Earthquake - myths: The terrible Fenris Wolf

Lockwood at "Outside the Interzone" is celebrating Thorsday with an special appearance of Loki, and deepening a bit in the topic I found a connection between ancient Norse Myth and Seismology.

In Norse mythology, compiled and written down in the 13th century
, Fenris or Fenrir (the most common old Norse names, meaning "fen-dweller") is the name given to a monstrous wolf, son of the god Loki and the giantess Angrboda. The inevitable destiny of Fenris is to initiate Ragnarök, the end of the world, and killing the god-father himself, Odin.

"traced prophecies that from these siblings great mischief and disaster would arise for them"

Fig.1. "Odin and Fenris" (1909) by Dorothy Hardy.

After his birth, the god's, knowing his fate, decided to bring Fenris to them, to control him, but soon he grow so big that even the most brave god begun to fear him.
So they decided to bind and capture him, two fetters were forged, but the wolf easily tear them apart. But the third fetter, called Gleipnir, was made from six mythical ingredients: the roots of the mountains, the sound of a cat's footstep, the breath of fishes, the tendon of bears, the spittle of birds and the beard of a woman.
This time the wolf, tricked to put on Gleipnir, wasn't able to rip off the magic cord. Gleipnir was fastened through two large stone slabs, called Gjöll (Old Norse "scream) and Thiwir, to the ground, and so Fenris became chained deep in the mountains.

Fig.2. A 17th century manuscript illustration of the bound Fenris, the river Ván, formed by the spittle of the wolf, flowing from his jaws.

When Fenris howls in his anger, the ground and mountains tremble violently and deep fractures form and rocks were thrown around.

This myth and the description resemble what we would expect to see during a strong earthquake, but the Scandinavian Peninsula is today considered a relatively stable craton. It has become clear that Sweden was subjected to an increased seismic activity
at the time of deglaciation, 9.000 to 11.000 years ago, when the heavy ice caps melted and the land begun to rise. But probably these earthquakes happened long before the first colonization of the Peninsula.

However in more recent times, the last 5.000 years, nine high-magnitude palaeoseismic events are recorded. These events were for sure noted by humans; in landslide and tsunami deposits triggered by some of these earthquakes artefacts of the Viking* culture were buried and later discovered.
It's seems plausible that the Vikings*, experiencing the movements and destruction, tried to find an explanation - a terrible, incredible strong wolf, able to even shake the roots of the mightiest mountains.

But in the end I have to admit: Daniel in his blog "sandbian", as an expert of Swedish geology and history, points out various chronological and cultural deficiency of this hypothesis that tries to connect an imported culture with its symbols to possible seismic events happened more than 5.000 years earlier.*And by the way - the Vikings as culture didn´t even exist at these times...

Fig.3. Map of Sweden with areas of recorded palaeoseismic activity. Nine high-magnitude palaeoseismic events are recorded in the Late Holocene. Their ages in yBP are given in black outside the map frames. A few place names referring to noise or fractured rock are given (outside the map frames). 'Svealand' refers to an area from where much of the Asa Creed owes its origin. It seems significant that so many earthquakes and place names are located just within this region (figure from MÖRNER 2007).

Bibliography:


MÖRNER, N.A. (2007): The Fenris Wolf in the Nordic Asa creed in the light of palaeoseismics. In PICCARDI, L. & MASSE, W.B. (eds) Myth and Geology. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 273: 117-119

Images from Wikipedia: Fenrir (Accessed 17.09.2010)

7 comments:

  1. Cool! I had forgotten this one, but it does ring a bell. I recalled that Fenris was Loki's offspring, and it seems to me I remember that Loki lost his hand to a wolf as well. I'm thinking now that it might have been to reassure Fenris when he was being fettered. I'll have to look around and see if I can find a decent reference online, and maybe do Fenris for next week's Thorsday. Great write-up!

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  2. Interesting. When the legends were written down in the thirteenth century it was by Icelanders (Snorri Sturluson, Poetic Edda). Probably the way the old tales had developed in a more seismically active region.

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  3. What about Loki himself?
    He was tied with a snake dripping poison in his eyes. His wife Sigyn collected the poison in a bowl, but when she had to empty it the poison hit Loki who twisted in pain causing earthquakes.
    Any signs of cyclic earthquakes?

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  4. @ Krister: Ohh yes - Loki - I did not mention him because Lockwood did dedicate to him the original post - must add him, but only referring to him as (cool)myth.

    Regarding the sesmic of Sweden Daniel was so kind to post a response - there is no pattern, and general speaking: in theory it is possible to argue that the stress on a fault should accumulate continuously until break, but in practice the number of variables is so great (so the number of faults) that a exact prediction is still impossible.

    Consider that according to statistics (with a great error span) the "Big One" in California should eventually happened many decades ago..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @ Krister: Ohh yes - Loki - I did not mention him because Lockwood did dedicate to him the original post - must add him, but only referring to him as (cool)myth.

      Regarding the sesmic of Sweden Daniel was so kind to post a response - there is no pattern, and general speaking: in theory it is possible to argue that the stress on a fault should accumulate continuously until break, but in practice the number of variables is so great (so the number of faults) that a exact prediction is still impossible.

      Consider that according to statistics (with a great error span) the "Big One" in California should eventually happened many decades ago..

      Delete
    2. You don't know me...

      Delete

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