Loki

Velkomnir, gestirnir mínir!
(Welcome, my guests!) 🍃

Come by the fire, my good friends, for I’d like to share a Lore Tome with you all! This one is about Loki, and here you shall find links to useful texts, as well as information regarding relative chapters and passages.

You may seek out the texts yourselves, but I have also decided to provide my own summaries of what these (often dense) texts have to say about the old gods. Still, I encourage you all to delve into the them for yourselves, for my summaries inevitably reflect my own interpretations and reflections! I will admit that I tend to favor Snorri’s Prose Edda when writing my summaries. Nevertheless, this Tome should prove useful for many folk, whether they be academic types like myself or causal wanderers like many others.

There is one thing that I must stress before we continue, though! Norse paganism was never regarded as a systematic belief by its followers; there was no overarching dogma of ‘correct’ interpretation. In other words, there were a variety of ways that it was practiced. Different regions worshipped different gods and followed their own rituals. As such, Norse paganism was a heavily localized affair, and thus a decentralized body of conflicting traditions there were never reduced to any sort of orthodoxy. This is very important to keep in mind when reading the Lore. The picture that we have is only a snapshot of reality, and even then it is the interpretation provided to us by a very limited selection.


Fjorn’s Summary of Loki

Loki (also called Lopt) is the Old Norse god of trickery and cunningness (and perhaps ambiguity, for several reasons). Snorri has little good to say about him, but his more positive traits include being “pleasing and handsome in appearance” as well as adeptly possessing “the kind of learning that is called cunning.”[1] His trickery usually results in the gods being forced into a very troublesome situations, but he always manages to use his cunning tricks to get them out of it as well.

His father was a giant named Farbauti and his mother was either Laufey or Nal (and it is not clear whether she was a giant or a goddess). Though, he is frequently referred to by Laufey’s name, as Loki Laufeyjarson.[2] Considering Norse naming customs, this could suggest that Laufey was the more well-known (or more preferred) parent.[3] But the reasons for this are also unclear. As for the rest of his immediate family, Loki also has two brothers, Byleist and Helblindi. But despite having such a large family, very little is known about them.

As for his own family, he has had many children with a variety of individuals. His proper wife is named Sigyn, and their son together is Nari (or Narfi). He is also the mother of Odin‘s famous eight-legged horse Sleipnir. But Loki also had three children with a giantess named Angrboda: Fenrir, the Midgard Serpent, and Hel.[4] I will have more to say about them in their own Lore Tomes.

Loki’s relationship with the Æsir is…complicated. According to Lokasenna, however, Loki and Odin once made a pact of blood-brotherhood with each other.[5] Beyond that, it is unclear how Loki came to be among the company of the Æsir. Nevertheless, he often plays a central role in the stories told about the Æsir, although it isn’t always a very positive one.

The most famous story about Loki is probably the Death of Baldr and the destruction that follows: Ragnarök. The god Baldr was having dreams foreboding his death, and so the Æsir made him immune to all harm. But when Loki saw this, “he was not pleased that Baldr was unharmed.”[6] He changed his form to that of a woman and learned what could harm Baldr: mistletoe. Then he had Hod, the Blind God, shoot the mistletoe at Baldr, thus killing him. As a result, the gods turned their fury towards Loki, who had run off and taken the form of a salmon. After capturing him, the Æsir take him to a cave, bind him, and place him under dripping poison. When he finally escapes from this prison, he rides against them with the Frost Giants and Hel’s people.[7]

But despite his harmful role in that story, there are many other stories involving Loki that turn out much better, especially when he travels to Giantland with Thor. My personal favorite is when Loki and Thor go to Utgarda-Loki together, where they face several absurd challenges.[8] But another popular story comes from The Lay of Thrym, where Thor must dress as a bride, and Loki as his maid, in order to retrieve his hammer from the giant named Thrym.[9]


Lore Reference Section

🍃 Entries listed in leaf green are Fjorn’s Recommendations! 🍃

The Prose Edda

This source was compiled in Iceland by a man named Snorri Sturluson, who lived between 1179 and 1241; but the oldest manuscript that we have for it dates to around the year 1300. He was not a cleric, but rather a political figure from an aristocratic Icelandic family. He treats this ‘pagan’ lore as though it was “a rational but misguided groping towards the truth.” (Faulkes, xviii) But his motivation for preserving this material was for the sake of skaldic poetry, which still made use of much old lore, even during his time. Therefore, while this source was produced by a Christian author several hundred years after the ‘fall of paganism’, this source is still generally considered a “detached and scholarly treatment both of religion and poetry.” (Faulkes, xix) While it may not be a ‘pure’ source for understanding the lore of pre-Christain Norse religion, it is indeed a much-needed place to find useful insights into that worldview. [Source: Snorri Sturluson, Edda, translated by Anthony Faulkes (London: Everyman, 1995) xii-xix.]

The following references are in accordance with Anthony Faulkes’ translation:

  • Gylfaginning:
    • 21 [quoting from Lokasenna: when Odin speaks to Loki about Frigg]
    • 26-7 [a summary of Loki (and his children); also here as Lopt]
    • 29 [in reference to Loki’s kin, Fenrir]
    • 35-6 [regarding Loki’s dealings as a horse (with Svadilfæri), and the birth of Sleipnir]
    • 37-8 [regarding the beginnings of Loki’s journey (with Thor) to Utgarda-Loki]
    • 41 [Loki’s eating competition against Logi (flame)]
    • 45 [Utgarda-Loki speaks of Loki’s competition against Logi]
    • 48 [regarding Loki’s frustration with Baldr]
    • 49 [Loki directs Hod to shoot mistletoe at Baldr]
    • 51-2 [regarding Loki’s flight after the death of Baldr, as well as his suffering]
    • 54-5 [regarding Loki’s actions at Ragnarok]
    • 58 [equated to Ulysses]
  • Skáldskaparmál:
    • 59-61 [regarding the tale of Loki and Idunn]
    • 76 [regarding the kennings used for Loki]
    • 81-3 [regarding the tale of Loki and Geirrod]
    • [as Lopt]: 83
    • (87) [in a poem about the tale of Loki and Idunn]
    • 88 [continuing the reference above]
    • 95 [regarding Loki’s actions at Ægir’s feast]
    • 96-7 [regarding the tale of Loki and Sif’s hair, as well as the treasures of the dwarves — Loki’s mouth is stitched]
    • 99-100 [regarding the tale of Otter’s Ransom]
    • 102 [in a reference to an earlier part of the story above]
    • 157 [listed among the Æsir]

The Poetic Edda

This source is a collection of poems that most scholars agree preserve verses that pre-date the conversion of the North to Christianity. That said, however, they were still written down by Christian scribes. Nevertheless, this work was the primary source for Snorri’s Prose Edda. The earliest surviving manuscript containing these poems, however, is known as the Codex Regis (GKS 2365 4to), which was written by an anonymous Icelandic scribe sometime during the 1270s. [Source: Carolyne Larrington trans., The Poetic Edda (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), ix-xi.]

The following references are in accordance with Carolyne Larrington’s translation:

  • Vǫluspá (The Prophecy of the Seeress):
    • 35.2 [Loki is introduced rather negatively]
    • 48.2 [regarding Loki’s arrival at Ragnarok]
    • 52.3 [regarding Loki’s defeat at the hands of Vidar]
  • Lokasenna (The Flyting of Loki):
    • prose [recounting Ægir’s feast]
    • 1-6 [Loki speaks with Eldir]
    • 6.2 ff. [Loki enters saying that he is thirsty and wonders why everyone is so silent — he is spoken of often from this point onward]
    • 8 [Bragi says that Loki has no place among the Æsir]
    • 9 [Loki reminds Odin of their blood-pact]
    • 10 [Odin tells Vidar (of all people) to pour Loki a drink]
    • 11 [Loki toasts to the Æsir, except singles out Bragi with an insult]
    • 12 [Bragi offers gifts to Loki, with hopes that Loki will not repay them with hatred]
    • 13-15 [Bragi and Loki quarrel]
    • 16 [Idunn seems to defend Loki]
    • 19 [Gefion also seems to speak well of Loki]
    • 23 [Odin refers to a story about Loki we do not have, regarding him giving birth to children]
    • 28 [Loki refers to his role in the death of Baldr]
    • 47 [Heimdall says that Loki is drunk]
    • 49 [Skadi refers to Loki’s binding, which is soon to come]
    • 50 [Loki refers to his dealings with Thai (and Idunn)]
    • 52 [Loki suggests that he has slept with Skadi in the past]
    • 53 [Sif offers Loki mead from a crystal goblet]
    • 54 [Loki suggests that he has slept with Sif]

🍃 Note: Loki, as the title suggests, plays a major role throughout this poem. I have selected a few stanzas that seem to provide the most useful information about Loki himself, but there is certainly more to be found there. He also speaks much about the other gods. I suggest that this poem be read in full, for those curious about Loki.

  • Þrymskviða (The Lay of Thrym):
    • 2.2 [Thor complains to Loki that his hammer is missing]
    • 5.1 [Loki flies off to Jotunheim, using Freyja’s feather-shirt]
    • 9-12 [Loki returns and tells them what news he has brought]
    • 20 [Loki agrees to go with Thor (who is dressed as a bride) as his maid]

🍃 Note: Loki plays a prominent role in this poem, although not much information is pulled from here. Still, it is a good poem to read in full.

  • Reginsmál (The Lay of Regin):
    • prose [recounting Otter’s Ransom]
    • 3.1 [Loki speaks with Andvari]
    • 6.1 [Loki speaks of their compensation gifts to Andvari]
    • 8 [Loki speaks about strife between kin]
  • Baldrs draumar (Baldr’s Dreams):
    • 14.3 [in reference to when Loki escapes from his bindings]
  • Hyndluljóð (The Lay of Hyndla):
    • 40.1 [regarding Loki’s children]
    • 41.1 [recounting that Loki once at a heart (this usually implies something magical — recalled Sigurd’s taste of Fafnir’s heart)]
    • 41.3 [as Lopt, referring to him being impregnated by a wicked woman]
  • Fjölsvinnsmál (The Sayings of Fjolsvinn):
    • 26.1 [in reference to a weapon (Malice-twig) that Loki uprooted]

Fornaldarsögur (Sagas of Ancient Times)

This type of literature combines international folktale motifs combined with the preserved memory of ancient historical events and people. Yet, this should not fool the reader into believing the ‘truth’ of every word, for these sagas were written long after the events they write about, and combine many aspects of legendary and medieval Romance in their narratives. Nevertheless, these sagas, although produced in a later age, contain the remnants of old lore and stories about historical events that were passed down for hundreds of years.

  • Vǫlsunga saga (The Saga of the Volsungs):
    • Chapter 14 [Loki slays Otr (Otter) and captures the dwarf Andvari, forcing him to give up his gold (see Reginsmál)]

Heimskringla (Snorri’s Sagas of Norwegian Kings)

This source is traditionally attributed to Snorri Sturluson, who lived in Iceland between 1179 and 1241. It is a collection of sixteen sagas about Norwegian kings from their legendary foundations up to the year 1177. It is the product of both a long traditional of Icelandic historical writing and of skaldic poetry. The earliest manuscript for this source is known as Kringla, and it was produced sometime around 1270. [Source: Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, vol. I, translated by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes (Viking Society for Northern Research: University College London, 2011), vii-xiii.]

The following references are in accordance with Heimskringla, vol. I, as translated by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes:

  • Ynglinga saga (The Saga of the Ynglings):
    • Chapter 17 [in verse: referring to his daughter, Hel]
  • Haralds saga gráfeldar (The Saga of Harald Greycloak):
    • Chapter 15 [in verse (as Lopt): in a kenning referring to Odin (Lopt’s comrade)]

 


Summary Endnotes

[1] Snorri Sturluson, Edda, translated by Anthony Faulkes (London: Everyman, 1995), 26. [return]

[2] Five times in the Prose Edda (Faulkes trans., 35, 48, 51, 76, and 96) and three times in the Poetic Edda (Larrington trans., Lok 52.1 and Thrym 18.1, 20.1). [return]

[3] This was especially common when a person was raised without a father. But it also occurred when a person’s mother was “viewed as more prominent or capable than the father.” Jesse L. Byock, Viking Language 1: Learn Old Norse, Runes, and Icelandic Sagas (Pacific Palisades: Jules William Press, 2013), 88. [return]

[4] Snorri, Edda, 27. [return]

[5] Carolyne Larrington trans., The Poetic Edda (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 82. (Stanza 9) [return]

[6] Snorri, Edda, 48. [return]

[7] Ibid., 54. [return]

[8] Ibid., 35-46. [return]

[9] Larrington trans., The Poetic Edda, 91-7. [return]


 

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