Loki is, without a doubt, the most disingenuous of all mythical gods and beings, a duplicitous god that would take advantage of any opportunity to cause pain and harm to others, and his sleek, sharp, and deceitful tongue has caused so much mystery to gods and humans alike. But ever wondered why Loki was such a bane to the people around him and to the gods? Or rather, what made him who he was? While every story has a protagonist and an antagonist, most people would argue that this mythical creature had it going and was regarded as a scourge. This article shares important insights into the life and the exploits of Loki, the master trickster.
Often referred to as the trickster god throughout Norse Mythology, the most intriguing bit about Loki is that he wasn’t always a trickster – he was, in fact, one of the Aesir gods. So, what’s the story behind Loki’s trickster life?
Loki is an Old Norse name that is pronounced as LOAK-ee. The name Loki means a wily trickster god that was an important part of Norse mythology. Though the trickster god, Loki was also treated as one of the nominal members of the gods who occupied a very ambivalent and unique position among all the gods, the giants, and all other spiritual beings that are recorded to have populated the Norse religion in the pre-Christian times. This is all attested by his familial relations.
Born of the giant Farbauti or the Cruel Striker in Old Norse for his father and Laufey or Nal whose meaning of is not known – Laufey or Nal, could have been a giantess, a goddess, or something else entirely. Unfortunately, survivors of the old times are not saying much about her roots thing at this time.
His familial roots aside, Loki often runs a foul, and not just with regards to his societal expectations, but also in what could be described and the laws of nature. But in addition to this information about his mother and father, Loki is Sleipner’s mother – yes, the horse’s mother. Sleipner is Odin’s Shamanic horse, and it was birthed by Loki after he shapeshifted to a mare and courted the stallion called Svadilfari. This story has been recounted endless times, but it’s well detailed in the tale about the Fortification of Asgard. In these tales, Loki is portrayed as this scheming coward that only cares for self-preservation and shallow pleasures. He is malicious, playful, and also helpful, but he still is quite irreverent and a nihilist.
The Fortification of Asgard
In this tale of the Fortification of Asgard, a stranger who turned out to be a smith would arrive in Asgard, making the offer to build a high wall for the gods. This wall would be built around their homes, and it would protect all of the gods from anyone who wished them harm or brought illness. The smith, a giant, sold himself off quite well, noting that he’d complete the work in only 3 seasons. But in return, he demanded a very steep compensation – one the hand of Freya, the goddess, and also the sun and the moon. The gods would then go out to seek counsel from each other. The goddess was complete against the terms of the giant from the start, which is when Loki spoke up and made the suggestion that the giant’s demand would be honored, but this was only the case if he’d build them all in one winter. The gods deliberated further, but they agreed to Loki’s plan – with no intention of giving Freya, the moon, or the sun away. The gods thought and believed that the demands imposed on the giant were impossible.
The giant agreed to their demands, though, making the gods swear that they would fulfill their end of this bargain if he held up his end, also adding that his safety was to be guaranteed as long as he was working in Asgard. Once the agreement was made, the builder set off to construct the wall, and to the surprise of the gods, the structure was raised quite fast—the most perplexing thing. However, was the power of the builder’s stallion – Svadilfari or the Unlucky Traveler. This stallion worked twice as hard/ fast as the builder, hauling huge boulders over long distances for adding to the edifice.
With 3 days left to the end of Winter, the builder had made a wall that was as strong as it was impenetrable to any enemy of Asgard. The stones needed for the gate were the only missing bits.
This led to an anxious frenzy among the gods, and Loki was seized and rebuked for giving the gods bad advice. With a threat of death hanging over his head, Loki had to find a way of preventing the giant from finishing the task at hand, taking Freya, the moon, and the sun, bringing forth a never-ending dreariness and darkness across the 9 worlds. To save his back, Loki pleaded with the gods for them to spare his life and swore to do what the gods desired.
So, that night as the giant and Svadilfari ventured into the snow-draped forests in search of stones, Loki would follow them – in disguise, of course. The giant and his stallion came across a mare (which was Loki), which whinnied towards the stallion from a rather short distance away. Upon spotting the mare, the stallion was excited – and we’re not just talking about his heart palpitation; the heart wasn’t the only delightfully roused organ. The stallion would then snap his reins as he went after the mare. Instinctively, the mare ran all night long as the giant Svadilfari ran after her. By morning, Svadilfari was still missing, and the giant grew desperate because he knew he wouldn’t finish the wall in time, even if the stallion were to turn up.
Relieved, the Aesir paid the giant a deserving amount in wages – a fata; blow to his head thanks to nothing other than Thor’s hammer.
Deep in the forest, meanwhile, the stallion has caught up with Loki, and their night together birthed the grey, 8-legged horse called Sleipner, the horse that then became Odin’s steed. So, yes, Loki mothered a horse.
The Kidnapping of Idun
But this is not the only account of Loki’s deceit – there also is the take of the Kidnapping of Idun. In this tale, and in his yet another reckless endeavor, Loki ended up in the hands of Thiazi, the furious giant. This giant threatens to end Loki’s life unless he can bring to him a goddess called Idun. As is expected, Loki complies with this order in a bid to save his life. But after making this promise, Loki finds himself in yet another awkward situation where the gods threaten to kill him if he doesn’t rescue Idun. So, he agrees to another quest and uses the same old strategy – turning himself into a falcon then carrying Idun back home in Asgard – in his talons. Thiazi then pursues him in desperation, and he turns himself into an eagle to do this. He almost catches up with Loki as Loki nears Asgard. Fortunately, the gods light up a huge fire encircling the perimeter; the flames catch Thiazi, and he’s burnt to death. Loki and Idun reach their destination safely. Now, in as much as Loki helps the gods, this happens because Loki has to redeem himself by rectifying an issue that he’d brought on their heads.
These two are just examples of Loki’s theatrics, but it is a theme that repeats too many times, as is the case during the Creation of Thor’s hammer.
Interestingly, after the demise of Thiazi, his daughter Skadi would make the trip to Asgard to demand restitution for his father’s death. Among other demands, she wanted the gods to make her laugh, something only Loki could do. Again, Loki employed his trickster moves. In this case, he tied one end of a rope to a goat’s beard, the other to his testicles. Loki and the goat would squeal and squawk as they pulled in different directions, alternately. Loki then fell on Skadi’s lap, and she really couldn’t help but laugh given the absurdity of the spectacle made by Loki and the goat. Once again, Loki comes to the aid of the gods, just being outlandish and silly – not through some big accomplishment, but by being silly.
But depending on what he does, Loki somehow ends up helping both the giants and the gods, depending on what he does and what is the most advantageous or the most pleasurable moment to him at the time.
During Ragnarok, for example, the gods and the giants would engage in what was the ultimate struggle, one that would result in the complete destruction of the cosmos. Here, Loki joins the giants in the battle rather than the gods. In this battle, Loki and Heimdall would mortally wound each other.
The death of Baldur
The death of Baldur is the other scenario where Loki’s malevolent side comes to light. After the prophecy about Baldur’s death, Frigg (Baldur’s mother and Odin’s wife) goes out and secures promises not to bring harm to his son. She gets oaths from just about everyone and everything, except the mistletoe, because she thinks the mistletoe is safe and too small to make an impact – in this case, cause harm to Baldur. So, upon learning about this omission, Loki goes out to carve a spear out of mistletoe, places it on the hands of the unsuspecting blind god Hodr, and directs his shot.
At the time, the rest of the gods were having fun throwing things at Baldur because he was indestructible at the time. The mistletoe spear, unfortunately, is an actual weapon, the only one that could harm Baldur. So, with just one perfect shot, Hodr kills Baldur. A god known as Hermod would then ride the Sleipner to the underworld to beg for Baldur life – only demand from the goddess Hel from the underworld is that everyone and everything weeps for Baldur, and they can have him back – Loki doesn’t weep; in fact, he’s happy – here, he’s disguised a frost-hearted giantess called Tokk or Thanks. Baldur doesn’t come back from Hel.
These are just some of the tales about Loki, and they all point to the deceitfulness and the self-serving state of this trickster god.
Loki’s the son of the giants Farbauti and Laufey. He’s also the father of many beings in Norse mythology, including Odin’s horse, Sleipner. Loki’s mother, Laufey & Nal (she had two names), but her names were not significant. Her name Laufey has been interpreted as ‘full of leaves’ while Nal stands for the needle. Therefore, some scholars believe that she got her name from her small and slight frame.
Loki and the giantess Angrboda had three children, and because of the potential chaos that these children could cause, the Aesir gods placed the children in places that they would cause the least possible harm.
The first child, giantess Hel was given control and full dominion over the underworld or Helheim – this is where all the souls that died cowardly would be found after death. Jormungand, the second kid, was this mighty serpent that was thrown into the sea that surrounded Midgard or the men’s world. There he grew so big and surrounded the rest of the world. The third son was Fenrir, the mighty wolf. This wolf would be chained in Asgard using a magic ribbon knitted by dwarfs. Loki’s children all played important roles in Ragnarok – which was Norse Mythology’s Armageddon. Fenrir killed Odin, while Jormungand fought Thor during the great battle of Ragnarok. Therefore, it’s safe to say that Loki’s children turned into the ultimate symbols of destruction and chaos in Norse Mythology.
Loki’s other wide, Sigyn, was an Aesir god, and they had one son called Nari, so no destruction here.
The identity of Loki
So, who is Loki?
Contrary to popular beliefs that Loki was a god, he actually was a giant. And though there isn’t much to distinguish the gods from the giants in Norse mythology, the giants’ stature was not the best, even though the gods and the giants had much of the same powers and abilities. So, Loki wasn’t much different from the Aesir gods. He was, however, not dedicated to the gods’ ways of order; Loki and the rest of the giants embraced the chaos.
Even so, there was a lot that Loki had in common with the Aesir gods; for example, he was the son of Odin and the giantess called Jord, the symbol of earth.
Perhaps he embraced his giant side and the chaotic state of life more than calm. Loki didn’t have a specific area of responsibility that he’d symbolized, for example, fertility or war. He was regarded as the trickster god, but his mischief stood out more, a trait he used against the gods.
So, what does Loki mean? Well, in Old Norse, Loki is a word that meant tangle or knot, and it might have been considered to be the element that was responsible for several misfortunes that befell men. This led to a kind of trickster god. Unfortunately, there is not much evidence in support of this.
Loki’s Symbol – The Serpent: Loki was, on most occasions, represented by two snakes shown to be circling each other, forming the S Symbol. The snakes bit each other’s tails.
Loki’s Powers – Loki’s main power or ability was his ability to shapeshift. He also wriggles out of the most difficult and challenging situations or even being able to trick gods, giants, and men into revealing their secrets.
Even so, Loki was behind many of the problems faced by the Norse gods. Yet, he was always forgiven and welcomed to Asgard.
A look at the life and the history of Loki dating back to the Viking Age also point to the name Loki used to refer to tangle or a knot, and spiders would be referred to as Loki, albeit metaphorically – this was the case because the spider webs looked like fishnets made of a series of loops and knots. These were crafted by Loki in the Viking Age. With this in mind, the name Loki seems to resonate quite powerfully with Norse Mythology – first; the nets represented Loki’s cunning schemes that would trap the gods in the most perilous situations. Then the name would represent the knot that described the straight threads associated with Aesir gods and their world, along with the fatal blow they are dealt that results in their demise.
Why then was Loki largely considered a god if he was, in fact, a giant?
Well, no one knows why this is the case, honestly. And as the Danish historian called Saxo Grammaticus accounts, Thor found the giant Útgarðaloki or Loki of the Utgard on one of his many trips to the home of giants, Jotunheim. In this land, he finds that Loki is bound as he’s said to have been bound in Asgard before Ragnarok. However, many societies, including the pagan Scandinavians, hold conflicting views about Loki and whether he was a god or a giant.
Perhaps, Loki is best described as both an Aesir god and a Jotunn.
Loki: A Trickster God
Best known as a trickster god, Loki uses his cunning mind and sharp wits to help out Aesir gods, getting them out of trouble, even though Loki was the reason why the gods were in trouble in the first place.
Besides being a trickster, nothing else can be said about Loki. He’s deceitful, and though he’s in the frontlines helping the Aesir gods, he turns and matches against the same gods in Ragnarok.
So, is Loki male or female?
Well, many accounts of Loki show that Loki was male, but there are accounts that place Loki as female.
Loki, Baldur and Ragnarok
One of the most significant things that happened in Loki’s life has to be the role he played in Ragnarok or Armageddon in our world today.
But before Ragnarok and the destruction of the cosmos, Loki’s role in the destruction of the world was then started with the apocalyptic death of Baldur, Odin’s and Frigg’s son. As mentioned above, Frigg’s desperate attempt to have everything, living and non-living, to protect Baldur from death led her to secure oaths from pretty much everything in the universe, save for the mistletoe. Loki became privy to this small detail when he questioned Frigg – He had one of his disguises here as well. He then used the knowledge gained to carve out a spear made of mistletoe; then, he deceived Hodr, the blind god whose hand Loki directed, and Hodr struck and killed Baldur. At the time, Baldur was pretty much invincible, but Loki, out of jealousy for Baldur, contorted the information he had and had Baldur killed.
While attempting to get Baldur back to life and after Odin’s request to Hel to save his son failed, Frigg asked for anyone to ride to the underworld to negotiate for Baldur’s life – this also failed because Loki (in disguise) couldn’t weep for Baldur, yet Hel only wanted to know that everyone would actually weep for Odin’s beloved son for her to release him. This failed, and Loki would be expelled at that moment from Asgard. Loki was chained to two rocks and a poisonous snake hanged right above his head where the snake’s poison would drip on his face painfully. Loki’s loyal wife, Sigyn, would try to protect Lokin from that pain by catching the poison with a bowl. But then, she’d have to leave to get rid of the poison, and whenever she did this, Loki would be in so much pain that his shuddering causes earthquakes.
This went on until Ragnarok, when Loki would slip from the chains, joining the giants and going against the Aesir gods, engaging Heimdall, and slaying each other at the bottom of the sea.