The lindworm or lindwurm was a popular motif found on runestones in 11th-century Sweden. Portrayals vary across countries and the stories in which they appear, the creature generally appearing as wingless with a serpentine body, dragon's head, scaled skin and two clawed forelimbs. 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.[1]

U 871 Ölsta.tif
Also known as a "snake" (ormr) or "dragon" (dreki), lindworms were popular motifs on runestones in 11th-century Sweden. This runestone is identified as U 871.
GroupingMythical creature
Other name(s)White worm or whiteworm
RegionNorthern and Central Europe

The head of the 16th-century lindworm statue at Lindwurm Fountain 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]

According to the 19th-century English archaeologist Charles Boutell, a lindworm is basically "a dragon without wings."[5]

Lindworm carving at Urnes Stave Church
Lindworm in the arms of the small Bavarian town of Wurmannsquick
Lindwurm Fountain in Klagenfurt
Winged lindworm in the arms of the city of Klagenfurt


Lindworm derives from Old High German lint and orm, 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" (German lind, (ge)linde), Old English liðe (English lithe, "agile"). The term occurs in Middle High German as lintwurm and was adopted from German into Scandinavia as Old Swedish lindormber, Danish lindorm.[6] In 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.)[7][8]

In talesEdit

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.[9]

The shed skin of a lindworm was believed to greatly increase a person's knowledge about nature and medicine.[10]

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.[11]

The sighting of a "whiteworm" once was thought to be an exceptional sign of good luck.[10]

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.[12]

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")[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

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").[16][17]

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.[18] In another tale, a cowherd falls into a cave where a Lindworm lives. Instead of eating him, the Lindwurm 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 recognises him and he no longer likes human food.[19]

Late belief in lindorm in SwedenEdit

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.[20] 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.[21][22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "lindworm". Nordisk familjebok. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  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. ^ Aveling, S. T., ed. (1892). Heraldry, Ancient and Modern: Including Boutell's Heraldry. London: W. W. Gibbings. p. 139.
  6. ^ Hellquist, Elof (1922). Svensk Etymologisk Ordbok. Lund: C. W. K. Gleerups Förlag. p. 411. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  7. ^ Cleasby, Richard; Vigfusson, Guđbrandr (1957). An Icelandic-English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon. p. 90.
  8. ^ "Þiðreks saga af Bern". Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  9. ^ J. Rappold, Sagen aus Kärnten (1887).
  10. ^ a b "645-646 (Nordisk familjebok / Uggleupplagan. 16. Lee – Luvua)". 22 January 2018.
  11. ^ "The Lambton Worm". Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  12. ^ "Tatzelwurms". Astonishing Legends. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  13. ^ Grundtvig, Svend. Gamle danske minder i folkemunde: folkeæventyr, folkeviser. Kjøbenhavn, C. G. Iversen. 1854. pp. 172-180.
  14. ^ "Prince Lindworm•". European folktales. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  15. ^ Stein, Sadie (May 22, 2015). "The Lindworm". Paris Review. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. University of California Press. 1977. p. 101. ISBN 0-520-03537-2
  18. ^ Kuoni, Jacob (1903). ""Der Lindwurm", Sagen des Kantons St. Gallen". Werner Hausknecht & Co. St. Gallen. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  19. ^ Kuoni, Jacob (1903). ""Der Lindwurm in Gamidaur", Sagen des Kantons St. Gallen". Werner Hausknecht & Co. St. Gallen. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
  20. ^ G. O. Hyltén-Cavallius, Om draken eller lindormen, mémoire till k. Vetenskaps-akademien, 1884.
  21. ^ Meurger, Michel (1996). "The Lindorms of Småland". Arv – Nordic Yearbook of Folklore. 52: 87–9. ISBN 9789122016731.
  22. ^ 1925-, Sjögren, Bengt (1980). Berömda vidunder. [Laholm]: Settern. ISBN 9175860236. OCLC 35325410.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)

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