Written by Andrew Evans
The gigantic monster that lives in Lagarfljót has mystified and terrified the poor souls of east Iceland for quite some time. The parallels to the Loch Ness Monster are uncanny, but Iceland claims theirs is much older and a lot less elusive. Sadly, there are no grainy photos, but there are enough eyewitnesses to sketch a convincing mugshot. Ormur means ‘worm’, and the Lagarfljótsormur is more or less a gargantuan worm – a creature of such incredible length that it could only live in Lagafljót.
Today, the monster is a mascot for Fljótsdalur and often depicted as a smiling serpent or dragon. There is still a healthy reward for anyone who gets a good photograph of the animal.
The origins of the Lagarfljótsormur are believed to go back to a local milkmaid whose folk magic got a little out of hand. Trying for treasure, she placed a gold ring and tiny snail inside a box. When she opened the box later, instead of the promised gold, she discovered a giant snail had grown to fill the box. She tossed the freakish snail into the river where it continued to grow to fill the size of the lake. Another legend reports the Icelanders hiring a bunch of Finnish sorcerers who managed to subdue the monster by chaining him to the bottom of the lake. That seems unlikely given the many places the Lagafljótsormur has been spotted.
The first recorded sighting of Lagarfljótsormur was in the year 1345, when farmers noticed a row of rolling bumps moving across the water, but with such great length between each (fathoms!) that any natural explanation seemed impossible. Other sightings reported a colossal animal of greyish colour lacking head, tail or limb. Some claim to have seen the monster swimming upstream on the surface with humps slithering in the air.
In the 18th century’s Age of Reason, theoreticians explained how the ripples and ‘humps’ rose to the surface from gas bubbles down below. It’s a very reasonable explanation given Iceland’s volcanic activity, but not for this particular spot. Further sightings gave more credibility to the existence of a bona fide monster. One of the most recent eyewitnesses claimed the Lagarfljótsormur came to shore at the campsite in Atlavík and filled the sandy beach with its monstrous length.
In the past, a sighting of the Lagarfljótsormur was a bad omen – a premonition of harsh weather, dead livestock, or sickness. Today, the monster is a mascot for Fljótsdalur and often depicted as a smiling serpent or dragon. There is still a healthy reward for anyone who gets a good photograph of the animal. Should you capture the worm with your lens, do contact the museum in Egilsstaðir.