In Norse mythology, Loki was a active prankster who caused a lot of problems for the gods and was often at the receiving end of their wrath. However, he was not just a trickster, Loki had a very interesting and complex personality and legend, which we shall study in this SpiritualRay article.
Did You Know?
Although modern books, movies, and other popular culture depict Loki as the brother of Thor and the adopted son of Odin, this is a misconception. In reality, ancient Norse mythology says that Loki is the son of Farbauti, the King of Jotunn frost giants, and a giantess named Laufey. Loki is the blood-brother of Odin, and a friend and traveling companion of Thor.
Loki (meaning: the end) is the god of mischief, trickery, fire, chaos, and change. When talking about Loki in Norse mythology, most people view him as a cunning, chaotic, and divine being, who should always be considered as a villain. While this is true to a certain extent, it is a misconception that he is a personification of evil, like Satan. In fact, he represents the duality of humans, as the change between good and bad in a person.
Despite being the god of mischief, Loki has often helped the gods during times of danger, and was reverentially given the title ‘Norse God of Fire’. It has been generally accepted that the character of Loki has evolved in Norse mythology through Indo-European influences. Let us now turn towards the tales and folklore behind this enigmatic figure, and find out what he meant to the Germanic Vikings in the pre-Christian period.
Loki The God
According to the ancient texts of Norse poetry and prose (Eddas) of the 13th century, Loki is a red-haired, handsome, and charming personality, who is extremely capricious in nature. He is well-known for getting the gods into trouble, helping them when in trouble, and also for his knack of making them laugh and cheering them up. He has complete mastery over shape-shifting abilities, the fire element, and magic.
According to mythological stories, Loki is bisexual in nature and has fathered and mothered various divine beings. He has two wives Sigyn who give birth to two of Loki’s sons Vali and Nari, and the giantess Angrboda, who gave birth to three of Loki’s offspring, Hel the death goddess, Fenrir the wolf destined to kill Odin during the Ragnarök, and the Midgard Serpent, who was destined to kill Thor during Ragnarök. He has also been known to mother Odin’s divine horse Sleipnir. Loki himself is destined to die during the battle of Ragnarök, while killing Heimdall.
Myths and Tales
Myth 1: After the fight between the Gods and the Vanir, the walls of Asgard were broken and in a ruin, and although it was important to rebuild the wall, none of the gods wanted to take up the huge responsibility. One day, a strange horseman rode up to Asgard and offered to build the wall on the condition that if he completed the building work in six months, he could take the sun, the moon, and the beautiful goddess Freya as his wife. Although initially the gods were averse to such terms, Loki convinced them that the task to build such a mighty wall in such a short time was impossible by anybody. So the challenge was set. However, it soon became clear that the horseman and his stallion were not ordinary, and in fact possessed great strength, enough to easily complete the challenge. The gods were now angry with Loki and threatened that he would lose his life if the horseman won.
So Loki took the form of a mare and seduced the man’s horse away from the building site. Without the help of the horse, the man could not complete the wall in time, and showed his true colors. He was actually a frost giant. However, Thor smashed his head with his hammer. When Loki returned, he mothered and brought with him a eight-legged colt, which he gifted to Odin, who was called Sleipnir.
Myth 2: Once, Loki cut of the beautiful, golden, long hair of Sif―Thor’s wife―as a prank. However, after seeing Thor’s anger towards him for his deeds, he promised to make new hair for Sif, and so he went to visit the dwarf sons of Ivaldi, who were renowned smiths. On his request, they not only created fine hair of gold, but also a beautiful ship for goddess Freya, and a spear for Odin, which was named Gungnir. Taking these gifts, Loki went to rival dwarf smiths named Eitri and Brokk. He challenged them to create items that were even better than those he had gotten from the sons of Ivaldi.
The two dwarfs worked hard to create a magic golden ring for Odin, a strong boar with golden bristles for Freya, and an immensely strong hammer for Thor. However, while the hammer was being made, Loki turned himself into a wasp and stung Borkk in his eyes, causing the handle of the hammer to come out a little shorter than intended. When the gods judged the works of the dwarfs, they felt that the work of Eitri and Brokk were better, due to the immense value of Thor’s hammer for the realm. However, when Brokk tried to get his prize, Loki stopped him, so the dwarf sewed the trickster’s lips instead. Feeling that he was slighted by his own family, the first thoughts of revenge took seed in Loki’s mind.
Myth 3: When Odin’s son Baldur was born, he was handsome and strong, and was doted on by every Asgardian, because he was the god of truth, light, healing herbs, and runes. However, Loki’s mind had now slowly been corrupted with thoughts of revenge, and resented this new god. To protect Baldur from harm, his mother Frigga took a promise from every living and non-living thing in the land that they would never be the cause of Baldur’s death. However, Frigga overlooked taking such an oath from the mistletoe plant, as she deemed it too weak a plant to harm Baldur anyway.
Some time later, during a feast, the gods played a game of throwing various deadly objects at Baldur, which would just bounce off him due to his invulnerability. Loki saw this as his chance to take revenge against his foster family, for all the slights that he had faced during his life. He fashioned a spear out of mistletoe, and gave it to the blind god Hod, and helped him throw the spear towards, Baldur, killing him instantly. The other gods were overcome with sorrow and rage, seeing this Loki fled from Asgard.
Loki and Sigyn
Another entity that has often been named alongside Loki was Sigyn, who was the wife of the trickster god. Despite being already married to a Jotun giantess named Angrboda, Loki fell in love with Sigyn and took her as his second wife. They have two sons by the name of Nari and Vali. After killing Odin’s most beloved son Baldur, Loki knew that the gods would never forgive him. So, he fled Asgard along with his wives and sons, to Manheim/Earth, where he successfully hid himself for many years due to his great shape-shifting abilities. His sons, however, continually fought each other in the form of wolves, and their baying and howling attracted the gods to Manheim.
After a great chase, where Loki tried escaping by changing form into a salmon, and swimming though a river, the Norse gods did eventually find and capture him. As a punishment for his killing Baldur, Loki was taken to a cave, where he was bound to three rocks with the intestines of Vali and Nari, who had killed each other. On touching his skin, the intestines turned to iron chains. As a further punishment, the goddess Skadi tied a venomous snake over the place where Loki lay. The snake would continually drip venom on Loki’s body, which would cause him uncontrollable pain. Only Sigyn took pity on his plight and stayed with Loki, while holding a bowl under the snake to catch the venom. However, when she has to leave the cave to empty the bowl, the venom drips on Loki, causing him to shake and tremble, causing earthquakes. Sigyn is known to be the goddess of fidelity and compassion, due to her loyalty to Loki throughout his period of captivity, which will end during Ragnarok (the end of days). Also, because of this Loki is also known as the ‘Burden of Sigyn’s arms’. Due to the loss of both her sons, Sigyn was also known as the goddess of nurturing and grieving, and is worshiped by people who were also grieving or broken.
The Principle Behind Loki
Loki is not the devil or an evil being like Satan. In fact, before the advent of Christianity, the Germanic Viking people did not believe in the concept of anyone being absolutely good or absolutely bad. Loki symbolized the intelligence and the free will of human beings, where we can choose between the path of good or evil, and the ability to correct our mistakes. He shows how humans can be foolish, clever, irresponsible, and mature all at the same time. The influence of Christianity on Norse culture changed his portrayal as the devil incarnate. However, the Norse god of fire is worshiped even today, although by very few people, who are called Lokeans.
Film Character Based on Loki
Loki, the God of Chaos, has been a very popular character in various video games, television shows, and movies, since the 1960s. Many well-known actors such as Len Carlson, John Stephenson, Graham McTavish, Ted Biaselli, David Blair, Rick Gomez, Nathaniel Eyde, etc. have either featured as an adaption of the character, or have given their voices to portray Loki in animated series.
The Marvel Studios character of Loki, most memorably portrayed by Tom Hiddleston, as the antagonist of the movies Thor and The Avengers was so popular that over 20,000 fans signed an online petition in 2013 for a standalone movie featuring the character, to the production house. Most fans eagerly await to see him again soon in the movie Thor: Ragnarok.
Although the Norse tribes did not worship Loki a lot, they believed him to be an important part of the universal reality. He is looked up to as a entity who was an example of how humans are set astray, and how one may redeem oneself, making him a very important part of the Norse Pantheon.