that an animal such as a goat was buried alive under the foundations. Sometimes criminals were buried there too and other stories talk of criminals having their heart cut out and buried inside an animal carcass in a similar fashion.
The image most commonly encountered of The Church Grim mirrors these tales, appearing as a goat walking as if human and carrying it’s heart. If you were to touch this heart it is believed you can see all things in creation.
While some say The Church Grim guards the church against thieves and grave robbers there are others that say it feeds on the energy of the church, sapping peoples hopes and dreams.
Known as the “Sea Wife”, the Havsrå is the oceanic equivalent of the Huldra and is the keeper or warden of the seas. Passing sailors can get her good graces by offering a coin, food or gloves (in cold weather) as a gift. In return, she may reciprocate the gesture with a warning of any any approaching high winds, storms or icy conditions. She may also help fishermen who show her such favour with information about how and where they can land a big haul.
Havsrå can take many different forms but usually appears as an incredibly beautiful woman with long, flowing hair that she is often seen combing atop rocks. Sometimes her back is hollow (as with the Huldra) and she has many aquatic features such as a fishes tail where her legs would be. She may also transform into the guise of seals, sea birds or other marine animals.
There are also Havsmän (“Sea Men”) but it is not know if they are connected to the Havsrå. Some believe that the two are sexual partners and this is how their existence continues but others say they are solitary creatures (much more like the Nøkk). The Havsmän can often be seen walking or waterskiing on the ocean waves just before a storm.
The Havsrå lives at the depths of the ocean in an underwater castle on the seabed with enormous halls, each one finer than the one before, where she lives with her children and other aquatic vættir. Under favourable weather conditions a sailor may catch a glimpse of her palace which has given rise to tales of sunken castles out at sea.
It has been known for a handsome sailor to stumble upon a Havsrå castle and that he be taken in to live with her forever and lose all memory of their home and life back on land.
Sometimes, if a fisherman happens to pull in a remarkable catch, he may find in his nets a Havsbarn (“Sea Child”), a child of the Havsrå. If he takes such a child home and raises it as his own, the Havsbarn will grow up to be the greatest of fishermen and possess a mystical connection to the sea that others lack, despite living out their life as a normal person. One day, when they have reached adulthood, the Havsbarn will hear a call from their mother, the Havsrå. They will then reveal their true nature to their adopted parents and thank them before sailing out to sea and jumping in, never to be seen again. Many Scandinavians who come from remote islands and seafaring families claim that their ancestor was such a Havsbarn.
It has been known for a Havsrå to stop a passing ship and offer to buy it’s cargo. It is wise to be polite and take the deal, as the Havsrå pays very well and rewards the kindness with good wind in the sails and fine conditions. On the other hand, refusal or rudeness will invoke her wrath and the ship may soon feel her power, sinking down to the murky depths.
The Linnorm (or Lindworm) is a giant serpent from Norse mythology and Scandinavian folk belief, the most famous of which include Jörmangandr (the Midgard Serpent) and Fáfnir (which is slain by Sigurd in the Völsunga saga).
These snake-like dragons were known for their great size, venomous bite and destructive nature. A fearsome opponent to deal with and the antagonist of many folk tales.
In one such tale, we learn of an Earl’s daughter who had been taken hostage by a Linnorm until she is rescued by a warrior in fur trousers named Ragnar. This earns him his soon famed nickname of Ragnar Loðbrók (Hairy britches)!
It is also held in folk belief that if you can acquire the shed skin of a Linnorm you will greatly increase your knowledge and skill of nature and medicine.
People often contemplate Wyrd, Ørlög, Fate or Destiny in Norse Heathenry.
Is our life locked into a defined path that we cannot change? How do we reconcile this notion of a fixed destiny with the freedom of personal responsibility? Hopefully I can share with you my beliefs.
When I think of “fate”, I think of it in terms of two distinct concepts - livstråder and skjebne. These are the terms that are relevant to my own practices but others may know them as Wyrd, Ørlög or other names.
Livstråder means “life threads”.
Skjebne means “destiny”.
To help with my explanation I will use an analogy.
Imagine a roadmap.
I think of the livstråder as a series of concrete roads, all of the possible routes imaginable, between the starting point of your journey (birth) and final destination (death). Roads are fixed in place and to move forward in life from your birth to your death you must travel along them. They are already laid out in a predetermined layout.
Then the skjebne is the route which you personally choose to travel. You may encounter speed bumps, traffic, collisions, roadworks and dead ends depending on your route but you are free to turn around or steer your own vehicle and take whichever path you wish from your available options.
To me that is how I can explain two different concepts of livstråder and skjebne and how they combine to govern the overall destiny.
Regardless of the name you use, be it Ásatrú, Forn Sed, The Northern Tradition, Norse Heathenry or any other title, the question of how and where to learn more about the old ways always comes up.
Academic study is great if you wish to learn how others practice (and I do read and take an interest in what remains from the era) but ultimately the only perfect way to find this faith for yourself is to experience it.
You will not find experiences in books.
You will find it in woods and forests, mountains and anywhere else that makes you re-enter the ecosystem as a participant instead of a viewer. You will find it in the customs, traditions and folklore around YOU (possibly including but not limited to those incomplete fragments from Iceland many hundreds of years ago). You will find it in your own heart.
Our ancestors didn’t read books about how to practice. They looked at their world, experienced it, and created our tradition to fit themselves. They did not follow written word like a holy book and try to make themselves fit those words.
I know a heathen brother who has a profound understanding of the old ways and he cannot even read. Yet he is a man of the earth and spends all of his time in nature, where he truly found his faith.
To me it isn’t study. It’s living, experiencing and growing! It’s a living religion, a way to make sense of our world. Go out and enjoy it!
The Brook Horse is one of the many folkloric creatures of that is said to live in the lakes, rivers and fjords of Scandinavia.
This pale coloured horse appears in creeks or lakes and tries to lure children onto it’s back. For every child it can get upon its back the horses spine will grow and when it is satisfied that enough children are riding it will dive into the depths, dragging the children under and drowning them.
Let children beware playing too close to open water.
Unlike a lot of religions, with Forn Sed you are welcome to do as much or as little as you want. There are no penalties for not attending places of worship at specific days/times. You simply give what you can. There is no need for grand gestures as the gods are similar to friends. As long as you are kind and treat them with respect then they will treat you well and look favourably on you.
Follow their examples and aspire to the principles they represent.
That is why I believe Forn Sed to be spirituality not religion. You experience Forn Sed directly, rather than through an interface such as a priest/rabbi/imam and without need for a place of worship. I experience my gods directly every time the warm sun kisses the back of my neck and every time the sky pours down.
Lunar pareidolia refers to the way humans see images or attributes in the moon. These images, and what they portray, vary between cultures and common images include a man, a rabbit, a lady, a frog, a moose, a dragon and a buffalo.
In many parts of Scandinavia, the patterns on the surface of the moon are said to show two siblings, Hjuke and Bil, with a bucket and pole.
The story of the two siblings from the Prose Edda tells of how they were fetching water from the well, Byrge (Bygir), and as they walked carrying the pale (Sæg) on the pole (Simul), Måne (Moon) took them from earth to follow him in the sky where they now live and serve him.
It is suggested that Hjuke and Bil were the basis of the popular tale of “Jack and Jill” that has since spread throughout the world.
There are two engraved sandstone crosses dating from the first half of the 10th Century in the village of Gosforth, Cumbria that contain scenes from the Peotic Edda. They are collectively known as the Gosforth Cross. While one still stands the second has fallen and only the base and a small part of the actual cross remains, yet both contain relevant engravings.
They include: - The binding of Loki, with Sigyn present. - Heimdallr holding his horn while fending off Fenrir (this engraving is signed by “Magnus P.” - Víðarr’s battle with Fenrir at Ragnarok - Thor’s failed attempt to catch Jormangandr (found on a fragment of the second cross)
My translation. Everything in italics taken from Mytiske og andre sagn by M. B. Landstad, a collection of folk tales and other material gathered by Landstad in the region of Telemark, Norway. My notes in square brackets.
Åsgård-reiden [the ride or hunt of Asgard] is pronounced Åsgår-reie or Åsgår-reia; the people from Hjartdal and those who live further afield say Osgo-reia. [It is worth keeping in mind that Landstad wrote in a period where thoughts on folk culture were heavily influenced by romantic nationalism. The Romantic suggestion of “Åsgård” as the etymon of “osgo”/“osko” is one of many possible explanations. Another is öskurligr, meaning terrible.]
Here we will quite simply relate the talk of the people, without mixing in our own views. Either it is the gods of Asgard themselves who are out riding with their heroes or einherjer, or also it may be the ride of the fallen heroes to Asgard in the company of the valkyries who fetch them. The latter seems most plausible. For here we meet the old heroes Sigurd Fåvnesbane and his mistress Gudrun, and Gunnar. Brynhild, who should not be missing from this company, I have nevertheless not heard mentioned.