Loki (pronounced “LOAK-ee;” Old Norse Loki . . .) is the wily trickster god of Norse mythology.
–from Norse Mythology for Smart People by Daniel McCoy
Loki is difficult to describe. He isn’t one of the Aesir, but he gets lumped with them because of his association with Odin, especially in the tales where Odin, Hoenir, and Loki travel together.
At least one of his parents was a giant, his father Farbauti. Not much is known about his mother, except her name, Laufey or Nal.
Loki is the father of Fenrir, Jormungand, and Hel, by the giant, Angrboda.
Loki, with his wife Sigyn, had one other child, Narfi or Nari.
And most mysteriously, Loki is the mother of Odin’s eight legged horse, Sleipnir, as a result of his shape-shifting into the form of a mare in order to lure the stallion Svadilfari away from his master’s task. Svadilfari’s master was a giant who had challenged the gods that he could complete building a protective wall around Asgard within one winter. The giant’s price for accomplishing the task: the hand of Freya as well as the sun and the moon.
The unnamed giant builder had originally proposed he could build the wall, with only the help of his stallion, in three seasons. Loki suggested to the gods that they accept the giant’s proposal but to insist the work be done in only one winter. The builder accepted.
Because the builder made progress so much more quickly than the gods had expected, they seized Loki and threatened to kill him if he could not come up with a solution to stop the progress so they would not have to give up Freya, the sun, and the moon. Loki’s shape-shifting solved the problem. The builder could not complete the wall without the assistance of his stallion. Freya, the sun, and the moon were not lost.
When the giant insisted he receive fair payment for the work he had done, the gods gave him what they considered he deserved, a fatal blow on his skull that broke the bones into pieces no larger than breadcrumbs.
Any tale involving Loki seems to involve ambiguity in its lessons.
Did the giant deserve death for not completing the work within one season instead of three seasons?
Did the gods act fairly when they insisted Loki take action to prevent the giant from completing the task?
Did Loki act on the gods’ behalf when he suggested changing the terms of the task from three seasons to one winter?
Was the giant’s intention–to plunge the whole cosmos into darkness by removing the sun and moon–so abominable that taking any action, including trickery, was appropriate to prevent it?
Those questions and others like them follow Loki in every tale that includes him. He is the reminder that the world is not black and white. That answers are not either true or false, good or bad. That reality includes a bit of all opposites, and living requires recognizing ambiguity exists everywhere. No one can escape it.
For more information about Loki, see the Poetic Edda, stanzas 15-18, 35,-51, Voluspo, The Wise Woman’s Prophecy; all of Lokasenna, Loki’s Wrangling; all of Thrymskvitha, The Lay of Thrym; stanzas 30, 42-43, Hyndluljoth, The Poem of Hyndla; stanzas 42, 50, Svipdagsmol – The Ballad of Svipdag; stanza 44, Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I, The First Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane; all of Reginsmol, The Ballad of Regin;
Image credit: By Willy Pogany – Originally from Colum, Padraic (1920). The Children of Odin. New York: The Macmillan Company. Illustrated by Pogany, Willy. As found at http://www.mainlesson.com/display.php?author=colum&book=odin&story=_contents Uploaded 01:24, 23 August 2008 (UTC) by Bloodofox (talk • contribs) to en:wiki., Public Domain, Link
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