In Norse mythology, Fafnir was the name of a great dragon that Sigurd (Siegfried), a Norse hero slaughtered. However, he wasn’t always a dragon. Fafnir was a dwarf known for his strong right arm and brave soul. His father, Hreidmar, was a dwarf King, and he had two other brothers, Regin and Otr. When growing up, he protected the father’s property, given that he was both the strongest, most aggressive, and fearless sibling.
The story is told in the Saga of the Volsungs, based in the late 13th century, where it speaks of how Fafnir killed his father to obtain his riches. His father, Hreithmar, had demanded a vast amount of gold from Odin as compensation for the death of one of his sons in the hands of Odin, and his god companions, Loki and Hœnir. The mistake was somewhat honest; the son, Otr, used to take the likeness of an otter during the day. He was considered a master fisherman and would take up the animal to make catching fish easier.
When the gods went to show off the otter’s skin to Hreithmar, his remaining two sons seized the gods and told Loki to go collect the ransom for their release. As he did, Loki took gold and a ring that would help anyone wearing it find gold from Andvari, a shape-shifting dwarf that handed over his treasure to have his life spared. He wanted to keep the ring, but when Odin refused, he cursed the ring and the treasure. That way, anyone possessing these items would die. After the gold and ring were delivered, the curse indeed unfolded; Fafnir killed Hreithmar and got his hands on the gold and the ring.
The death of Fafnir
Once Fafnir got his hands on the gold, he turned into a dragon, which allowed him to guard the gold fiercely day and night. He had indeed plotted to kill his father with Regin, but he soon decided that he didn’t want to share the treasure and drove out his brother from his father’s house. It was Sigurd, Regin’s foster son/ward, who killed Fafnir on the urging of Regin. Regin ran away and left Sigurd with the difficult task of killing Fafnir. It is said that Odin appeared as an older man to help the young man, giving him instructions on how to kill the dragon best.
It’s worth noting that Sigurd also agreed to kill Fafnir because he was revenging for what Fafnir did to him. He went to live in another kingdom after Fafnir drove him out of his father’s house. It was Regin who re-forged the broken sword of Sigurd, which was then strong enough to penetrate the hard skin of a dragon. The blade was to mark as payment for his work, as Regin deeply wanted to get his hands on the ring.
Once he had mortally wounded the dragon, Fafnir asked who had sent him, having figured out that Regin was behind it. Fafnir, in his last words, warned Sigurd that the treasure was cursed and would bring death to whoever had it. The foster-son was brave, quoting that all men will one day die and processed the treasure boldly.
When Regin appeared, he was also filled with greed and planned to kill the dragon slayer so that he can take charge of the treasure himself. He asked Sigurd to cook for him Fafnir’s dragon heart. As he did, when tasting to see if it was ready, he was suddenly able to speak the language of birds. Odin’s birds, parched nearby, warned Sigurd of what Regin had planned. When he came back, Sigurd slew his foster father and kept the treasure to himself. He then ate half the heart and saved the other for his future wife as part of the marriage.
How did Fafnir become a dragon?
The same way that his brother Ort could become an otter during the day was the same way that Fafnir became a dragon. It was something that the dwarf brothers could do. As per the surviving Norse Sagas, the dwarf brothers and their fathers were also sorcerers and could shape-shift into any creature that they wanted. Using his powers, Fafnir transformed into a dragon, perhaps the scariest creature of the time to keep people away from his treasure. It fitted his character since he was considered both fierce and aggressive.
What kind of dragon is Fafnir?
It is not clear what kind of dragon that Fafnir turned into, but it was assumed that he was either a serpent or a dragon. One can think that he was a combination of both based on the existing folklore drawings that exist depicting Fafnir. They also show that he had a long slim body. Moreover, it was said that Fafnir breathed poison into the land around his father’s property; that way, no one could go near him or the treasure he had. His appearance and characteristics brought fear into people’s hearts.
What is Fafnir the god of?
The other reference of Fafnir is in God of War, an action-adventure game. Otherwise, based on Norse mythology, Fafnir was not a god, but a dwarf turned dragon instead. The reference to god is with regard to the gods who killed his brother while he was an otter and how they managed to capture them for ransom.
The central teaching behind the story of Fafnir is that greed ultimately leads to destruction. It was told as a cautionary tale to children with regards to how they look at treasure. It is also evidence of how greed can ravage through a family where, because of it, people die. Ultimately, it was Sigurd who got to enjoy the treasure despite there being a curse on it.
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