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Swedish lindworm drawn by Swedish illustrator John Bauer, 1911. The Swedish lindworm lacks wings and limbs.
Sub groupingDragon
FamilyWhiteworm, Guivre, Vouivre, Wyvern, Sea serpents
FolkloreMythical creature, legendary creature
First attestedViking Age[1]
Other name(s)Lindwurm, lindwyrm, lindorm
RegionNorthern Europe, Western Europe, Central Europe

The lindworm (worm meaning snake, see germanic dragon), also spelled lindwyrm or lindwurm, is a mythical creature in Northern, Western and Central European folklore that traditionally has the shape of a giant serpent monster living deep in the forest. It can be seen as a sort of dragon.

According to legend, everything that lies under the lindworm will increase as the lindworm grows, giving rise to tales of dragons that brood over treasures to become richer. Legend tells of two kinds of lindworm, a good one, associated with luck, often a cursed prince who has been transformed into the beast (same trope as in the fairy tales The Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast, etc.), and a bad one, a dangerous man-eater which will attack humans on sight. A lindworm may swallow its own tail, turning itself into a rolling wheel, as a method of pursuing fleeing humans.[1]

The head of the 16th-century lindworm statue at Lindwurm Fountain (Lindwurmbrunnen [de]) in Klagenfurt, Austria, is modeled on the skull of a woolly rhinoceros found in a nearby quarry in 1335. It has been cited as the earliest reconstruction of an extinct animal.[2][3][4]


Lindworm derives from early medieval Germanic languages (Old High German: lintwurm, Old Low German: lindworm, Middle Dutch: lindeworm, Old Norse: linnormr, Old Swedish: lindormber) of uncertain origin, possibly from a Proto-Germanic form akin to “linþawurmiz”. The name compounds Germanic lind with worm, the latter meaning "snake, dragon" (see Germanic dragon). The meaning of prefix "lind" is also of uncertainty, perhaps from the Proto-Germanic adjective *linþia- meaning "flexible", or perhaps by way of Old Danish/Old Saxon lithi, Old High German lindi, "soft, mild" (Middle High and Low German linde, German lind, (ge)linde), Old English liðe (English lithe, "agile"), alternatively something akin to Old Swedish linde (modern Swedish linda), existing as prefix lind- and linn-, meaning "to wind", "to turn coils around something".

The term occurs in Middle High German as lintwurm, Old Swedish as lindormber (modern Swedish lindorm, modern Danish lindorm), simply meaning "lind-snake".[5] In Old Icelandic, the term linnormr was used to translate German sources to produce Þiðreks saga (an Old Norse chivalric saga adapted from the Continent from the late 13th c.)[6][7]


Lindworm or dragon carving at Urnes Stave Church, Norway.

Lindworm-portrayals vary across countries and the stories in which they appear.

Swedish lindworm (lindorm)[edit]

In Nordic folklore, specifically Swedish folklore, lindworms traditionally appear as giant forest serpents without limbs, living between the rocks deep in the forest. They are said to be dark in color with a brighter underside. Along the spine it is said to have either fish-like dorsal fins or horse-like mane, sometimes being called a "mane snake" (Swedish: manorm). For defence and attack it can spit out a foul milk-like substance which can blind enemies.[1]

Lindworm eggs are said to be laid under the bark of linden trees (Swedish: lind) and once hatched they slither away and make a home in some pile of rocks.[1] When fully grown they can become extremely long. To counter this during hunting they swallow their own tail to become a wheel, after which they roll at extremely high speeds to pursue prey. This has given them the nickname "wheel snake" (Swedish: hjulorm).[1]

Late belief in lindworms in Sweden[edit]

The belief in the reality of a lindorm, a giant limbless serpent, persisted well into the 19th century in some parts. The Swedish folklorist Gunnar Olof Hyltén-Cavallius (1818–1889) collected in the mid 19th century stories of legendary creatures in Sweden and met several people in Småland, Sweden who said they had encountered giant snakes, sometimes equipped with a long mane. He gathered around 50 eyewitness reports, and in 1884 offered a cash reward for a captured specimen, dead or alive.[8] Hyltén-Cavallius came to be ridiculed by Swedish scholars and as no one ever managed to claim the reward it resulted in a cryptozoological defeat. Rumours of the existence of lindworms in Småland soon abated.[9][10]

Central European lindworm (lindwurm)[edit]

Winged four legged lindwurm fountain in Klagenfurt.

In Central Europe the lindworm usually resembles a dragon or similar. It generally appears with a scaly serpentine body, dragon's head and two clawed forelimbs, sometimes also with wings. Some examples, such as the 16th-century lindworm statue at Lindwurm Fountain in Klagenfurt, Austria, has four limbs and two wings.

Most limbed depictions imply lindworms do not walk on their two limbs like a wyvern, but move like a mole lizard: they slither like a snake and use their arms for traction.[11]

Lindworm offshoots (guivre, vouivre, wyvern)[edit]

Vouivre or wyvern being lanced by Saint George.

There exist several related offshoots of the winged lindworm outside Northern and Central Europe, such as the French guivre, and to some extent the British wyvern. The French guivre, earlier vouivre, are more dragon-like than the traditional lindworms while the British wyvern is canonically a full-fledged dragon. These terms are ultimately derived from Latin vīpera "adder, poisonous snake".

In heraldry[edit]

According to the 19th-century English archaeologist Charles Boutell, a lindworm in heraldry is basically "a dragon without wings".[12] A different heraldic definition by German historian Maximilian Gritzner was "a dragon with four feet" instead of usual two,[13] so that depictions with - comparatively smaller - wings exist as well.[14][better source needed]

In tales[edit]

16th-century lindworm statue in Klagenfurt, Austria, featuring wings and limbs.

An Austrian tale from the 13th century tells of a lindworm that lived near Klagenfurt. Flooding threatened travelers along the river, and the presence of the lindworm was blamed. A duke offered a reward to anyone who could capture it and so some young men tied a bull to a chain, and when the lindworm swallowed the bull, it was hooked like a fish and killed.[15]

The shed skin of a lindworm was believed to greatly increase a person's knowledge about nature and medicine.[16]

A serpentine monster with the head of a "salamander" features in the legend of the Lambton Worm, a serpent caught in the River Wear and dropped in a well, which 3–4 years thence, terrorized the countryside of Durham while the nobleman who caught it was at the Crusades. Upon return, he received spiked armour and instructions to kill the serpent, but thereafter to kill the next living thing he saw. His father arranged that after the lindworm was killed, a dog would be released for that purpose; but instead of releasing the dog the nobleman's father ran to his son, and so incurred a malediction by the son's refusal to commit patricide. Bram Stoker used this legend in his short story Lair of the White Worm.[17]

The sighting of a "whiteworm" once was thought to be an exceptional sign of good luck.[16]

The knucker or the Tatzelwurm is a wingless biped, and often identified as a lindworm. In legends, lindworms are often very large and eat cattle and human corpses, sometimes invading churchyards and eating the dead from cemeteries.[18]

The maiden amidst the Lindorm's shed skins. Illustration by Henry Justice Ford for Andrew Lang's The Pink Fairy Book (1897).

In the 19th-century tale of "Prince Lindworm" (also "King Lindworm")[19] from Scandinavian folklore, a "half-man half-snake" lindworm is born, as one of twins, to a queen, who, in an effort to overcome her childlessness, followed the advice of an old crone who instructed her to eat two onions. As she did not peel the first onion, the first twin was born a lindworm. The second twin is perfect in every way. When he grows up and sets off to find a bride, the lindworm insists that a bride be found for him before his younger brother can marry.[20] Because none of the chosen maidens are pleased by him, he eats each one until a shepherd's daughter who spoke to the same crone is brought to marry him, wearing every dress she owns. The lindworm tells her to take off her dress, but she insists that he shed a skin for each dress she removes. Eventually, his human form is revealed beneath the last skin. Some versions of the story omit the lindworm's twin, and the gender of the soothsayer varies. A similar tale occurs in the 1952 novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis.[21]

The tale of Prince Lindworm is part of a multiverse of tales in which a maiden is betrothed or wooed by a prince enchanted to be a snake or other serpentine creature (ATU 433B, "The Prince as Serpent"; "King Lindworm").[22][23]

In a short Swiss tale, a Lindworm terrorises the area around Grabs. "It was as big as a tree trunk, dark red in colour and, according to its nature, extraordinarily vicious". It was defeated by a bull that had been fed milk for seven years and had hooks attached its horns. A girl, who had committed an offense, was tasked with bringing the bull to the Lindworm. After the beast was defeated, the enraged bull threw itself off a cliff, but the girl survived.[24] In another tale, a cowherd falls into a cave where a Lindworm lives. Instead of eating him, the Lindworm shares his food source, a spring of liquid gold. After seven years, they are discovered by a Venetian who hauls up the Lindworm and ties it up. The cowherd releases the Lindworm, who kills the Venetian and then leaves. When the cowherd goes home, no one recognizes him and he no longer likes human food.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Lindormar" (PDF). ungafakta.se. Retrieved 2022-08-07.
  2. ^ Mayor, Adrienne (2000). The first fossil hunters: paleontology in Greek and Roman times. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08977-9.
  3. ^ Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London. Academic Press. 147-148. 1887.
  4. ^ "Lindwurm Fountain". Tourism Information Klagenfurt am Wörthersee. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  5. ^ Hellquist, Elof (1922). Svensk Etymologisk Ordbok. Lund: C. W. K. Gleerups Förlag. p. 411. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  6. ^ Cleasby, Richard; Vigfusson, Guđbrandr (1957). An Icelandic-English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon. p. 90.
  7. ^ "Þiðreks saga af Bern". Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  8. ^ G. O. Hyltén-Cavallius, Om draken eller lindormen, mémoire till k. Vetenskaps-akademien, 1884.
  9. ^ Meurger, Michel [in French] (1996). "The Lindorms of Småland". Arv: Nordic Yearbook of Folklore. 52: 87–9. ISBN 9789122016731.
  10. ^ Sjögren, Bengt (1980). Berömda vidunder. [Laholm]: Settern. ISBN 9175860236. OCLC 35325410.
  11. ^ "lindworm". Nordisk familjebok. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  12. ^ Aveling, S. T., ed. (1892). Heraldry, Ancient and Modern: Including Boutell's Heraldry. London: W. W. Gibbings. p. 139.
  13. ^ Gritzner, Adolf Maximilian Ferdinand (1878). "Heraldische Terminologie". Vierteljahrsschrift für Heraldik, Sphragistik und Genealogie. 6: 313–314. Retrieved April 24, 2022.
  14. ^ Havas, Harald (2021). "Linder Wurm". Orte - Eine Sammlung skurriler und unterhaltsamer Fakten (in German). Carl Ueberreuther. ISBN 9783800082100.
  15. ^ J. Rappold, Sagen aus Kärnten (1887).
  16. ^ a b "645-646 (Nordisk familjebok / Uggleupplagan. 16. Lee – Luvua)". runeberg.org. 22 January 2018.
  17. ^ "The Lambton Worm". sacred-texts.com. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  18. ^ "Tatzelwurms". Astonishing Legends. 24 September 2018. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  19. ^ Grundtvig, Svend. Gamle danske minder i folkemunde: folkeæventyr, folkeviser. Kjøbenhavn, C. G. Iversen. 1854. pp. 172-180.
  20. ^ "Prince Lindworm•". European folktales. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  21. ^ Stein, Sadie (May 22, 2015). "The Lindworm". Paris Review. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  22. ^ Jan M. Ziolkowski. 2010. “Straparola and the Fairy Tale: Between Literary and Oral Traditions.” Journal of American Folklore 123 (490). p. 383. doi:10.1353/jaf.2010.0002
  23. ^ Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. University of California Press. 1977. p. 101. ISBN 0-520-03537-2
  24. ^ Kuoni, Jacob (1903). ""Der Lindwurm", Sagen des Kantons St. Gallen". Werner Hausknecht & Co. St. Gallen. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  25. ^ Kuoni, Jacob (1903). ""Der Lindwurm in Gamidaur", Sagen des Kantons St. Gallen". Werner Hausknecht & Co. St. Gallen. Retrieved June 29, 2021.

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