Iceland’s Many Sea Monsters
Mystery Casebook 08/31/2007 | 11:00-Tourists on the lookout for whales were surprised to spot a Loggerhead Sea Turtle swimming alongside their boat, far away from its habitat in the Mediterranean or off the North Atlantic coast. Because the turtle looked different from any creature the tourists had expected to see on their whale watching tour, their first thought was that a sea monster had surfaced, a relative of the infamous Loch Ness Monster in Scotland.

Iceland has seen quite a few sea monsters through the ages.

The most famous one is probably Iceland’s equivalent to the Loch Ness Monster, the Worm of Lagarfljót Lake in east Iceland. According to a legend, the giant worm was originally a harmless little earthworm. A local girl once put it on top of her gold ring to make the gold grow. But the worm grew too and the girl threw it into Lagarfljót along with her ring. The worm has lived there since, guarding the gold, which must be worth millions by now.

There is another famous story of Jörmundgandur, the Midgard Serpent, a gigantic sea monster who surrounds the world and keeps it from falling apart by biting its own tail, as described in Snorra Edda. The worm is the offspring of the pagan god Loki. As the world came to an end, the serpent was slain by Thor before he died himself from the venom the serpent spat on him.

My ancestors’ lively imagination didn’t stop at that. Iceland has a wealth of folktales about all sorts of monsters and strange creatures that live in rivers and lakes and in the ocean as well.

Like nykur, the zombie of a slaughtered cow, which lives in a ponds, seals that are really enchanted humans, vicious creatures resembling calves covered with sea shells, who crawl ashore and attack humans, or marbendill, some sort of a merman, supposedly extremely wise creatures.

It’s easy to imagine how such stories were created.

People knew so little about the world beneath the waves, as we still do, and when they spotted something they’d never seen before, like a lost sea turtle or a half-rotten whale that washed up on the shore, they immediately branded it as a monster and made up a story about how it came to be. Not much more than a crooked branch of a tree floating in a lake in the dark was required for a frightened fisherman’s imagination to spin out of control.

But has the situation really changed? No matter how much we know about the world we live in and although we know that there is no such thing as a sea monster, we’re still drawn to the mysterious and the supernatural; we’d still like to believe that there is more to this world than what we see and hear.

There are many people who firmly believe in the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. After all, it has been caught on camera. Maybe it is a dinosaur which survived extinction. Maybe it is of a giant snake species man has yet to discover. Who am I to say Nessie isn’t real. For all I know, she could be a poor lost Loggerhead Sea Turtle.


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