Mythsterhood, Episode 20, Dragons of Scandinavia

Hello hello Mythsters,

Episode twenty is the first one ever to bring on a surprise guest. We had a ton of fun, and hope to be able to do this kind of episode more often.

As Jaz is learning more about audio edits flexing her audio wiz muscles, you may hear a few other surprise elements. We hope you enjoy them!

We did have a few call backs to previous episodes:

But now, without further ado, let’s see some dragons!


Jaz: Hello, hello Mythsters, and welcome to episode 20 of Mythsterhood of the Travelling Tales. I am joined by not one but by two South Africans today. Anike, do you want to announce and introduce our surprise guest?

Anike: Gladly. It’s someone I know very, very well. Intimately well.

Jaz: Understatement of the year.

Anike: His name is Nic, and he’s my husband, and he is also very much into Norse mythology, so we figured for our episode, which, surprise, is Scandinavia, we will be including him.

Jaz: Well, Nic, for me and all the Mythsters, welcome.

Anike: You wanna say hi?

Nic: Hi.

Jaz: And hi! First of all, I think we need to start with the usual disclaimer. Anike, do you want to take it away on that one?

Anike: Okay. Now, we are further away from Germany and the more familiar Germanic languages, and we’re going into the Norse Germanic languages. So, we are probably going to butcher pronunciations. And we ask for sincere apologies, and if anyone knows how to pronounce it, please, let us know.

Jaz: I find it quite, quite an accomplishment to get that many consonants into one word. So, yeah. Definitely butchering going to go on.

Nic: Lazy writing.

Jaz: Maybe there was a shortage of vowels going on at the time. So, as already mentioned, we’re heading to Scandinavia today, this includes Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. The home of the Vikings! And that’s why, as Anike already said, we have Nic with us, and he’s not just here for his deep baritones, you know?

Nic: I don’t hear complaints.

Anike: Most of what I know of Norse mythology is thanks to Nic, and it seemed such a good change in routine to have him dragged along with us. So, here he is.

Jaz: Let’s get started! What’s first?

Anike: How about Fafnir? A dragon who was once a dwarf, or svartsalfr.

Nic: Yes, Fafnir was quite a wealthy dwarf but his greed got the better of him. He killed his father and went to hide in the wild with his treasures, and he transformed into a dragon.

Jaz: How very Tolkien of him.

Anike: I wouldn’t be surprised if the greed thing was something Tolkein adapted from Fafnir’s story.

Jaz: And how did Fafnir look, as a dragon that is.

Nic: According to the Volsunga saga, Fafnir was a type of dragon you guys discussed in the last episode: a lindwurm. He was huge, apparently creating earthquakes when he moved…

Anike: Hey, that sounds familiar!

Jaz: It does! Apep from Egyptian myth had that very same attribute.

Nic: Did Apep also breathe out poison?

Jaz: Well, no. That one is all Fafnir.

Anike: And quite typical of germanic dragons, at that.

Nic: Considering how far the Vikings travelled, I can see how Fafnir may have been influenced by the serpent Apep, likely through the Greeks.

Jaz: And like Apep and Ra, the story of Fafnir versus Sigurd (called Siegfried in the Nibelungenlied) could potentially be a metaphor for the struggle of inner darkness. In the Volsunga, as Fafnir is dying of a mortal wound dealt by Sigurd Sigmundson, he cautions Sigurd against taking his treasure. Perhaps he knew exactly the evils of greed?

Anike: That sounds very plausible when you read the saga.

Nic: But unlike Apep, Fafnir wasn’t a world serpent. That title belongs to one of the children of Loki and Angrboda.

Anike: The mighty Jormungandr! Also known as the Midgard Serpent.

Jaz: I know a particular Mythster on our Discord server who’ll be very happy that we finally get to this particular dragon.

Nic: Then I shall appease him. Chances are you Mythsters will know of Jormungandr and his encounters with Thor. The serpent’s size isn’t stated outright but he is compared to the size of Thor. Thor is said to be so large he can’t cross the Bifrost so he has to walk across the oceans to reach Midgard, or Earth.

Anike: And Thor travelled on a boat to hunt for Jormungandr, fishing him out of the sea. When Thor did this, the oceans roared with the serpent’s thrashing.

Jaz: Jormungandr is said to keep all the world’s oceans in, hugging all the land, utterly encircling the world. And the Vikings had a good idea of just how big the world is from their extensive travels. So, a massive dragon, to say the least. And he also breathes poison! Well, spews venom actually.

Nic: Jormungandr is also depicted and described as biting his tail. A motif seen across several mythologies.

Jaz: That’s true! Viking myth seems to be a place where a lot of dragon myths and stories and legends from all over intersect.

Anike: And he’s not the only dragon with various roots, if you’ll mind the cunning pun. The Nidhogg can be traced all the way to Tengri myth in Turkey!

Nic: Indeed. The Vikings sailed all the way down the Volga river, trading with the various tribes along the way. The Nidhogg shares a lot of features with the Kazakh dragon, the Aidakhar.

Jaz: But the Nidhogg isn’t a world dragon like him. Though he does stick to the roots of Yggdrasil, which is the world tree in Scandinavian mythology. He gnaws at them, specifically, and shares the area with countless other unnamed serpents.

Anike: And that’s another piece of myth shared with Turkey, actually! Here comes a bit of a rabbit hole…

Jaz: Uh, oh! Already?!

Nic: When it comes to the Vikings, there is no escape from the rabbits or their holes. Though, I may be biased in this.

Anike: Partly, yes. We’ve encountered so many holes and we fall into them every time.

Jaz: Let’s get on with the plunge and hope we emerge on the other end. Yggdrasil, like the central Asian tree of life, encompassed the realms. In Norse myth, Yggdrasil connects 9 realms while the Central Asian tree of life connects 3. Both world trees have a dragon in its roots, a bird on the top, and the two are sort of in a constant battle with each other. The eagle at the top of Yggdrasil shares, and I quote “envious words” with the Nidhogg. And…

Anike: Hang on, there, Jaz. We’re discussing dragons. The world trees will have to wait for another season. I reckon Koji won’t be too pleased if we blunder all of Yggdrasil’s secrets right now.

Nic: Then how about we discuss a Viking-Viking dragon. Two of them, actually.

Anike: Viking-Viking?

Jaz: Oh, oh I know this one! You’re talking about Ragnor Lodbrok.

Nic: Ho ho! Indeed. While out hunting, King Heroth came across two young snakes and gifted them to his daughter Thora. She looked after them, feeding them, until they grew up to become mighty serpents.

Anike: Again, this sounds so familiar!

Jaz: You’re right! This sound so much like what happened with Longma, the Chinese mother of dragons we covered in a Patreon post.

Nic: Unlike with Longma’s sons, these serpents weren’t so intelligent or benevolent. They grew so large that Thora was afraid to go near them again. They were at a stage where they were eating an ox a day. They started ravaging the country and killed people and animals with their venom breath.

Jaz: Doing the only thing a king can, Heroth offered Thora’s hand to anyone who could slay the dragons.

Anike: Aww, man! Dragon slaying so soon? I was hoping we wouldn’t encounter this again for a while.

Jaz: I told you last week you would need that shower. Slaying dragons is what heroes do.

Nic: What Ragnar did. He heard of the plight and set forth to kill Thora’s serpents. His armour was strange, though. He wore woollen clothes which he dipped in a stream so that they could freeze over. This protected him from the serpents’ venom.

Jaz: And it earned him the nickname Lodbrok, or shaggy breeches.

Anike: Quite the name for a hero. So-called. Those poor serpents.

Nic: Speaking of kings and serpents, have you heard of the story of the King of Serpents?

Jaz: Oh, do go on!

Nic: The Serpent King in Swedish folklore is a huge snake guardian of the serpent kingdom. A protector of serpents and snakes who deals punishment to humans who kill his subjects or ruin sacred sites.

Anike: And…

Nic: And that’s about all we could find about him.

Jaz: Bummer. He sounds awesome!

Anike: Right? Well, maybe another dragon king, then? King Lindorm from Danish folklore this time.

Jaz: Oe, yes! Like Fafnir, this dragon is a lindwurm, or lindorm in Denmark. He was born to a king and queen after ignoring the advice of some wry sage. You see, the old woman told the queen about two roses that had sprung up in the royal garden overnight. She was only supposed to eat one, red for a son, or the white one for a daughter. The lindorm was born as a result of the queen being too greedy and eating both roses. I hope she snipped off the thorns.

Nic: At that time, the king was away at war and, well, his return was met with a threat that if the king didn’t accept he was the dragon’s father, the lindorm would destroy the kingdom.

Anike: That’s one way to ensure lineage.

Jaz: Ha! Already asserting his royal powers. So, the king had to agree. And they all lived happily ever after. Not. The lindorm demanded to be married, with the same threat to destroy the castle.

Anike: Royal tantrums know no species bounds, do they?

Nic: What, and have the aristocracy be polite? It gets worse. A beautiful princess replied to the king’s message for a bride, and on their wedding night, the lindorm ate her alive. This happened all over again for a second time. And the kings of those princesses waged war against this king.

Jaz: But the lindorm, with his princely arrogance, said to let them come, just get him a bride.

Anike: Not wanting more political friction, understandably, the king went to an old shepherd and asked for his daughter to marry the prince. He didn’t hold back on the details, either, and the shepherd relayed all of it to his daughter in turn. She came across the old sage the queen had before and got advice on what to do about it.

Nic: It boiled down to a little… stripping game. Literally. On their wedding night, the shepherd’s daughter wore several layers of clothes and for each layer she took off, she demanded the lindorm to do the same with his skin.

Jaz: And that’s where it gets gruesome. He skinned himself until he was left bleeding and weak on the floor. The woman then beat him, as the sage instructed, with a bundle of sticks until all the sticks were broken. Once the deed was done, she dipped him in some sweet milk and cuddled with him in bed.

Nic: Death by snu-snu.

Jaz: Okay, yeah, if it works, it works. I’ve heard of stranger fetishes. I think.

Anike: We have come across some really weird things in our travels.

Jaz: To say the least.

Anike: And like magic, when she woke up, the lindorm transformed into a human man. And he became king, with the title King Lindorm despite his human form.

Jaz: Then they lived happily ever after.

Nic: Until some treachery from one of King Lindorm’s knights ended up with him thinking his two sons had been burned to death upon the king’s supposed orders.

Anike: What?

Nic: I don’t think we have time to go into that but the story is linked in the sources.

Jaz: Okay, then how about we get into other Scandivanian dragons? Maybe a slug serpent?

Anike: Come again?

Nic: Ahh, yes, the vatnaormar from Icelandic folklore.

Jaz: I dare you to say that three times in a row.

Nic: Not gonna happen.

Anike: Tongue twisting, like slug movement, ey?

Jaz: Eww. Slime aside, though, the vatnaormar is, well basically a humongous slug serpent hybrid. Pretty much what you’d imagine it to look like, I suppose. A serpentine slug with multiple humps. And it also spewed venom. The vatnaormar are like the Icelandic versions of the lindwurm, but without the legs. And slimy.

Nic: These serpents ranged in colour from black to multi-coloured.

Anike: Like… a rainbow serpent?!

Jaz: Holy crap, really?

Nic: Maybe. They’re water serpents, river serpents in the case of the Skafta River serpent, the multi-coloured one. Not so much on it out there, and the book it’s in, Meeting With Monsters, is difficult and pricey to come by.

Anike: Damn, here I was sort of hoping for rabbit hole number two.

Jaz: Weeelll… Remember the Ajatar?

Anike: Oe! From Estonia. She was really difficult to find information on. But how is she in Scandinavia?

Nic: She’s in Finland. And while the Finnish have Norse myth, they’re also historically very much influenced by several other cultures, including slavic myth. And Koji mentioned her being in Finland.

Jaz: But there isn’t much more we can say about Ajatar aside from that. Still, it further shows how much world mythology and folklore has been integrated into Scandinavia.

Anike: That it does, including Beowulf’s dragon. We went in-depth on this pretty a while back in a blog post, and it’s well worth the read. But the drake isn’t quite like the germanic dragons we’ve discussed so far. For one, it has fire breath but it does still have that poison breath as well, that protects its lair from any would-be knights trying to steal its hoard.

Nic: And it’s mostly due to the poem being written by an Anglo-Saxon that we see the stark difference, even though the tale takes place in Denmark and was very likely based on Danish myth and folklore.

Jaz: We’ll link to the post in the show notes so you Mythsters can check it out. We do have a little time left for one more dragon, though. We’ve been all over the place, jumping from country to country so let’s hop on back to Sweden now.

Anike: Yes! This dragon is a lake monster, with humps!

Nic: Humps.

Anike: No, not the Loch-Ness but sort of Sweden version of it. It’s called the storsjooduret or, in English, Storsie. First recorded in 1635 by Morten Pedersen Herdal, it’s said that the serpent was originally a sea serpent but had become bound to Lake Storsjon in Jamtland by the magical powers of a runeman named Kettil Runske using a runestone.

Nic: And that runestone still stands today, depicting the serpent’s form. It’s known as the Froso Runestone, named after the island within the lake, which dates to the 11th century AD.

Jaz: But it wasn’t bound there out of sheer malevolence. The lake used to be violent and dangerous, and the storsjooduret is a water spirit that served as keeper or warden of the area. The runeman bound him to make the lake safe to ferry across.

Anike: Poor serpent. And it’s not a nice binding, either. The storsjooduret ended up half buried under land! I mean, I can understand that it was too large for the lake but maybe not bind it in the first place, then?

Jaz: Yeah. There are other ways to get on the other side of a lake, like maybe, go around it. But that’s history for you, and apparently the binding cannot be undone so raging against the human machine isn’t going to help any. Neither will being morose over the end of another episode.

Anike: It’s too soon, there has to be more!

Nic: Scandinavia has a bunch of stories about dragons, most unnamed, untitled, and undescribed. But that would take hours to tell the Mythsters about.

Jaz: Ee, yeah, we can’t do that. But our sources link to books on them so, Mythsters, if you do get the itch, check them out! For now, we must say farewells.

Anike: Wait, wait, wait we have an announcement to make, too! We’re opening up–

Jaz: Right! I forgot, sorry.

Anike: No worries. I was excited about Scandinavia, too. Well, we’ve decided that we’re going to have a special episode at the end of the season to celebrate the dragons. And for that, we’re opening up a renga in our Discord server. Oh yeah, we should probably explain what it is.

Jaz: Yeah, so, a renga is a form of collaborative poem, in which anyone who feels like it can take part. As a group, we sort of discover how the poem goes and yeah, we just wanted all of you to be able to be a part of the final episode of the season, should you want to. If you do want to check it out, head on over to our Discord server. We will include a link in the show notes. And now, it really is farewell.

Nic. Until the Mythsters meet again in the British Isles for some fiery dragons.

Anike: As always, may you have days like dragons greeting clouds.

Jaz: Later, Mythsters!


Sound effects provided by Theme music: Wanderer by Alexander Nakarada ( Licensed under Creative Commons BY Attribution 4.0 License


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