Does Orkney’s Tale of the Stoorworm have its origins in Viking Folklore?
You may never have heard of Mester Stoor Worm. Yet perhaps like us, you have been following the latest episodes of ‘Vikings’ or ‘The Last Kingdom’. You may have read our recent blog about Viking treachery in the ‘Tale of Maelbrigte the Tooth’. If so, you will be aware that Vikings played a huge role in the medieval history of the British Isles. Most likely you know that they raided churches and settlements. But, they also colonised parts of the Scotland such as Shetland, Orkney and parts of Caithness. The Norse brought with them skalds, bards who told heroic sagas and tales of dragons. It seems likely that the Stoor Worm made its way into Scottish folktales via Viking lore.
Scotland is an island country. So, Scottish dragons are often not winged beasts but usually watery monsters. The most famous is the Loch Ness Monster or Nessie as she is fondly called.
In ancient times, people thought Scotland was located at the end of the world. Is it any wonder that on old maps the unknown was filled with strange creatures and the words ‘Here be dragons’?
In time Orkney, the islands to the north of the Scottish mainland, created their own dragon: the evil Mester Stoor Worm. And it seems the Orcadians got some help from their Viking neighbours.
STOORWORM : A VIKING CONNECTION
Orkney did not always belong to Scotland. The early inhabitants of Orkney were Picts. At that time, the nation of Scotland did not exist. Then, with the rise of the Vikings, in the 8th Century, the Orkney Isles became an enclave of Norway. The Norsemen brought with them, sea monsters carved into the prows of their ships and their skalds told tales of dragons in their sagas.
The origins of the name Stoor Worm could come from the Old Norse word Storðar-gandr. This is another name for Jörmungandr, a serpent from Norse mythology fathered by Loki.
Yet, stoor is also a Scots word meaning dust or to pour or flood. The word worm comes from the old English wyrm meaning dragon or serpent. However, the tale of Mester Stoor Worm reads like something straight out of a Viking Saga.
MESTER STOOR WORM: THE STORY
Mester Stoor Worm was the master of all Stoor Worms, so large that it could wrap itself around the whole world. Nobody could say with any surety where the Stoor Worm came from. But if the rumours were true this monstrous sea creature was the creation of a malevolent spirit.
Soon he began a reign of terror, He became one of the nine plagues to curse the world.
The creature was so big it could crush castles with its long, forked tongue and sweep entire cities into its maw. Ships cracked liked eggshells before this monstrosity. Its putrid breath was poisonous to every living thing.
Its head was as large as a mountain and its eyes were the size of dark lochs.
Wherever, the Stoor Worm’s head came to rest, it would demand that the neighbouring people feed it. In time, the creature developed a taste for a rare delicacy. On the seventh day of the week, at sunrise, the Stoor Worm would awaken and yawn nine times. He would then demand a meal of seven virgins. Soon the people became tired of losing their daughters to the giant dragon.
SEARCHING FOR A SOLUTION TO THE STOOR WORM
In desperation the people sought the advice of an old wizard. His solution was simple: feed the king’s daughter to the Stoor Worm. The serpent would leave and trouble them no more.
Alas the poor king was distraught when he heard this, for the Princess was his only daughter and the apple of his eye. The grief-stricken king pleaded for another solution. In return he received a ten-week reprieve.
With a heavy heart, the king sent couriers across the land, seeking a hero capable of slaying the dragon. As an incentive the king was offering a great reward. The successful warrior would receive the kingdom. Also, he would win the mighty sword Sikkersnapper, inherited from Odin himself.
The reward Arracted many valiant warriors. Alas, most fled on encountering the beast. Only twelve had the courage to stay and face the monster. But things did not go favourably for the brave men with the beast slaying them.
ASSIPATTLE AND THE STOOR WORM
The last week arrived and it seemed all was lost. But on the last day, an unlikely hero arrived. His name was Assipattle which means ‘the Cinder Lad.’
He was the seventh son of a seventh son and a bit of a dreamer. He lived with his family on a farm but while his father and brothers worked hard, Assipattle was content to sit at the hearth. Here he would make up poems and stories and get covered in thick peat ash. Much to his brothers’ chagrin, he used his vivid imagination to make up tales where he was the hero. His siblings laughed and berated him for being lazy and useless.
Upon hearing the King’s plight, Assipattle slipped away from the farm. He escaped in his little boat, armed only with a bucket containing a smouldering peat from his hearth. In the darkness he sneaked up on the sleeping beast. But this was the seventh day of the week and with the sun rise the Stoor Worm began to yawn. Each yawn sucked a vast tide of water into the dragon’s mouth. Once Assipattle was close enough, one of the mighty yawns drew the poor boy and his little vessel into the creature’s cavernous mouth.
Soon he was whirling down the beast’s throat, carried by a torrent of sea water. Then the boat grounded abruptly. Picking up the bucket, Assipattle ran for his life.
THE SLAYING OF THE STOOR WORM
Assipattle turned a corner and found the dragon’s liver. Pulling out a knife, Assipattle gouged a hole in it. Then he stuffed the smouldering peat into the wound. Soon the liver began to burn. Assipattle ran back to his boat. There was not a minute to lose, for the worm retched and spewed out the intrepid boy along with his boat.
Making it back to the shore, the boy watched as the dragon began to burn.
Black smoke billowed from the monster’s nostrils. In agony its forked tongue shot out and grabbed hold of one of the horns of the moon. But in its weakened state, its tongue slipped and crashed causing a deep rift in the earth. The tide rushed in creating the Baltic Sea.
THE CREATION OF ORKNEY
As the beast writhed in agony, teeth dropped from its vile foaming mouth. The first lot of falling teeth formed the Orkney Isles. As the falling teeth rained down, the Shetland Isles and the Faroe Isles formed. Then in its dying moments, the Stoor Worm curled up tightly and became the country we now know as Iceland.
Assipattle was married to the Princess and the folk rejoiced for the Stoor Worm was finally dead.
What do you think? Are Mester Stoor Worm’s origins found in Viking or Scottish folklore? Please write your thoughts in the comments box below. If you enjoyed this article, please use the icons below to share the spooky!