Behind the Scenes: Ancient Nebe

Please see the post on Neban Religion to better understand this post.

ImageAfter Azed’s sons taught the Unhallowed the ways of their father, they took wives and settled in different lands, hoping to spread the message amongst the various tribes. However, Nebe was still one land. The walls had yet to be built, and the sons and their followers shared amongst each other, despite the distance between them.

Hundreds of turns later, man forgot Azed, remembering only his sons and their differences. The sons had been fruitful and filled the land with generations of children who honored their forefathers. How could the farmer Amir be the same as the shipwright Aded? What could the priest Abiel have in common with the scribe Abrien?

Fighting broke out amongst the land as man forgot their connections, for how could a priest praise without written language or how could a ship sail without the builder? To better honor their own god, each land formed mighty walls to keep the others out. Thus, the Strongholds were formed.

According to Neban historians, an unbroken line of fathers and sons can trace their lineage back to the son-gods. Those men became the first lords of the Strongholds.

In Vustania, the Llyr dynasty began. The last Lord was Lord Willif Llyr, who was the first to fall in Shorack’s Revolution.

In Feldeen, the Lagier dynasty began. The last Lord was Lord Burl Lagier, who fell in the first turn of the Revolution.

In Rana, the Fazil dynasty began. The last Lord was Lord Valin Fazil, who fell in the second turn of the Revolution.

In Hrundl, the Zimmer dynasty began. The last Lord was Lord Padrik Zimmer, who fell in third turn of the Revolution.

In Agralax, the Pfaff dynasty began. The last Lord was Simonis Pfaff, who fell in the third turn of the Revolution.

In Goffany, the Taksony dynasty began. The last Lord was Lord Garret Taksony, who fell in the fourth turn of the Revolution.

While there is much more to Neban history than this simple overview, suffice it to say that the Stronghold stood for almost two millennia before Shorack’s Revolution (which happens approximately ten turns before our tale begins).

Shorack’s Revolution and the Unification will comprise the next “Behind the Scenes” post.

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Van (Chapter 5, Part 2)

I’m pretty stuck with Van at the moment, so there may be no continuation of this chapter right now. I’ve already skipped ahead to writing chapters six and seven. I keep hoping something will come to me so I can finish this chapter…some kind of conflict. Sigh. But here you go…

***

287117-36817-13The deck was buzzing with life and excitement as the soldiers made ready to put to shore. Everyone seemed to feel the same way as their commander – the sooner they got off the boat, the better. From below the decks, Van heard the telltale rattling of chains. Soon after, some of his more seasoned soldiers brought forth a haggard group of men, all chained together by at the wrists and ankles. The shirtless captives squinted and tried to block the sun from their eyes as they rose from below deck. While their unshaved faces, bare feet, and soiled clothing attested to their week in the bowels of the ship, their upright posture and muscular build hinted that they were no ordinary prisoners.

“What would you like us to do with them, Lieutenant?” asked Marshal Leuke Green, Van’s second in command.

“I’d like for you to tie weights to the chains and throw them in the ocean,” Van replied coldly. “Be done with them once and for all.”

Something akin to fear crossed one or two of the chained men’s faces, but the others gave no sign of weakness.

“However, General Walters has ordered them to be delivered in tact. He seems to think they’ll make a nice bargaining chip.”

He walked up and down the line of prisoners, eyeing each one closely. He needed to choose his next steps wisely.

Van turned his back on the prisoners, looking over the deck and the rising land in the distance. “You are now in Goffan waters and, as such, under the jurisdiction of the Stronghold’s Courts.”

The ship swelled as the beginnings of a rolling wave lifted the boat and set it down quickly. Van’s stomach turned, and he struggled to hold down his lunch. After making sure the bile was back in his stomach where it belonged, he faced the men once again. “You have been placed under the Goffan Guard, awaiting your trial.”

“On what charges?” spat a lankly man whose hair was obviously blonde under all the dirt from the brig. Van had picked him out earlier as one of the group’s leaders. His tanned and well-defined upper arms revealed his tattoos – two black diamonds, one on his right shoulder and one a little further down. The second was much darker than the first, informing Van that the man’s promotion from ensign to marshal had come recently. The shine of the kraken ink still gave the diamond the appearance of being wet when the sun hit it. Everyone else in the group displayed only one diamond or the simple cross where a diamond might one day appear.

warVan still had the vestiges of his former life emblazoned on his shoulder – a single black diamond, though it was much faded. He’d attempted to remove it using every old wives’ tale in the book – Doxal flames, a bitter tonic purchased from an unhallowed tribesman in the Spine, a thrice-daily rub with gopher root. Aside from the rash the last had produced, nothing seemed to dull the seemingly indestructible ink. However, he hid the black tattoo under an intricately woven wool tunic that displayed three maroon diamonds along the arms, denoting his status in the Goffan Guard.

Van stood toe to toe with the marshal. He had to admit that, despite the man’s chains, the Neban soldier cut quite an imposing figure.

“What is your name, Marshal?” Van asked without breaking eye contact.

“Marshal Gaven Haft of the Neban Guard.”

“And where are you from, Gaven?”

A flame briefly lit in the soldier’s eyes when Van addressed him by his familiar name, but he doused the blaze with a single blink. “Nebe,” he replied flatly.

Van smiled as the man provided the answer he’d expected. “Yes, of course,” he said, turning to the right and walking causally up the line, gesticulating flippantly. “But before that. What stronghold do you hail from?”

“I belong to no stronghold. I am Neban.”

The standard Neban soldier’s answer.

“Well, Marshal Gaven Haft of the Unified Nebe and not a stronghold, let me introduce myself.” He turned back to face the line of men. “I am Lieutenant Van Ludlow of Goffany. And the lot of you are under my protection until you are safely delivered to Captain Bryce Walters and the Goffan Court on the charges of kidnapping and slavery.”

He heard some of the prisoners suck in air when he announced the indictment, but the marshal merely chuckled haughtily.

“Something funny?” asked Van, looking down his nose at the man.

“You’re in deep shit, Lieutenant.” He spoke Van’s title as if it acid on his tongue.

“You best watch your tone, Marshal, lest I add insubordination to the list of infractions.”

“You’re local militia. The lowest piss-ant private in the Neban Guard outranks the highest captain amongst you. Hell, a callow tithe outranks your captains.”

trial_scene_1809_webVan knew Haft was technically correct. The local stronghold militias were established as a supplement to the Neban Guard. Since the Protector couldn’t keep all his hands in all the pies around the realm, he’d consented to local militias and courts – so long as they upheld the Neban laws. And that was precisely what Van and his soldiers were doing. Both slavery and kidnapping were, according to the letter of the law, illegal and tried before the local courts at the Quarter Sessions. A bit more problematic was the legal interpretation that tithing was a form of slavery and kidnapping. Haft was well aware the charges would never hold up in a Neban court, but Van was equally secure in the knowledge that his prisoners weren’t going to a Neban court.

“I’m sure the figurative shit I’m in is nothing compared to the literal shit on your pants, Marshal. Didn’t they teach you the importance of cleanliness in your courses?”

The time below deck had not been kind on the prisoners, and Van almost felt sorry for them based on his own lackluster voyage. Haft couldn’t keep the pale pink from rising in his cheeks, though he continued to stare stonily ahead. Van had him where he wanted him.

“Well, Gaven from Nebe, judging by the lilt in your accent, you’re Vustanian. Raised on pomp and circumstance, no doubt. Mommy and Daddy fed you bedtime stories about chivalry and honor. I’m sure you enlisted as soon as you turned seventeen. Probably on your nameday. Probably got a fancy horse and bag full of coin as a reward. Probably have a sweetheart waiting back home and counting the days til you make Lieutenant. I wonder what Sweet Sally would say if she could see you now, covered in your own excrement.”

Another prisoner coughed in a feeble attempt to cover obvious laughter. Van smiled to himself, now able to pinpoint his true target.

[To be continued, but I don’t know when…]

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Behind the Scenes: Neban Religion

To help me keep things organized, I have a huge notebook of information about Nebe. It might be helpful to share it with those of you following along with the WIP. 

Any culture’s foundations are set in its myths. So, I’ve chosen to start there…

ImageAccording to the Doxa (the official religion of Nebe), Azed lived in the time of chaos. He ordered the elements, creating the world and all that inhabits it.

The first men were the Unhallowed, and they had no knowledge of Azed or what he had done for them. To rectify this, Azed sent his six sons to Nebe to teach man his ways. Each son was a piece of himself and had the knowledge of a specific domain.

After sharing their knowledge with all, each of Azed’s sons took a wife and settled in a different part of Nebe. According to the Doxa, this is how the six Strongholds came into being, as each is known for a different skill.

Alban, the builder, taught the Unhallowed how to mine and lumber. The Unhallowed learned how to build homes for themselves and temples to Azed. He is associated with the Stronghold of Hrundl, in northeast Nebe.

Amir, the farmer, taught the Unhallowed how to cultivate the land and its animals. The Unhallowed learned how to grow crops and domesticate animals. He is associated with the Stronghold of Feldeen, in west-central Nebe.

Abrien, the scribe, taught the Unhallowed to write. The Unhallowed learned to put their words to stone or parchment and keep records. He is associated with Rana, in southeast Nebe.

Arlind, the metalsmith, taught the Unhallowed to identify and use precious metals. The Unhallowed learned to shape metals to their needs. He is associated with Taksony, in southwest Nebe.

Adet, the shipwright, taught the Unhallowed to craft ships that would sail the rivers and ocean. The Unhallowed learned to navigate and fish. He is associated with Vustania, in east-central Nebe.

Abiel, the priest, taught the Unhallowed how to praise Azed. The Unhallowed learned the laws that Azed wanted them to follow. He is associated with Agralax, in northwest Nebe.

Thousands of turns after Azed’s sons died, man forgot their father and the connection between the sons. Instead, each isolated Stronghold honored its specific son as the true god, and much fighting occurred between the lands. Azed spoke to the prophet Wasa, who reminded the people of Nebe that their gods were all incarnations of the almighty Azed.

Though Wasa was killed for his teachings, a small faction of believers continued to preach Azed’s message. This is how the Doxa came into being, though it took many, many turns for it to become the official religion. The servants of Azed are now known as wasals in honor of the prophet.

More on the Nebe, the Strongholds, and the realm’s history to come…

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M is for Mbói Tu’ĩ

Some people fear snakes; others fear birds. If both animals give you the creeps, you’ll want to steer clear of today’s creature.

M is for Mbói Tu’i.

The Mbói Tu’i is a huge snake with a parrot’s head that comes from Guarani mythology. While he’s not overly fond of humans, he protects aquatic animals, acting as a guardian of the wetlands.

Mbói Tu’i has a blood-red forked tongue and a vicious stare that frightens those who look into his eyes. While his body is covered in scales, his head is covered in feathers. His screech terrifies people from miles away.

His main role in what remains of the oral culture of the Guarani is that he protects the land. He’s a conservationist at heart, scaring away anyone who encroaches on the South American swamps. In fact, his six brothers also guard different environs.

Mbói Tu’i is the grandson of the creation god, Tupa. Tupa and his wife created the earth and all its creatures. They also bore two spirits – Angatupyry (the spirit of good) and Tau (the spirit of evil).

While Tau was eventually banished from the earth, he took with him a Guarani woman named Kerana. Seven monster-children came from this union: Teja Jagua (a lizard-dog), Mbói Tu’i (today’s creature), Monai (a horned snake), Jasy Jatere (a beautiful man with blond hair and blue eyes), Kurupi (a small, hairy man with an enormous erection that he wraps around his body), Ao Ao (a fanged sheep), and Luison (a human-dog).

450px-Mboi_TuiBecause there is little written record of the Guarani, it’s hard to tell whether they revered or feared (or both) Mbói Tu’i. My first thought upon reading up on this creature was of Humbaba in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Like Mbói Tu’i, Humbaba is a fearsome beast ordered by the gods to protect a holy land (in this case, the forest of the cedars). My students often feel bad for Humbaba when Gilgamesh kills him, as he was only doing his job by keeping men out of the woods.

There’s a clash between nature and culture that is anthropomorphized in such guardian creatures. If we are to believe cultural anthropologists, what makes Man different from the other animals is his ability to control and dominate his environment. If Man must control nature to prove his worth, then creatures such as Mbói Tu’i and Humbaba are demonized and must be destroyed.

However, as there are no extant stories of Mbói Tu’i, it’s a little hard to make this connection. Nevertheless, Mbói Tu’i is an interesting peek into Guarani culture.

Sources:“Mboi Tu’i.” Wikipedia.

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L is for Lou Carcolh

Folktales tell of many horrifying animals, but a snail?

L is for Lou Carcolh.

This mythological creature from southwest France is a mixture of a serpent and a mollusk…kind of like a giant snail, but way creepier. Lou Carcolh has many mile-long tentacles covered in hair and slime that can reach for vast distances. Thus, the beast rarely had to leave its underground cave, as the tentacles could capture its prey without being seen. It’s huge, gaping mouth swallows humans whole.

I’ve never thought much about snails and their place in mythology. Most scholars seem to lump discussion of them with sea creatures, though snails are found in dry lands as well. Hope Werness reports that different cultures interpret the creature differently – some as a symbol of fertility, and some as a symbol of sloth. But I’m not sure this particular French beast fits into either of those categories.

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If I had to hazard a guess, Lou Carcolh represents the primordial ooze (the antithesis to Culture with a capital C). Cave dwelling, open mouthed, interested only in eating ­– it literally oozes slime, leaving a wake of destruction. The Id in its pure form. Man must overcome this creature to prove his Manhood (with a capital M).

But, of course, I could be mistaken. I haven’t run across any reputable stories that go along with the Lou Carcolh, so let me know if you find one!

Sources:
Hope B. Werness. The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in World Art. (2006)

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Van (Chapter 5, Part 1)

Here, we meet Van. It is a continuation of the plot line in Chapters Two and Four. We’ll return to Makenna in the next chapter (which is still in progress…actually, so is this chapter!).

To make things easier on you, the novel has three plot lines – Makenna’s trip to Llewling, the politics of revolution (Nikolas, Tabor, and Van – as well as Makenna and Oren to a lesser extent), and Oren’s trip to Agralax. They all tie in together eventually – though I’m still working that out. The characters like to defy my plans for them as I write…and then I have to rearrange everything!

I have no background in maritime culture, so the ship and it’s layout are a bit confusing to me. I read Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea yesterday, and I learned a few things that I’m going to work in. I’ve also been reading up on medieval ships, but I’d appreciate any feedback you could give!

***

ship“Prepare the men immediately. We’ll be docking within the hour.”¹

“Yes, Lieutenant,” the soldier replied before saluting, turning on his heels, and exiting the cabin.

Van said a silent prayer of thanks that they would at last be on dry land once again. He’d spent the last fortnight with his head hanging over the hull, losing what little he was able to stomach when he wasn’t retching.² A fine sight he made as a commander. At least most of his men had been right alongside with him.

Goffans had never been seafaring folk, though the stronghold was bordered by the ocean to both the south and the west. The currents didn’t favor the land the way they did in the eastern strongholds of Vustania or Rana. The coasts of Goffany were rugged and rocky. A handful of Goffans lived in small villages that spotted the coast, but they were mostly immigrants from the south who’d left when the Doxa took over their homeland in a futile attempt to convert them near a hundred turns ago. While most Goffans adhered to the Doxa, they were more accepting of other walks of life than the South Islands’ other neighbors to the north.

No, most true Goffans preferred the foothills of the Pentheas to the sea any day. The Unified Guard established Vust Goffany – the only city even remotely resembling a true sea port – as far east as possible to avoid the choppy waters that increased in intensity the further west one travelled. Before converted into a Vust, the town was little more than handful of traders’ houses and a few Ranan sailors who chartered voyages to the islands or the eastern Strongholds for a hefty sum. Now, Vust Rana was nearing the size of Goffany’s capitol, Haverty, but neither came close to the size, population, or grandeur of the realm’s other major cities.

PU0267Of course, Van and his crew weren’t putting in at the Neban Guard’s major foothold in Goffany. In fact, they’d spent an extra two days in deep waters to avoid being spotted. This likely saved their lives, but did little to help the seasickness.

Van read over his letter to Captain Walters to make sure everything was in place. It contained a brief account of the mission’s progress and confirmed the rendezvous place and date in Haverty. Once satisfied, Van rolled the scroll and set his seal upon it.

He left the cabin for what he hoped would be the last time and handed the letter to the guard posted at the door. “Make sure this gets sent the moment we make land.”

“Yes, Lieutenant.”

[To be continued in Part 2…]

Notes
¹Is “docking” the proper term? The boat is out in the water, and the people on land send longboats out to get them.

² Would “hull” be the correct term? He’s basically throwing up over the side of the ship.

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Welcome to Nebe

ImageFor those of you reading along with my novel (tentatively called “The Protector’s Legacy), I thought a map might help.

This is nowhere near done. I edit and add and erase as I go along. However, you can at least see, in general, where the action is taking place.

My newest addition is the hole in the top left of the map, which I’ve based off this amazing image from Belize. (Thar be critters lurking down thar!)

More novel to follow in a day or two. I’m adding the final parts to Chapter Five this weekend.

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K is for Kukuweaq

Riddle me this, bat-friends. What has one head, one tail, and ten legs?

K is for Kukuweaq.

The Kukuweaq comes from Inuit folklore. The beast is a polar bear with ten legs. Yes, that’s right – ten of them. I wouldn’t want to be chased by a four-legged polar bear, much less ten!

The bear’s ten legs help it travel long distances on both land and water. Some sources also claim that the beast is as large as an iceberg and almost impossible to kill. But in one folktale, a man does bring down one of these creatures.

Two neighbors settled in for the winter. One had stashed away a walrus to feed him during the harsh months, while the other (Kucriak) had nothing. Kucriak’s neighbor refused to share the walrus with him, so Kucriak went out in search of food. He came across the Kukuweaq’s den and killed it by stabbing his harpoon in the Kukuweaq’s eye. Unlike his greedy neighbor, Kucriak shared the bear’s meat with his entire village, saving them from starvation. Of course, his neighbor was embarrassed, since he had not shared his walrus.

I think the message in this particular folktale is clear – one must be generous towards his or her community. This is a significant cultural need, especially in isolated societies where resources are scarce. Hawaiian cultures have similar story in “The Calabash of Poi,” as do the Australians in “How the Kangaroo Got Her Pouch.”

What I’d like to know more about is why the Kukuweaq has ten legs – aside from the fact that the creature can travel long distances. The scientific term for having multiple limbs is polymelia. Many cultures have mythological creatures with polymelia, such as the Hindu Kali (a goddess, not a creature) and the Greek Hekatonkeires. I’ve been looking for more information about why this is so significant, but have failed to find anything yet. Let me know if you have a hint! (And I’ll let you know if I find something.) Aside from arms typically connoting strength, I’m at a loss.

Sources:
Robert F. Spencer. The North Alaskan Eskimo: A Study in Ecology and Society. (1959)

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Tabor (Chapter 4, Part 3)

This post contains foul language, so please read on at your own discretion. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

***

0928_map_crop

Not my map (which is not ready yet)

The pair walked down the hallway towards the Protector’s study. Tabor suddenly felt like a young boy again, trailing behind his father on his way to be reprimanded for pulling his sister’s braids. It was a walk he knew all too well. A guard opened the door to the study and stood back so the men could enter.

Shorack walked to a corner table and poured a single goblet of wine. Understanding that he was not to partake in a drink with his father, Tabor sat down and glanced around at the maps that donned the walls to his right. An immense map of Nebe hung in the center, while smaller renderings of the different strongholds and major cities were draped around it. He could feel his father’s icy blue eyes on him. When he realized that his father’s attention was not going anywhere, Tabor turned to face him.

“The Hinder Blue is missing.”

To Tabor, the sentence sounded like an ancient riddle or secret message that required a precise response. Unfortunately, he had no idea what the reply should be. What in Azed’s name was the Hinder Blue, and what did it have to do with his spending too much time at the Hammer and Anvil? Tabor scrunched his eyebrows and cocked his head slightly to the right. His father continued to look him straight in the eyes as he took a sip from his goblet. Tabor fumbled for the correct response.

“She left Vust Goffany near a fortnight ago and hasn’t been seen since.”

Oh, a ship. Of course. Tabor nodded.

“She was carrying a hundred tithes here to Llewling. They were supposed to make landfall in Vust Rana on their way, but they never showed. That was seven days ago. We thought perhaps they decided to forgo the mid-journey stop and head straight here. They were due three days ago. We haven’t heard word of them.”

He paused to let the import of the situation sink in.

“Shipwreck?” Tabor asked.

“We’ve had reports of a series of spring storms reaching the Cape, so it’s possible. However, no scouting parties have found any wreckage washed ashore. There certainly would have been something if that was the case.”

Tabor nodded.

EuropeanShips3“To make matters worse, Racine has sent two hawks to Goffany. We’ve heard no response. All communication with the vusts there seems to be at a halt. The last message from the other side of the Pentheas came when the Hinder Blue set out. Since then, nothing.”

“You think someone is intercepting the messages?”

“Either that or there’s no one capable of responding.” The Protector took in a deep breath, weighing his options. “I’ve sent word to the Neban Guard in Rana to prepare for a march westward through the mountains.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to send another ship, father? We could bypass the rough terrain altogether.”

“I am. One will leave from Vust Rana for the Cape, to see what they can find. Another will leave from Vust Wasland to enter the Goffan port. However, what concerns me most is not the missing ship. We can always gather more tithes. My worry is the lack of communication from Goffany. If Vust Goffany has been taken, then sending another ship will be an expensive waste of time.”

Tabor thought for a moment. While there were only two vusts in Goffany, it was unlikely that a band of rebels could overtake both camps without word getting out. There had been a few squabbles with traditionalists in the strongholds, but nothing to lead Tabor to believe that a formal rebel faction existed. Certainly, whatever separatists were out there didn’t seem large or powerful enough to overtake two cities full of Neban troops. Unless there was something his father wasn’t telling him.

“You and Racine will be leaving in the morning to join with those congregating at the Central Ranan gate. From there, you will march through the Pentheas into Goffany and attempt to re-establish communication with the troops posted there.”

This what it! What Tabor had been waiting for. A chance at a purposeful mission and some action. A Cheshire cat grin spread across his face, which he quickly checked for fear that his father would renege on the offer.

Shorack stiffened and looked at his son sternly. He seemed uncertain whether to address his next words to his son or his soldier. “You will be under Racine’s direct command. Your track record has been less than stellar recently.”

Tabor winced and looked to his feet, unable to meet his father’s gaze.

“No fuck ups.”

“No fuck ups,” the boy repeated.

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J is for Jörmungandr

I have a thing for snakes. I don’t want one as a pet, but they have to be my favorite animal characters. They’re highly symbolic in almost every culture, which piques my interest. I’ve chosen today’s animal because it reminds me of a tattoo I have of an ouroboros. If I had a totem animal, that would be it.

jourmungandJ is for Jörmungandr.

Jörmungandr is a giant snake in Norse mythology. He is the son of Loki and Angrbotha (the “th” here is the letter eth, but it wouldn’t transfer over properly); his siblings are Fenrir and Hel.

When the creature was born, Odin threw Jörmungandr into Midgard. There, the snake grew to epic proportions and completely encircled the realm. When he rises from the sea, his coils become a rainbow.

The most popular tale including Jörmungandr is his battle with Thor. On a particular fishing trip, Thor sails far out to sea, despite warnings from his sailing partner. He uses a decapitated ox’s head as bait, which he ties to a fishing line and throws out to sea. Jörmungandr takes the bait and surfaces. Before Thor is able to kill the best, Jörmungandr breaks the line and returns under the water.

However, Jörmungandr and Thor are fated to meet once more, during Ragnarok. At the end of Ragnarok, Jörmungandr will emerge from the sea and poison the land. He and Thor will meet one final time, and the two will kill one another.

I suppose what fascinates me about snakes is the conflicting symbolism that we meet with. As a Christian, I was brought up believing that snakes were bad. When I began to study cultural mythology, I realized that they are often dualistic creatures, neither good nor evil. Often, they are associated with the life cycle, as they are able to shed their skin and be born “anew.” Thus, they represent both life and death, the creator and the destroyer. Their simultaneously phallic and vaginal appearance adds to their use in fertility myths.

Snakes are most often associated with the earth. They are tied to the ground in a way that most animals aren’t. They come to represent the physical world, which is likely why they have been looked down upon by religions that focus on transcendence rather than earthly pleasures. Jormungandr seems to fit into this symbolism, as he surrounds the earth, holding it together. If he were to let go, the world would end.

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