View Full Version : Who is Loki?

Monday, September 19th, 2005, 03:59 PM

The three brothers Hlęr, Logi, Kari on the whole seem to represent water, fire and air as elements. Now a striking narrative in the Prose Edda places Logi ["flame, fire"] by the side of Loki, a being from the giant province beside a kinsman and companion of the gods. This is no mere play upon words; the two really signify the same thing from different points of view, Logi the natural force of fire, and Loki, with a shifting of the sound, a shifting of the sense. From the burly fire-giant Logi has developed a crafty, seductive evil-doer. Both can be compared to the Greek Prometheus and Hephaestus.

Loki, as punishment for his misdeeds, is laid in chains, like Prometheus who gave men fire, and from which he will be freed at the end of the world. One of Loki's children, Fenrir, pursues the moon in wolf's shape and threatens to swallow it. Eclipses of sun and moon were terrifying to many pagan peoples. The gradual darkening over of the glittering sphere seemed to be that moment of time when the yawning gullet of the wolf threatened to swallow the moon and they believed that aid was given to the latter by uttering loud cries. [Image: "Loki and Hod" by C. Qvarnstrom (c. 1890). Loki tricks the blind god Hod into killing Baldur with a dart of mistletoe.]

This breaking loose of the wolf and the future release of Loki from his bonds, who at the time of Ragnarok will fight and overcome the gods, coincides strikingly with the release of Prometheus by whom Zeus is to be overthrown. Prometheus is chained to rocks by Hephaestus, like Loki in similar manner by Logi, son of the giant Fornjotr.

Loki was beautiful in appearance but evil of mind. His father, a giant, was called Farbauti, his mother's names were Laufey and Nal, slim and supple. By his wife, Sigyn, Loki had Nari or Narvi, and three children with a giantess, Angrbotha: the wolf Fenrir, the serpent Jormungandr and Hel, a daughter with whose name the personal concept vanished and was dissolved in the local idea of Hellia, underworld and place of punishment. Loki is said to be the terminator and destroyer of all things, in contrast to Heimdall, the beginner and originator.

Jakob Grimm: "The Principal Germanic Gods" (http://library.flawlesslogic.com/grimm_4.htm)

Friday, November 25th, 2005, 02:30 PM

An analysis of the character of Loki in the myths where he is the companion of Ódin, pointing to the fact that Loki is not always, as he is most often depicted, the malevolent demon. Loki does not always act of his own volition, but that he often is forced to act according to the desires of others. The myths in question are the part of Voluspá, that chapter of the Poetic Edda which deals with the creation of the first human beings, Askr and Embla, where the question of alleged identification of Lour and Loki poses a problem. Further it illustrates the myth of Pazi and Reginsmal, both in which Loki is accompanied by both Ódin and Hnir.

The Creation of Mankind

In Voluspá st.17 we find three Aesir , Ódin, Hnir and Lodur, who create the first human beings out of two pieces of wood, a man called Askr and a woman called Embla. It has sometimes been argued that Loki and Lodur are one and the same. The reasons for this claim is firstly that Ódin and Hönir are, when they are mentioned together, always accompanied by a third god, sometimes Lodur and sometimes Loki, and that the two latter gods by this analogy are one and the same. Lodur, however, is not mentioned in the Poetic Edda except for in this passage, and Snorri does not mention him at all. Hence it is easy to believe that Lodur is just another name for Loki, just as he and the other Aesir often use several names. Secondly it has been argued that the names Loki and Lodur are etymologically related, but establishing a positive identification by means of etymology is futile: "We must begin to dismiss all etymological speculations, for they can only confuse the problem " (de Vries 1933 p.49). Therefore we are left with the theory of analogy, which in itself poses one major problem: the discrepancy between the account of the myth in the Poetic Edda and in Snorri´s Edda.

Snorri, as stated, does not even mention Lodur in his Edda, and cannot therefore support the claim that Loki and Lodur are one and the same. In Gylfaginning ch.8 he names Odin´s companions Vili and Ve instead of Hönir and Lodur, and gives them credit for being the sons of Bur and the brothers of Ódin, thus establishing the fact that the sons of Bur created both the world and the first human beings. This is partly in concord with Voluspá, where the sons of Bur create the world, but where Vile and Ve are replaced with Hönir and Lodur. That Snorri was familiar with Voluspá is undeniable, but why he chose to deviate on such an important point is not easy to comprehend, as stated elsewhere in this essay. Here we can find no support for the Loki-Lodur identification.

The origin of the narrative of the creation of mankind in the eddas is questionable: the Scandinavian tradition has several motives in common with other myths of creation, and few that are peculiar to itself, the most apparent of these being the the triad of creators where other traditions usually only have one. Further we must conclude that Loki plays no part in the creation of mankind, and that we from this myth cannot draw any substantial conclusion about the characteristics of Loki.

The myth of Pazi

Snorri´s version of the myth in Skaldskaparmál ch.1 differs somewhat from the older poem Haustlong where the original story is told. There is no account of this myth in the Poetic Edda, but the story is hinted at on several occasions.

We find the Aesir triad travelling together: Ódin, Hönir and Loki. They are confronted with a giant, Pazi, in the shape of an eagle. Loki is separated from the two others by Pazi and forced to promise to bring Idunn and her apples of youth to Jotunheim. He keeps his promise to the giant, but is forced by the gods to bring Idunn and the apples back, and succeeds in doing so by assuming the shape of a falcon and after having stolen the apples he lures Pazi in his eagle shape with him to Asgard where the Aesir can kill him. Pazi´s daughter, Skadi, demands satisfaction for her father´s death, and is offered a god of her own choice in marriage, on the condition that she will only be able see his feet when she makes her choice. She also demands that the Aesir makes her laugh, which is accomplished by one of Loki´s more bizarre tricks.

Loki plays the dominant role in this myth, and Ódin and Hönir are remarkably passive. "...the only real hero of the tale is Loki, the two other gods doing nothing at all " (de Vries 1933 p.38). It is Loki who instigates the conflict between the gods and the giants, but it is also Loki who solves the problem. He is under pressure from both gods and giants: if he does not promise to bring Idunn and her apples to Jotunheim, Pazi will kill him, and if he keeps his promise and the Aesir find out about him, they will kill him. The act of giving Idunn to the giants, as well as bringing her back, is more an act of self-preservation than of malice: breaking his oath would be impossible, just as leaving Idunn in Jotunheim. It can therefore be argued that Loki, in this particular context, is not evil by his own volition, but that he in fact is a victim of circumstance, caught between a rock and a hard place. and doing his best to save his own skin. He who instigates the conflicts is also compelled to solve them: "Er ist es, der das Trio in Scwerigkeiten bringt; er ist aber auch der Listige und Geschickte..." (Ström 1956 p.14).

Here we also meet Loki as a shape-shifter: we are told that he has borrowed Freyja´s falcon shape, but as we shall see he is not restricted to borrowing the shapes of other´s, but that he is most inventive himself in assuming other shapes.


In Reginsmal in the Poetic Edda we find the same triad of gods as in the myth of Pazi: Ódin, Hönir and Loki. They are again travelling together, and it is again Loki who brings the company into trouble. By slaying a dwarf, Otr, in the shape of an otter, he brings the wrath of the dwarf´s family onto the Aesir. They are forced to pay weregild for the slain dwarf, and Loki is sent away to fetch the gods´ ransom. He catches another dwarf, Andvari, and takes all his gold. The dwarf tries to hide a ring of gold, but Loki finds out and takes that too. The dwarf then lays a curse on that particular ring and leaves. When the ransom is paid, the Aesir are free to go, and take no further part in the story. Snorri´s account of the story is the same in essence, and differs only in insignificant details.

Again we find that Loki is the instigator of conflict, but is everything really his fault, and if so, is it really his intention to create such a conflict? We find that the dwarf has taken the shape of an otter, and that he sits on the shore eating a salmon with his eyes closed, thus making himself not only an easy target but also a double-score target: kill the otter and get the salmon for free! Thus it can be argued that he really is asking for trouble, and hence must take what is coming to him.

Again Loki has instigated the conflict, and again he must solve the problem. Just as in the Pazi-myth, Loki saves the day and produces the weregild as is requested by him. Again we find that the two other Aesir are merely passive spectators, and that the only active role in the story is played by Loki. Again we see that Loki acts not out of malice but that he really is forced to act according to other peoples´ desires. We cannot find any malevolence on Loki´s behalf in this particular myth, neither in the myth of Pazi.

Loki appears in several aspects in these myths: as shape-changer, as the sly companion of greater gods, and as the instigator of conflict and resolver thereof. In all of these myths we find that he seldom acts out of his own free will, but that he "...acts under some sort of compulsion in more cases than of his own free will " (de Vries 1933 p.146).


In this chapter I will try to analyse the character of Loki as we find it in the myths where he is the companion of Thor. My intention is again to show that Loki is not at all as evil as his reputation has it, and that he, just as stated in the last chapter, most often acts not according to his own free will but to others desires. The myths in question here are the Geirrřdr myth, the myth of the giant-builder, the myth of Thor´s journey to Utgardaloki and of course Irymskvida.

The Geirrřdr Myth

In Snorri´s account of the myth of Geirrřdr in Skaldskaparmál 18 Loki has flown to Jotunheim in the guise of a falcon, and has been captured by the giant Geirrřdr. The giant releases him only if he promises to bring Thor to him without his hammer, belt and gloves, and after having made his promise he is free to go. He manages to convince Thor to leave his weapons at home, but on their way he is supplied with a belt of power, a pair of iron gloves and a power staff by a giantess named Grid. After having crossed a dangerous river with Loki hanging on his belt, Thor confronts the giant and his daughters, kills them and heads back to Asgardr.

The myth of Geirrřdr has some important traits in common with the myth of Pazi : Loki is by some unfortunate accident trapped by the giants, and subsequently becomes the reluctant instigator of conflict both in Geirrřdr and in Pazi, and is in both myths forced to bring one of the gods to Jotunheim, in the first case Idunn with her apples and in the second Thor without his gloves, power belt and hammer. In the myth of Pazi, though, it is Loki who saves the day, but in the Geirrřdr myth it is Thor. Loki is not even mentioned after the river incident: "Loki, as it seems, accompanied Thor on the first part of his journey, but he disappears from the scene " (Turville-Petre 1964 p.134).

Loki is not acting of his own free will when he talks Thor into leaving his weapons behind: he has made a promise to Geirrřdr and must keep it. To break his oath would be impossible, and hence his bringing Thor to Geirrřdr is not an act of malice but of necessity for him to maintain his honour.

Snorri´s account of the Geirrřdr myth differs somewhat from an older version, known as Thorsdrapa, where Thor is accompanied not only by Loki but also by Ialvi. This is of significance when we read the myth of Thor´s journey to Utgardaloki, where he is accompanied with Ialvi as well, as there has been some discussion about the thunder god´s servant as a common motif where both Loki and Ialvi fit in.

The myth of the giant-builder

The myth of the giant-builder, which we find only in Snorri´s Edda in Gylfaginning 41, deals with the building of the walls of Valhalla, and with the conception and birth of Odin´s horse, Sleipnr. The Aesir have hired a giant to fortify their stronghold, and has promised him Freyja, the sun and the moon as his reward, provided that the walls would be finished within half a year. On the advice of Loki, the giant is allowed to use his horse to help him in his work. He sets to work with his extraordinary horse Svadilfare, making tremendous progress each day, which of course worries the gods. The gods hold council, and it is decided that Loki is to find a way to stop the giant from keeping his part of the deal. Loki assumes the shape of a mare and lures Svadilfare away so that the giant cannot finish his work, and as he has not kept his part of the deal, the gods are freed from their promise. The giant is slain by Thor, and later on Loki gives birth to Sleipnir, Odin´s horse.

In this myth we again find Loki as the one who succeeds in saving the day after having caused the Aesir considerable problems. Again we find him under pressure from the rest of the gods, and again he does not act by his own volition: "Loki is again the cunning god, appearing in the well-known role of the man, who gives bad advice and afterwards has to remedy the dangers issuing from it " (de Vries 1933 p.78).

Here we again find Loki as shape-shifter: by assuming the shape of a mare in heat he can succeed in detaining Svadilfare from helping his master. As a natural consequence he becomes pregnant and gives birth to Sleipnr, the eight-legged horse. His giving birth to Sleipnr is also alluded to in Hyndluljód st.40, where we are told that "en Sleipni gat vi Svadilfara", that "Sleipnir he begat with Svadilfare".

Thor´s Journey to Utgardaloki
Thor´s journey to Utgardaloki is related in Snorri´s Edda only, in Gylfaginning 43, but "at full length and with evident pleasure " (de Vries 1933 p.82). The story in short reads as follows: Thor is travelling together with Loki and they come to an isolated farm where they stay for the night. Thor slaughters his goats in order to provide the company with food and when he on the next morning wants to raise them from the dead he finds that one of them has become lame: the peasant´s son Ialvi has crushed one of its bones to suck out the marrows. It is decided that Ialvi and his sister Roskva are to follow Thor as his servants on his journey until the goat´s leg has healed. They travel on and encounter a giant, whose glove they mistake for a house, and finally arrives at Utgardr, where they are invited in. In Utgardr they are challenged to competitions in which they all lose: Loki loses an eating contest against a man called Logi, Ialvi loses a running contest against Huge, and Thor has to give up a wrestling contest against an old woman, among other things. When they leave Utgardr, they find that everything has been an illusion, and that they had competed against fire, mind and age respectively and therefore had no chance of winning , and that they instead of standing in front of Utgardr find themselves on a great plain.

In Hymiskvída st. 37 we find a small detail that contradicts Snorri´s account of the myth: here it is by Loki´s hand that the goat´s bone has been crushed, not by the peasant´s son. It is nevertheless the peasant who has to make up for the incident by giving away his two children in st. 38.
Loki´s role in this myth is not very prominent: he is only mentioned as Thor´s companion and as Logi´s opponent in the eating contest. Loki is a ravenous eater, but not even he can compete with the roaring fire. Here it has been suggested that Loki is a fire-demon, based on the etymological likeness between Loki and Logi, but if so, would not he have won the contest instead of Logi? There are other indications pointing to Loki´s connection with fire, but as for this essay it is sufficient to assume "that the combination of the words Loki and Logi was so very close at hand, that such a disrespectful fellow as the author of this novelette has been could use it as an excellent pun " (de Vries 1933 p.84).


In Irymskvida Thor wakes up only to find that his hammer is gone. He approaches Loki, tells him about his loss, and Loki assumes Freyja´s falcon shape in order to go looking for the hammer. He finds out that the giant Irym has stolen the hammer and that he keeps it safe, eight miles underground, and that he will not give it back unless he is promised Freyja´s hand in marriage. Freyja herself does not approve of being married to the giant, and the gods are quite at a loss about what to do. They hold council, and Heimdallr suggests that Thor could disguise himself as Freyja and go to Irym and recover his hammer. Loki readily offers to follow as the false "Freyja´s" bridesmaid, and hence they arrive in Jotunheim in order to celebrate the wedding. Thor is almost disclosed twice due to his excessive eating and red-hot gaze, but the cunning Loki quickly saves him by his witty explanations. At last the hammer is produced to be used in the ceremony and put in Thor´s lap, only to be picked up by the most furious of gods and used to smash the giants to atoms.

Here we find Loki excelling in what he does best: transgressing the boundaries of race and gender, and saving the less mentally equipped Thor by means of his unique way of finding himself in difficult situations. He assumes the shape of a falcon, travels miraculously safe through Jotunheim, dresses up as a woman and saves the day with his wit and gets away with everything he does. Loki and Thor are not really adversaries here but complement each other: where Thor lacks the wits, Loki helps him out, and when it comes down to fighting, Thor does what he does best, with Loki as the passive spectator.

Again we find Loki shape-shifter and simultaneously as transgressor of boundaries: he is just as at home in Jotunheim as in Asgarr, and he has no problems with deceiving the giants when Thor´s male attributes such as excessive eating and fiery eyes nearly give him away.


In the myths where Loki appears on his own, we find that his character is divided in two: one personality who follows the usual pattern of getting into trouble and then saving his skin by means of wit and trickery, and the other where he really lives up to his reputation of being a malevolent demon and acts out of pure malice. Examples of the first part we find in the myth of Sif´s golden hair, where Loki acts as provider, and of the second in the myth of Baldr´s death, where Loki assumes the shape of a woman, examples can also be found in Lokasenna. Lastly, (in a supreme example of his evil nature) we find Loki marshalling the Aesir´s enemies at Ragnarok, where there can be no doubt about his evil intent.

The Myth of Sif´s hair

The myth about Sif´s hair starts when Iórr finds out that Loki has cut off all of his wife Sif´s hair. Thor threatens to kill Loki, who promises to go to the svartálfar and make the dwarfs produce golden hair for Sif. The dwarfs are eager to please, and produce not only golden hair for Sif, but also a marvellous ship for Heimdallr and a magic spear for Ódin. Loki then challenges two other dwarfs to make even better things, and puts his head at stake. The dwarfs set to work, and Loki who is afraid of losing his head tries to disturb them, and by transforming himself into a fly, he interferes with their work. His attempts are not all in vain: the dwarfs manage to produce a golden boar and a golden ring, both of which are flawless, and a hammer, Mjollnir, which shaft is a bit too short. Who really won the bet becomes a matter of dispute, which is settled by the Aesir, who deem that Loki has lost his bet and that he therefore also must lose his head. Loki escapes but is captured by Thor and brought back. He then agrees to letting the dwarf cut off his head, as long as he does not touch his neck, which, of course, is impossible. The dwarf then sews Loki´s lips together in wrath with a string called Vartare.

This story only appears in Snorri´s Edda, and his account of the story again leaves us with the usual picture of Loki, he who puts himself in deep trouble because of some more or less harmless trick, only to save his skin in the last second. In one aspect, however, this myth does not conform to the pattern: "First he offends the wife of the thunder god by cutting off her hair, and secondly he succeeds in damaging the hammer of Thor." (de Vries 1933 p.96).

He has, whether willingly or unwillingly, tried to incapacitate the fiercest fighter of the Aesir by means of damaging his weapon. But has he really? The hammer of Thor seems to work fine anyway, imperfect shaft or not! Moreover, Loki brings more good things to the Aesir than would suffice to cover the loss of Sif´s hair: he provides not only Thor with a hammer: Ódin receives not only a spear but also a golden ring, Frey a golden boar and a ship that easily can be folded up and fitted into a pocket.

Loki as the Provider is a very important trait: he supplies the three gods with their indispensable tools, the most important being Thor´s hammer. I will return to this aspect of Loki when discussing his character in a later chapter.
Baldr´s Death

In the myth of Baldr´s death in Gylfaginning 48 Loki´s demonic aspect reveals itself at full strength: here he lives up to his reputation of being the most evil and malevolent of the gods. The story runs as follows: Baldr has been having dreams which reveal to him that he soon will be dead. The Aesir decide to try and stop this and Frigga makes every creature, living as well as dead take an oath not to harm Baldr in any way. The mistletoe is left out, as it was believed to be too weak to harm anyone. Baldr then becomes practically invulnerable, and the Aesir make it their sport to try their weapons against him, inflicting no harm on him whatsoever. This annoys Loki, who assumes the shape of a woman in order to trick Freyja into telling him how Baldr can be harmed, and he is told that the mistletoe were exempted from the oath. He then designs a missile weapon out of mistletoe, and talks the blind god Höder into using it on Baldr. The missile hits and kills Baldr. The Aesir decide to bring him back from Hel, where he lives after his detah. They send a messenger to Hel, who returns with the answer that Baldr may return to the living if all creatures on earth would cry over him. Every creature does so, except for one giantess, who refuses to shed a tear for Baldr. This is, of course, Loki in disguise, and the Aesir decide to catch and punish him, not only for being the instigator of Baldr´s killing, but also for keeping him from coming back to life again. Loki flees, and hides in a house with doors in all directions, assuming the shape of a salmon during the days. He designs a net out of linen, but throws it into the fire when he realises that his hideout has been spotted, and takes refuge in the river in his salmon shape. The Aesir enter the house, and Kvasir, the most clever of the gods, sees the net pattern in the ashes and figures out how the net works. He designs a net of his own, and the Aesir then go fishing. Loki is captured and tied to three pointy rocks with the bowels of his son Narfi, and has to stay confined until the end of time. A poisonous snake is placed above his head, dripping its venom on his face, thereby causing him tremendous pain. Sigyn, Loki´s loyal wife, then takes a bowl and holds it over Loki´s head to protect him from the venom, but when she has to empty it every once in a while, Loki writhes in pain, causing the writhings of the ground we know as earthquakes in the process.

The role which Loki plays in this myth is the role that has been given most attention: the role of being responsible for Baldr´s death. Being not the obedient instrument but the cunning instigator, his part in the myth is all the more malicious, he is the rabani, not the handbani. Höder´s role is instrumental only, and he cannot really be blamed for causing Baldr´s death: how was he to know that the missile would actually be able to inflict harm on Baldr? Did not all the other gods try their weapons on Baldr too? Nevertheless Höder is slain, but Loki´s life is spared.

This particular version of the killing of Baldr and the binding of Loki have no counterparts in the Edda Sćmundar, where Höder alone is responsible for the killing of Baldr, and where Loki´s insolent behaviour at Ćgir´s feast causes him to be bound, not his suggested part in the killing of Baldr. Nor are there any kennings about Loki´s part as radbani known in any other source. I will return to the deviations in Snorri´s Edda later in this essay.


Lokasenna deals with the quarrel between Loki and the other Aesir at a feast hosted by Ćgir or Gymir. Loki kills one of Ćgir´s servants, Fimafeng, because he could not stand hearing the gods´ praising of his skill of serving and pleasing the guests. The Aesir kick Loki out, but he returns only to start a quarrel that cannot be stopped by force as the gods had taken a vow of peace inside the hall where the feast was held. Loki is therefore allowed to verbally abuse each and every one of the gods as he sees fit. He starts with reminding Ódin of his promise of blood brotherhood, of which we know nothing else but what is told here. This gives him his rightful place at the table, and once seated, the abuse begins. Time and time again he is asked to be quiet, and he is offered precious gifts in order to keep his mouth shut, but to no avail: he will not stop for anything.

He accuses Bragi of cowardice, Idunn of promiscuosity and of having embraced the killer of her husband. Further he accuses Gefjon of having committed adultery, and Ódin of being unfair in his role of deciding upon which of the combating armies to win when presiding at battles. Ódin then reminds Loki of his own faults , (to us unknown) of having spent time in the underworld as a woman, milking cows and giving birth to children. Loki then accuses Ódin of unmanliness, and goes on to point to Frigg´s affair with Ódin´s two brothers when she thought Ódin to be dead. He also tells her that he is the cause of Baldr´s absence, possibly referring to his refusal to weap over him to keep him in Hel. Freyja is accused of adultery and incest, Njrdr of having been used as a chamber pot by some giantesses and of having committed incest: Tyr of being unable of solving juridical problems and of not being the father of his own son, Loki himself claiming paternity. The abuse goes on with Loki giving air to all the dark secrets of the Aesir, until Thor comes to the hall and resolves the situation by threatening Loki with his mighty hammer. This does not, however, mean that the peace is broken, as Thor has not taken the wow, having been away in the east killing trolls. He captures Loki, who has taken refuge in a stream in the guise of a salmon, and he ties Loki down with the bowels of his son, leaving him there with a poisonous snake dripping its venom in Loki´s face. Just like in the myth of the killing of Baldr, Sigyn stays with Loki to keep the venom from him, but when she fails to do so, Loki´s writhing makes the earth tremble.

In Lokasenna we find a lot of references to myths and stories about the Aesir that we cannot find elsewhere. Nonetheless they provide us with important information about the Aesir in general, and Loki in particular. He has had intercourse with Freyja, with Tyr´s wife (of whom we know nothing more than this brief passage) and moreover with Sif, Thor´s wife. He freely admits his guilt in the killing of Balder, or rather that it was he that saw to it that Frigg would never see her son again, and he also indicates that his was the guilt when Pazi died, both first and last in line: as the instigator and as the actor.


In Voluspá, Loki is the helmsman of Naglfari, the ship that carries the army of Hel to Midgardr (st.51). He is also mentioned as "brodur Byleists ", but after this his participation seems to become insignificant, as he is not mentioned more at all. Snorri´s version in Gylfaginning 50 differs somewhat. In his account it is the giant Hrym and not Loki who steers the Naglfari, but Loki is all the more active in the ensuing battle, fighting off Heimdalr, slaying him but is also slain himself.

What is important here is that we find Loki playing a more violent role than before and that he has finally chosen which side to take. Instead of using his wits he actually joins the fray and fights the gods´ sentinel successfully, which in some ways contradicts the very essence of his character as the sly manipulator who would rather run off than take the heat. Instead of balancing between good and evil he makes his stand against the Aesir, joining forces with their enemies.


The Instigator of Conflicts

When Loki appears in the Eddas, it is mostly in his role of Instigator of Conflicts: because of some unfortunate circumstance he is forced to act not according to his own volition but to that of others. Most often his loyalties to the Aesir are in conflict with a promise given to the giants. On other occasions, he has given advice that would have led the Aesir into destruction, had he not managed to solve the situation in his own peculiar manner. He is the Instigator of Conflict, but also the solver thereof: he manages to solve all of the tricky situations he has put the Aesir and himself into, but never without paying the price himself: when saving the day in the myth of the giant builder, he has to suffer the most unmanly act of intercourse with the steed, but also the ignomity of giving birth to the eight-legged fowl, Sleipnir, and when providing the Aesir with their precious gifts he ends up with his lips sown together.

The Provider

Loki as the Provider is in many ways connected to his function of being a trickster/culture bringer. He does not only provide the Aesir (and hence mankind) in general with the net but he also provides three Aesir in particular with the attributes that constitute their functions in Dumézil´s tripartite system: Thor with the hammer, Ódin with the spear and Freyr with the golden boar.

Loki´s connection with the net and cobweb has been thoroughly discussed in its folkloristic context by Rooth and Celander, and as that aspect goes beyond the scope of this essay, I will only discuss this connection as it appear in the eddas. According to Snorri, it is Loki who invents the net but that he destroys it when the Aesir approach in order to capture him. The most intelligent of the gods, Kvasir, finds the remains of the net in the ashes and reconstructs it in order to catch Loki. In the Poetic Edda, however, it is the sea-goddess Ran who lends her net to Loki when he wishes to capture Andvari. If Loki is to be seen as the inventor of the net, why does he himself invent the instrument of his own destruction? If not, why does Snorri make him the inventor of the net when the Poetic Edda explicitly makes the net the property of Ran?

In the myth of Sif´s hair, Loki is forced to make up for the loss of Sif´s hair, which he himself has cut off, and returns not only with a golden wig for Sif but also with impressing gifts for other Aesir, namely: the spear Gungnir for Ódin, Sif´s golden wig for Thor, and the ship Skibladne for Frey. The three gods also receive gifts from the dwarf with whom Loki made his wager and whom he tried to cheat: Draupnir, the magic multiplying ring for Ódin, Mjolnir for Thor and the golden boar to Freyr. These latter gifts are not, of course, given by Loki but it is he who has instigated their conception. Loki thus becomes the provider of the most powerful, if perhaps not the most perfect, weapon of the gods and therefore their most important protection from the giants: Mjölnir, the hammer of Thor. This hammer ´, when wielded by Thor, the fierce warrior, slants the odds in the gods´ favour. Moreover, he provides Ódin with the mighty spear Gungnir and Freyr with Skibladne: "...he is in fact solely responsible for providing the gods with the instruments and symbols of their mythological functions " (Anderson 1981 p.482).

The Transgressor of Boundaries

Loki transgresses boundaries not only as shape-shifter but also as transgressor of gender boundaries, being able to change his sex at will. He is neither ás nor giant, but seems to be able to pass as both whenever feeling like doing so. Most of the situations in which he has become the instigator of conflict relate in some way or another to his shape-shifting ability and/or crossing the border between the land of the gods and of the giants. Hence, Loki is "external to the system, but essential to its function, and thus it is as a mediator between the outside and inside, partaking of both, that he operates " (Frakes 1987, p.477).

Loki seems to have no difficulty with changing his shape: in the eddas he appears as falcon, as salmon, and as mare. His relationship with beasts also manifests itself in his progeny: his two sons Fenrir and Jormungandr are a giant wolf and a monstrous serpent respectively. When guised as mare, he becomes pregnant and gives birth to Sleipnir: it is clear that assuming other shapes does not give him any extraordinary powers except for that of the shape assumed; his actions as a falcon is limited to those of a falcon, and becoming pregnant in the shape of a mare consequently results in giving birth to a horse! In the Pazi-myth, Loki is travelling in falcon-shape and is captured by Pazi just because of the limits of his present shape: no bird can escape when its feet are trapped, not even a god in bird-shape. Loki is subsequently recognised by Pazi because his eyes give him away: here the falcon-guise reveals its weakness. When in salmon shape, Loki is caught by Tórr around his salmon tail, and his grip being so firm that the salmon´s tail is said to get its slim shape from Thor´s grasp. Here too Loki is restricted in his actions to those restrictions that apply to the shape he has assumed.

Transgression of gender boundaries is another of Loki´s typical traits, a trait which he shares with Ódin, and which is intimately connected to his appearing as mare in the myth of the giant builder, where he changes both shape and sex. He dresses up as a woman in rymskvida and when consulting Frigg about the mistletoe in the myth of Baldr´s death, and even crosses the border and becomes female: as the giantess okk who refuses to cry over Baldr (Gylfaginning ch.48) and when milking cows and giving birth to children in the underworld (Lokasenna st.23).

The family of Loki

Snorri tells us about Loki´s family in great detail: "svá, at kalla hann son Fárbauta ok Laufejar, Nalar, bródir Byleists ok Helblinda" (de Vries 1933, p.186). In the Poetic Edda, Loki is referred to as "Laufey´s son" in Trymskvida st.20 and in Lokasenna st.52, and the kennings of Voluspá st.51 and Hyndluljó st.40: "Byleistr´s brother", give further evidence to his relation with Byleistr. Loki´s relationship to Helblinda as being a person in his own right is not as certain as is his relationship to Byleistr, as Helblinda is also used as a name for Odin in Grimnismal st.46. de Vries suggests that Byleistr and Helblinda are two other names for Odin, and finds support for his suggestion in Lokasenna, where Loki claims his rightful place at the table because of his blood brotherhood with Odin, thus establishing the close relation between the two of them.

Of Loki´s parents, Farbauti and Laufey, we know very little. The only time Farbauti is mentioned in the eddas is in the passage quoted above, whereas Laufey´s name is used in kennings in the Poetic Edda as mentioned, in addition to her being mentioned in Snorri´s Edda. Rooth suggests that the names carry symbolical meaning: "Farbáuti,...,which is considered to mean the wind, may well be concerned with the wind as the cause of illnesses "(Rooth 1962 p.173), given the "evil" nature of Loki. The meaning of Laufey, on the other hand, is more problematic, and to correctly define her name as "`lövjerska´,a woman who fiddles with medicines and herbs, seems uncertain" (Rooth 1962 p.173). Her alternative name, Nál, suggests according to Rooth a connection to a shooting pain, just as being pierced with a needle. The names of Loki´s two brothers, Helblinda and Byleistr, also carry symbolical meaning: Helblinda meaning "totally blind" and Byleistr meaning "lame" or "crippled". Here Rooth points to Irish Celtic influences, which will be discussed in detail elsewhere in this essay, where "the transition from monsters and demons to hypostases and illnesses or defects is also obvious " (Rooth 1962 p.169).

Loki is also the father (and mother!) of many beings: he has two sons with his wife Sigyn, Nare or Narve and Vale, and three children with the giantess Angrboa: Fenrir, Jormungandr and Hel; to these children he is the father. He has also conceived a foal with the stallion Svailfare, Sleipnir, and lastly he has given birth to the giantess Hyndla after having eaten the burnt heart of a dead woman.

Rooth points to similarities between Snorri´s account of Loki´s bestial children and that of mediaeval conceptions of the biblical origins of evil: Loki as the father of great supernatural beings corresponds to Cain as the origin of monsters and giants: influences from the Christian traditions cannot be ruled out.

Loki´s bestial children are strongly connected with the escathology of the eddas: Fenris and Jormungandr as well as their father both play crucial roles in the last battle between the Aesir and their enemies. His daughter Hel falls into a somewhat different category: she is the queen of Helheim, and gathers there her army of the evil dead. Jormungandr is not altogether evil, though: when committed to biting his tail at world´s end he really is a part of the cosmological order, as de Vries claims (de Vries 1933 p.175).

Source (http://www.luth.se/luth/present/sweden/history/gods/johannes/)