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Viking Serpents

By Richard Svensson

Sweden has its fair share of weird folkloric fauna. When studying the maps and literary works of 16th-century Swedish bishop Olaus Magnus, one might think that Scandinavia was completely monster-infested. Magnus’s seminal work Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (History of the Northern People), printed in Rome in 1555, contains detailed, but wildly imaginative, information about the zoology of Sweden. The reader is treated to vivid descriptions of dwarves warring with cranes, sea serpents devouring ships and dancing, satyr-like fairies. His Carta Marina from 1539 shows maps of Scandinavia where the waters are teeming with monsters that look like refugees from a Godzilla movie.

For any Scandinavian, those crocodilian monsters look utterly out of place in the northern climate. Sweden, though beautiful, can hardly be considered a suitable stomping-ground for large reptiles. To the far north are desolate mountains, in the south Tolkienesque, Shire-like landscapes, and in between dense woodland of pine and spruce. It’s all well and good speculating about prehistoric monsters in far-away Congo swamps; it’s not so easy to picture them stalking the pinewoods.

Still, it is in such woods that tales of the dragon and its kin have flourished. To those who dwelt within the forest, it was a world of wonders and terrors, full of magical creatures to be fought with magical means. The Swedish dragon, though reptilian in appearance, had a supernatural rather than natural origin. It was said that when a greedy old miser hid away the inheritance due his relatives, his soul would leave his body at the moment of death and take the form of a scaly, serpent-like monster to guard the hoard. Said dragon would on occasion leave its treasure and soar across the sky in the shape of an elongated, flame-encircled object, thus making a novel transition from mystery beast to UFO. No knights or heroes were called upon to challenge such a creature, but rather the nearest priest, who would exorcise the monster with prayer.

Read the original article at: Fortean Times

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