Loki is easily one of the most unique and enigmatic characters within Norse mythology, as discussed in the previous article covering him.
Part of what makes him so unique is the various children he had and their roles in the myths. While most of these children have been covered already in other articles, this article will consolidate all the info we have on the children of Loki.
Loki is at least half Jötunn thanks to his father and possibly a fully Jötunn if his mother was also one. His children can also be technically considered Jötnar—what exactly that entails is debatable as most of his children are more monstrous or animalistic than Jötnar tend to be.
The two most normal of his children was only mentioned concerning the binding of Loki after the death of Balder. There’s some confusion on their names; between Nari, Narfi or Vali, but at least one of them was the son of Loki’s wife, Sigyn.
One of these children was transformed by Odin into a wolf who proceeded to devour his brother. The brothers’ entrails were then used to bind Loki to some stones in a cave. Practically nothing else is known of these children.
Of the situation with Loki’s children, Loki giving birth to Sleipnir, the horse, is among the strangest. The story has already been mentioned in previous articles, but I’ll repeat it here for completion’s sake.
The Children of Loki in Norse Mythology
The children of Loki were with the giantess Angrboda and the horse Svathlifari. The children of Loki are as follows,
- Sleipnir — Son of Loki and Svathlifari
- Hel — Goddess of the Underworld, Daughter of Angrbotha
- Jormungandr — The Midgard Serpert, Son of Angrbotha
- Fenrir — The Wolf, Son of Angrbotha
Sleipnir, the Horse — Son of Loki and Svathlifari
During the fortification of Asgard, when the gods hired a Jötnar to construct walls around their realm. Loki was the one to forge the agreement between them and the Jötnar.
The agreement, which involved the Jötnar finishing the job very quickly in exchange for the hand of a goddess in marriage, 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 threatened violence upon Loki, and he knew he had to sabotage the Jötunn work in some way.
Seen as the Jötunn’s incredible 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. The horse saw the beautiful Mare chased after Loki, causing the Jötnar 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 named Sleipnir, meaning “the sliding one” or “the slippery one”.
Sleipnir became Odin’s steed, capable of travelling over land, sea and air and travelling between realms.
Fenrir, Jormungandr and Hel — Children of Loki and Angrbotha.
Loki’s most notable children, however, were with the Jötnar woman Angrbotha. Although, the poetic Edda only lists the wolf Fenrir as being Loki’s child with Angrbotha. However, other poets included Jormungandr and Hel alongside Fenrir as children of Loki and Angrbotha.
These children were first brought up in the realm of Jötunheim, and when Æsir gods learned of them, they discovered prophecies that spoke of the great mischief and disaster that would arise from them.
The gods expected trouble from these children, partially because of who their mother was, but more so because of who their father was.
Odin decided to deal with the children in one way or another by tossing Jormungandr into the deep sea surrounding Midgard (a name for Earth in Norse Mythology); Hel into the underworld, giving her authority over any that are sent to her; and Fenrir was eventually bound in shackles.
Hel — Goddess of the Underworld
Hel, the goddess of the underworld that shares her name, is a grim and fierce figure that appears to be half-living and half-dead. She is generally known to be indifferent to both the living and the dead, and her name was often invoked with the grave.
Not much else is known about Hel, and her most significant appearance in Norse sources is in the tale of the death of Balder, as she offered to return Balder to the realm of the living as long as everything in the cosmos wept for him.
When Loki, who was the indirect cause of Balder’s death, did not weep for him, Hel kept Balder until the time of Ragnarök.
Hel’s role in Ragnarök is unknown, and it’s unclear if she still lives after the event or if she still watches over the dead.
Jormungandr — The Midgard Serpent
Jormungandr, the Midgard serpent, was thrown into the great sea around the realm of Midgard when he was still somewhat small. He eventually grew large enough to wrap his body around the world and bite his own tail.
It said that when Jormungandr releases his tail, Ragnarök will begin, but this does contradict the story of Thor‘s fishing trip, where Jormungandr raises his head out of the water.
Thor’s first encounter with Jormungandr was in disguise when Thor went to the ruler of the castle Útgarðr in Jötunheimr, Útgarða-Loki.
The tale is a fanciful one only found in the Prose Edda and not the Poetic and features Thor and his companions being tricked in several contests.
These contests involved Loki competing to eat a trench of meat but loses and later learns he was competing against wildfire itself. Thor gets into a drinking contest to drink from a large horn but fails and later learns he was drinking the sea itself.
Thor is also told to lift a giant cat but barely does so and later learns the cat was the Midgard Serpent in disguise.
Thor’s next encounter with Jormungandr is on his fishing trip with the Jötunn Hymir. Thor takes a boat far out into the sea and uses a cow’s head as bait to catch Jormungandr. After hooking him, he pulls his head up out of the water and attempts to kill it, but the line breaks—whether it snaps or is cut by Hymir.
This is the last that Thor would see of Jormungandr until Ragnarök.
When Ragnarök arrives, Jormungandr will come out of the sea and poison the sky with his venom. Thor and Jormungandr will battle for the final time, with Thor slew the serpent but becomes poisoned by his venom. After taking nine steps, Thor drops dead.
Fenrir — The Wolf
Fenrir, meaning “fen-dweller”, is the last significant child of Loki, and the gods knew that Fenrir was involved in a terrible prophecy related to the demise of Odin. They first attempted to raise the wolf amongst themselves to keep it under their watchful eyes, and only Tyr was bold enough to approach and feed the wolf.
Tyr was a strong god associated with battle, justice, and he was renowned for his bravery by feeding Fenrir. Unfortunately, Fenrir grew rapidly, much like Jormungandr, so the gods decided he could not stay in Asgard.
Rather than letting him roam free, they decided to bind him with chains. They crafted a strong shackle, brought it to Fenrir, claiming they wanted to test his strength.
Fenrir saw that this would hardly be much of a test and agreed to let them shackle him. He stretched his muscles, and the shackle broke easily. So, the gods went and crafted a second one twice as strong.
Once again, they brought it to the wolf, saying they wanted him to test it, and he, of course, agreed; snapping it was slightly more effort.
The gods became worried that they would not be able to bind Fenrir, and so they went to the realm of the dwarves, the most skilled craftsmen in the nine realms, and asked them to create a magical binding that had no equal.
The binding they created was forged from six things, the sound of a cat’s footsteps, the beard of a woman; the roots of mountains; the breath of a fish; the tendons of a bear; and the spittle of a bird.
This magical robe was brought to Fenrir, who suspected trickery based on how light and soft the binding looked, so he refused to be bound with it unless one of the gods would lay their hand in his mouth as a pledge of good faith.
Of course, none of the gods was willing to lose a hand until Tyr stepped forward and placed his hand in the mouth of the wolf. When they bound Fenrir, he attempted to get out, but as he could not, he bit off Tyr’s hand and swallowed it.
They took Fenrir to a lonely place and tied him to a boulder. They also placed a sword in his mouth, keeping it stuck open, and his endless drool eventually formed a river. Here, he would remain till the time of Ragnarök.
When Ragnarök comes, Fenrir will break free, and Odin will ride to fight him. Fenrir will devour Odin in their battle, but Odin’s son, Víðarr, will avenge his father by holding open Fenrir’s jaws, using a special boot.
This boot is formed from all of the extra leather pieces that people have cut from their shoes. So, it said that anyone concerned enough to assist the gods should throw those pieces away.
Much like Loki, his children comprised some of the most interesting aspects of Norse mythology, although they also highlight some of the issues with fragmented source materials.
Also, much like Loki, his children are directly linked to the death of the gods, with Loki involved in the deaths of Balder and Heimdall, Jormungandr killing Thor, Fenrir killing Odin and Hel directly involved with the death.
Perhaps, most interesting is a section from the Prose Edda, when a character is asked where the gods didn’t kill Fenrir since they knew the destruction that would follow him. The character responds by saying that the gods so greatly respected their holy places that they would rather have Odin die than have the wolf’s blood defile them.
Whether that says more about the gods or Fenrir, I’ll leave that for you to decide; but it’s clear that gods certainly did not care for the children of Loki.
Image Sources: BaviPower.