A three-headed snake with a destiny to die at the end of the world. You have probably heard of or even seen this symbol before. Jörmungandr, or the Midgard Serpent, is the great serpent who will rise from the oceans during Ragnarok, or the end of days, spew forth toxins and poisons into the air, and then be defeated by Thor. He’s also a pretty famous Norse symbol and scenes of him fighting his godly enemy are found in relics all over known-Viking territory.
Also known as the World Serpent, Jörmungandr was born to Loki and a giantess named Angrboða (“one-who-brings-grief”). His brother is the great wolf Fenrir and his sister is Hel, the goddess of the underworld. If you want to read more about him, make sure to check out the poem Húsdrápa by Úlfr Uggason, found in the Poetic Eddas.
Odin, who is really an I’ll-Take-Care-of-it-Later kind of guy, caught Jörmungandr early and tossed him into the ocean, where he fed and grew to circle the entire Earth (also known as Midgard, as in, of course, the Midgard Serpent). You know, no big deal. So if open water gives you a certain feeling of dread, just know that somewhere, deep, deep down there, the great sea snake himself is just looking up your board shorts. But worry not– the fate of Jörmungandr lies with Thor, who will slay him during Ragnarok– and then walk nine paces and die himself.
One story goes that Thor went swimming with his giant friend, Hymir. Using (without permission, which is both rude and metal) the head of Hymir’s favorite ox as bait, the thunder god and Marvel hero managed to hook Jörmungandr himself, pulling him to the surface. Perhaps knowing of their eventual fate to fight one another, the two square up for the big show down, but Hymir (probably out of fear or maybe because he was just pissed about loosing his ox friend) cuts the line, and Jörmungandr sinks beneath the surface to await the battle another day.
Since the serpent is typically displayed as the enemy of Thor, this may be a great symbol for your very own ale horn if you find yourself taken with the God of Thunder. Or if you’re a big Loki fan or devotee. Or if you like sea serpents, or find a particular fondness for the ocean and the terrifying and wondrous things that live there. Or if you just really like serpents and dragons of all kind. Don’t mistake him for Níðhǫggr who gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasil or the Greek ouroboros who eats his own tail. They are all very different creatures and dragons do not commonly like being mistaken for one another.
Strangely enough, these days Jörmungandr lends his name to a popular series of manga and an anime in Japan (changed to Jormungand), as well as a Marvel comic series called The Midgard Serpent. And yes– the latter does have quite a bit to do with Marvel’s own Thor.