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  • Writer's pictureNorse Norn

Jormungandr: World Serpent of Norse Mythology

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

Jörmungandr is one of the larger-than-life superbeings that populate Norse mythology. A giant sea serpent, as a young snake, his future potential was so fearsome to the gods that they exiled him into the sea surrounding the world of men. There he grew to such an enormous size that he can encircle the entire world and hold his own tail in his mouth.

Jörmungandr will only drop his tail at Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse. Then the Midgard Serpent will emerge from the waters to take his revenge on the gods. He will fight to the death with Thor, the mightiest of the Aesir. But before dying, he will poison much of the universe with his venom.

Jörmungandr represents how fears can grow if we do not face them, and fates that we cannot escape. While he is an enemy of the Aesir gods, he is not a malevolent being. He can be invoked to find courage, or to seek revenge.

Jormungandr encircling the world
Jormungandr encircling the world

Why Did the Gods Fear Jormungandr?

The Aesir gods, led by Odin, were appalled when they learned that the trickster giant Loki and the giantess Angrboda had three children together. These were Jörmungandr, Fenrir, a mighty wolf, and Hel, a giantess who is half living and half dead.

The gods so feared the potential power and malevolent intentions of these children that they decided to send each of them somewhere in the Norse universe where they could do the least harm. Fenrir was imprisoned with magical chains on a sacred island. Hel was sent to be the guardian of the underworld.

Jormungandr was thrown into the sea surrounding Midgard, the world of mortal men created by the gods. The sea separates the world of men from the world of the giants, Jotunheim.

In order to do this, they tied the small and young Jormungandr serpent to a pine tree to keep him under control. The enmity between Thor and the Midgard Serpent dates from this time. Thor warned all the gods to keep their distance from the small serpent claiming that Jormungandr had spat black venom at him.


In Norse mythology, Jormungandr represents the things that even the gods fear. They cast him out for fear of the damage that he might do, without firm evidence that he posed a threat to their world order. The world serpent represents what can happen when we are ruled by fear.

Norse style Jormungandr design
Norse style Jormungandr design

Jormungandr as the Midgard Serpent

In the sea surrounding Midgard, Jormungandr grew into a huge monster that he could encircle the entire world and hold his own tail in his mouth. This is why he is called Jörmungandr, which means "Earth necklace" in old Norse. This is also the root of his modern name, the "Midgard Serpent", but he is also often called the World Serpent.

Jormungandr grew so large that he became an integral part of the ecosystem of the world, and his movement could disrupt the environment. When a giant Utgard-Loki tricked Thor into trying to lift Jormungandr by making the serpent appear like a cat, Thor almost destroyed the world when he managed to lift one of the feline illusion's paws off the ground.

The Midgard Serpent would eat unlucky sailors who sailed too close to where his head swam. He became universally feared by everyone except Thor. According to the story of the fishing trip from Norse mythology, Thor tried to actively catch the snake. The fishing trip story is told in the Poetic Edda, retold by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century in the Prose Edda, and depicted on the Gosford Fishing Stone from Cumbria, dating from the 10th or 11th century.

According to the story, Thor was visiting the giant Hymir in the hope of finding a cauldron large enough to make a feast for the gods. Hymir invited Thor to dine at his table, where they ate some of the giant's oxen. But Thor ate so much food that he depleted the giant's supplies, and Hymir had no food for the next day. Hymir insisted that the two go fishing to catch that night's dinner.

In need of bait, Thor killed the rest of the giant's cattle so that he could obtain an ox head to use as bait.

The pair went fishing, and the pair caught many grand fish. While Hymir was delighted, Thor remained unsatisfied. He kept insisting on taking the boat further and further out to see to find bigger fish. Soon Hymir became nervous, as they were fishing in the sea between Jotunheim and Midgard, and he knew that the Midgard Serpent lived there.

Eventually, the pair were far out to sea, and Thor caught something on his line with his ox head bait. The sea creature was so big and strong that Thor was left unsteady on his feet. Hymir knew that this must be the world serpent since no other creature in the sea could challenge the god's strength.

Hymir pleaded with Thor to leave the beast, but the god refused. Eventually, Hymir became so scared that he cut thor's line, letting the sea creature sink back into the water. Thor was so enraged by this act that he pushed Hymir into the water and rowed off. The giant was probably eaten by Jormungandr for his trouble.

Jormungandr represents what happens to our fears if we ignore and suppress them. They can grow bigger than we imagine and disrupt our lives in unexpected ways.

Jormungandr baited with an ox head
Jormungandr baited with an ox head

Jormungandr at Ragnarok

According to old Norse mythology, Odin has received a prophecy for how the world will end. It is called Ragnarok, which means twilight of the gods. It describes how the world will undergo changes that allow the enemies of the gods that they have imprisoned, including Surtr, Loki, Fenrir, Hel, and of course, Jörmungandr, to free themselves to take their vengeance in a great final battle. It also describes how many of the gods will die.

According to the prophecy, the movement in the world above will encourage Jörmungandr to exit his waters. He will then begin to spew his toxic venom, poisoning much of the universe, which will ultimately be destroyed.

The thunder god Thor will arrive to kill the serpent. While Thir will eventually kill Jörmungandr, during the course of the battle the serpent will have spewed so much venom onto Thor that he will die within moments of his success.

In this sense, Jormungandr represents the inevitability of fate, which must be experienced, no matter how difficult.

Jormungandr elongated design
Jormungandr elongated design

Summoning Jormungandr to Your Altar

Jörmungandr is principally represented by the Ouroboros, which is a serpent that circles itself and holds its own tail in its mouth. This symbol is often associated with infinity and unending cycles. You can incorporate an Ouroboros into your altar to represent Jormungandr, or any unbroken ring can be used.

Jormungandr is a common theme in Norse art. His body is twisted around itself to create elaborate geometric patterns. Knotwork can be done as a way of connecting with the spirit of the serpent.

You can cover your altar with a cloth in the colors of the serpent, which are green, sea blue, and silver. Place your Ouroboros or ring in a bowl of water placed in the center of your altar, and when you are ready to call the serpent, place your fingers in the bowl. Keep them there while calling on his force.

He can be summoned to help you see how your fears are impacting your life and help you find the courage to face them. He can also be called on as an ally when it comes to exacting revenge.

Jormungandr as Ouroboros
Jormungandr as Ouroboros

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