|Goddess of Love, Beauty, and War|
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Loki The father of lies and deceit.
Loki is known as the trickster god, the mischief-maker, the father of lies and deceit, and the shape-shifter. He is the personification of both aspects of fire: the merry but potentially dangerous hearth fire and the destructive fire of forest and volcano.
Loki was the son of the giant Farbauti and of the giantess Laufey or Nal. He had two wives. The first was the fearful ogress Angrboda, with whom he had three monstrous offspring: Hel, the goddess of death and the underworld; Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent who encircled the world; and Fenrir the wolf. His wife in Asgard was Sigyn, with whom he had two sons, Narfi and Vali. Loki was counted among the Aesir gods, but he was not one of them, as he was born among the Jotun, the gods’ enemies. Some say that he and the great god Odin were blood brothers, which is why none of the gods dared to harm Loki, no matter how mischievous and malevolent he became.
Loki was handsome and could be amusing. He made the goddess Skade laugh even while she mourned for her father, Thjazzi. Loki was sometimes helpful to the gods, for he was quick-witted and always had an answer for everything, but often the gods would regret taking his advice.
It was Loki who accompanied Thor to Jotunheim to retrieve Thor’s magic hammer. Loki also thought of a way to outwit the giant who built Asgard’s wall (see Giant Master Builder). However, his solution was nothing but fraud and resulted in Thor committing murder within Asgard; such behavior was against the code of the Aesir.
Loki stole Freya’s necklace and cut off Sif’s golden hair, yet it was he who went down to the underground caves of the dwarfs and brought back wonderful treasures for the gods. Loki double-crossed both the giant Thjazzi and the Aesir when he delivered Idunn and her apples to the giant and then, disguised as a falcon, carried Idunn back to Asgard, leading Thjazzi to his death.
Not only could Loki change himself into other creatures at will, such as a seal, a salmon, a fly, a falcon, he could also change his sex. As a mare, he was the mother of Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged steed. He became an old crone when he tricked Frigg into telling him that mistletoe was the only object on Earth that could harm the gentle god Balder. Even though Loki was the principal cause of Balder’s death, the Aesir took no action against him.
However, when Loki came to Aegir’s banquet and flung vicious insults at all the gods and goddesses, the Aesir finally decided to punish the evil creature that Loki had become. At Ragnarok (the day of doom), Loki led the forces of evil against the gods, and he and Heimdall killed each other.
Treasures of the Dwarfs
This story tells how the gods came to acquire some of the great treasures for which they were famous. It is told most completely by Snorri Sturluson, the 13th-century poet, in his Skaldskaparmal.
One night, Loki snuck into the bedroom of Sif, Thor’s wife, and cut off her golden hair while she slept. When Thor discovered that Loki had stolen his wife’s precious hair, he threatened to tear Loki to pieces. The trickster god put on a show of remorse and promised to bring back not only hair made of real gold for Sif but other treasures for the gods as well, so Thor let him go.
After being released, Loki immediately made his way to Svartalfhiem, the realm of the dark-elves, which was the underworld home of the dwarfs. While ugly and bad-tempered, these undersized creatures were master craftsmen and worked with gold and other metals found in their dark world.
Loki went to the cave of the sons of Ivaldi, Brokk and Eitri, and begged them to make golden strands so real that they would grow out of Sif’s head. The dwarfs easily accomplished this feat with their great magic, and while the furnace was still hot, they made other magical treasures for Loki to carry back to the gods.
They made Skidbladner, a marvelous ship, for Frey. It could be folded up small enough to fit into a pouch and yet expand to a size large enough to carry all of the Aesir gods and their equipment. It could sail on land, water, or air. And for Odin, they made Gungnir, the mighty spear, strong and slender. It always flew straight to its target.
Once the creation of these fine gifts was finished, Loki still wanted more. With Brokk, Loki bet his own head that the dwarf’s brother, Eitri, could not make three finer treasures. The dwarf accepted the bet. While Brokk worked the bellows to keep the fire hot, Eitri went to work using his magic to make three precious objects: Gullinbursti, a boar with golden bristles and mane which Loki would give to Frey; Draupnir, a magical arm ring of gold for Odin that every ninth night would produce eight more rings; and finally, Mjollnir, a massive iron hammer for Thor.
All the time that Eitri worked, Loki pestered Brokk, trying to interrupt his steady work on the bellows and win the bet through trickery. The god transformed himself into a fly and buzzed around the dwarf’s head and bit him several times, but Brokk was not bothered. Finally, while Mjollnir was forming in the fire, Loki stung Brokk’s eyelid so hard that blood dripped into the dwarf’s eye. Swiftly Brokk reached up to wipe it, taking only one hand from the handle of the bellows and only for a brief moment. That moment was long enough to spoil the handle of the great hammer. Thus Thor’s hammer has a short handle, although it still had the ability to always return to its master after he threw it. Brokk, proud of his work, felt he had won the bet, but Loki, using fast talk and cunning, escaped with nothing worse than sore lips when Brokk tried to sew up his wicked mouth.
Loki took the six precious gifts and presented them to the gods, who marveled at their beauty and attributes, but they all agreed that the hammer with the stunted handle was the best for it would help protect them from the giants of Jotunheim.
Loki could be playful and charming, but as time went on, he became sinister, evil, and bad-tempered. The story of Loki’s mocking of the gods and goddesses, part of the Lokasenna in the Poetic Edda, shows Loki at his worst. Aegir, the lord of the sea, invited the gods to a banquet in his coral caves under the island of Hlesey. He brewed the ale in the huge cauldron that Thor and Tyr had taken from the giant Hymir.
It was soon after the death of Balder and the gods were subdued, talking quietly among themselves. Loki listened impatiently as they praised Aegir’s servants, Fimafeng and Eldir. Suddenly Loki sprang up and stabbed Fimafeng with his knife, then fled. He soon returned, and this time his targets were the gods and goddesses and his weapons were poisonous words.
He insulted Bragi, the god of poetry, by calling him a soft coward. One by one he accused each of the goddesses, Idunn, Gefjon, Frigg, Freya, and Sif, of being deceitful and unvirtuous. He laughed at Njord for being a hostage from the vanir gods and at Tyr for losing his hand in the jaws of the wolf Fenrir. No one escaped, not even Frey’s servants, Byggvir and his wife Beyla, nor Heimdall, who was mocked as being a mere servant of the gods. Even the great god Odin did not escape Loki’s evil tongue. Loki sneered at him for once having turned himself into a witch, “a woman through and through.”
At last Thor, who had been absent, entered the hall. His eyes glowed with rage, and his whiskers bristled when he heard Loki’s vicious insults. He threatened to kill Loki there and then with his hammer, and Loki swiftly left.
The Pursuit of Loki-Salmon
After Loki insulted the gods and goddesses at a feast given by Aegir, the sea god, he fled from the wrath of the gods and built himself a hut in the mountains. The hut had doors on all four sides so Loki could escape easily, for he knew the gods wanted to punish him for his evil words and also for the death of the gentle god Balder.
By day Loki, the shape-shifter, turned himself into a salmon and swam in the mountain torrent at Franang’s Falls. To distract himself in the evening, he fashioned a fine net—some say, the first fishing net. (In other poems the sea ogress Ran, Aegir’s wife, invented the fishing net to catch drowning sailors and bring them to her domain under the waves.)
From his high seat, Hlidskjalf, Odin could see far and wide over all Nine Worlds. When he finally saw where Loki was hiding and in what guise, Odin went with a party of gods to capture the troublemaker. Loki saw them coming and quickly threw the fishing net into the fire, then sprinted down to the stream and leapt in as a salmon.
The gods entered the hut and saw the remains of the net. Kvasir, a very wise god, concluded that a finished net might be very useful to the gods for catching slippery Loki-Salmon. The gods sat up all night repairing and completing the net. At dawn they set out to catch Loki.
Loki escaped their clutches for quite a while, as they used the net to drag the stream, but in the end Thor caught him in midair as he made a flying leap over the net. To this day, the salmon is noted for its slender tail, a reminder, Northmen say, of how strongly Thor had held Loki in his powerful hand.
This story of Loki is told at the end of Lokasenna and in Snorri Sturluson’s Gylfaginning.
After the gods captured Loki, they dragged him into a dark cave. They changed Loki’s son Vali into a wolf, which immediately attacked his brother, Narfi, and killed him. The gods took Narfi’s intestines and bound Loki with them. Once Loki was firmly bound, they changed the horrid bonds into iron. Then the icy goddess Skade placed a serpent over Loki’s upturned face so that its venom would drip onto him.
Only Sigyn, Loki’s faithful wife, stayed with Loki in the miserable cave. She held a bowl to catch the drops of venom, but when she turned aside to empty the poison, the drops fell on Loki’s twisted face. He writhed with pain and terror, causing the Earth to tremble and quake. So Loki, the Norse myths say, is the cause of earthquakes.
Loki remained a prisoner until Ragnarok, when he took his revenge on the gods and they on him.