3 Famous Dragons in Norse/Viking Mythology and their meaning

As an important element in Norse mythology, dragon is always a representative of the Viking culture. Over a millenium ago, the Danes set off into the ocean in the boats decorated with “dragons”. Sailing in these dragon boats, thousands and thousands of Viking warriors swept the half Europe and spread their Scandinavian culture there.

In the Norse mythology matured in the 12th century, well-known dragons are as below:

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Nidhogg

in Norse mythology, an immense ash tree Yggdrasil supports the whole universe. A ferocious dragon (also described as a big serpent in some literature) Nidhogg entangled and gnawed the root of Yggdrasil. This malignant soul had an awful wish of uprooting Yggdrasil and thus destroying the universe. He is referred to as “Malice Striker” in ancient Norse poems.

Jormungand

a dragon or sea serpent encircled Midgard (the world of human). Jormungand is the second child of Loki and female jötunn Angrboda (“the one who brings grief”). Odin had thrown Jormungand into the ocean, but he did not stop growing until he swallowed his own tail. Thor had been to Utgard, Jotunheim. The ruler of Utgard, Utgard-Loki, demanded a competition with Thor and asked him to lift a cat. But Thor was only able to lift one of the cat’s feet. Later Utgard-Loki told Thor that the cat was actually Jormungand the World Serpent. Afterwards, Thor tried to kill Jormungand when he went hunting with giant Hymir. Thor baited Jormungand with an ox-head and pulled him out of water, but Hymir was frightened by Jormungand’s huge body and cut the fish line. Jormungand managed to escape. During the Ragnarök, Jormungand kept struggling in the ocean and broke the hawser of the boat of destiny Naglfar. Loki and the flame giant Surtr sailed to the ultimate battlefield Vigrid in that boat. In the final battle, Thor slew Jormungand with his hammer Mjölnir, but he was also died from Jormungand’s venom.

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Fafnir

the eldest son of dwarf king Hreidmar. In the Volsunga Saga, Fafnir killed his father in order to gain control of a huge treasure vault. And to guard his spoils, he used Tarnhelm, a magic helmet which enables its user to shift shape, to turn himself into a dragon. He was an old and smart dragon and a skillful shape-shifter. Also, he liked to play puzzle games with his victims before they died.

Fafnir’s jealous brother Regin told Sigurd (also known as Siegfried, the hero in the Volsunga Saga) how to kill this monster. Sigurd dug a hole on the road Fafnir would take, huddled in the hole, and stabbed in Fafnir’s body when the dragon passed from above. He was able to understand the language of birds after accidentally tasted the blood of Fafnir, and right at the moment two birds over his head were talking about Regin’s plotting of killing him. Thereupon, Sigurd killed Regin before he did.

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Another story is: Fafnir was changed by his desire for treasure and the curse of his dying father. After that, Sigurd ate Fafnir’s heart which Regin had asked him to roast for him. And according to other records, Sigurd took a bath in the dragon’s blood and became extraordinarily tough, even invulnerable.

Norse Dragon Meaning

Vikings never specified what dragon means to them in literature. In Denmark, it is believed that “dragon” is strong, dangerous, brave and aggressive. Just like what they worshipped, the doughty and dangerous Vikings established colonies throughout Europe, which soon declined under the resistance of European countries. Today the image of dragon nearly disappears in Danish society, but dragon still reminds us of the Viking Age when we see it, because it represents the personality of Vikings.

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The image of dragon was widely used on nautical equipments in the Viking Age. Vikings extensively used Dragon design to decorate their boats, as dragon was the symbol of king and guardian to the Danes. Especially, the dragon will protect those Vikings at sea and bring them home safe and sound.

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