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Who is Loki in Norse Mythology?
Loki, sometimes Lopt, was a Germanic fire god and son of the giants Farbauti and Laufey. He was a mischief-maker, trickster and shapeshifter, and grew progressively eviler until eventually, the gods bound him in a cave until the coming of Ragnarök, the end of the world.
The fact that his parents were giants may help to explain his tendency towards evil deeds. He simply could not help playing tricking and exposing the gods to danger, although it was often his quick-wittedness that afterwards saved them.
In every article in this Norse Mythology series, there have been mentions of the Norse god Loki in some capacity—generally, a negative one.
Loki is one of the most widespread gods within our sources of Norse mythology and has a unique place among the tales of the gods. Although Loki spends much of his time tricking the other gods or behaving maliciously, he is also, on occasion, worked for their benefit.
Many of the Aesir gods have threatened Loki with violence and death multiple times, but most of the time, Loki managed to weasel his way back into their good graces.
This article will cover Loki’s place among the gods, his odd familial history and his eventual gruesome fate at the hands of the gods.
The Meaning of His Name — Loki
The meaning of Loki’s name has been a subject of debate for many years, and it’s still not clear what it means. The current best guess is that it relates to “knots” or “tangles” and alludes to the idea that Loki is often seen as the creator of webs within Norse mythology—in a metaphorical sense.
Loki is a Jötunn, the son of a Jötunn father and a mother who is possibly a female Jötunn or a goddess, but sources never explicitly stated this fact. Interestingly, rather than having his father’s name as part of his full name like other gods, his name includes his mother’s name—Laufey.
This is likely due to the alliteration between Loki and Laufey, but it’s possible that the Aesir gods respected Loki’s mother more than his father.
Loki’s time before coming to Asgard and becoming one of the Aesir gods is completely unknown. On one occasion, the gods held a feast, with Loki present, and things were very merry. The gods began complimenting the servants on their works, but Loki couldn’t stand to hear good things being said about the servants, and so, he proceeded to kill one of them.
The gods chased Loki into the nearby woods but eventually returned to feasting. Loki also eventually returned, and a hush fell over the room. He demanded a seat at a table but was told that he was unwelcome.
In Response, Loki reminded Odin of their early days, when they became blood brothers and swore that no drink would be brought for one that wasn’t also offered to the other.
Odin admitted the oath to be true, and Loki was seated, had a drink, and insulted many of the gods.
Loki as a Character Within Norse Mythology
Loki is one of the most commonly appearing characters in Norse myth, and his purpose is generally to alter the status quo and bring about change in the gods lives—for better or worse.
Loki often cannot keep his mouth shut and seems to enjoy raising the tempers of those around him, but he almost always manages to talk his way out of any actual violence.
He cut all the beautiful golden hair off of Thor‘s wife’s head simply out of malice. Still, once Thor threatens to break every bone in his body, he manages to convince some dwarves to fashion a golden wig for her as well as the greatest ship ever made, and the greatest spear ever made.
Loki’s cowardice occasionally causes trouble for the gods as well. Most notably, during the tale of the kidnapping of Idunn, but again, even though Loki played a key role in causing the problem in the first place, he was also instrumental in rectifying it.
Loki’s Role in the Fortification of Asgard
During the fortification of Asgard, when the gods hired a Jötnar to construct walls on their realm, Loki was the one to forge the agreement between them in the Jötunn.
The agreement involved the Jötunn finishing the job very quickly in exchange for the hand of a goddess in marriage. This was largely unacceptable for the gods, and they expected him to fail.
After seeing that he was likely going to complete it on time, they once again threatened violence upon Loki, and he knew he had to sabotage the Jötunn work in some way.
Loki realising the Jötunn horse was responsible for most of the heavy lifting, Loki went to the horse in the shape of a mare, as Loki was a renowned shapeshifter. Seeing the beautiful mare, the horse chased after Loki, causing the Jötunn to fail his side of the agreement.
Meanwhile, Loki became pregnant after his interaction with the horse and soon gave birth to an eight-legged horse, known as the greatest of horses and became Odin’s steed.
The Children of Loki
Loki giving birth to an eight-legged horse may be among the oddest things within Norse mythology, but the other children of Loki are perhaps just as strange—this topic is fully discussed in the article The Children of Loki — Norse Mythology Explained
But notably, Loki is the father of Hel, the goddess of the Norse underworld; Jörmungandr, the world’s serpent that will cause the death of Thor at Ragnarök; and Fenrir, the great wolf that will devour Odin at Ragnarök.
Much like Loki himself, his children are directly linked to death, particularly that of the gods.
Loki’s Connection to Death—the Death of Baldr
Loki’s connection to death is most notable in the tale of the death of Baldr, son of Odin. In this story, Loki’s sense of mischief and spite reached a disastrous height, which not even he could talk himself out of.
The tale begins with Baldr, the most beloved and beautiful of the gods, beginning to have ominous dreams of some terrible fate befallen him. This greatly concerned the other gods as they did not know what the dreams meant, so they went to Odin to find their meaning.
Odin climbed upon his steed and rode down to the underworld in disguise, where he forced the corpse of a wise woman to rise. He also found that the floor was covered in gold, and Mead was being brewed in anticipation of someone’s arrival.
Upon asking the wise woman whose arrival was being anticipated in Hell, she responded with Baldr. After asking how he will die, the woman tells him that his brother, Hodr, will be responsible. Odin seeks further information, but the wise woman realizes who he is and goes back to the grave.
After returning to Asgard and informing the other gods that Baldr was fated to die, Frigg Baldr’s mother went to everything in the cosmos and made them swear oaths not to harm her son. She took oaths from fire, water, iron and other metals, stones, the earth, trees, diseases, animals, birds, poisons, snakes and everything else.
Everything she went to sworn an oath that they would not harm Baldr. Satisfied that Baldr was now safe, the gods began amusing themselves by striking and throwing all sorts of objects at Baldr, laughing as the god remained unharmed.
This only served to anger the jealous Loki, however, and he went in disguise to Frigg, asking her if truly everything in the world gave an oath not to harm Balder. Frigg admitted that she had not obtained an oath from a small young plant called the Mistletoe, believing it to be too innocent of causing harm to Baldr.
Immediately upon hearing this, Loki disappeared and went to get the Mistletoe. He brought it back to the assembly and approached Hodr, who was blind and standing at the group’s edge.
Loki asked the blind God why he was not joining in with the others, and he said that he could not see where Baldr was and had no weapon.
Loki told him that he should be honouring his brother like the others are and told them that he would direct his throw. He placed the Mistletoe in Hodr’s hand, directed him towards Baldr, and Hodr threw it at his brother.
The Mistletoe pierced through the God, and Baldr dropped dead. The gods weep for their loss—Odin most of all, as he knew this event heralded the coming of Ragnarök.
Another son of Odin, Hermod (Hermóðr), agreed to go to Hell to bargain for Baldr’s return from the underworld, and he rode Odin’s horse.
Upon arriving at the throne of the goddess Hel, he saw that Baldr was sitting in the seat of Honor next to her. Hermod pleaded with Hel to release his brother, telling her of the deep sorrow that came from his passing.
Hel responded that if Baldr was truly so loved, let everything in the world weep for him, both alive and dead; if this happens, she will release him back to Asgard.
Hermod returned to Asgard, informing them of the arrangement. The gods sent messengers to ask everything in the world to weep for Baldr and plead for his return, and everything did so—everything except for one woman they found in a cave.
When they asked her to weep for Baldr, she said that Balder gave her no joy and that Hel should hold what she has. Of course, this was Loki in disguise, so Baldr remained in Hell until the time of Ragnarök.
The Gruesome Event Towards Loki by the Gods
Knowing that the gods were furious beyond Reconciliation with him, Loki fled into a mountain and built himself a house that he could look out from in all directions. During his days, he changed into the form of a salmon and hid beneath a waterfall.
Unfortunately for him, however, Odin could see all upon his throne, and the god soon found Loki. In His salmon form, he attempted to leap downstream, but Thor reached out and grabbed him in mid-air by his tail fins—and it is said that this is why salmon are narrow towards the rear to this day.
Loki changed back to his normal form, and he was taken to a cave along with two of his sons. They changed one of his sons into a wolf, who killed his other son. They took the entrails of his slain son and tied Loki to three rocks in the cave, turning the entrails into iron chains.
They then placed a poisonous snake on a rock above his head, causing it to contain. You only drip its venom onto Loki’s face. Loki’s wife, still faithful and loving, held the bowl underneath the snake to avoid its poison dripping upon her husband’s face.
However, every so often, she must leave to empty the bowl, and during the time, the poison drips onto Loki, causing him to convulse and shake so violently that it’s felt on Midgard as earthquakes.
There he will remain bound and suffering until he breaks his chains at the start of Ragnarök.
When Ragnarök comes, Loki will lead the Jötnar out of Jotunheim to commence the war against the gods.
Loki is easily among the most unique and enigmatic characters within Norse mythology and potentially within any mythology.
Despite his importance within the tales of Norse mythology and the number of times he’s mentioned, archaeological finds depicting Loki are extremely rare. Whether or not he was worshipped or appeased by any of the Norse peoples is a topic for discussion, and Loki, in general, remains a mysterious figure.
While the lives of the gods may have been happy and peaceful for quite a while, Loki is proof that, in the end, chaos reigns.
Image Sources: JiaNan 李.