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.
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.