Hoped, yet the worm had fallen beneath the stroke;
But the wily child of Loke
Waits her turn of Ragnarok.
Iormungand is the aquatic child of Loki and Angrboda, and, in a distinct contrast to her parents and siblings, her form is serpentine and monstrous. Iormungand is the World Serpent who lies in the sea surrounding Midgard, her tall gripped in her own mouth. According to Æsir-centric mythology, Odin had cast the serpent into the world sea, in an attempt to soften and postpone the inevitable blow of Ragnarok; likewise, Loki was bound beneath the Earth, while Fenrir was chained in the Gulf of Black Grief. But beyond this superficial tale, is a figure who represents an emanation of the great goddess herself.
In both traditional and contemporary Norse literature, the Midgard serpent is known by a number of names, with some of the most frequent ones being Jormungandr, Jormungand, Midgardsormr, and Iormungand. She is also known under a number of kennings, such as The Encircler of all Lands, Twisted Bay-Menacer, Holm-Fetter, Deadly-Cold Serpent, Stiff Land-Rope, The Coiling Eel, The Sea Thread, Steep-Way’s Ring, Coal-Fish of the Earth, Sea-Bed Fish, The Water-Soaked Earth Band, and Fiorgyn’s Eel. The name Iormungand has the most significance for those wishing to utilize the World Serpent’s energy and wyrd in magick; this is because the name has the same source from which the serpent’s rune, Ior, also derives its name.
The image and symbolism of Iormungand is remarkably near universal. Assuming the more cosmopolitan name of Ouroboros, she is distributed throughout the world, in a vast number of cultures and belief systems, from Europe to Asia and even to Africa. In most instances the meaning remains the same, that of an eternal cyclic force, destructive in essence, but also essential as a part of nature’s regenerative process. These fundamentals are also true of Iormungand, a reality that now even some practitioners of orthodox contemporary paganism have grudgingly admitted.
Beyond Northern cosmology, the principle appearance of the Ouroboros symbol is in Gnosticism and alchemy, where she sometimes bears an aphorism that calls her Hen To Pan (The One, the All). A most pertinent example of this ideal is found in the papyrus of the Alexandrian alchemist Kleopatra. Here, she showed the World Serpent, while above it is a double-ring with a text stating: “One is the serpent which has its poison according to two compositions, and One is All and through it is All, and by it is All, and if you have not All, All is nothing.” The paradoxical concepts of the All and the Nothing find a common context in the Rökkr perception of Everything and Nothing, the way in which nature, the kozmos, and the Eternal, are seen as existing, and yet not existing. The venom of the World Serpent, and the Serpent herself, are symbols of the universal solvent, or the elixir of life that “passes through all things,” the unchanging law that connects all parts of existence and creation. This role of the bridge between all realities is expressed in one alchemical manuscript which depicts the serpent's body half-black, symbolising the earth and darkness, and half-white, representing heaven and light. A similar idea is seen in Orphic cosmology, where the World Serpent was Aeon, who lay coiled around the Kozmic Egg, and represented the life span of the universe. This myth has it origins in the kozmology of pre-Hellenic Greece, where the Kozmic Egg was the progeny of the goddess Eurynome, and the wind serpent Ophion. Ophion coiled itself around the egg, until it cracked and all life emerged.
In these myths, we see a hint of the idea of the serpent as a symbol of the mother goddess; a role that Iormungand also performs. A link between the goddess and the serpent can be traced well back into the Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. Significantly, images of the snake goddess from this period are often accompanied by coils, zig-zags, and meanders; all symbols of water. Consequently, in mythology, the world serpent as mother goddess is invariably associated with water.
In Sumerian-Babylonian mythology, the mother of all life was Tiamat, the vast salt-water ocean, symbolized as a huge kormic serpent. She joined with Apsu, the sweet-water ocean, and in so doing, brought into being the first stages of the kozmos. Ultimately, in a mirroring of the Norse myth of Thor’s attempt to kill Iormungand, Tiamat was killed by the patriarchal sky-god Marduk. However, she is by no means dead or absent from our reality, because she is the foundation upon which we walk. An almost identical tale is told by the Aztecs of central America, in which the creatrix Cipactli existed before all creation as a monstrous alligator swimming through primordial chaos. Life and the kozmos was created when her body was divided, by two serpentine gods, her lower body falling to become the earth, and her upper body rising to become the heavens. Again as in Sumerian myth, Cipactli continues to live after her primeval death, and at night she can occasionally be heard crying and sobbing, wishing all life would die back into her. Similarly in the creation myth of the Chibcha of Colombia, Bachue, the primeval mother, originated in the waters of a huge lake, to which she, and her son, and lover, returned as dragons after the creation of the human race. Nu Kua, the creator goddess of ancient China, was also serpent bodied, while the Incas perceived the earth as Mamapacha, a dragon goddess who lived within the mountains.
As a symbol of the mother goddess, the serpent expresses the true nature of the goddess in all her many forms. She is not the passive figure of the type that has been fostered upon her, but instead, is immense and powerful. In the words of R.J Stewart: “It is often assumed that the mother goddesses of the ancient world were large, ample bodied, friendly, figures. This is seldom true. The great goddesses of pagan religion were often terrifying and mysterious beings... in many ways the attributes of ancient feminine powers or archetypes reveal a deep insight into reality”
Iormungand then, as a direct manifestation of the goddess, brings a balance of gender to the Elemental Quadruplet of the four main Rökkr beings. The Feminine Earth and Water of Hela and Iormungand, which sits in perfect balance with the Masculine Fire and Air of Loki and Fenrir. Because of this, Iormungand is associated with the sphere of Venus as the sphere of unadulterated, unfettered Feminine energy in the kozmos. As with Iormungand herself, this is not the simpering or patronised manifestations of the Feminine usually associated with Venus; like the romanticized love goddess, who bears no relation to the fundamentals of the kozmos, but more to the sexual predilections of men. Instead, the Feminine of Venus is that imperceptible, unknowable, and uncontrollable force that, with the equally unknowable Masculine force of Fenrir, flows and interacts throughout the kozmos. It is pure energy so strong and over-powering that, like Wyrd, it can never be seen, or experienced in its entirety, for to do so would be to bring madness, and then death.
IORMUNGAND AS THE FORCE OF CHANGE
In a theme that appears throughout Rökkr mythology, the children of Loki, and Loki himself, have a two-fold nature. First, there is a surface character which provides the more obvious forms seen in mythology, while the second layer reveals the kozmic or magickal significance of the first. With Hela, it is the role of the three-fold kozmic goddess behind that of queen of the dead; for Loki it s the flame of inspiration; and for Iormungand, it is the alchemical idea of the universal solvent and the cycle of life. In addition, Iormungand also represents the kozmic force defined by science as entropy.
Iormungand causes change, and in order to instigate this change, her nature is chaotic and disruptive. Because of this chaotic nature, Iormungand is an oft times unstable and apparently malevolent force; as her presence throughout history illustrates. When great periods of instability arises, be it as war, revolution, or natural disasters, they illustrate Iormungand thrashing her tail upon the world shore. No matter how much people may try to ignore this kind of side of history, it is an essential part. Similarly, Iormungand, lying in the world ocean, not only causes change, but also maintains stability in encircling and in some way protecting the world of Midgard. In the words of Benito Mussolini, “Blood alone moves the wheels of history,” and so the blood that Iormungand spills enables time to move onwards, and the thrashing of her tail prevents the waters of humankind from ever growing stagnant. She ensures, as all the Rökkr do, that life is never predictable.
The necessity of Iormungand is shown in conventional Norse mythology by the very fact that the gods can never truly capture or bind her. In addition, Wyrd ensures that they can never do this, thwarting their attempts at controlling a kozmic force that is far greater than they are. The poem Hymiskvitha from the Poetic Edda, tells the story of Thor’s fishing trip with the giant Hymir. Using the head of the giant black bull Himinbrjoter (Sky-cleaver), Thor caught Iormungand on his line. But as he tried to drag her up from the waters of Midgard, the giant Hymir, in what was obviously an appreciation of Wyrd, cut the fishing line, allowing the serpent to escape, and later fulfil her role at Ragnarok. Hoped, yet the worm had fallen beneath the stroke; But the wily child of Loke, Waits her turn of Ragnarok.
Iormungand is an expression of chaos, she is entropic, but she is still controlled. She is not the force of a mindless kind of anarchy, or nihilistic destruction, but is rather yet another vital strand of reality in the labyrinth that forms the Web of Wyrd. Thor in a macho act, was trying to destroy a vital part of nature, and nature herself, as manifested through Wyrd, would tot allow such an act to occur. The gods are the products of nature, not vice versa, and as such they are subject to her laws, will, and Wyrd, in the same way that mortals are. When Thor did finally slay Iormungand on the plain of Vigrid at Ragnarok, he too lost his life, proving that the removal of the force of the serpent incurs a disaster of far greater proportion than her continued existence provides. Thor presents a persistent image of a god vainly struggling against the Rökkr, and more specifically, against the Feminine Rökkr aspects. There is an uncomfortable misogyny about Thor, but what is interesting though, is that it is, to some extent, made fun off.
His attempt to catch Iormungand was not the first time she had made a fool of him. When he and Loki travelled to the capital city of the Jotuns, he challenged the giants in a strength test. He was told to lift the cat of the Jotun king, Utgard Loki, but after much exertion he could only lift one paw; it transpired that the cat was really Iormungand. Next, Thor boasted he could wrestle anyone in the castle, but his competitor was a toothless old womyn, who defeated him easily. She was Elli, the nurse of Utgard Loki, and the embodiment of of Age, which no being can defeat. In another incident, Thor tried to cross a river that was being made to rise by the giantess Gjalp, who was standing astride it and letting her menstrual blood surge into the water. The river symbolized the wise-blood of the Goddess, but Thor, as a god of little brain, instead saw it as a threat, and so hit Gjalp with a boulder, breaking her back.
THE MAGICK OF IORMUNGAND
The rune of Iormungand is Ior, from the Fourth Aett of the Anglo-Saxon Futhark it expresses many of the attributes of Iormungand, but also introduces other sides to the serpent’s nature. In contrast to the destructive, and entropic, nature of Iormungand, Ior the rune has a beneficial and accessible aspect, and this is where the every day magick of Iormungand has its source.
The magick of Iormungand and Ior is protective and binding in nature, this is expressed in Ivy (Hedera Helix) the plant associated with both the World Serpent, and the Ior rune. Like the serpent that it symbolizes, the ivy entwines itself around life, causing change by bringing death, and subsequently allowing new life to begin. Throughout this process, the Ivy remains evergreen (eternal) and constant, in an act of initial paradox, a plant of death, but also a plant of life.
Ivy displays the contrast within Iormungand by acting as a protector as well as assassin. When Ivy grows upon the outer walls of a house it protects the inhabitants from malicious magickal attack, be it of a human source, as in a magickian using the
nidstang, or a curse, or from a more supernatural being. In imitation and intimation of the protective powers of Iormungand and ivy, are the traditional carvings used on Scandinavian buildings. They evoke the protective powers of Iormungand and Ivy through serpentine and entwining designs, ensuring the safety of the inhabitants.
A more malicious aspect of Iormungand’s magick is the use of Binding Magick, which invokes both aspects from the ivy’s two sided nature. Defining malice, of course, depends on the practitioner’s intent and their perception of what is personally right and wrong. Binding Magick in its various guises has a well documented history. It was in battles during the Viking age to render enemies helpless, and here it had a particular association with the Æsir god of battle, Odin. He was the patron of a particular kind of binding known as the Herfjottur or War-fetter, which would confuse an enemy, making them vulnerable to attack. As with the form of cursing known as the nidstang, the Thurisaz and Isa runes were often used to enforce a binding. In most instances, the binding is only a psychic one, which is applied in the same manner as a curse, but with a result equal to an actual physical binding, on either the body, the mind, or even both.
The Ior rune is also important for another reason, as it confirms the gender of Iormungand. The polarity of the rune is feminine, while Nauthiz, the rune of Iormungand’s chthonic counterpart Nidhogg is also feminine; this is significant because the Ior rune can be seen as two overlaid Nauthiz runes. The polarity of a rune will often indicate the gender, or at least the nature, of the corresponding deity. For example, Hela’s rune Ear has a Feminine polarity, while Thurisaz, the rune of Thor, has a masculine one.
CORRESPONDENCES OF IORMUNGAND
Animals: Serpent, cat
Body Point: Genitals