Monday, 23 May 2011

Loki, the Trickster

Loki, the son of two giants, and so kin to the Jotun. He is a blood-brother to Odin, and although not always, often counted among the Aesir due to these links, and due to the time he spends in Asgard. He is the God of Mischief, Trickery and Lies, and although probably not exactly worshipped, he has made his impression in the mythology!

There are some that believe that somewhere back in the mists of myth, Odin and Loki were one and the same, they both have similar tactics to dealing with obstacles, they both use their brain rather than brawn. This perhaps explains how Loki came to be blood-brother to Odin, that the "light" and "dark" halves of the same deity became separate.

Loki is the ultimate charmer, so many of his escapades have not been exactly beneficial to his "friends", and indeed, it is he that leads to their eventual downfall at Ragnarok - the End of Days. He is the sly one, the coarse one, sometimes even the malevolent one, yet still he kept favour with the gods.

He was an accomplished shapeshifter, taking any other form upon himself at will, whether is was as a female, horse, salmon, bird or flea. He was the father to many, including some of the monsters that were to plague the gods. He was father to the Fenrir, the wolf who was to ultimately slay Odin, as well as mother to the eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, Odin's mount. He fathered the sea serpent Jormungandr, who would take the life of Thor. His daughter was the goddess of the underworld, with a whole realm named after her - Hel.

It wasn't always the Aesir and Vanir that Loki played his tricks upon, many times they actually benefitted from his quick wits and strategic thinking. He was a key part in the retrieval of Thor's hammer Mjollnir, when the Jotun, Prymr had stolen it in order to force Freya to marry him, albeit by dressing Thor up in Freya's wedding clothes in the process.

In addition to his direct involvement in the destruction of the universe, he plotted and undertook the murder of Baldur, the god of warmth, goodness and spring. Baldur's mother, Frigg, had received advanced knowledge of this planned murder, through her skills of forseeing, and had attempted to prevent it by asking every sentient and non-sentient being not to harm her son. Unfortunately, she missed just the mistletoe, a fact that Loki discovered, and made use of. Loki fashioned the mistletoe in to an arrow, which he gave to Baldur's blind-brother, Hod, to fire. Baldur suffered a fatal wound to the heart and was killed. Hod fled into the woods on discovering what had happened, and was never seen or heard from again.

Loki, however, was finally punished for his misdemeanours and the murder. He was chained between two rocks, with a huge poisonous snake dripping venom into his face. Loki's loyal wife, Sigyn, would sit beside him and catch the venom in a bowl. But the times when she had to leave to empty the bowl, the venom would drip onto Loki's face and cause him incredible agony. He was sentenced to suffer this torture all the way up until Ragnarok, when the lands would free him, when he would travel to the battlefield with his daugher, Hel, and the souls of the dead residing in her realm. There he would meet with Heimdall - and neither would survive the encounter.

However, when we look further, past Ragnarok and into the new world that rises from the ashes, we see that some of the gods do survive, as well as two mortals who go on to repopulate this world. Two sons of Odin, Vidar and Vali, and the sons of Thor, Modi and Magni, are counted amongst the survivors. Here too, we find again a reborn Baldur. He had been brought to Ragnarok as one of the souls fighting on the side of Loki and the giants, Loki's murder of him made it possible for his rebirth in the next world.

Loki is an enigmatic character, with complex and contradictory characteristics. We can never be really sure of what his motives are, where his loyalties lie, and yet, whilst not exactly beloved of the gods, he is certainly viewed with something more than just tolerance - up until the killing of Baldur, that is. Is there more to the link with Odin than we realise? Is Loki the one who carries out the tasks that Odin cannot, due to Odin's position? Was there a vision of the world after Ragnarok? Was there prior knowledge of where Baldur needed to be in the battle to ensure his rebirth into the reborn world?

Perhaps his charm is just in the fact that we all seem to love a bad boy.

Love and hugs



Tudor Humphries, an illustration for "The Doom of the Gods" by Michael Harrison

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