Wyrms

White Worm

Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, also wrote “Lair of the White Worm”.  This is based on the old English word Wyrm.  The Wyrm was a giant legless and flightless serpent.  A cross between a Dragon and a Snake.

In Gaelic a Wyrm is called a Péist.  Pronounced like the English word “pest”.  Ireland is a country with no snakes, but many placenames suggest that they were once home to mighty Wyrms.  Poulnapeasta translates as “Hole of the Beast/Worm” and idiomatically translates as “Dragons Lake”

In the tale ‘Hunting of Sliabh Truim’ there is a péist with ‘ears as large as the gate of a  fort’ and ‘tusks as big as a tree’.

Irish mythology is full of warriors slaying dragons in lakes and Monks destroying dragons with the power of Christ.  Scattery Island in the Shannon Estuary, St Senans Isle, was home to a beast slain by St. Senan.

The story of St. Senan describes his encounter with the Wyrm as follows:

and then they went to seek the monster, to the place in which it abode.

When the monster heard them it shook its head, and its hair stood up upon it, and its rough bristles, and it looked at them hatingly and wrathfully. Not gentle, friendly, mild was the look it bestowed upon them, for it marvelled that anyone else should come to visit it in its island. So it went to them strongly and swiftly, insomuch that the earth trembled under its feet. Hideous, uncouth, ruthless, awful was the beast that arose there.

Longer was its body than Inis na h- Urclaide. A horse’s mane had it ; an eye gleaming, flaming in its head, and its mien savage, forward, angry, edged, crimson, bloody, cruel, bounding. Anyone would think that its eye would go through him when it looked upon him. Two very hideous, very thick feet under it ; behind it a mane. Nails hard as iron on it, which used to strike showers of fire out of the rocks of stone wherever it went across them. A fiery breath it had which burned like embers. A belly it had like the bellows of a furnace. A whale’s tail upon it behind. Hard, rending claws upon it, which used to lay bare, on the path they came, the surface of the ground behind the monster. Equally did it traverse sea and land when it so desired. Then the sea boiled from the greatness of
its heat and from its virulence when it entered it.

Now when the monster came savagely to the place where Senan was standing, it opened its maw so that, as it drew nigh the cleric, its entrails were clearly seen over the maw. Thereat Senan lifted up his hand and made the sign of Christ’s cross in its face. Then the monster was silent, and this is what Senan spoke to it :

‘ I say unto thee,’ saith he, ‘ in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, leave this island, and hurt no one in the district over which thou wilt go, nor in the district into which thou wilt come’.

The monster went at once at Senan’s word out of the island till it reached Dubhloch of Sliabh Collain. And it did no hurt to anyone till it came here, nor after arriving ; for it
durst not oppose Senan’s word.”

Was Ireland a nest of Dragons in ancient days?  Or is it possible that the Early Christian Church used serpents and dragons as metaphors for Pagan Gods?