[Article]: Squid vs. Thor


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May 30, 2000
Clem, one of the newer registered members on TONMO.com, has submitted his fascinating text (replete with illustrations) titled Squid vs. Thor: Teuthid Imagery in Norse Mythology. It's all about Jormungander, the Midgard Serpent, and its depicted resemblance to a cephlaopod. If nothing else, this article answers the question a few of us have had regarding the origins of Clem's interesting avatar. :)

Thanks very much Clem for this outstanding contribution. Welcome to TONMO.com; we're glad you're here!
not a bad idea, but there are plenty of long creatures in the sea...i would think eels and others are more plentiful and more likely to be the inspiration, but what do i know, i never studied norse mythology as close as i wanted to, due to lack of info at the time....
Thanks for posting this fascinating article, it is certainly food for thought how different cultures interpret the natural world around them, and how physical observations pass into folklore and mythology via oral tradition.

Having said that, I am a little worried that stylised depictions of mythological battles, such as you have represented here, can really be interpreted so directly onto physical anatomy. The concept of a maned horse headed serpent seems to be commonplace in Northern Europe and depictions of such a beast stem right back to the Bronze Age. Bronze Age razors have been found in Scandanavia depicting maned serpents implying this is an oral tradition that stretches back at least three thousand years.

The mythological battle of Thor with the serpent which you describe would certainly be a synthesis of myths and legends passed down and mutated over generations in a similar manner to the King Arthur stories. I personally would be reluctant to accept that this tale is corruption of an actual battle with an Architeuthis passed into mythology.

I would personally think that your brooch is far more likely to be a representation of a horse headed serpent, the apparant division across the head of your avatar may be the result of the quality of the craftsmanship rather than an attempt at depiction of a cephalopod. (Pity!)

I think your article is excellent. It's totally fresh!


(Colin, horse headed water beasties? Do you still have kelpies in Scotland?)

Thanks for the kind words.

I tried to keep the focus of the piece on the graphic interpretations of the Midgard Serpent, allowing for other interpretations and sources of inspiration, knowing full well that hard answers are difficult to come by. Short of interviewing Thor and Hymir (separately: I don't think they'd want to be in the same room), my speculation remains just that, speculation. "Monsters" are often composites of known animals, like the eagle/lion/snake Griffon, or misplaced animals, like the land-going but otherwise very ceph-like Hydra.

The horse-head aquatic beasties, like the Kelpie and the "Pictish Beast" depicted on some UK artifacts, are interesting, aren't they? Hard to see them as big teuthids, especially with "manes." Unless, the "manes" were actually the shredded skin integument hanging from the mantle of a distressed/dying/dead teuthid foundering in estuarial waters. Some of the sea-serpent sightings now ascribed to large squid describe animals with "manes," and there have been plenty of recorded Architeuthis strandings on the North Sea coasts of Scotland and England. Who knows?


hmmm, you poo poo a battle with an archi, however the Vikings were a sea faring race, and to my mind its perfectly feasable that at one time there was some from of encounter between a viking longship and an archi; perhaps, as has been documented reasonably numerously, the squid made an attempt to "grip" the ship, perhaps probing it. and, not exactly being the most peaceful of races :? it is very credible that one of the travelling warriors may have attacked the tentacles; within 5 generations, a rather hasty chopping of flesh could very easily be transformed into a mighty pitched battle.

Also, i think a lot of what is written in the piece is excellantly phrased, and is mostly, i believe, probably true, whereby legends of archis get passed down generations. There was a huge amount of folk lore surrounding the seas to the Vikings, and it must be remembered that the seas were very different in some ways only 800 years ago; there were 200,000 blue whales for example. 200,000; today the figure is more like 4,000, a despicable fact, and one that i often feel aghast about. but anyway; with a sea as formidable, and filled with "monsters" such as whales and giant squid, it sno wonder these ideas filtered into norse mythology.

:meso: RAR
tomossan said:
within 5 generations, a rather hasty chopping of flesh could very easily be transformed into a mighty pitched battle.

this is quite possible....off the top of my head i dont know if/when the vikings developed a writing system, so storyteller im guessing was central to history...and as we all know, the best storytellers arent always the most accurate....then theres the fact that mead was generally safer to drink than water....:) thats when the REAL :goldfish: stories start......
First of all, Adam, your essay was fantastic! You made a very credible argument for the identification of the Midgard Serpent with a mythologized version of a GS (either Architeuthis or Mesonychoteuthis). The Norse were indeed a seagoing people, and even for those who lived in villages, given the geographical location of what is now Scandinavia, the sea was never far away, and there may have been beachings of dead or dying GS's (just as there are in many coastal nations today).

Let us also remember that it was one of the Scandinavian languages that gave us the term "Kraken" -- which if my memory serves me, means "uprooted tree" (descriptive of the way a teuthid's arms look when emerging from the sea).

Secondly, a large percentage of myths do have their origin in ancient peoples' interpretation of natural phenomena, or attempts to explain these phenomena. Recently there was an article on a science website about the origin of the Cyclops myth. Archaeological researchers theorize that the ancient Greeks found Mammoth skulls projecting from the earth, and the large single nasal cavity in these skulls was interpreted to be an eye socket. That plus the enormous size of the skulls gave rise to the myth of menacing one-eyed giants known as Cyclopes, or "wheel-eyes". In the same manner, contact (even occasional) with GS's could have given rise to myths of an even greater monster of the same kind which circled the earth with its body.

Thirdly -- to Kiboko: I do not know the exact dates involved here, but I know that the Norse had a written language in the form of Runes for many centuries. (Many years ago I took an introductory course in Runelore, and it was quite fascinating.) Runes were used not only for conveying ideas but also for magic and divination. As in many pictographic languages (e.g., Chinese), each Rune symbolized an object, animal, or abstract concept as well as a sound or "letter".

As a were-ceph with a great interest in folklore and ancient cultures, I would be delighted to read more articles by Adam of this nature, and hope he contributes such articles to TONMO again in the future.

Squidly salutations,
International Squid of Mystery :yinyang:
Hello Taningia,

Thanks for the encouragement. Tonmo member Phil has put a bug in my ear about "Pictish Beasts" and Kelpies; at first blush, some of the Pictish stone carvings are broadly suggestive of GS. If deeper patterns emerge, commonalities between image and narrative, I'll have to write about them as well. The North Sea certainly was a busy place.

Polyphemus was a mastodon? That's a nifty idea. Ancient peoples' reactions to fossils can only be imagined. Meso-americans must have talked long into the night about the grim implications of tyrannosaur skulls. :shock:

Yours truly,

TaningiaDanae said:
I know that the Norse had a written language in the form of Runes for many centuries.

Yo Tani,

Are you thinking of the script known as Ogham?. It took the form of a vertical line bisected with horizontal lines, the patterns of which we could interpret as letters.

I know that this was a Celtic form of writing but I'm sure (with my diseased memory) that it lingered on in use into the Nordic 'Viking' period.

Will investigate a bit further tomorrow!

Please ignore my post above! Celtic Ogham was an entirely different script to Norse Runic.

(Reminds oneself to think before typing in future)

I blame this last night: :beer:

Apologies for the lack of cephs.

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