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On Níðhöggr

November 19, 2018 6 comments

A while back I was asked to share my understanding of Níðhöggr by a fellow Heathen. Vikings of Bjornstad lists the meaning for Níðhöggr’s name as ‘Malice Striker’. The first section of the compound name, níð, is related to malice, insult, and strife. The second is related to beheading, striking, blows, or chops. Not much survives on this dragon/serpent survives from the lore. Among the places to look for Níðhöggr are in the Prose Edda, both in Gylfaginning and Skaldskarpamal, and in the Poetic Edda Grimnismal and the Voluspa. While the lore refers to Níðhöggr as male, my interactions with Níðhöggr have leant me to understanding the dragon as female.

I relate to Her as a God of Rot and Death, and a God of the Gravemound as well, especially seeing interlinks between the rotting of death and the eating of poison. My family’s compost heap is dedicated to Hela and to Níðhöggr, as we see Níðhögg as eating the poison of Yggdrasil and the making of it into the healthy new earth that is renewed. The gravemound takes in the Dead and the new growth results within it, holding the power of the sacred items deposited within it and the new growth above.

Most of my understanding and beliefs regarding Níðhöggr is from direct experience of seeing Her and interacting with Her. When I was saw Her, She was chewing the corpses of the Dead, taking the poison of Their lives, Their misdeeds. She does the same with the root of Yggdrasil She chews on, not to damage it, but to prevent poison that is collected in Helheim and the Nastrond from killing It.

A powerful insight of dragon symbolism, at least in terms of how I see it in Norse/Germanic/Scandinavian culture/myth is that part of their destructive nature is what they sit on. In Fafnir’s case it is his bed of gold and the greed associated with it. In Níðhöggr’s case She is lying in the midst of traitors, oathbreakers, and is sitting with the rot and poison of Yggdrasil’s root. She chews on the traitors, oathbreakers, and outlaws, as well as the root of Yggdrasil. One of the passages in the Voluspa says She sucks the blood of the slain. I see Her doing similar, chewing and sucking on the poison in the root of Yggdrasil, removing the rot so it stays healthy. It also explains why Her/His hall is the Hall of Serpents dripping poison because that is Níðhöggr’s environment. My fellow Heathen likened it to a poison dart frog, and I think that’s a fair reading of Her too.

It is telling that the only time She emerges in myth is during Ragnarok and She isn’t destroyed, but takes up roost again beneath the ground. I find Her very purifying, as She has been in the midst of all that rot, poison, and uncleanliness, and yet, She has not lost Herself to it. She engages with this Work before and after Ragnarok. She is rejuvenating and dangerous, the Chewer of Corpses and Warder against Poison. As outlaws and traitors were among the worst one could be, and both were put into the utgard of society, I see Her as a boundary-keeper since She gives these dangerous and vile Dead a place to go to be contained, chewed, composted so they do not harm the community or rest of Yggrasil. She is the God that chews the rot beneath the Tree, rejuvenating both the root and the soil in which Yggdrasil’s root rest; necessary and holy.

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Outdoor Practices and Shrines: The Shrine to Hela and Niðogg

April 29, 2014 6 comments

With the Spring finally here in Michigan, I thought I would take some time to go over some of the practices I keep outside.

I maintain an active shrine to Hela and Niðogg. It is rotten, and full of life-giving soil.  Snakes have lived in it, and it gives much-needed nutrients back to the soils when we incorporate it in the gardens we keep. It is a compost pile. When I take the compost to it I make a simple prayer: “Hail to the Gods of Death and Rot. Hail Hela and Niðogg.” This one of many devotional acts one could offer to these powerful, and sometimes maligned and misunderstood Goddesses.

Given so many of us are going to Hela’s realm, whether ourselves or others, I would think cultivating a good relationship with Her would be a good thing to do. She is a holy Goddess who houses our Dead, who gives the Ancestors comfort and rest. It is rude to denigrate the Hostess of our Dead. So I praise Her, and thank Her for housing my Dead, for letting Them speak with me, for helping me to hear Them.  In building closer ties to death and Hela, we better appreciate and revere life.  Through Her we connect with our past and our Ancestors.  For that alone She should be given deep respect and praise.  

Niðogg’s presence in the world, eating the poison given to the Tree, gnawing at the dead roots of Yggdrasil and traitors and oathbreakers is one which is needed. It is not pretty. It is often thankless. She is the eater of our most rotten Dead. The liars, the oathbreakers, the traitors. She eats the poison and the rot from the Tree, and helps the Tree to grow even as She does eat at the healthy roots.  In appreciating the poison Niðogg takes on, it should inspire actions to prevent the poisons that ravage our planet, our nations, our homes, and our communities.

Yet, like a great many small or simple devotional acts that build on themselves, the results are wonderful, perhaps profound, when built well and with frequency. The effects on the garden, when we do these things, are good. Our Gods do not exist only in some ‘out there’ sense. If we are living in good relationship with Them, that will have some kind of effect in this world. It does not need to be dramatic; Hela and Niðogg do not come burrowing out of Jörð to declare to me the compost is good and sacred. It is sacred because the respect for Jörð, the landvaettir, Hela, and Niðogg is present whether I am alone, or my son or his mother helps offer the compost. It is sacred because I have maintained the shrine to these Goddesses, and the landvaettir have allowed the space to let us work with Hela, Niðogg, and Them so we may eat. We are the landvaettir’s guests and friends. We have invited the Gods to come to this place. In doing this, our family has chosen to be a bit closer to death and rot, and to build respect and good relationships with both.  Doing this we invite the Goddesses to share in Their blessings with my family and I.

The Shrine to Hela and Niðogg in the backyard.

The Shrine to Hela and Niðogg in the backyard.

Prayers for the Abused

April 2, 2014 5 comments

Allmother, Holy Frigga, You hear the cries of a million million children

The vile threads that weave

The million million choices that could have undone the tragic tapestry

May the new threads woven

By these survivors and their families

Be clean and comforting

May the children know peace

Hail Frigga!

 

O Tyr, Judge and Lawspeaker

Bring Justice

To those who betray their oaths

To those who have done wrong in silence or support

To those who harm the young

Help those harmed to find their voice

Help those harmed to be heard

Help those harmed to have their justice

Hail Tyr!

 

Angrboða, Ferocious One

Clanmother

Help us to protect our people

Help us to remove the abusers

Help us to heal those harmed

Help us to speak harsh truth

That our people be protected

That our people be safe

That our communities be whole

Hail Angrboða!

 

Gerda, whose arms encircle

Help us to protect our young

Speak for those without voice

Strike for those without force

Walk for those without way

Gerda, please, help us

Place your thorns on abusers’ paths

Bloody their feet, and show them for who they are

May they never know peace.

Hail to You.

 

Niðogg, Eater of Poison

Niðogg, Chewer of Roots

Help teach us to chew the bitter roots

To drive the poison from us

To make the hard choice not to turn

To make our people and communities whole

Help us to cast aside the venom

That would poison us all

Hail Niðogg!

 

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