loki-norse-mythology

Loki

In Gods and Creatures by Skjalden

Loki is by some, called the god of mischief, but is that really true, is Loki really a god according to the sources in Norse mythology? We know that the Aesir sees him as one of their own, even though he is a mix of a jötunn (a giant) and an ásynja (female Aesir).

Loki is the son of Farbauti and Laufey, who presumably lives in Jotunheim, his father is a jötunn, and his mother is an ásynja not much else is known about them, besides the meaning of their names, Farbauti can be translated into, dangerous/cruel striker, and Laufey is best known by her nickname Nál which means needle. He has two brothers, Helblinde and Býleistr, who presumably are the sons of Farbauti and Laufey, but this is not mentioned.

loki-family-tree

Loki is married to Sigyn, and together they have the sons Vali and Narfi. Sigyn is an extremely loyal wife, and no matter what happens to her husband, she will never leave his side.

Loki also has three horrible children, Jörmungandr, The Fenrir Wolf, and Hel, the queen of the underworld with the female jötunn, Angrboda, in Jotunheim.

Loki is not evil, nor is he good, he lived in Asgard even though he is from Jotunheim (the land of the giants). He loves to make trouble for anyone and everyone especially, for the Gods and Goddesses.

loki-trickster-norse-mythology

Loki has been described as a strange alluring frightening figure, who is unreliable, moody, teasingly, a cunning trickster, but also intelligent and sly. He has mastered the art of illusions, some sort of magic (Old Norse: seiðr), which gives him the ability to shapeshift into anything, and yes, I mean into any living creature he wants.

Loki has been depicted by many artists for centuries, and in recent times mostly by movies from marvel studios, i.e. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Avengers: Endgame (2019) where he was played by the actor Tom Hiddleston. The New York Times bestseller “Loki: Where Mischief Lies” has similar characteristics as the marvel series.

My personal depiction of Loki is the drawings by Peter Madsen, this could probably be from personal biases, since my childhood favorite cartoon is Valhalla from 1986, and I have been reading many of his Norse mythology cartoons.

Peter Madsen is in my opinion a genius, he has managed to capture the essence of the whole character. That smirk smile on his face, with those deceiving eyes, is exactly how I imagined Loki.

The meaning of Loki’s name

Many scholars have argued that the name Loki means knot or tangle, and his trickster figure has certainly been compared to the conception of a spider that creates a web out of nothing. When Loki ran away from Asgard, to avoid being punished for causing Baldur’s death. He hid in a house on top of a hill that had four doors, one in each direction. At day he turned himself into a salmon and swam in the lake below, and at night he sat at the fire weaving a fishing net so he could catch fish to eat.

Odin would eventually spot his hiding place, and just like Loki was caught in his own web of lies, so was he caught in his own fishing net by the Aesir. 

Some have tried to translate his name into “Logi” which means flame in Old Norse, but there does not seem to be anything that associates him with fire.

Another name that Snorri uses about him is “Lopt”, which can be translated into “air”, probably referring to him as being able to disappear into thin air. However, he does not elaborate on why he is mentioned by this name in one of the poems.

Loki and Sleipnir

In the saga of how the walls around Asgard were built, Loki, who in this part of the Eddas is referred to as Loki Laufeyjarson, shapeshifts himself into a mare so he can get the stallion Svadilfari (Old Norse: Svaðilfari) to impregnate him.

This was his last effort to get himself out of trouble, by delaying the jötunn in finishing the wall before the agreed-upon time, so the builder wouldn’t get paid the goddess Freya, the sun, and the moon for his efforts. Some people think that this makes Loki heroic or that he is to thank for it, but he was the reason in the first place that the builder was making such a great process.

Loki is a deceiver, a liar, and if you were to take a closer look at his tongue, it might as well look like a snake. He can never be trusted, he will lie to your face, and then stab you in the back.

His pregnancy with Svadilfari resulted in him giving birth to the eight-legged horse Sleipnir, which is said to be the fastest horse among gods and men. This horse would eventually become Odin’s steed.

Is Loki a god?

The Icelandic author Snorri Sturluson, who has written the Prose Edda, has described Loki as being beautiful, but Snorri might have tried to paint him as some kind of Lucifer figure. It would not be the first time that there seems to be some kind of Christian influence inserted into the myths by him. Let’s also not forget that the Prose Edda starts with the Christian creation myth on page one.

One thing is for certain, according to the sagas, Loki is a half jötunn, half Aesir, and could possibly be an ancient “god”, I put this in quotation marks. He might be a being who is on a journey to become a god, but he is not referred to as one, in any of the Old Norse sources. He could possibly be referred to as a half-god, due to his blood relation on his mother’s side.

Of course, there’s that short stanza that people like to bring up, as a convincing argument, that is supposed to pull his status in the direction of being a god.

Do you remember, Odin, when in bygone days we mixed our blood together? You said you would never drink ale unless it were brought to both of us. – Lokasenna

The context is often omitted, but it has to be read as part of the whole, to understand why it was said.

The stanza can be found in the poem Lokasenna, which can be translated into “Loki’s truth-telling”. In this poem we see another of Loki’s disgusting character traits, all the Aesir, Vanir, and Elves were invited to Aegir’s (Ægir) great feast.

Loki had traveled a long way because he wanted to taste the famous mead, and outside the hall, he met Eldir, one of Aegir’s servants, the other servant was named Fimafeng, but he was killed by Loki because he could not stand to hear how the gods praised him. Loki demanded that the servant tell him what the gods are talking about in the hall, Eldir replied, they talk about weapons and the art of war.

Loki looked at him before entering, and said, I will mix their mead with malice, and before the feast is over, the gods will fight among themselves.

loki-lokasenna
Loki – Lokasenna

This feast was, of course, supposed to be a fun evening with lots of mead, but Loki was as usual up to something and had other plans in mind. Once inside, the hall turned silent, and like a night sky of stars, hundreds of eyes were looking at him.

Loki broke the silence and said, I am thirsty, and I have come a long way to try Aegir’s famous mead. Loki continued by insulting and calling the gods arrogant for not answering him, followed by demands to be seated at one of the tables.

Bragi the god of poetry was the first one to respond and told him that he is not welcome at the feast, we know who to invite, and who not to invite. Loki completely ignores him and instead tries to fill Odin’s ears with sweet words of nothingness, reminding him that they once mixed their blood together.

Odin then appointed him a seat next to his son Vidar, who then poured a cup of mead for Loki. He raised his cup and brought out a toast to everyone at the feast, but with a specific exception for Bragi.

The feast continued on, and the insults just kept coming out of Loki’s mouth, not only did he insult the host, he then continued by bad-mouthing the guests or simply just told them to keep their mouth shut.

At the end of the Lokasenna, Thor arrives at the Ægir’s hall, after he had been away slaying jötnar in Jötunheim. He threatens Loki to stop his actions, which Loki eventually does because he knows that Thor will not leave it at threats. Loki leaves the hall, but not before he turns his head and tells Aegir (Ægir) that this will be his last feast because his hall will be burned to the ground.

In The Lay of Reginn (Reginsmál) Loki brings the gods into trouble when he kills the son of Hreidmar, who was in the shape of an otter. The gods are held hostage until Loki returns back with enough gold to fill the otterskin and cover the outside with red gold. The red gold could refer to amber, just as the tears of Freya.

Let’s also not forget about when Loki cut Thor’s wife Sif’s long golden beautiful hair off, for no reason, just for his own amusement.

In the saga of Utgard-Loki (Old Norse: Útgarða-Loki), Loki and Thor stop at a farm in Midgard to sleep for the night. Thor is hungry, but the poor farmer has little to offer him, so Thor decides to kill his two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, so they all can eat them for dinner. They are all allowed to eat, but on the condition, that they don’t break any of the bones, and that the bones have to be thrown onto the skin.

During the dinner, Loki convinces the boy Thjalfi (Old Norse: Þjálfi) to break one of the bones and suck out the sweet marrow. The next day, when Thor revives his two goats again, he notices that one of them is limping. This results in Thjalfi and his sister Röskva becoming the servants of Thor. Loki could not care less, this was yesterday’s entertainment.

In The Lay of Thrym (þrymskviða) it does show that Loki is not just about being evil, hence what I said about not being neither good nor evil. The poem begins with Thor waking up and noticing that his hammer Mjölnir is missing. He then tells Loki that his hammer has been stolen before they both walk down to Freya to borrow her cloak made of falcon feathers.

Loki then uses the cloak to fly to Jotunheim, to see if he can find the hammer. He notices the jötunn Thrym who sits on a mound. He brags about what he has done, and that if Thor wants his hammer back, he wants Freya in payment as his wife. Upon hearing this, Loki flies back to Asgard with the demands.

When Freya is confronted with the dilemma, she refuses to help them and trembles her feet in anger so her necklace Brisingamen falls to the ground. I will under no circumstances go to Jotunheim.

The gods then hold a meeting on what to do, and here the god Heimdall suggests that, instead of bringing Freya, Thor should be dressed as the bride, in a long dress, with jewels, a bridal head-dress, and of course the necklace Brisingamen.

Thor immediately rejects the idea, but Loki reminds him that if he does not get his hammer back, he will be powerless if the jötnar chooses to invade Asgard.

Thor finally agrees and is dressed as a beautiful bride, and Loki offers to come along as his maid. At their arrival in Jötunheim, they are greeted by Thrym who is excited and demands that his servants spread out straw on the benches for his coming wife.

In the evening, they meet again for dinner. At dinner, Thor eats an entire ox, and eight salmon while drinking three kegs of mead. Thrym finds this odd, but Loki assures him that everything is fine, and says, Freya has not eaten for eight long nights because she yearned to meet you.

Thrym then lifts the veil so he could kiss Freya, but he is greeted with two terrifying eyes staring back at him, seemingly burning with fire. Again, Loki is quick with a remark, and says, she has not slept for eight nights in eagerness.

A few moments later, a servant is asked to bring out the bridal gift, so they can sanctify the bride with Mjölnir. When Thor sees the hammer he laughs internally, grabs the hammer, and kills all the jötnar in the hall.

As this short summary of the poem shows, Loki does help, sometimes, but did he do it because he wanted to be nice, or was he just bored and wanted something to do.

Loki does not really make things easy for himself, he is increasingly becoming more annoying, deceiving, and dangerous to have around for the Aesir as the years go by. His involvement in the death of Baldur is finally rewarded with a punishment worse than death, when he is dragged into a cave, tied to a rock, with a venomous snake placed above his head dripping poison onto his face. His wife Sigyn will sit here, and hold a bowl, and try to catch as much poison as she can, but when she empties the bowl, it drips onto his face, which makes him scream and shake in pain, so the earth rambles in Midgard. Loki will be trapped here, until Ragnarök.

loki-ragnarok

At Ragnarök, Loki will finally break free from his chains and flee to Muspelheim, where he will help gather the army of the dead and sail to Vigrid in the ship Naglfari to fight against the gods and goddesses in one last great epic war. It is foretold by a Völva in the poem Völuspá that Loki will face the god Heimdall during the battle, which will cost him his life, but Loki will mortally injure Heimdall who also will fall to his death moments later.

In conclusion, is Loki the god of mischief?, no, he is not the god of anything according to the Old Norse sagas. However, he can be considered a half-god, since his mother Layfey is an ásynja (female Aesir). He is also associating himself more with his mother’s side of the family than with the jötnar, and he has also taken his mother’s name as his surname and calls himself Loki Laufeyjarson.

There is no evidence that Loki has been worshipped by anyone in Scandinavia, no names, farms, places, towns, or anything else that could be considered a form of a holy place or an honorable mention has been named after him.

No, Saturday is not Loki’s day, the name in Old Norse for Saturday is “Laugardagr”, which literally means bathing day. There is nothing, in any source, that connects Loki and this day, or any other day of the week.

Sources: 

Jesse Byock (2005) Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda. 1st. edition. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN-13 978-0-140-44755-2

Anthony Faulkes (1995) Snorri Sturluson, Edda. 3rd. edition. London, England: Everyman J. M. Dent. ISBN-13 978-0-4608-7616-2

Lee M. Hollander (1962) The Poetic Edda. 15th. edition. Texas, USA: University Research Institute of the University of Texas. ISBN 978-0-292-76499-6