Scorpio: The Fenris Wolf
The Hound of Hel and the River of Poison

   by Peter Krüger

Return to Germanic Astronomy

We have seen that many Eddic figures can be identified as star constellations by comparing them with Greek/Roman constellations or sometimes by constellations mentioned in the cuneiform tablet MUL.APIN from Mesopotamia.

Surely  the constellation Scorpio, which is easy to find in the starry sky due to its characteristic shape and bright stars, was also known to the Germanic tribes. Obviously, however we have to search for another description as scorpions are not native to central or northern Europe.

The right trace we might find already in Greek mythology even Greeks were familiar with scorpions. In the Sumerian Gilgamesh epos there are scorpion men guarding the gates of the underworld at the zodiac. The same role plays in Greek mythology the hound Cerberus. If we compare the descriptions of Cerberus with the picture of Scorpio below and star maps we find striking similarities: Cerberus is described as a hound bearing several heads (normally three but often even more), having a serpent-shaped tail with a serpent head and having additional serpents forming his mane.

 Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 122 :

"As a twelfth labour Herakles was to fetch Kerberos (Cerberus) from Haides' realm. Kerberos had three dog-heads, a serpent for a tail, and along his back the heads of all kinds of snakes."

The serpent tail reminds to the stinger of the scorpio and the mane of serpents to the legs at the side of the scorpion. The three heads might be inspired by the stars beta-, delta- and pi-Scorpio at the head of Scorpio.



 Also in several Eddic tales we find references to hellhounds, for example in Skirnismal the hounds of Gymir or in Grimnismal the hound Garm. Garm is also mentioned In the Voluspa barking before Gnipahellir. The hound mentioned in Balders draumar is also often compared to Garm. In addition in the literature it is often debated if the hellhound is identical to the wolf Fenrir.

Do we find in the stars proofs that Cerberus and Garm (or even Fenrir) could be indeed identical? An answer can bring us a closer investigation of the hellhound in Baldr’s draumar 2-3:

2. Upp reis Óðinn, alda gautr,
ok hann á Sleipni söðul of lagði;
reið hann niðr þaðan niflheljar til;
mætti hann hvelpi, þeim er ór helju kom.

2. Then Othin rose, | the enchanter old,
And the saddle he laid | on Sleipnir's back;
Thence rode he down | to Niflhel deep,
And the hound he met | that came from hell.
3. Sá var blóðugr um brjóst framan
ok galdrs föður gól of lengi;
fram reið Óðinn, foldvegr dunði;
hann kom at hávu Heljar ranni.
3. Bloody he was | on his breast before,
At the father of magic | he howled from afar;
Forward rode Othin, | the earth resounded
Till the house so high | of Hel he reached.

 The dog is described as having a bloody breast. There could be of course a very simple explanation, the hellhound is killing men and blood is dropping on his breast. However, it is extremely interesting to compare this description with the constellation Scorpio. The brightest star, alpha-Scorpio, is the red (!) supergiant star Antares. He is called in Greek also Kardia Scorpiu, in Latin Cor Scorpii, the heart of the Scorpion. In the cuneiform tablet MUL.APIN Antares is called GABA.GIR.TAB, the breast of the scorpion. This means the bloody (= red) breast of the dog might refer to the main star of Scorpio, Antares. The name Antares itself is explained normally as Anti-Ares, i.e. Anti-Mars. As the equivalent of Mars in Germanic myth is Tyr (dies Marti – Tuesday) this might also explain why during Ragnarok the hellhound Garm is fighting according to Gylfaginning against Tyr.

Interestingly the hellhound Garmr and also the wolf Fenris were not said to have multiple heads like Cerberus. Instead the main characteristic of Fenris in Gylfaginning 34 is to have the mouth wide open with a sword stuck in his jaws.


This can again be compared to Scorpio. It might be an echo of the original  Scorpio complete with his two claws, which were later transformed into the constellation Libra. The cuneiform name GIR.TAB literally means 'the one with the two claws' and this might have once been 'the one with the two jaws open wide'. Scorpio and Libra therefore represent the Fenris Wolf, his jaws open to swallow Odin.


 Gylfaginning 34:

"When the Æsir saw that the Wolf was fully bound, they took the chain that was fast to the fetter, and which is called Gelgja, and passed it through a great rock--it is called Gjöll--and fixed the rock deep down into the earth. Then they took a great stone and drove it yet deeper into the earth--it was called Thviti--and used the stone for a fastening-pin. The Wolf gaped terribly, and thrashed about and strove to bite them; they thrust into his mouth a certain sword: the guards caught in his lower jaw, and the point in the upper; that is his gag. He howls hideously, and slaver runs out of his mouth: that is the river called Ván; there he lies till the Doom of the Gods."

The place where Cerberus kept watch was according to some at the mouth of the Acheron (the border river of the netherworld), and according to others at the gates of Hades, into which he admitted the shades, but never let them out again.

Hesiod, Theogony 769 ff :

"And before them [the halls of Hades and Persephone] a dreaded hound (deinos kunos) [Kerberos, Cerberus], on watch, who has no pity, but a vile stratagem: as people go in he fawns on all, with actions of his tail and both ears, but he will not let them go back out, but lies in wait for them and eats them up, when he catches any going back through the gates."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2, 125 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mytho-grapher circa 2nd A.D.) :

"Herakles asked Pluto [Hades] for Kerberos (Cerberus), and was told to take the hound if he could overpower it without using any of the weapons he had brought with him. He found Kerberos at the gates of Akheron, and there, pressed inside his armour and totally covered by the lion's skin, he threw his arms round its head and hung on, despite bites from the serpent-tail, until he convinced the beast with his choke-hold. Then, with it in tow, he made his ascent through Troizen. After showing Kerberos to Eurystheus, he took it back to Hades' realm."



This location at the gates of Akheron mentioned for Cerberus is very interesting as the Akheron is normally describes as the river of the underworld. This is of of highest interest as it has a direct parallel in Lokasenna:

Loki spoke:

38. "Be silent, Tyr! | for between two men
Friendship thou ne'er couldst fashion;
Fain would I tell | how
Fenrir once
Thy right hand rent from thee."

Tyr spoke:

39. "My hand do I lack, | but Hrothvitnir thou,
And the loss brings longing to both;
Ill fares the
wolf | who shall ever await
In fetters the
fall of the gods."

Loki spoke:

40. "Be silent,
Tyr! | for a son with me
Thy wife once chanced to win;
Not a penny, methinks, | wast thou paid for the wrong,
Nor wast righted an inch, poor wretch."

Freyr spoke:

41. "By the mouth of the river | the wolf remains
Till the
gods to destruction go;
Thou too shalt soon, | if thy tongue is not stilled,
Be fettered, thou forger of ill."

This parallel is interesting enough. But are we also able to find the river? First of all, of course we can’t be sure that the wolf mentioned in Lokasenna is identical to Garm or Fenrir. Especially as next to Scorpio there is another possible candidate, the constellation Lupus, literally the wolf, named as such since oldest days. However, if the wolf would be Lupus, than we would have a fascinating possibility to explain the river. There are in principal two possibilities how the mouth of a river can look like, with or without a delta. If we look again on the picture of Scorpio (but this time without the claws!) than it could be seen as having the shape of a river with a delta! In addition there is a very interesting description of a river in Voluspa 36:

“Á fellur austan
um eitrdala
söxum ok sverðum,
Slíðr heitir sú.”

“From the east there pours
through poisoned vales
With swords and daggers
the river Slith.”

If we bring this river in connection with the mouth of the river we would find a very sound theory for the eitrdala. As a scorpion is a poisonous insect the poisonous dales the river is flowing through sound like an echo of his poisonous stinger. The saxes and swords might than refer to the legs that were transferred into the snakes in the Greek tale or to the claws of the Scorpio.

Besides Slith there is another river of interest, the river Gjöll with the bridge Gjallarbru crossing it. In Gyfaginning 34 Fenrir is said to be bound to a rock called Gjöll and a river called Van is streaming out of his mouth.



The stinger of Scorpio is located next to Ophiuchus. In Ophiuchus we found described the bound Loki, so the poisonous serpent could also be interpreted as the stinger of Scorpio as in the case of Cerberus.

We find therefore several possibilities for the hellhound and the wolf. Either they are identical to Lupus next to the (river) of Scorpio or (especially as Lupus can’t be seen from middle or northern Europe!) the wolf and hellhound was interpreted as Scorpio with a river flowing out of the mouth. We might therefore have two separate interpretations of Scorpio mingled together: one as a river and one as a wolf or hound.

The interpretation of Scorpio as a river crossing the zodiac and the Milky Way mountains sheds also new light on the name Fenrisulfr (regardless of the above mentioned difficulties of identification). The river with a delta is surely forming a marsh or fen, giving name to the wolf. As this fen would be between Scorpio and Virgo this might also explain the term Fensalir belonging to Frigg.

33. Þó hann æva hendr né höfuð kembði,
áðr á bál of bar Baldrs andskota;
en Frigg of grét í Fensölum
vá Valhallar. Vituð ér enn - eða hvat?

 There is another interesting parallel. We came to the conclusion that the Greek river Acheron is identical to the river in Voluspa called Slidur. To cross the Acheron the death have to take the boat of Charon.

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 854 ff :

"But sail upon the wind of lamentation, my friends, and about your head row with your hands' rapid stroke in conveyance of the dead, that stroke which always causes the sacred slack-sailed, black-clothed ship [of Kharon] to pass over Akheron to the unseen land here Apollon does not walk, the sunless land that receives all men."

Just behind of Scorpio we find the constellation of Sagittarius, normally depicted as an archer with a bow in his hand. South of it there has been seen a boat, called MA.GUR8 in the MUL.APIN tablets. The boat could be the stars of Corona Australis.

In Voluspa just after a description of Garm we find a hint to Sagittarius (here holding a shield instead of a bow) giving further proof to the identification. In the strophe is furthermore mentioned an eagle, Aquila, north of Sagittarius, and the boat of the death, Naglfar.

49. Now Garm howls loud | before Gnipahellir,
The fetters will burst, | and the wolf run free
Much do I know, | and more can see
Of the fate of the gods, | the mighty in fight.

50. From the east comes Hrym | with shield held high;
In giant-wrath | does the serpent writhe;
O'er the waves he twists, | and the tawny eagle
Gnaws corpses screaming; | Naglfar is loose.


We will see later in another investigation that the wolf or dog bound or chained at the gates of the netherworld or the mouth of the river has to be distinguished from the picture of “the wolf run free” during Ragnarok. The later one is seen in Leo, the lion together with Hydra, the Midgard serpent both fighting to the nearby constellations of Orion (Odin) and Taurus (Thor), all four setting at the same time of year.


Return to Germanic Astronomy