Loki: God of Mischief
Introduction to Loki
Loki is perhaps the most misunderstood God in the Norse pantheon. He is the son of Farbauti or “Cruel Striker” and his mother Laufey which may be translated as “Tree”. He is also the father of Hel who rules over death and Jormungand The World Serpant who ultimately kills Thor during the cataclysm Ragnarok. Loki is also the father of Fenrir the wolf who Tyr sacrifices his hand to in an effort to enchain. Fenrir ultimately frees himself though and kills Odin during Ragnarok. Further Loki is the Mother of Sleipnir Odin's mystical horse. He also fathers Narfi and Nari.
Loki is ultimately the originator and curator of solutions for many of the challenges found in the Norse tails. In essence he is, as befits a God of Mischief, the solution to as many if not more problems than he creates. It is for this reason that so many see Loki as an “Evil” God but rarely do they take into account the fullness of Loki's history.
As the chief God of Mischief within the Norse Loki is a powerful shape shifter, a powerful wielder of magicks, and a master of disguise. However beyond that Loki is above all else intelligent. He is perhaps the most intelligent of the Gods and as such is the one God turned to for advice when things have went wrong. His intelligence can be seen in the Lokasenna (Old Norse “Loki's Quarrel”). During this poem Loki engages in a game of insults with the Gods. Now in such a game if you can turn an insult around there is victory if the opposition is left with no good reply and the insult is fair, true, or justifiable in some way. Loki is a master of such games and none of the Gods can best him in this save Thor's arrival. Latter in this analysis we will look more into the relationship of Thor and Loki as friends and allies but for not lets just say Thor wins by not playing the game and instead threatening Loki physically. After many threats Loki relents say “You of all the Gods I know will follow through.”
Loki is the hyper intellect of the Gods. He is renowned for his cunning, trickery, and skill at deception. He can achieve any goal he sets his mind to with mental power not just physical force. From the point of view of a people so focused on strength and power of various forms there was a place for a being of such mental strength. The tale of Loki is both an understanding of the power of the mind over muscle but also a cautionary warning. Smart is good, but burn down the village and we will tie you under a rock to die.
Loki's Acts of Evil and Good:
Loki Acquires Godly Artifacts:
This story begins with an act of evil on Loki's part when he cuts off all the gorgeous golden hair of the Lady Sif, wife of Thor, thus enraging the Thunderer. We have established earlier that Loki is a genius among Norse Gods and he KNEW the reaction he would be achieving from Thor. There is no possibility he didn't expect retribution from the God of Thunder. So we look at this move and we KNOW he has a calculated second move on this. He bet his life that he could talk Thor out of killing him over this.
He was right.
He convinces Thor to let him go to the dwarves for a new hair for the lady Sif. However he knew how arrogant the dwarves were. He calculated that into his plans and figured they would want to show off while he was there. With this insight he couldn't know EXACTLY what he would be getting but he knew he could make use of it. Loki is smart enough to CREATE OPPORTUNITIES that he can then make use of even further. He recognizes no concept of failure, simply something he hasn't worked to his advantage yet. This is Loki's real power in that he moves things to where he WANTS them to be by creating an opportunity even when he doesn't know what it will yield.
He achieves his goal too. He comes out of this with Gungnir (Old Norse for “Swaying”) and the Skidblandir a mighty ship that can be folded to fit in the pocket. Yet he wasn't quite done yet. He still wanted more and knew there were opportunities for him to create. Using the dwarven pride already established before hand he goes up to the brother Brokker and Sindri (“Metalworker, and Spark-sprayer” in translation) and proceeds to create that opportunity. Knowing that their pride would not let them turn down a challenge he announces how sure he is that they could not forge three new creations of equal to those of the sons of Ivaldi's work. He sweetened the deal as the conversation continued betting his own head on this wager. He knew going into this they could not turn down the wager!
Now, Loki was also very attached to his head. He liked it quite well and found it of good use to him. He knew he needed to make certain to in some way reduce the progress of their work but not so much that the value of the items he would gain from it would be inconsequential. To that end he changed himself into a fly and plagued the brothers as they worked!
From this the Gods gained Draupnir, a gring of great wealth which would produce golden rings of equal weight every ninth night. They also gained Gullinbrusti a living boar with golden hair that could outrun any horse and run upon water or air! Lastly they crafted Mjolnir, the hammer known as Lightning, of which Thor would carry on his adventures. Loki's plaguing of the brothers did leave Mjolnir with a shorter handle than was needed but never the less the dwarves felt this sufficient to win the bet. They goods were carried to Asgard and Loki awaited the dwarves.
Loki plans ahead, no pun intended. Always remember this. He has a plan within a plan within a plan in any adventure he takes on. Loki contemplates how each victory might turn defeat and how to then gain victory in it once again. This is the nature of the God of Mischief. So he contemplated early that his head might be at risk. He had already prepared for how to turn loss into victory.
The dwarves came for his head happily carrying two long knives sharp and ready. After all, suffering insults from Loki is never fun and they were more than willing to collect. The other Gods agreed, Loki's head was owed to the dwarves and just as they were about to remove it Loki interrupted them. He reminded them he had promised them his head, but not his neck, and since he still had rights to his neck they could not arm that. Still not willing to leave without doing some ill turn for the ill turn paid to them the dwarves sewed shut Loki's mouth.
What About Ragnarok:
While the events of Ragnarok may be squarely placed upon Loki's shoulders it can be said that Loki is simply full filling the course of events that must be full filled. Ragnarok is often taken as a literal end of the Gods and yet there is much evidence in the idea that this story is considered one iteration of events. That time must cycle fully and that these things must happen over and over again. With that in mind Loki MUST fight alongside the Giant forces. After all if the Gods were to be unbalanced in their favor, if time had marched forward, if there was no end how could there be a beginning?
The Norse view of the world is that everything has a beginning, middle, and an end that cycles into new beginnings. There is no complete end of events, there is no point at which things come to a final end, as there is always a continuation of the story. Loki killed Baldur knowing that to evade that truth, to continue without cycle, would spell a true end for the worlds. When time is a line that moves forward it must move toward only one destination. However when time is a cycle, or a circle, constantly revolving there can then be death and rebirth without the concept of a true end.
A few misconceptions that are out there about Loki. These mostly come from Comics adaptations of the character, the Christinization of Norse Myths, and various other things of this nature. These misconceptions get lauded about so much that it is easy to misinterpret Loki from a mythological point of view to a very skewed one.
He is the Devil: This one is from the christian reformation of the myths primarily. When the christian culture came to the Northern lands there was a need to identify the existing religion with the “new” religion. Customs would be adopted, figures canonized, or stories twisted to make them over time more recognizable to the duality that was the nature of the christian culture. This twisting eventually led to Loki being perceived as the devil in the Norse Myths by those not acquainted with them.
He is Evil: Again this one comes from the reformation but it also comes from comic books. When Loki was introduced to the comic world of Marvel Comics more than anything they needed a villain for Thor in that comic book world. There were options of course on Jormungandr as well as the Fenris. There were also established Marvel villains. However what they needed was a contrast to Thor's might. For this they sought Loki. Loki is not seen as a villain but a necessary part of the cycle of Norse myth. He is a trickster God for the largest part of the work he appears in and a valued, if criticized and often dejected, member of the Gods!
He is Thor's Brother: Truth is he is Odin's blood brother due to his aiding Odin in various pursuits not all of which are fully made understood in traditional text. In any events he is clearly seen as more of Thor's best friend and a “brother in arms”. This is where Marvel pulled the concept of brotherhood from him. However while they are brothers in the same sense that two travelers on a terrible expedition are considered so, they are not themselves brothers directly.
He is Weak: This is a great misunderstanding that is rectified in “The Tale of Utgarda Loki.” While the very nature of this story and its authenticity is in question it has some roots in Norse myth. We can take from it two things. The first of which, if Utgarda-Loki is Loki and he is both competing alongside of Thor as well as playing the tricks upon Thor then he is FAR from weak. If he is simply the Loki presented alongside Thor we can see that he has “Might of hunger” at least sufficient that he could challenge but not beat the hunger of fire. There were many ways that one could be mighty in the Norse beliefs and the ability to feast was a known one. For Thor to allow Loki to take on the challenge he must have suspected his fellow companion to have great strength in this field.
He Can Not Be Trusted: The last of these is that Loki can not be trusted. While he is tricky and sly he is one of the most trust worthy Gods within the myths. That is to say he is one who can be trusted to hold to the letter of of an agreement. He will himself not break deals directly but instead chooses trickery and application of wording to achieve this result. That said if Loki goes to do something in good faith, as he does for the Gods, he is a valuable companion... so long as you are not Baldur.