The Mountain Wurm
The Alps are home to many creatures but what many may not know is that the mountains of Switzerland, Italy, France, Bavaria, and Austria also are home to legendary creatures and spirits of folklore and myth. One such creature has many names: Tatzelwurm, Stollenwurm, Arassas, Basalisk, and many others depending on where in the Alps you are. The name “Brigoprimis” is a reconstructed name roughly meaning, “Mountain Worm” and I would like to give thanks to my dear friends Nellos and Ûailogenos for the help with the name.
The Tatzelwurm is best classified as a type of Dragon known as a Lindworm because of the similar features they have in common. The Brigoprimis is described as having a serpentine body but with a shorter tail similar to an alligator or crocodile only having two arms but there have been sightings and accounts where the Brigoprimis had four legs to multiple legs, resembling a centipede. What makes the Brigoprimis/Tatzelwurm/Stollenwurm stand out from typical Lindworm descriptors is the Brigoprimis having a cat or catlike head. Older sightings have also claimed a dog or snake head but from the medieval period to the 19th century, the Brigoprimis has been said to have the head of a cat.
With the feline head being the most constant feature, the rest of the creature’s body has had contradicting details. Now, suspending one’s disbelief, there are two ways to look at the Brigoprimis. The way that I am approaching it, the creature is more of a spirit that can take on physical form and when it does, does so in a way that’ll be recognizable or stand out to those it reveals itself to. This could explain for why the creature has had inconsistent features until later on in history. Whether it be centipede looking or four legs and winged, this being eventually chose the form it takes today to possibly stay consistent with human memory. Perhaps, this being chose it’s current form based on features on various Alpine wildlife to match the wildlife and natural food chain. Skeptics of this creature have written it off as a frightened peasant’s sighting of an otter, European viper, and/or a type of blind salamander known as an Axolotl or Olm which lives in Alpine caves..
The latter can alone look like an infantile version of the Brigoprimis since it’s serpentine, has two to four legs, and has an objectively catlike head shape and the appendages on the side of it’s face looking similar to whiskers and/or cat ears. This leads to the second view of this creature in the cryptid context. Rather than a corporeal being that can manifest in a physical form, if the Brigoprimis is a flesh and blood animal it may be a relative of these cave salamanders or some kind of Heloderma that adapted to living in mountain caverns. The creature was said to have either brown or black skin that, most of the time, is said to be scales like a reptile but some accounts say that it had fur. Again, looking at it like a flesh and blood animal, there are ancient remains of pterosaurs that had hair or fur. When looking at the winged accounts of Tatzelwurms, a pterosaur, which was a flying animal, could be a source of the description.
In addition to the colors, which both are seen on common European vipers, another trait is that the skin was incredibly tough according to a hunter who was said to have shot and killed a Brigoprimis but found that his knife would not pierce the hide. Larger reptiles like Aligators and Crocodiles have very tough skin that can even withstand a shot from smaller caliber guns, possibly even a .22. This is from osteoderms which are boney structures on their back. As these creatures grow, their skin gets thicker and tougher with their soft under bellies being more gentle and vulnerable. All of this has contributed to dragon lore which a Brigoprimis is.
Stories of the Tatzelwurm are very consistent. The creature is said to be highly aggressive, mainly attacking livestock but also humans from time to time. The Brigoprimis is known to jump or leap at it’s targets which has led to one of it’s many names, Springwurm. Many reptiles have deceitful agility and snakes in particular can use their coils to strike with great speed. This leaping ability could be a link to the versions where the Brigoprimis has wings as well. As stated earlier, the name “Tatzelwurm” means “clawed wurm” from the stories describing the long sharp claws it has.
If flying/leaping with sharp claws and a thick hide wasn’t enough, the main and most terrifying weapon at the Brigoprimis’s disposal is it’s highly toxic venom. Like the Basilisk, as well as many dragons/wurms, the Brigoprimis has such volatile poison that it’s breath alone is deadly. Needless to say, this ability can be found in most vipers and the infamous Komodo dragons, aside from the toxic breathe of course.
The size of the Brigoprimis varies from as small as one foot in length, to quite large. One account states that a quadreped Tatzelwurm stood on it’s hind legs at about seven feet tall. Of the alpine dragons that have been featured in folklore, the Brigoprimis is one of the smaller variants but is no less dangerous with its leaping, ambush style of attacking. Lastly, the creature is said to make a high pitched shriek, something seen in large cats like Mountain Lions, a whistle noise, and, most famously, a hissing sound like that as a snake.
Authors have written about the Tatzelwurm/Brigoprimis and other dragons in the Alps such as 17th century writer Johann Jacob Wagner, 18th century author Johann Jakob Scheuchzer, 19th century writers Karl Wilhelm von Dalla Torre, Josef Freiherr von Doblhoff, Samuel Studer, and Johann Rudolf Wyss. All of these authors and naturalists have dedicated much of their careers to figuring out and categorizing the Brigoprimis based on anecdotes from locals.
While names like Bergstutz means “mountain stump” and Stollenwurm meaning “tunnel wurm” indicates that the Brigoprimis is a mountain dwelling and, possibly, subterranean, almost every story, encounter, and sighting has been near a source of water. The creature’s anatomy suggests that it could manage very well in the water and in underground tunnels. If the Brigoprimis is a living, breathing, cryptid it could be possibly amphibian or a large predatory reptile like a monitor lizard or even a type of crocodile. Something that can swim, dig/tunnel, and strong enough to leap at it’s prey. Something that could traverse caverns inside the mountains outside and handle exposure to the outside elements since most animals live strictly in one environment or the other with various exceptions.
For myself, I don’t see this creature as a living being but as a spirit than can manifest into a physical form. Switzerland is renown for it’s dragon lore and they seem to be tied to mountains and various water features. Older versions of the Brigoprimis are said to be linked to storms, which is fairly common in Alpine folklore of dragons. A dragon appears in the town of Lucerne after a thunderstorm. Links between supernatural creatures and facets of nature are extremely common world wide. Animism has a hand in this.
In Alpine lore, avalanches are manifestations of giants, Edelweiss flowers were once faeries, and storms were often a sign that a dragon was around. Taking this into account, the Brigoprimis can be linked to the lakes and rivers within the mountains and, more importantly, what these things can represent. In Celtic lore, there are constant themes of boundaries of our world and the Otherworld. Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and other Celtic places have stories of hallowed hills, sacred springs, mysterious caves and many other locations where the veil is thin and the gateway is wide open for us to enter the Otherworld or for something to enter our world.
This is just as true for Gaulish Polytheism. Springs, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water are considered liminal spaces. Both in a physical sense as a natural border between tribes but also in a spiritual way. Under the surface of the water was Dubnos or “The Deep”, a place were some of the Dêwoi dwell. Numerous cultures also feature a story of a psychopomp figure who ferries souls across the water into the next world. Charon of Greek mythology is, by far, the most famous ferryman. In Ireland, there’s a small rock formation off the coast that is believed to be the entrance to the Otherworld, specifically, a gateway for souls of the departed.
It’s really no wonder why there are numerous tales of benevolent and malevolent spirits that inhabit the water. Nixies, kelpies, merfolk, sirens, selkies, to name just a few. Within this list are, of course, sea serpents and other various aquatic dragons. The Hydra from the labors of Heracles was also said to have volatile toxic breathe and potent venom and the dragon, Fafnir, kept his gold hoard next to a river. There is another creature who can be compared to the Brigoprimis who is more misunderstood.
Spirit of Water
While the Hydra is the malevolent offspring of Echidna and Typhon and Fafnir was once a dwarf that slew his own father for wealth and this greed transformed him into a wurm/dragon, the Midgard Serpent, Jörmungandr, may have been demonized and treated unjustly in lore. For those who are unfamiliar, Jörmungandr is the child of the trickster God Loki and the giantess Angrboda. Knowing of the serpent’s role in Ragnarok, Odin throws Jörmungandr into the sea where he grows in such massive size that he wraps around the world and bites his own tail until the Twilight of the Gods.
On the surface, Jörmungandr is a monster, pure and simple. But when one looks deeper there are aspects that go unnoticed. Firstly, the story was written down by Snorri Sturluson who, while probably did what he could to keep the integrity of the mythology, was a Christian who was involved with the politics of the Norwegian royalty so there’s a high chance of bias and seeing the stories in a Christian context in which serpents equal evil.
Now, to be fair to both Jörmungandr and Odin, Odin was probably acting out of fear or was He? For practical reasons, it is said in some versions of the story that Jörmungandr was growing at a rapid rate on land that it was quick thinking to throw him into the sea. We don’t know if it was an enchantment of Odin or foresight of Jörmungandr, but the World Serpent bit his own tail once he had wrapped around the earth which
On the day of Ragnarok, Jörmungandr will release his tail and rise from the sea to fight his rival Thor. In the process, the sea will wreak devastation on the land. His venom will poison the sea and despite being killed by Thor, Thor falls from the poison after taking 9 steps. In reading these stories I have often wondered, why doesn’t he ever release his tail during that time? There’s no mention of Odin binding Jörmungandr to bite his own tail. So what’s keeping the Midgard Serpent in the sea? Thor, on the other hand, has tried to pull Jörmungandr from the sea and slay him prior to Ragnarok.
One idea is that Jörmungandr is self aware of what he is and what his fate is. By biting his tail, he becomes an Ouroboros which is often seen as a symbol of eternal cyclic renewal. A kenning for Loki was “father of the sea-thread” which is symbolic since if Jörmungandr should rise, the thread will unravel and the world will be undone, the eternal cycle will be broken. In a way, as long as Jörmungandr stays in the sea and by his own free will, Jörmungandr is a protective spirit. Hel and Fenrir are undoubtedly imprisoned but Jörmungandr, as far as we know, is under the waves by his own will. I’m sure you’re wondering why the rant on the World Serpent. The reasoning is that in the Middle Ages, Jörmungandr was being depicted not as a big snake but as a creature which looks much like the Brigoprimis.
It can definitely be argued that the Brigoprimis is an aggressive guardian of the sacred water sources of the Alps, but there are other linear spots that the Brigoprimis can protect. The mountains are commonly seen as sacred places across the world as the home of the Gods. Various mountains in ths Alps have caves that lead to deep caverns. These subterranean locations could also fall into the category of a linear space linked to the Dêwoi of Dubnos. Some of the names of the Brigoprimis allude to tunnels particularly Stollenwurm which means “tunnel wurm”. If this creature was a flesh and blood animal, it would explain how it’s hardly sighted compared to documented animals.
While the Brigoprimis, Tatzelwurm, Stollenwurm, Lindwurm, whatever name you choose to call it, may not be the grandest of dragons but it’s might and power is no less affected by it’s smaller stature. Like Jörmungandr, this spirit has been demonized by post Christian influence in the area. The Brigoprimis has an aggressive history but not necessarily as an attacker of villages or cities.
In the accounts of the creature attacking people, it could be argued that these folks were in it’s territory or in a sacred site without showing the proper respect. If this theory has merit, the Brigoprimis could be a denizen of the Deep who act at the bidding of the Lower World Dêwoi. There’s another thing to look at and discuss before we can say anything for sure.
The Gunderstrup Dragon
I’m sure most are wondering, “what does this thing have to do with Gaulish Polytheism?” Well, the answer to that is the images seen on the Gundestrup Cauldron. This artifact features many creatures but one side of the Cauldron caught my eye when researching. This image depicts a Dêwos/Dêuos (God male singular), which is speculated to be Sucellos, who is wrestling with two creatures which look like winged lindwurms and right below the Dêwos is an image of two people being attacked by, what could be seen as, a wingless lindwurm.
This image could be a depiction of the Dêwos being a protector from dark spirits and monsters. In our context, the Dêwos has mastery over the Brigoprimis. It can ward off dragons of the sky and under the earth. Now it’s hard to tell if these are both different types of Brigoprimis or Brigoprimoi or if the Brigoprimis is the lower creature or the upper creature. Personally I see the lower creature as the Brigoprimis or one of many Brigoprimoi but I leave this open to interpretation.
The point is that both creatures bear such remarkable similarities to the Brigoprimis that it’s hard to argue that this Alpine Dragon is a creation of post medieval folklore. The image of the Gundestrup dragons having, what looks like, dog-like or horse-like heads does link to the theory stated earlier that this creature is a spirit that can change it’s appearance. In ancient times it chose the form more like a dog or horse but over time it became more accustomed to that of a cat or snake. Again this is just my personal believe and is also up for interpretation.
Divination and Gnosis
Lastly, I performed a divination session to learn more about this spirit which does seem to line up with my perspective and theories about the Brigoprimis. My findings ultimately pointed that the Brigoprimis is a guardian spirit who is relentless and vicious against those who stumble into it’s domain thinking that he or she is in control and has power. In a way, the Brigoprimis is an agent that targets hubris. It will defend and protect the humble and devoted or the Dêwoi or at least shows respect to the sanctity of the space they are in.
Who are the Brigoprimoi?
WWT: 13 The Journey
LP: Pellon (Inverted)
Meaning: The creature or creatures are death and danger. However, death can mean regeneration and rebirth. Eihwaz is also the yew rune and yew was used as hedges for cemeteries which suggests danger of crossing into hallowed and sacred spaces.
How do they help mankind?
WWT: 7 The Archer
EF: Ansuz (Inverted)
LP: Nertos (Inverted)
Meaning: The Archer is respectful of the environment and the grounds in which he or she hunts. The Archer also understands that there are some places you don’t tread. These places could be the home of the Brigoprimis and one could offer old belongings so as to gain. This relationship means being humble and accepting the hard truths.
How do they hurt mankind?
WWT: Knight of Arrows-Hawk
Meaning: The Brigoprimis is a defender of the humble and those who respect the sacred space but for all others, the Brigoprimis is a unrelenting force of nature who preys on those who cross the boundaries without giving proper respect to the environment, the Dêwoi, and the Brigoprimis itself.
No matter what you would call this creature/spirit, they all point to one distinct direction. The heads may have changed, the number of legs have changed, but this wurm has been consistent in it’s behavior and in it’s territory. This Alpine Lindwurm, the Tatzelwurm, the Brigoprimis is ferocious and violent but only when someone crosses into its territory. A territory which could be the various sacred sites of the Alps. Lakes, caverns, rivers, springs, mountain caves, all symbolic of liminal spaces and the Brigoprimis is the tunneling, leaping, and venomous security guard. There’s several aspects that can be debated and open to interpretation but that itself may be part of this spirit’s nature. It is a dragon of the unseen and the unknown. It takes on a small but mighty form to perform it’s duty.
To this day, all across the Alps many believe that this creature exists in a flesh and blood form and sightings have been as recent as the 1980s. A skull was found in the Austrian Alps that was believed to be a Tatzelwurm/Lindwurm skull but was later proved to be the skull of a wooly rhino. Later, in 1933, a Loch Ness style photog was taken that is supposedly a Tatzelwurm but there are many who criticize its authenticity but the image is still kinda creepy.
Everything I’ve covered here can be argued and debated, I won’t say that my theories are fact. The Brigoprimis could be a cryptid that stalks the Alpine waterways like any other predator. I personally see this as a spirit that is intelligent and protective of sites within the Alps. I believe it chooses a chimeric shape to instill fear by taking physical aspects of some Alpine animals like a cat or lynx, an olm, and a European viper. Whatever this creature is, whether it is a unrelenting and unforgiving guardian or an aggressive ambush style predator, it would be wise to be mindful and weary of the Mountain Wurm
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