Mimzy
(Today's primary source is Myths of the Norseman by H.A. Guerber, as well as the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson translated by Jean Young. Today's picture was drawn by John Bauer and was found via Wikipedia.)

Who: Loki the Trickster god, father of monsters, Prince of Lies.

What: Personification of fire, especially fire that is underground. The reason why there are earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, geysers, hot springs, etc.

One of the major reasons why I am so drawn to the Norse myths is that, like Christianity, the myths define a clear past, present, and future. The mythic past is where the world was created, where the gods rose to power, and where they had most of their adventures. The mythic present is now and forever until the mythic future comes. It is at the end of the mythic past and for the entirety of the mythic future that Loki takes center stage.

Loki is probably the most difficult to describe of all the Norse gods. This is likely because he doesn’t seem to fit into European traditions of myths at all. With his tendency to create problems for the gods, but to always have the gods come out ahead, he more closely resembles the Trickster figure from some Native American and African traditions then anything else. At the same time, the Loki found in the mythic present/future closely resembles Lucifer from Judeo-Christian traditions. They’re both unabashedly evil and out to destroy all of mankind.

Yet it didn’t start out that way. Shortly after the world was made, Odin and Loki met and the two became sworn blood brothers for reasons left unexplained. It is very likely that this oath was made in an attempt by Odin to prevent Ragnarok. This attempt would ultimately fail, but for the moment Loki was on the god’s side. To commemorate their oath, Loki gave mankind the blood within their veins and instilled in us our passions and hot-headedness. Loki then moved into Asgard with the rest of our cast and fell into a pattern of annoying the hell out of everyone and escaping their wrath by the skin of his teeth.

Loki had at least eight children, but the most famous of these would be Sleipnir, Hel, Fenrir, and the Midgard serpent. Sleipnir was an eight legged horse which became Odin’s steed, actually born by Loki while he was in the form of a mare. Hel, Fenrir, and the Midgard serpent were all mothered by Angrboda, one of Loki’s wives. Loki had been hiding these three children when they were discovered by Odin and the others and deemed too dangerous to be allowed to be free. The Midgard serpent was cast into the sea, presumably so it would drown, but the monster grew to an enormous size until it encircled the world, coming around to bite its own tail. Fenrir, a giant wolf, was briefly kept as a pet by the war god Tyr, but we’ll get to that when we get to him. Hel, one of Loki’s only female children who was half beautiful woman and half rotting corpse, was cast into Niflheim, the underworld, where she was made the ruler of all who died of illness or old age. There’s no reaction given by Loki telling what he thought of the treatment of his children, but as he initially tried to hide them from the gods it’s likely that he wasn’t too happy about it.

There are plenty of ‘Loki annoys the gods’ stories, but I have to tell you one that shows that the gods usually always benefitted from Loki’s tendencies.

Sif, Thor’s wife, was well known for her beautiful golden hair which she prized highly. Yet, one morning the couple awoke to find that Sif had been shaved bald! Thor was outraged and swore to punish the one who had done this to his beloved and marched right over to Loki who saw him coming and fled. Unfortunately for him, Thor managed to catch him and began strangling the other man to death. Loki managed to get free and began to beg forgiveness from the more powerful god, promising that he would bring Sif a new head of hair, one made out of pure gold that would have the ability to grow like real hair. Thor thought this over and agreed that such a gift would be excellent penance and let Loki go.

Loki immediately ran to Svart-alfa-heim, the home of the dwarves and dark elves, and begged Dvalin, a dwarf, to help him make the hair as well as gifts for Odin and Freyr. (Remember from my article on Odin, that Odin, Thor, and Freyr were worshipped as a triple god.) Dvalin agreed, and created the spear Gungnir, a spear which never missed it’s mark, for Odin, the ship Skidbladnir, a ship which could sail the air and sea as well as be folded up to fit in your pocket, for Freyr, and Sif’s hair. Overjoyed with the gifts, Loki declared that Dvalin’s son Ivald was the greatest smith known. The dwarf Brokkr overheard the god’s praise and declared that his brother Sindri was an even more skilled smith and would be able to create items of greater worth and magical power. Thinking that this would be an easy way to get more treasures, Loki challenged Sindri’s skill, wagering his head for Brokkr’s that the dwarf couldn’t create the better items.

Sindri accepted the bet and with Brokkr manning the bellows, set to work. Loki then had a moment of doubt. He was rather attached to his head and didn’t want to risk losing it in a bet so he decided to try and sabotage the dwarves. Turning himself into a gadfly he stung Brokkr’s hand, hoping that this would cause the dwarf to falter and stop pumping the bellows. It didn’t, and Sindri produced his first item the boar Gullinbursti, which radiated light from its golden bristles and could run through the sky, for Freyr. He then got to work on his second treasure.

Loki, seeing the wondrous boar, got a little more nervous about the bet. Turning himself into a gadfly again he flew over and stung Brokkr on the cheek. Yet, the dwarf still didn’t falter and Sindri removed his second treasure from the flames. It was the arm ring Draupnir, an emblem of fertility which would drop eight rings every ninth night, which was for Odin. By now Loki was a little desperate so when the dwarves started on the third treasure Loki stung Brokkr over the eyes, drawing so much blood that he had to pause in order to wipe his brow. This managed to damage the third treasure, the hammer Mjollnir which always returned to its owner’s hand, by causing the handle to be too short. Despite this, Brokkr and Sindri knew that their gifts were the best so they went to Asgard with Loki to present them to the gods.

Despite the usefulness of the ship and spear and the loveliness of Sif’s new hair, the gods declared Brokkr the winner as Mjollnir, in Thor’s hands, would be an invaluable weapon against the giants. Realizing his head was forfeit, Loki attempted to flee again, but was brought back by Thor. Thor gave Loki to Brokkr, but forbade the dwarf from actually taking his head. Unable to claim his full vengeance, Brokkr decided that the next best punishment would be to sew Loki’s lips shut which he promptly did. Loki meekly accepted his punishment until he got sick of tolerating the god’s gibes in silence and got the stitches taken out. But the gods were able to keep their wonderful treasures, many of which would be very useful in the myths to come.
4 Responses
  1. Thanks for posting this! I now have new wrinkles for my brain.

    I love all mythology and I think Loki is my favorite from the Norse. There's no one quite like him in
    the Egyptian or Greek pantheons.


  2. Mimzy Says:

    Stephanie,

    Glad you enjoyed it! Considering how long it took me to write I was secretly hoping that reading this article would cure at least one form of cancer, but it appears that I'm not that magical.

    Loki really is the best! He's one of the most complex characters in mythology which makes him one of the most interesting to read about.


  3. *has a mental image of Loki pouting with his mouth sewn shut* hehe


  4. Gary Corby Says:

    What a fantastic post. You have a talent for this Mimzy!

    Here's a question for you. There aren't any trickster Gods in the standard Indo-European pantheon. So where does Loki come from?