M is for Mjölnir

Sindri then put iron on the hearth, and told Brokkr that, for this next working, they must be especially meticulous, for a mistake would be more costly than with the previous two projects. Loki immediately stung Brokkr’s eyelid, and the blood blocked the dwarf’s eye, preventing him from properly seeing his work. Sindri produced a hammer of unsurpassed quality, which never missed its mark and would boomerang back to its owner after being thrown, but it had one flaw: the handle was short. Sindri lamented that this had almost ruined the piece, which was called Mjollnir (“Lightning”[1]). Nevertheless, sure of the great worth of their three treasures, Sindri and Brokkr made their way to Asgard to claim the wages that were due to them.

–from Norse Mythology for Smart People by Daniel McCoy

Without Loki, there would be no Mjollnir. It was Loki’s mischief, cutting off Sif’s golden hair, that resulted in his traveling to Svartálfaheimr to get the dwarves to make a replacement, along with two other gifts for the gods. And while there, he couldn’t help himself but to challenge other dwarves to make items even more wondrous than the three he already had. We have Loki to thank for Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir.

Without Mjollnir, would Thor have been as powerful? There would be far fewer tales without Mjollnir. One of my favorites wouldn’t have happened at all without Mjollnir because it is the tale of what happened when Thor lost his hammer.

One morning Thor realized Mjollnir was missing. Because all the Aesir relied on Thor and his hammer to protect Asgard, Thor was enraged and searched everywhere, without success.

Freya offered to help by loaning Loki, the shape shifter, her falcon feathers so he could fly to find Mjollnir. Loki took the feathers and flew in search of the hammer. Because Loki was sure one of the giants had stolen Mjollnir, he flew to Jotunheim where he again took his own shape as a god before he approached chief of the giants, Thrym.

Loki asked Thrym if he knew who had taken Mjollner. Thrym proudly admitted he had Thor’s hammer, and he had buried the hammer deep in the earth. He also said he would never return the hammer unless he could have Freya as his bride.

Loki used the falcon feathers and flew back to Asgard to tell Thor and the other gods what he learned. When Loki was finished, Heimdall–not Loki–suggested that Thor should disguise himself as Freya and go to Jotunheim to trick Thrym into giving him back his hammer. Thor objected, saying the other gods would mock him for the rest of his days. Loki pointed out that if Thor did not go to Jotunheim to retrieve Mjollnir, Asgard would be ruled by the giants.

Reluctantly, Thor agreed, and Loki offered to go with him as “Freya’s” servant.

When the two arrived at Thrym’s home, the giant bragged to all those who would hear that he finally had been given a gift worthy of him.

At dinner, Thor ate and drank so much that Thrym became suspicious. Loki quickly responded that the bride had been so looking forward to her arrival that she had not eaten or drunk anything for a week. This pleased Thrym so much that he lifted the veil and faced Thor’s glaring eyes. Thrym turned to Loki and said he had never seen such piercing eyes. Again Loki quickly responded by saying the bride had been so eager to come that she hadn’t slept.

After the ceremony, as was the custom, Thrym presented his bride with his most prized possession, the hammer Mjollnir. Once Thor had the hammer in his hands, he threw off the women’s clothing and struck and killed Thrym. After killing all the rest of the wedding guests, Thor and Loki returned to Asgard.

For more information about Mjollnir, see The Poetic Edda, stanza 51, Vafthruthnismol, The Ballad of Vafthruthnir; stanza 14, Harbarthsljoth, The Poem of Harbarth; stanza 37, Hymiskvitha,  The Lay of Hymir; stanzas 57, 59, 61, 63, Lokasenna, Loki’s Wrangling; stanzas 1, 31, Thrymskvitha, The Lay of Thrym;

[1] Simek, Rudolf. 1993. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. p. 219-220.

Image credit: Public Domain, Link

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D is for Draupnir

Sindri then set another piece of gold on the fire as Brokkr worked the bellows. The fly bit Brokkr on the neck, and Sindri drew out a magnificent ring, Draupnir (“Dripper”[1]). From this ring, every ninth night, fall eight new golden rings of equal weight.

–from Norse Mythology for Smart People by Daniel McCoy

Draupnir, one of six magnificent gifts, is part of the story of how Thor got his hammer. And there’s plenty of deception involved.

Once again, a key player is Loki, the mischievous trickster. He is never satisfied with what he has, always on the lookout for more.

Loki cuts the hair of the goddess Sif.

One day he cut off the golden hair of Sif, Thor’s wife. Thor was not pleased and threatened Loki with breaking all his bones. But Loki pleaded for his life, promising that he could get the dwarves, master craftsmen, to replace Sif’s hair. Thor agreed, and Loki headed for Svartálfaheimr, the home of the Black Elves.

Loki was able to convince the sons of the dwarf, Ivaldi, to create a more beautiful head of hair for Sif than she had had before. But that’s not all they did. They also created two more gifts, Skidbladnir, a ship that could be folded up and put into a pocket, and Gungnir, the mightiest of swords.

“The third gift — an enormous hammer” by Elmer Boyd Smith. The dwarven Sons of Ivaldi forge the hammer Mjolnir for the god Thor while Loki watches on. On the table before them sits their other creations: the multiplying ring Draupnir, the boar Gullinbursti, the ship Skíðblaðnir, the spear Gungnir, and golden hair for the goddess Sif.

You’d think Loki would be pleased that he would return from Svartalfaheimr with more than he promised, but then that just wouldn’t be like Loki. Instead of returning with the replacement hair for Sif, the ship that always found favorable winds, and the mightiest of swords, he thought he’d like to remain with the dwarves, out of Thor’s sight, and able to cause more mischief. He came up with a bet for two dwarf brothers, Brokkr and Sindri, a challenge that they could not match the craftsmanship of Ivaldi’s sons by coming up with three more magnificent items. If they failed, Loki said they could have his head.

Brokkr and Sindri accepted the challenge. In his attempt to foil the two, Loki, a shape shifter, transformed himself into a fly and bit each of the dwarves as they worked to create Gullinbursti, a living boar with golden hair, who gave off light in the dark and could run better than any horse, even through water or air, and Draupnir, the magnificent ring.

Since his first efforts to foil the dwarves with his fly bites had failed, this third time, as Sindri set out to create a hammer for Thor, Loki bit him on the eyelid so that blood dripped into Sindri’s eyes. Sindri pulled out the hammer, Mjollnir, perfect in every way except that its handle was short.

Loki removed the six gifts and headed back to Asgard where he gave the replacement of Sif’s hair and the hammer, Mjollnir, to Thor; the ring, Draupnir, and the spear, Gungnir, to Odin; and the boar, Gullinburst, and the ship, Skidbladnir, to Freyr.

Brokkr and Sindri also traveled to Asgard, assured that their gifts would be accepted in spite of Mjollnir’s flaw. The gods agreed that Loki owed Brokkr and Sindri for their work. When the dwarves approached to take his head, Loki objected, saying he had agreed they could have his head, but not his neck, and removing his head would injure the neck. The dwarves therefore contented themselves with sewing Loki’s mouth shut. [2]

While this tale explains the origin of tools and gifts in the possession of the gods, I think the real lesson concerns Loki, the sometimes charming and sometimes devious trickster.

The trickster is an archetype in many early cultures. The spider, Anansi, in the Caribbean and West Africa, the coyote spirit and Kokopelli in Native American and First Nations traditions, leprechauns in Irish culture; the list goes on.

As frustrating as it is to decide whether to like or dislike Loki and other trickster beings, I appreciate the lessons they provide, that the world and all the people in it cannot be divided neatly into the good and the bad. There is a little of both in all of us.

The tales remind me of an interview I watched with Dustin Hoffman in which he described how he felt about playing villains. To paraphrase, he said no one, even a villain, thinks of themselves as a bad person. So playing a villain just means playing a person who thinks he is a good person but who got caught doing something bad.

I’m sure Loki would agree.

What happened to Draupnir? Odin placed it on the funeral pyre for his son, Baldur–one treasure to accompany another.

Reference to Draupnir can be found in the Poetic Eddas, stanzas 21 and 22 of Skrinismol, The Ballad of Skirnir.

[1] Simek, Rudolf. 1993. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. p. 65.

[2] Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Skáldskaparmál 43.

Image credits: By Willy Pogany – Uploaded to the English language Wikipedia in August 2008 by Bloodofox (log), Public Domain, Link

By Elmer Boyd Smith (1860 – 1943) – Page 88 of Brown, Abbie Farwell (1902). “In the Days of Giants: A Book of Norse Tales” Illustrations by E. Boyd Smith. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Public Domain, Link