We can see why Odin cast the beast into the deepest ocean, when it was brought before the Aesir, Norse mythology's council of heroic warrior gods. Jormungand, however, thrived in its watery exile. Eventually it grew so large that its body encircled the globe; its jaws clenching its own tail like a humongous ouroboros.
Jormungand was to remain in the ocean, until Ragnarok, The Day of the Last Battle. Then it was foretold that the evil serpent would be freed to do battle with the most powerful of the Aesir-Thor, god of thunder. However, long before the time of this last titanic battle, these two formidable enemies were to encounter each other on two separate occasions. The first crossing of paths happened when Thor was paying a visit to Utgardhaloki, the king of the giants. The giants were long time enemies of the Aesir. Utgardhaloki thought it would be great fun on this occasion to try some tricks to belittle Thor and his fabled strength.
Utgardhaloki challenged Thor to a trio of tests that actually would have been impossible for even a god or a king to pass. But the king of the giants hoped to bypass this by deception. He was very accomplished in magic and the art of illusion, so he sought to hide the true nature of the things used in Thor's tests. Utgardhadolki thought to humiliate Thor in the extreme in one of the feats. He wondered if Thor could even pick up his pet cat. (Good call on choice of pets-Utgard!)
Thor was extremely angered by this and grabbed the hissing animal on both sides and tried to lift it off the ground; but the cat stayed put. Thor struggled mightily to lift the cat but couldn't lift it even an inch in the air. Utgardhaloki was laughing loudly a such an odd sight, enraging Thor and rallying his spirit for one last attempt. Thor used every fiber of his being and exerted every muscle for this last try, but succeeded in pulling the king's pet cat only a fraction of an inch off the floor!
The other tests left Thor no less humiliated. Thor was famed for his drinking prowess, and failed to finish off a horn of mead that Utgardhaloki's subjects could finish in two swigs. The final crushing defeat was that Thor was overcome in a wrestling match with the king's childhood nurse, who was a frail old woman by now.
Thor was ashamed and humiliated as he left the kingdom of Utgardhaloki the next morning. He was escorted far beyond its frontiers by the king himself. It was only then with the kingdom far behind them and safe from any wrath Thor might bring down upon it that Utgardhaloki told Thor about the true nature of the trials. The horn had been connected by magic to the oceans, so Thor could never have succeeded in drinking its contents. Thor did such a good job during the test that he had created the world's first ebb tide. The "feeble old nurse" wasn't tied to the king at all. She was none other than Old Age, and no one-not the strongest, richest or most powerful can ever conquer her. The most awesome revelation was the test involving the king's pet cat. For this was no feline whatsoever-but Jormungand the Midgard Serpent itself! When Thor had lifted one of the supposed paws off the ground he had actually lifted the head and tail of the great Midgard Serpent.
This was such an astonishing accomplishment that Utgardhaloki had barely been able to hide his terror of Thor's strength with phony laughter. Thor was exceedingly angry to learn how he had been tricked and would have slain Utgardhaloki right then and there with his magic hammer, Miolnir, but as soon as he finished his last sentence, the king of the giants vanished. He had not even been accompanying Thor during his departure, his prescence had been just another illusion.
Many years after the meeting with Utgardhaloki, Thor and another giant Hymir, grandfather of Tyr, god of war, were fishing on Hymir's boat. Thor was using the head of an ox as bait, and suddenly something enormously powerful took the bait in its jaws. Thor knew there was only one creature that could exhibit such strength-Jormungand. He remembered how the beast had humiliated him years before in Utgardhaloki's court and delighted in the opportunity to haul the evil beast to shore. Thor pulled on the line with ever fiber of his being and every ounce of his strength and wrestled with the giant serpent for what seemed like an eternity to the scared-witless Hymir.
In time, Jormungand tired and Thor was starting to realize his long-time goal. The beast's awful, huge and extremely nauseating head emerged from the ocean's surface, and Thor whirled Miolnir to strike the death-blow. Just at the very moment, however, Hymir's courage completely abandoned him. The sight of the loathesome visage so near to his own face was just too much. Without any thought or hesitation Hymir cut Thor's line. Immediately, Jormungand sank below the surface and Thor could only rage at the Fates for having been thwarted again.
In the realm of mankind it seemed as if countless eons passed, but to the Aesir it seemed like only the blink of an eye since the world had begun and Ragnarok arrived. This was the long-awaited Day of the Last Battle, which would pit god and giant, deity against demon, man against monster, and Thor, god of Thunder, against Jormungand.
The ocean's surface and depths quaked with massive ripples and waves as the immense dragon uncoiled itself to come ashore to challenge Thor, the only being capable of giving it a worthy battle. The final combat began and the earth rattled and shook with tremors due to the dragon's unrelenting assault on his adversary. The heavens also quaked and were set alight as Thor sent deadly thunderbolts and searing lightning at his evil and monstrous foe.
The sky shook again as Thor shouted his final war cry and raised Miolnir high above his head. He swung it round and round until the skies were whirling in a vortex. Then he smashed his magical hammer down upon the head of the beast with a thunderous blow that echoed all over the world.
The Midgard Serpent was fatally wounded and squealed out a last earsplitting blast of rage and pain before it crashed lifeless to the ground. Thor had finally conquered the most deadly enemy to ever challenge the Aesir. Sadly, though, Jormungand had a last victory at the same time. Only seconds after slaying the evil dragon, Thor fell dead alongside it. Thor had been strangled to death by the malodorous stench of venom exhaled with the enormous dragon's final breath.
The painting is an artist's rendition of Thor trying to "fish" Jormungand out of the ocean with Hymir crouching in terror in the background. I will try to find out which artist painted it-I had it written down-but lost the paper. This was one of the wonderful mythical stories in Dr. Karl Shuker's Dragons: A Natural History. Thanks again for your great comments and all the best to anyone stopping by!