View Full Version : Loki and his role in Mythology

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005, 02:12 PM

Thorskegga Thorn

Because there is no evidence that Loki was worshipped as a god in the Dark Age period, academic scholars would say that therefore no one worshipped Loki, but this conclusion is somewhat na´ve. In a culture where the religion was totally without doctrine and beliefs ranged between respect for ancestors, rock spirits and the gods themselves, with infinite variety, how can we dismiss the inevitable worship of this well known and immortal figure from the myths.

Of one thing we can be certain, followers of Loki were either discrete or very unusual. I can be fairly certain that in all the surviving sagas there is no mention of anyone claiming a connection with him. However there are only a relatively small number of heathens mentioned in the Eddas and sagas with their patron deities, suggesting that only a small sample of the old religion is represented.

The myths that involve Loki are as follows:

The Building of Asgard's Wall (Snorri's Edda)

The gods offer Freyja, the sun and the moon to a giant if he can build a wall around Asgard in three months, convinced that he cannot succeed. The giant is assisted by a magic horse and makes very good progress. The gods panic and blame Loki for the bargain. Loki changes into a mare and entices the giants stallion away so that the giant misses the deadline. Loki then gives birth to Odin's eight legged horse Sleipnir.

The Treasures of the Gods. (Snorri's Edda)

Loki cuts off Sif's hair for a joke and Thor threatens to kill him. Loki goes to the dwarves and asks them to make replacement hair. The dwarves obliged and also make Freyr's ship and Odin's Spear. Loki is so impressed by their work that he makes a bet with some other dwarves that they cannot better the three gifts. The other dwarves make Mjolnir (Thor's hammer), Freyr's boar and Odin's ring Draupnir. The gods adjudicate and decide that Mjolnir is the best of the treasures. Loki escapes paying his debt with cunning.

The Three Monsters (Snorri's Edda)

Loki has a giantess lover called Angrboda. She gives birth to Fenris the sky wolf, Hela the goddess of the underworld and Jormundgand the world serpent.

Otter's Ransom (Poetic Edda)

Loki unwittingly kills the son of Hreidmar who had taken the form of an otter. Hreidmar threatens to kill Loki and his two travelling companions Odin and Hoenir, unless they can fill and cover the otter's skin with gold. Hreidmar sends Loki to steal gold from Andvari the dwarf, who grudgingly hands over his hoard included a cursed ring.

The Theft of the Apples (Snorri's Edda)

Loki is abducted by the giant Thiassi and promises to bring Idunn and her casket of golden apples in return for his freedom. Loki does the deed and is soon blamed for Idunn's disappearance. Loki takes the falcons form and flies of to Thiassi's hall, turns Idunn into a nut and flies back with her. Thiassi gives chase in the form of an eagle. At the walls of Asgard the gods destroy Thiassi with fire.

Skadi's Marriage (Snorri's Edda)

After Thiassi's death his daughter Skadi demanded reparation from Asgard. As part of her payment she insisted that the gods make her laugh. They were unsuccessful until Loki tied his testicles to a goat.

The Theft of Brisingamen (Sorla Thattr)

When Freyja buys her necklace from the dwarves for four nights of passion, Loki spies on her and reports everything he sees to Odin. Odin is furious and sends Loki to steal the necklace, and demands penance from Freyja for her infidelity.

Battle with Heimdal (Snorri's Edda)

Loki fights Heimdal in the form of a seal and then as a bear, this may be connected to the theft of Brisingamen?

Utgardaloki (Snorri's Edda)

Loki accompanies Thor to the hall of Utgardaloki, where he takes part in the various contests and like Thor is tricked by magic. Loki's contest is to eat faster than wildfire, he failed because he didn't eat the trough as well as the food as his opponent did.

Gerriod (Snorri's Edda)

Loki is captured by the giant Gerriod and promises to bring Thor to the giant's hall unarmed in return for his freedom. Loki tells Thor that Gerriod's hall is a wonderful place for a visit, and Thor unwittingly sets off to face Gerriod's ambush.

Loki and the Giant (Scandinavian Folklore)

The gods try to save a farmer's son from a giant by hiding him with magical spells. After several unsuccesful attempts the farmer invokes Loki. The giant sees through Loki's spell as well, but Loki grabs the child and runs through a low beamed building. The giant runs after him and knocks himself out on a beam. The farmer praises Loki and declares him the best of the gods.

The Theft of Mjolnir (Poetic Edda)

Mjolnir is stolen and Thor sends Loki to find it. Loki reports that a giant called Thrym has hidden it and will only return it if he is given Freyja as a bride. Thor is forced to disguise himself as Freyja to recover the hammer and Loki accompanies him as a handmaid.

The Death of Balder (Eddas)

Balder has foreseen his death and Frigg asks all of nature not to harm him. The gods make a sport of throwing weapons at Balder. Loki in the guise of an old woman questions Frigg and learns that the mistletoe has been missed. Loki makes a mistletoe spear and gives it to Hod who kills balder. Later disguised as a giantess

Aegir's Feast (Poetic Edda)

Loki is sent away from the feast for killing one of the servants. He returns and insults all the gods and goddesses until Thor returns and drives him off.

Loki's Capture (Snorri's Edda)

Following Loki's various crimes the gods hunt him down. Loki hides in a river disguised as a trout. The gods manage to capture him with some difficulty and tie him up with the sinews of his children, under a poisonous snake dropping venom. Loki's wife Sigyn stays by his side and holds up a cup to catch the poison.

Ragnarok (Eddas)

At the end of the world all the enemies of the gods will be released from their chains. Loki will helps command the gods enemies. He is destined to kill and be killed by Heimdal.


It is obvious from this impressive list that Loki had a very important role in Norse mythology, he was given a leading role in most of the myths and his family was listed in detail. He was believed to live among the gods and was clearly considered immortal. However he is frequently excluded from lists of the gods and their attributes, his hall in not mentioned among the halls of Asgard, and he is not given a horse with all the other gods.

The obvious reason for this discrepancy is the continuous references to Loki's treachery and eventual betrayal. By the thirteenth century when the myths were recorded Loki was shown as a sinister figure, always unreliable and ever plotting the downfall of the gods. How authentic this is compared to tenth century heathen belief is difficult to prove.

Bound figures are not uncommon in Norse artwork and an example from the Gosforth Cross in England seems to show Loki attended by his wife. This element of the myth and the fragment recording the battle with Heimdal are probably quite old.

The Ragnarok myth as it known today cannot be older than about 1000, with its obvious Christian influence, the rise of the nameless god and the Armageddon style. Loki's role as the sworn enemy of the gods probably developed from the Christian devil, and in earlier myths he was a mostly benevolent trickster.

Absurdly in the stories of the theft of Mjolnir and the Brisingamen, which are generally considered to be later than the Ragnarok myth, Loki comes across as the loyal servant of Thor and Odin. The myth of Mjolnir's disappearance is especially interesting as how the hammer was stolen is never explained. But Loki as the immortal thief of Asgard is a perfect candidate for the crime. Either the story is old and incomplete or the means of the theft were never contemplated by its late author who was far more interested in the theme of Thor cross dressing. As the story is a very successful comedy the later is more likely.

Loki's character is a goldmine of possiblities for the storyteller. Again and again he causes problems and then puts them right. In his strange existence, living among the gods but not officially one of them, he can perform any perversity to achieve his end. Thus in no less than three myths he happily cross-dresses, often without obvious need, while when Odin or Thor resort to such tactics it is after every other option has failed (Saxo's tale of Rind) or with great reluctance (Thrym). To the Norseman dressing in woman's clothes was the ultimate disgrace and was sufficient grounds for divorce, while homosexuality was a standard blood feud starting insult (it has even been suggested that the strange remark about a ring in the Lay of Harbard is one such taunt). Loki is totally unconcerned about his reputation, and even takes the female part in sexual intercourse in the myth of Asgard's wall, and commits public masochism to entertain Skadi. In our enlightened age it is hard to imagine how shocking Loki's exploits would have appeared to the prudish northmen. It must be added that Loki is not the only Norse deity that did not follow tenth century codes of conduct and several myths, especially those of the Vanir, show signs of recent change to reflect the ethics of the time.

From my own experience in storytelling I think Loki's charater developed because he so enlivens the myths which would otherwise be dull. Take Thor for example, with one throw of his hammer every known enemy of the gods gets killed instantly. To make the myths even remotely interesting he has to be given a handicap so that the listener wonders if there is a chance of his failure. Loki provides this handicap by removing the hammer in the tale of Geirrod and possibly also in the story of Thrym. In Loki's absence Thor has to be hampered by other means, by Hymir or Utgardaloki (a giant who has even adopted the trickster's name). In this way even Loki's treachery shows the power of the gods, for in fathering Fenris and Jormundangr he provides the means by which two gods prove their worth, and even the weapon with which the serpent is fought.

Source (http://www.thorshof.org/thunder8.htm)

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005, 02:20 PM
Can you please add posts like this to existing threads? We've got several Loki threads already, see here (http://www.forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=12340&highlight=loki) or here (http://www.forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=10823&highlight=loki). Thank you.

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005, 02:22 PM
OK, delete the topic, please, then.

Although I cannot see why Loki should not get three topics by three different writers?

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005, 02:29 PM
Because there are probably about 100 hundred people who wrote about Loki and I don't think it is neccessary to open a thread for each author. I won't delete this post of course, it's a good one though.