Loki (Old Norse: Loki “knot/tangle”) is a wily trickster god of Norse mythology. While treated as a nominal member of the Aesir, Loki occupies a highly ambivalent and unique position among the gods, giants, and the other kinds of spiritual beings that populate pre-Christian Norse religion.
Loki is the father of three monsters with giantess and witch of the Iron Wood, Angrboda (Old Norse: “Anguish-bringer”). Their daughter Hel became the ruler of the underworld; Jormungand, a great serpent (also known as the Midgard Serpent encircled the entirety of Midgard sea) is fated to be slain and slay Thor during Ragnarok; lastly, Fenrir, the giant wolf who bites off one the god Tyr’s hands when chained by the Aesir and slays Odin during Ragnarok.
Loki also had a wife from among the Aesir – Sigyn (“Friend of Victory”) and two sons named Nari and Narfi, whose names might mean “Corpse.” They are sacrificed and their entrails used to bind Loki until he’ll break free at the beginning of Ragnarok.
Loki often runs afoul of societal expectations but also the “the laws of nature.” Loki is also a shape-shifter and in the form of a mare, he birthed Sleipnir, Odin’s shamanic stallion.
In many tales, Loki is a schemer, coward, shallow and focused only on his self-preservation. He’s also playful, malicious, and can be helpful. But all tales portray him as irreverent and immoral.
Loki’s recklessness finds him in the hands of the furious frost-giant, Thrazi who threatens to kill him unless he kidnaps the goddess Idunn. To save his own life, Loki agrees and shape-shifting again, steals Idunn away and delivers her to Thrazi. The Aesir then threaten him with death unless he rescues Idunn. He agrees to this for self-preservation and shape-shifting into a falcon and transforms Idunn again and carries her back to Asgard in his talons. Angered, Thrazi pursues him in the form of an eagle. When he has almost caught up with Loki, the Aesir gods light a fire around the perimeter of their fortress. The flames catch Thrazi’s feathers and burns him to death.
After Thrazi’s death, his daughter, frost-giantess Skadi, marches on Asgard demanding compensation for slaying her father. One of her demands is that the Aesir make her laugh, something which only Loki can accomplish.
Loki both helps and hinders the gods and the giants, depending on what course of action most benefits him at the time.
During Ragnarok, when the gods and giants engage in their fateful struggle and the cosmos is destroyed, Loki joins the giants and captains a ship made by Hel called Naglfar, “Deadmen’s nails,” that brings many of the giants to the battlefield. Loki and the Aesir god Heimdall will mortally wound each other.
Loki is best known for his malevolent role in the death of Odín and Frigg’s son Baldr. The prophesied death of the beloved god Baldr, Frigg secures a promise from every living thing not to harm her son. But no oath is obtained from a young mistletoe. Loki discovers this omission and carves a spearhead from the mistletoe. While the Aesir are enjoying testing the immortality of Baldr, Loki gives the spearhead to Baldr’s brother, the blind god Hodr who isn’t participating in the festivities. Loki aims for Hodr and Baldr is struck and dies.
After Baldr’s death, the Aesir god Hermod rides Sleipnir into the underworld to implore Hel to release Baldr. Hel demands that if Baldr is truly loved by everything and everyone, every being in the Nine Worlds must weep for Baldr and then she will release him from the Underworld. Loki disguises himself as a giantess named Thok (“Thanks”), who is the only one in the Nine Worlds who doesn’t weep for Baldr. In turn, he must remain with Hel in the Underworld.
For this last crime against the Aesir gods, he is bound within a cavern with a venomous serpent hanging above him, dripping poison onto his face (the viper care of Skadi). Loki’s very faithful wife Sigyn, sits beside him holding a bowl catch the venom. But when the bowl needs emptying, she mist leave Loki’s face unprotected and drops of venom fall onto his flesh and he writhes in agonised convulsions that cause earthquakes. Here, he will stay until breaking free at Ragnarok.
For many centuries of Norse mythology study, the meaning of Loki’s name has been elusive. A recent, the philologist Eldar Heide suggests from Nordic folklore in periods more recent than the Viking Age, Loki often appears in contexts likening it to a knot on a thread. In fact, in later Icelandic usage, the common noun loki means “knot” or “tangle.”
Manifestation: A master shape-shifter who appears in many guises.
Consort: Aesir wife Sigyn and the giantess Angrboda
Sacred animals: Wolves, snakes and possibly spiders (web-weaving).
Star symbol: Sirius also known as Lokabrenna (“Loki’s Brand”) in traditional Norse astrology
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