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 Ormen Lange

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Ormen Lange   Sat 16 Jan 2016, 13:06

I was at a funeral yesterday and, at the wake afterwards, there was, as might have been expected, much maudlin and drunken conversation about death, the afterlife v. no afterlife and, of course, the late David Bowie.

The lyrics of Blackstar came up, especially the cryptic reference to the "villa of ormen". One chap in our company, who is a bit of an expert(?) on such things, pronounced that "ormen" is the plural of "orm" which can mean worm or maggot or sea serpent. He went on to explain that Bowie was probably referring to the terrifying (well, it's terrifying to me) legend of the Viking King Olav who sailed around the northern seas forcing folk to convert to Christianity. He was opposed by a chap called Raud the Strong. A terrible death was imposed on the said Raud by Olav - I won't repeat the graphic details involving a drinking horn, a serpent and a burning iron.

Gruesome stuff - but is this really what "villa of ormen" is all about? Was the serpent tale a horrible metaphor for the cancer that killed Bowie? I'd like to think it's all pretentious nonsense, but I've got a horrible feeling that it isn't.

I kept quiet throughout all this yesterday. Grief and alcohol and Viking legends are not a good mix.
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Sat 16 Jan 2016, 14:37

Well, orm or orme is certainly a Norse sea serpent, the origin of worm if I recall; the only reason I know that is from visiting the Great Orme Bronze Age mine at Llandudno. I'm sure someone(!) will be able to tell us the rest........
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Sat 16 Jan 2016, 15:15

Doubt it. Not cool to be discussing all this. I'm just interested in the legend/history. Not a good advert for Christianity though, shoving snakes down people's gullets. But then the Vikings didn't mess about, did they?

Raud had obviously upset Olav badly. Probably nothing to do with religion.
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 12:21

A geographic feature rather than a sea serpent. The Great Orme rock at Llandudno;

Great Orme

Though speaking of sea serpents, Loch Ness is deeper than previously thought;

Nessie's Lair


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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 12:30

I assume this means "Red Sea Serpent". The Nordic poster for the 1964 film The Long Ships:



Red Orm of the Long Ships? Orm was the name of the younger brother in the film.
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 14:46

Temp wrote:
Raud had obviously upset Olav badly. Probably nothing to do with religion.

Quite right. Raud had had the temerity to tell Olav to piss off when he came around looking for his subs from the king of what is now the Bodø region for this newfangled Christianity racket that was fast making him into one of the richest lads in the country (what with being first to jump on the bandwagon and papally approved etc). Raud was by no means the only other king left to "convert" so an example was made of him.

"Ormen Lange" (the Long Serpent) is one of two Ormer (if you see the chap again ask him to brush up on nordic plurals) in the Olav saga. That flagship was actually built later though it was indeed modelled on the one he had confiscated from Raud earlier. He called the old one "Ormen Skamme"  or sometimes "Ormen Korte" (both meaning just little or short), as he'd intentionally made sure that the new one would be biggest and best. But in fact "Ormen" as a name for a longship is quite common in the period, the serpent motif much in vogue, especially for royal and high status vessels.

Contrary to some weird and wonderful attempts lately to interpret Bowie's lyrics in "Darkstar" there was never a "villa" constructed from the timbers of either. The first Orm disappears from the story and the second, according to the saga, was burned when Olav fell in battle.

I like the music in "Darkstar". If Bowie's singing had been replaced by an oboe it would have improved the piece no end.
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 15:13

The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker;



based on the legend of the Lambton Worm:

Lambton Worm
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 15:49

nordmann wrote:

But in fact "Ormen" as a name for a longship is quite common in the period, the serpent motif much in vogue, especially for royal and high status vessels.

Interesting. Is the norse word "drekkar" for a longship related to the English word "dragon"? ... via perhaps the vessel's overall shape, the prow/figure-head, or from its sudden appearance from over the horizon in lightning raids bringing fire, death and pillage?


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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 16:01

The Lambton Worm is one legend of several featuring serpents from areas in Britain with strong links historically to Norse culture, and the Laidley Worm can in fact be shown to be essentially the same story as one part of the Hjálmþés saga ok Ölvis, as can also the Worm of Bamburgh. Serpents in these stories are almost never purely malevolent. If they do bad things it is normally because they have been wronged or because they themselves have been bewitched by human sorcerers and the like. Apart from that they are invariably good - seafarers invoked their protection and friendship when out on the high seas and a safe return to port was often accredited to their help, especially in bad weather.

The basic thrust of the stories was that one should just let them be and not mess with them. If one had to have dealings with them be sure to be completely on the level and honourable, and if you can't be that then be bloody sure to kill them. You don't get a second chance. Much like a symbol of nature and the elements - tame them or (preferably) show them huge respect.

MM - "Drekkar" ("drake" or "dragon") is a description retrogressively assigned to a class of longboat typified by the famous Oseberg ship. That ship has beautiful dragon motif designs carved into it though it is considered that in this case the whole thing was ritual-related and Oseberg was never intended for anything other than a prestigious burial. The sagas seem to draw a distinction between "drekkar" and "orm" but for no apparent reason. They indicated that "orm" motifs in the prow and stern carvings indicated high status. However "drekkar" shows up less frequently and may simply be an alternative term. Or it could mean etched motifs on the timbers. We don't know.


"Drekkar" motif section on the Oseberg longship.
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 16:21

Five carved animal heads were found in the Oseberg ship excavation. None of them were attached to the vessel though the notched carving of their shafts indicate they may have been secured to the walls of the vessel with rope or clamp. Their artists (or artist) are considered "academic style" artists in that they followed strict stylistic rules regarding proportion, decoration and assembly (several different woods were used in each). None of them are referred to as "dragons" by serious historians as an artist in the academic style would have left one in no doubt had he or she intended them to be "Ormer". Instead they represent stylised representations of canine, vulpine and leonine composites.


An example.
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 16:26

In the caves and subterranean rivers of Slovenia (and into the karst regions of neighbouring Croatia and Italian Trieste) there still occur blind aquatic cave salamanders, Proteus anguinus, that in the past, on the rare occasions when they got washed out of their caves, were thought to be the young of the dragons that lived deep undergound. In Slovene they were known as "olm" which I've always suspected was related to the Norse/Germanic/Old English "orm" or "worm". Olms are not very frightening, they're typically less that 10cm long and very shy, but it is interesting that a dragon (complete with wings and fire) is the heraldic symbol of Lubljana, and several other towns throughout the region.

Here are a couple of living olms (baby orms?) in the cave of Postojna Jama, Slovenija:



... their "wings" located just behind the head are actually feathery gills since they retain their larval characteristics all their life (it's called neoteny).


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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 16:45

Yes, Ljubljana's dragon was certainly not a good 'un! And nor could it be killed by conventional means either. The combined efforts of Jason's swordsmanship and Medea's witchcraft (basically sending things to sleep) couldn't defeat it. In the end they resorted to stuffing its nostrils with the dead bones of its victims as it slept and binding its mouth shut with chains.When the dragon woke up and went into a fury its blocked exhaust meant it blew up.

The supposed general uniformity of dragon features in different cultures in which the concept appears to have been arrived at independently has fuelled much woo-woo speculation regarding a possible real animal, now extinct, having inspired them. However any uniformity seems to be more a modern conflation of the different cultural phenomena. Winged monster phobia was probably a very understandable fear (defence against aerial predators was visibly a notoriously difficult proposition in nature), as was the latent fear still with us that despite our best efforts we're doomed should nature ever tire of us and throw up a circumstance against which we cannot defend ourselves. Dragons make a lot of sense in that scenario - as embodiments of exaggerated natural threat. So to me it isn't all that surprising that they popped up in different guises around the place. The Norse version is actually presented in probably the most sympathetic light of all.
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 17:12

Yes, and like faeries, pixies, elves and all the other "magical folk", dragons universally do not seem to have been capable of deceit: in short they cannot lie. But, as with the sharpest lawyer, one always had to read the small print, say nothing out-loud that might be remembered to incriminate or bind you later, never ever lie to them, and never under-estimate their cunning. They were rarely evil as such, but, ever working solely for their own interests, they were masters of disembling, cleverness, and tricksy words, but still they could never speak nor act falsely. 
.... Unlike perfidious mankind.
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 19:13

nordmann wrote:
"Ormen Lange" (the Long Serpent) is one of two Ormer (if you see the chap again ask him to brush up on nordic plurals) in the Olav saga.


I already have done, having consulted Wiki - little swot that I am. I got a withering, if not wuthering, look. Do I care? Nah!

Thanks for info.

Trike - thanks for getting this thread going - thought it had died an ignominious death!

PS Nordmann - thought you'd come round - the music is great - don't mind the lad's singing, but the videos scare the hell out of me.

PPS I seem to remember posting something about worms and dragons and things ages ago; worm is such a silly word compared with dragon. El Wormo for Francis Drake, and Saint George and the Worm don't have quite the same fearsome resonance as El Draque and Saint George and the Dragon somehow.

PPPS I saw that ship on my hols!
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 20:49

I've always enjoyed Bowie's videos. Of course they're pretentious and nonsensical etc. But who cares? They look great. He'll be missed.

The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo is something of a disappointment, isn't it? In fact Norwegian treatment of the Viking part of their history is generally a missed opportunity in terms of how it's publicly displayed and interpreted. I reckon there's an unstated admission that the whole thing is vaguely embarrassing or something. It's not shared by more "academic" historians but certainly it's one shared by the public at large. If you were in the National Museum you'll have seen artefacts from the Viking era obviously looted from Britain and Ireland (and beyond) but rarely with this information on display. They just sort of "magically" turned up at the time, it seems.

But back to the Ormer. It's only in English that it deflates in effect. A common or garden worm here is called a "meitmark". The native snakes and serpents are still the "orms", and there are still some of them best avoided if encountered. How the English managed to relegate the word to the nematode classes I'm not sure. I blame Linnaeus who mistakenly classed them as "vermes" (also from wyrm/orm) and thought of them as miniature snakes. Even in his own lifetime he revised this classification but in English it seemed to stick.
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 21:08

Wasn't Olaf also the the owner of the "Crane"?
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Wed 20 Jan 2016, 21:24

Yes - "Tranen" was what he called it and it had originally been his flagship. By the Battle of Svolder it had been relegated to third largest and third prestigious in his fleet (not too big a fleet at the battle - the saga says eleven was all he thought to deploy though he could have had a hundred or more).

Though don't confuse Olav Tryggvason with St Olaf (with an f) Haraldsson. The latter was equally violent (Skaldic poetry has him responsible for London Bridge famously "falling down" in 1014) but he got to fill the position of patron saint that the earlier Olav thought he had secured fifteen years before, at least in terms of body-count.
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PostSubject: Re: Ormen Lange   Thu 21 Jan 2016, 10:14

The Hjortspring boat dated to 400-300BC found in Southern Denmark in the early 20s

Hjortspring

In Danish & English
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