The ultimate incarnation of evil in Norse mythology, the mere mention of the dragon Nidhogg made the most valiant Viking warriors tremble!
Indeed, it is a terrible creature, next to which the dragon Fafnir or Jörmungand look like harmless beasts. The balance of power is clear, and the scales are tipped in his favor.
What is the history of the abominable dragon Nidhogg? Why do the Vikings fear him so much? Get ready to go to the dark side of Viking mythology, and discover the story of the origin and essence of the evil dragon Nidhogg.
Although this dragon is the emblem of the Nordic civilization, Nidhogg joins the camp of evil creatures. He is against the values and morals of their culture, the absolute antagonist of Viking heroes.
Have you ever heard of the drakkars, the Viking ships decorated with a dragon's head? Well, they take their inspiration from this mythical creature. This is where the legend of the barbarian Vikings was born: where they go, there is nothing but ashes and desolation.
Although the dragon is the ultimate symbol of strength and grace, the Scandinavians feared one serpent dragon in particular, the fearsome Nidhogg. Both fierce and destructive, he patiently waits for the right moment to destroy the Viking world, plunging it into chaos.
Where does the dragon Nidhogg come from? Why is he so little mentioned in Scandinavian mythology? What is his role in the balance of the cosmos?
Hold on tight, we're about to reveal the legend of the sinister Nidhogg snake!
According to historical sources, Nidhogg is described as a half-dragon, half-serpent creature. His body is entirely covered with glowing scales, and he has sharp horns protruding from his head.
Don't be fooled by its majestic appearance, because behind its shell, it hides an unequalled ferocity. Nothing and nobody can resist the huge claws hidden under its front legs, not even the Nordic gods.
The rest of the Nidhogg dragon's body is just titanic. It is similar to that of a snake, with the only difference being that it spans several kingdoms.
To give you a better idea of its immensity, you should know that Nidhogg is located under one of the roots of the tree of worlds Yggdrasil. This tree carries the whole cosmos in its bosom, and gathers the 9 worlds of the Viking mythology.
Although he never moves from his lair, Nidhogg can fly. He has dark, bat-like wings that would be reserved for this purpose. Fortunately, he will only do this once in all of Viking history, and as you might expect, it is an exceptional occurrence that has really left its mark on Norse mythology.
The origin of the dragon Nidhogg is uncertain. All that the historical sources report is that it exists since the dawn of time. He was born at the same time as the Viking universe, long before the avenue of the Nordic gods and men.
This explains why even the god Odin does not dare to approach it! With his giant body, he twists himself around one of the roots of the Yggdrasil tree, which he bites and shreds with his claws continuously.
Nidhogg has a name that does him full honor, since it means "the smiter of plague and misfortune" or "the one who brings desolation". Under his wings, he imprisons the souls and corpses of all criminals who have committed the ultimate sins:
Rooted in Helheim, it is said to be one of the symbols of death.
Balance is a fundamental element within Norse mythology. In a sense, the dark dragon Nidhogg would be complementary to the light and goodness of the main Nordic characters. Although he is endowed with terrible and immeasurable strength, his existence is fundamental to the balance of Yggdrasil.
The tree of the worlds Yggdrasil has three branches that connect the various entities of the Nordic cosmos. Through the Grímnismál and the Prose Edda, we learn that the dragon Nidhogg gnaws at the third root of this tree.
It originates in a hot spring called "Hvergelmir" although it is located in the ice world "Niflheimr". It is in this realm that the dragon Nidhogg lives, from where he fiercely guards Hvergelmir.
It is not really clear why he keeps biting one of the roots of Yggdrasil. Some sources claim that Nidhogg's plan is to destroy it.
Indeed, the destruction of the Tree of Worlds would inevitably mark the end of the Gods. If the mythical tree falls, it is the whole Scandinavian universe which will fall in its turn in chaos.
There is also a hypothesis that this root of Yggdrasil keeps the dragon imprisoned in Niflheimr until the end of time, Ragnarok.
This theory is less plausible, since it is quoted that the dragon Nidhogg visits the goddess Hel, sometimes described as his mistress. But given his colossal size, it would not be very difficult for him to move as he pleases between worlds!
However, according to prophecy, the dragon Nidhogg will take flight at Ragnarok. Whether he is free again, or just to bring desolation, he is destined to assist the giants in their assault on the Aesir gods.
Although there is no such thing as hell or the devil in the Nordic beliefs, the dragon Nidhogg is undeniably the closest thing to it. At least, this is what the Prose Edda claims.
Indeed, the dragon Nidhogg reigns over a dark domain called "Nadastrond". It is a terrifying room whose walls are formed by snakes, claimed to be the children of Nidhogg. The ceiling is dripping with venom that is used to burn the flesh of criminals.
Inside this room is Nidhogg, who eagerly awaits the arrival of fresh flesh to feast on. He and his children have been devouring criminals and sucking their blood since the beginning of time.
According to this same prophecy, when Ragnarok will sound, the dragon will take flight by taking under his wings all the bodies of these damned souls. He releases them only to fight the Nordic gods.
Yggdrasil, the tree of life, is in fact an ecosystem in its own right. Many creatures live together in it, each responsible for carrying out specific tasks.
It goes without saying that Nidhogg did not get along with his neighbors. In the highest branches of Yggdrasil, an eagle nestles, symbol of wisdom and goodness. Just the opposite of the creature of darkness that maintained chaos in the Nordic universe.
Communication between the inhabitants of the deepest roots and branches of the trees was through a squirrel, Ratatoskr. He relayed insults between the two enemies all day long, thus participating in the analog of the renewal cycle of the center of the universe.
After the damage caused by the disputes between the eagle and the dragon, the Yggdrasil tree had to be restored by the magical powers of the water from the wells of Urd. These healthy tensions contributed to the renewal of the wood layers and the natural evolution of the Viking worlds.
However, the benevolence of the squirrel is not attested to in all historical journals. According to Snorri's Edda, he himself was the cause of the tension between the eagle and the dragon Nidhogg. He deliberately spread lies in order to sharpen the hatred of one against the other.
The outcome of these underhanded tricks will have serious consequences for the balance of the universe. It is said that the serpent dragon succumbs to anger, and ends up shaking the tree of the nine worlds so hard that every corner of it shakes.
This is how he escapes from the roots of Yggdrasil, announcing the imminent arrival of Ragnarok!
As the ultimate representation of darkness and gloom, one can imagine that the dragon Nidhogg had a role to play in the prophetic end of the Viking world. The last confrontation between the forces of good and evil, Ragnarok is the long-awaited confrontation between the main actors of Norse mythology.
The intervention of the dragon is described in a well-known poem translated from Old Norse, the Völuspa. It is said that he was seen on the horizon, flying away from Yggdrasil to join the giants. He joined forces with the rest of the evil figures of the Nordic world to end the reign of the Viking gods, Odin in the lead.
The legend says that the death of the dragon Nidhogg implies the fall of the Old World. It also signals the birth of the New World, under the rule of new gods, in an atmosphere of peace and harmony, without the fear of an impending cataclysm.