Certain monstrous or giant animals play a part in Eddic mythology — the Fenris-wolf, the Midgard-serpent, the eagle of the winds. Some animals seem to have received a cult, according to statements in the Sagas, but this was rendered by individuals, like Brand to Freyfaxi. The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason tells of Ogvald, who was a great sacrificer to a certain cow. He took her with him wherever he went and thought that his health benefited by her milk, and, when she died, she was buried in a tumulus near his own.1 The Landnama-bók recounts how the viking Floci set out to seek the Snowland. He made ready a great sacrifice, and hallowed three ravens to tell him the way.2

Animal forms entered into the art of the Norsemen, and, of these, the dragon or snake is prominent. It appeared on the bows of Norse galleys and was borne into battle as a standard by different Germanic tribes. On swords the snake was engraved, like that one of which the Valkyrie told Helgi — “on the edge lies a blood-stained serpent, on the back a serpent’s tail is twisted.” The snake was supposed to run from the hilt to the point and back again. Snakes or dragons also ornamented helmets, adding strength to them as to the sword.3 Whether this implies a cult is uncertain, but the Life of S. Barbatus shows that the Lombards worshipped the golden image of a viper. Having come into possession of the saint, it was melted down and made into a chalice and paten.4

The dragon or serpent occurs often in Norse stories, e.g., that of Fafnir, whether as a guardian of treasure or in other aspects. Serpents often appear in tales of the Other World and in the


Eddic description of Nastrand (p. 319). Nidhogg and many serpents dwell in Hvergelmir and gnaw the roots of Yggdrasil. Two of these, Ofnir and Svafnir, bear names by which Odin calls himself in Grimnismal, and we know that Odin took snake form occasionally.5 A design on a helmet from a Swedish grave in which Odin figures, shows an upreared serpent before him.6 The snakes of the Other World have been regarded as forms of the souls of the dead, and Odin as god of the dead might sometimes have been regarded as a serpent.7 Some foundation for this may be seen in many stories, though these are not peculiar to the Teutons, of snakes in meadows and houses feeding out of the children’s milk-bowl, coming beside them, watching over them, and revealing treasure to them. It is unlucky to kill such snakes. Folk-belief also tells of two snakes attached to a house, revealing themselves when the master and mistress die, and then themselves dying. Such snakes are soul-animals, forms taken by dead ancestors.8 The soul as a snake is illustrated by a story recorded of king Gunthram of Burgundy by Paulus Diaconus. The king was sleeping in a forest after hunting, when a snake crept out of his mouth and crossed a rivulet by means of the sword of one of his nobles. It now passed into a mountain, soon afterwards returning and entering the king’s mouth. When he woke, the king told how he dreamed that he had crossed a river and entered a mountain full of gold. This gold was now sought and found.9 The soul takes the form of other animals as will be seen in considering the Fylgja.

The stories of Balder and Hotherus, of Fafnir’s heart, eaten by Sigurd, and others, show that the serpent was regarded as an animal which gave health, strength, and wisdom.

The beliefs concerning serpents point to two aspects of these reptiles, beneficent and malignant, though this is far from being peculiar to the Teutons.10

Animals are also associated with the gods — ravens and wolves with Odin, the boar and the cat with Freyja, the horse and the boar with Frey, goats with Thor. Whether this denoted


an earlier cult of these animals, as in other religions where an animal is connected with a deity, cannot be verified now. The boar may have been regarded as the embodiment of a Fertility-spirit, and so associated with Frey, a god of fertility.

It is possibly significant that, in the Eddic poems and tales, animals are frequently found (apart from the special animals of the gods), e.g., in the account of Balder’s funeral, in Skirnismal, in Hyndluljod, in the Volsung poems (pike, otter, talking birds, a dragon). Equally significant is the prominence given to metamorphosis or animal disguise — Fafnir as a dragon, Andvari as a pike, Ottarr as a boar, Odin as a snake, Loki in different animal forms. These indicate primitive traits in the poems, and point to their origin among the folk themselves, rather than among the more cultured classes.



Above. God or demon with Wolf’s head on a bronze plate found in Bavaria. Below. A similar wolf-being and a horned warrior, on a bronze plate found in the Island of Ölund, Sweden.