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Who Was Loki?

Updated on August 29, 2013
The Punishment of Loki
The Punishment of Loki | Source

Loki, Odin's brother, Thor's uncle. In Norse mythology Loki is one of the three main characters, a jotunn, demon, who lives with the gods. Some consider him one of the most complex characters of ancient myths, and expert Gabriel Turville-Perte commented: «more ink has been spilled on Loki than on any other figure in Norse myth. This, in itself, is enough to show how little scholars agree, and how far we are from understanding him.» Here I will tell the story of Loki's life from the perspective of one particular theory: Loki as a manifestation of destiny.

The Early Days and His First Good Deeds

Loki was in the earliest of days born from two jotnunn: Farbauti and Laufey. He had two siblings but little is known about his family or his early life. What is known is that a long time before Odin became the Father of All, he was the god of the night or death(according to several scholars), and spent his time travelling the world. Loki and Odin met and it is often said in interpretations that Loki saved Odin's life. They became what the vikings called blood-brothers, although the name is quite different from its English meaning. In this context, it means that they decided to become brothers even though they were not, to share their food between them as brothers, to protect each others as brothers. And so Loki came with Odin to Asgard.


These were the days after the great jotunn Yme had been killed, the world had been created (although humans may not have been present yet), but it was still fresh in its mold. These were the days when the Æsir were gathering power, and Loki symbolizes this. His relationship with the Æsir is good, and so is the Æsir’s luck. Loki is already mischievous here, but not hateful, and he is the cause of Thor gaining Mjølnir, Odin gaining Gugnir and Frey gaining his ship and his pig, although Loki had not intended all of this.


Loki and his three children
Loki and his three children | Source

After the War and the First Signs of Evil

The Æsir wins the war against the Vanir, and Loki once again helps, this time with the rebuilding the walls around Asgard. He tricks a guy into doing it for them(the other gods have nothing against this), but when it turns the gods where the ones who were tricked, he steals away the man’s horse by transforming into a female horse and luring the animal away. Thanks to this Loki later gives birth to Sleipnir, Odin’s horse, the fastest in the world. Again Loki has bestowed great gifts upon the gods, even though it was not his intention.


Loki gains a family, his god-wife Sigynn and his two to three sons depending on the source, Nari, Narfi and possibly someone named Vari(in some sources, Narfi takes Vari’s role, and I will not mention Vari here any further). He is however travelling around and often sleeping with other women. This was not considered a character-flaw at the time, so it can not really be said to be an example of Loki’s sinister nature. It is around this time however (and I must admit the exact timeline is anyone’s guess) that Loki reveals his more sinister side. The Æsir’s unwitting helper comes home with three children born out of wedlock, Fenrir(the giant wolf), Jormungandir( the snake that encircles the world) and Hel(the future queen of Helheim, basically Hell). The gods are troubled, even though at this point they are but children. Still, they are sent around the world, to places they hopefully can not hurt anyone. This would be futile. Loki protests, but is silenced. The good god has for the first time planted the seeds of despair.

His Usual Role

But enough about that, Loki soon becomes the sidekick of Odin and Thor in their travels. He saves Odin’s life when he defends the Allfather (as he is now) from a revenge killing, and else provides humor and a ray of light to the Old One.


And Thor and Loki are the classical travel buddies, Loki often making sure that the Thor’s plans works. A particularly memorable one was the time Thor had to dress like the bride of a jotunn, and Loki has to come along as a bridesmaid and explain away why Thor acts so unwomanly. In many stories they travel together, Loki proving help as he feels like it. Loki also at one point acts as a clown and makes the jotunn Skadi laugh by tying a goat to his penis and making a rather painful show of it all. This saves the gods.


But things are about to turn. The most common Loki-story is when he messes up or deliberately causes trouble, and then has to clean up his own mess, an example being Loki betraying Idunn, the goddess of youth, and then saving her from a jotunn. Most of the gods do not like him, especially Heimdall threaten him at times(sometimes justified), and Loki starts to talk more with other jotunn. Destiny turns on the gods.


Loki and Thor, gloating about their newest victory
Loki and Thor, gloating about their newest victory | Source

Destiny Turns

Things turn dark in the latter part of the Norse myths. The jotunn are multiplying, the gods are not. The world seems harsher. But there is the god of light, Baldr, who always provides hope to the gods (some makes connections between Baldr and Jesus). And it is here Loki strikes in his first act of real cruelty. I will not recount the whole myth, but Loki makes Baldr’s brother Hod kill Baldr. Because Hod killed another god, he must be put to death, and Odin is two sons shorter. To add to this, Loki makes sure that Baldr can not be resurrected. Some gods, again Heimdall in particular, suspect Loki, but Odin will not hear it. Loki is, after all, his brother.


The murder of Baldr is often considered the first step towards Ragnarok, and Loki was the one who started it. He is now removed from the gods, and destiny hammers down on Odin’s people. The tragedy is fulfilled when Loki, drunk and angry, crashes a dinner party among the gods and insults and reveal the secrets of every god there. He mocks Thor’s stupidity, reveals that Odin’s wife Frigg had been unfaithful, and so on. As the grand finale, he reveals that he was responsible for Baldr’s death. Now Odin can not hold back any longer. He turns on his brother, and the gods hunt Loki down.


Ragnarok

Loki hides as a fish, and interestingly he here gives a gift to mankind, his only gift to us. Pondering how he might be caught, he makes a fishing net, the world’s first. Ironically, he is captured with it and left to be tortured for eternity. His wife Sigynn stays with him, but his son Narfi turns into a wolf and kills Loki’s other son. Chaos rules with Loki. The gods do not have much time left.


And so, Ragnarok. Loki breaks free and leads an army towards the gods. He battles the god of order and his arch nemesis, Heimdall, and they kill each other. In the meantime, Loki’s son Fenrir is responsible for the death of Odin, and Jormungandir for the death of Thor. And so it all ends.

The Theory

Loki’s relationship with the gods perfectly mirror the world’s attitude towards the gods. This theory states that Loki may not have been aware of it, but that he had some relationship with forces outside of even Odin’s comprehension. This is only one of many theories, however. Farbauti, Loki’s father, has been interpreted to be a lightning-related demon, which would lead more credence to the idea that Loki is a fire demon, as his name might suggest. Others believe he is an air god or merely a trickster. There are many possibilities, and the answer mey never be known. But this is my favorite theory for my favorite god.


© 2013 Nidag the Goat

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    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Interesting take on the Norse myths. However...

      Loki was no relation to Odin or Thor. He was one of the Vanir, a rival group of gods who - after a brief war - were allowed into Asgard to share the Aesir's halls in Asgard. Loki was one of several Vanir gods and goddesses, Frey and Freyja amongst others.

      Take a look into Kevin Crossley-Holland's work 'Norse Myths - Gods of the Vikings published by Penguin 1980 and reprinted last in 1993, ISBN 0-14-025869-8 for a full understanding of Loki's place in the Norse pantheon.

    • Nidag the Goat profile image
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      Nidag the Goat 3 years ago from Norway

      To alancaster149: I can not say I have ever read that theory before, although I do know theories of him as a god appears many places. Would you then say that he was one of the "hostages" excanged at the end of the first war between Vanir and Æsir?

      Could you also tell me shortly what evidence there is for this? I must admit, I sort of doubt it.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      The main source is Snorri Sturlusson's PROSE EDDA which you can get probably from Amazon, first published by Everyman 1987, re-print 1993 ISBN 0-460-87616-3. Look up 'Gylfagynning' (The Tricking of Gylfi) from p7-58, predicting the end of the gods. In the three parts, Gylfaginning, Skaldskaparmal and Hattatal you are presented with some fine 'kennings' (word-links). Although Snorri was an Icelandic Christian priest he stayed faithful in his renditions to the original - now often lost - documents and oral traditions that celebrated the old gods and their activities. Refer also to the Kevin Crossley-Holland book for the narrative from the Creation to Ragnarok.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      In the introduction to K C-H's book on page xxix there is a reference to Loki being the foster-brother of Odin (para. 2: "...The son of two giants and yet the foster-brother of Odin, Loki embodies the ambiguous and darkening relationship between the gods and the giants. He is dynamic and unpredictable and because of that he is both the catalyst in many of the myths and the most fascinating character in the entire mythology. Without the exciting, unstable, flawed figure of Loki, there could be no change in the fixed order of things, no quickening pulse, and no Ragnarok".

      Snorri Sturlusson says of Loki:

      "That he is handsome and fair of face, but has an evil disposition and is very changeable of mood..."

      H R Ellis Davidson compares Loki to the 'Trickster' of Indigenous American mythology... That line of research would take you into Asian legend, and in Norse mythology Odin himself is said to have come from the east. There are other links to Asia, such as in Audumla the cow who plays a part in the creation of the world.

    • Nidag the Goat profile image
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      Nidag the Goat 3 years ago from Norway

      Sadly I do not have Edda with me right now, so I am unable to check the pages you mentioned.

      But what does this have to with vanir? Vanir where not giants, they were a race of gods. Also, Snorre did change several things. As he knew the church would not look kindly on writing about Norse Gods, he went out of his way to explain that Odin and the gods were humans from the east, who became kings and later was revered as gods. Most experts would say that Snorre made all of this up.

      I think it seems likely that Loki has pararels to other mythologies, after all humans do think alike. Prometheus and several celtic gods are good examples. But interesting as I find all of it, how does this relate to the Loki-Vanir issue?

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      As I said, Loki's origins are confused, some sources contradicting others. The origins of the Vanir haven't been properly explained either. This is the beauty of the old gods, they're partly obscured in the mists of time, something for the Skalds to weave their tellings around, and to weave in the kings of the day into the old myths.

      Don't look for logic, you'd never find it in Christianity either. For adherents the more muddied the waters are the better they like it! It's a skeleton to hang the flesh on, the 'flesh' being the skalds' art.

    • Nidag the Goat profile image
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      Nidag the Goat 3 years ago from Norway

      Oh, sure. Much is left unexplained or perhaps just lost to time. I was just wondering if there were any real evidence. Of all things mysterious about Loki, his basic parenthood never seemed like one of them to me. But maybe there are conflicting sources I have not heard.

      The skeleton part is especially true in the Viking era, as the writing style at the time did not leave much room to emotions or anything not integral to the story.

      Well, there is some logic in religions, although if you do not accept the premises of the gods obviously everything will seem senseless. And even then there are often plotholes. But calling them without logic may be going a little too far. There is a story we can follow in most religions, whether you believe or not.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Certainly there is a plot-line to them, but it's the 'whys' and 'wherefores' that we have to accept. If we'd been born a thousand years ago it would all have slotted together without too much guesswork.

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      Nidag the Goat 3 years ago from Norway

      Very true.

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      Jacqueline 2 years ago

      loki looks really hot and charming at the cartoon Picture with Thor!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello again Nidag - I bought a (paperback) book by Joanne M Harris (fellow 'Tyke') titled 'THE GOSPEL OF LOKI - The Epic Story of the Trickster God', available from Amazon, ISBN 978-1-473-20236-8. See what you make of it, she's got a web site: www.joanne-harris.co.uk.

      A few cobwebs been brushed away here, and another new slant on an old tale.

      Glaedelig Nytaar 2015

    • Nidag the Goat profile image
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      Nidag the Goat 2 years ago from Norway

      Sounds interesting. Perhaps Ill find time to read it someday.

      Gledelig nyttår to you too. Is Glaedelig Nytaar how you say it in Yorkshire? It seems so close to norwegian.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello again Nidag.

      In 'Yorkshire it's 'Happy New Year' (been looking into Danish since the late 70's).

      The difference in spelling between Danish and Norwegian is possibly only cosmctic, I daresay it's said the same or similar. (East and West Norse). I have another book, 'AN INTRODUCTION TO OLD NORSE' by E V Gordon published by Oxford at the Clarendon Press, ISBN 0-19-811184-3.

      Yorkshire was settled inland largely by the Danes from the 9th Century, in the Dales (North West Yorkshire) and on the coast from the 10th largely by the West Norse. Scarborough (Skarthiburh) was established originally by Thorgils 'Skarthi' or 'Harelip', an Icelander and brother of the warrior poet Kormak. Their father had migrated to get away from Harald 'Harfagri', 'Fairhair' or 'Finehair'. William I in his 'Harrying of the North' in 1069/1070 destroyed many of the former Danish settlements as a reprisal for the uprising in the late summer of 1069. Many settlers moved eastward across the area from the Dales after that, changing the 'complexion' of the region. Land held by Earl Waltheof and several Norman lords was left untouched.

      The area my Lancaster forebears came from originally was close to where many West Norsemen settled. They moved around and settled in East Anglia and North Yorkshire, so other 'Danelaw' blood came into the equation.

      England's 'mixture' was already well and truly stirred by the time the Normans came, and they were largely Danes led by an aristocracy of West Norse extraction ('Ganger' Hrolf).

      Best, Alan

    • Nidag the Goat profile image
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      Nidag the Goat 2 years ago from Norway

      I see. you are absolutely correct that danish and norwegian are very similar. You seem to know a lot about hese immigrations, it is very interesting.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Mostly the similarity between the 'Romanised' writing of Danish and West Norse came about through the missionary monks who went across the sea around the time of Harald 'Harfagri', converting some of his subjects as well as Danes in Jylland or Sjaelland. King Aethelstan (Aelfred's grandson) fostered Harald's son Hakon.

      You might click on the icon on the left and see what you like on the menu (lots to do with the Vikings in general, Danes in particular, pre- and post-Conquest eras in England. Enjoy the read.

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      jacqueline 2 years ago

      loki is so hot!, in the valhalla movie and am i the only one Who thinks he´s hotter than the marvel supervillain

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      jacqueline 2 years ago

      For me, he is not a jotunn or monster. He is a true god for me to take care of and give all my love and feels to him from me.

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