Loki is the son of giants and is yet included among the gods. Snorri gives a detailed account of him and relates several myths in which he plays a part. He is mentioned in Voluspa, Thrymskvitha, Hymiskvitha, Svipdagsmal, Reginsmal, Hyndluljod, and Baldrs Draumar, and he is the subject of Lokasenna. Some of the notices in these poems are included in Snorri’s references. Two of the myths in which Loki plays a part are the subject of poems by Eilif Gudrunarson and Thjodolf of Hvin — those of Thor and Geirrod and of Idunn and Thjazi. A third skald, Ulf Uggason, wrote a poem on Heimdall and Loki, cited by Snorri. Apart from these notices, Loki is not mentioned, e.g., in the Sagas, though his name survived in folk-tradition.

Snorri says of him: “Included among the Æsir is he whom some call the slanderer of the Æsir or the author of deceit and the shame of gods and men. He is named Loki or Lopt; he is son of the giant Farbauti and the giantess Laufey or Nal. His brothers are Byleist and Helblindi. To outward appearance Loki is beautiful and comely, but evil in disposition and most fickle in nature. He excelled in sleight and had stratagems for all occasions. He often brought the Æsir into great difficulties, but then delivered them with his cunning. His spouse is called Sigyn, and their son is Nari or Narfi.”1

Loki joined in adventures with Thor — the visit to Utgard-Loki and to the giant Thrym. He was the cause of Thor’s combat with Geirrod and his daughters.2 He was also joined with Odin and Hœnir — in the work of creating the first pair, in connexion with Andvari’s treasure, and in the story of Idunn.3


Hence he is called “the friend of Odin,” “the staunch friend of Hœnir,” by Thjodolf of Hvin.4 In Lokasenna he recalls to Odin that in earlier days they had mixed their blood in the rite of blood-brotherhood, and Odin had promised to pour no ale unless it were brought for both. In the same poem Frigg bids Odin and Loki preserve silence on the deeds they had done long ago. Idunn reminds Bragi that Loki had been chosen as “wish-son” or adopted son by Odin.5 In a skaldic poem quoted in Heimskringla Odin is called “Lopt’s friend,”6 and Snorri speaks of him as “Evil companion and bench-mate of Odin and the Æsir.”7 Some have thought that Saxo’s Mit-othin may have been Loki in disguise.8 In the Sorla-thattr (thirteenth century) Loki, son of a peasant Farbauti and his wife Laufey who was thin and meagre and hence called Nal or “Needle,” is caustic, cunning, and tricky. He became Odin’s serving-man. Odin always had a good word for him, though he often laid heavy tasks upon him, all of which he performed. Loki knew almost everything that happened and told it to Odin. This is introductory to the story of Loki’s stealing the Brisinga-men from Freyja.9

Snorri’s statement that Loki got the gods into trouble, but saved them by his cunning, is illustrated by different myths. The demand of the giant artificer who rebuilt Asgard that the gods should give him Freyja and the sun and moon, was believed by them to have been suggested to him by Loki, and they adjudged him worthy of death unless he found means of evading the demand. He then changed himself into a mare, which was pursued by the giant’s helpful stallion Svadilfari. This caused the work to be suspended and it was not completed in the agreed time. Thor slew the giant and, some time after, Loki gave birth to Sleipnir, Odin’s horse.10

Again, by means of Loki’s agreement with the giant Thjazi he brought the goddess Idunn into his power. When the gods discovered this, Loki was threatened with torture or death. He escaped by borrowing Freyja’s feather-dress, flying to


Jötunheim, and bringing back Idunn, whom he transformed for the occasion into a nut. The Æsir slew Thjazi when he pursued Loki to Asgard, but in Lokasenna Loki claims to have been himself first and last in the fight with the giant.11 When Thjazi’s daughter Skadi came to Asgard to avenge her father, Loki caused her to laugh — one of the terms of reconciliation demanded by her.12

When Loki flew to Geirrod’s abode in Frigg’s feather-dress and was there captured and starved by him, he ransomed his life by promising to bring Thor there without his hammer or girdle of strength. Here, however, Thor required no stratagem on Loki’s part in order to overcome Geirrod.13

Odin, Hœnir, and Loki were brought into the power of Hreidmarr after Loki had slain his son in the form of an otter. Odin sent Loki to Svartalfheim, and there he captured the dwarf Andvari, who was in the form of a fish, and forced him to give up his treasure. This treasure was to form the gods’ ransom to Hreidmarr, and it was to cover the otter’s skin completely. The dwarf begged to be permitted to keep one ring, but Loki took it also, and he then declared that it would be the ruin of everyone who came into possession of it. Returning with the gold, Loki gave it to Odin who covered the skin with it, but retained the ring. One of the hairs of the otter’s nose remained uncovered, and Hreidmarr insisted on its being covered, so Odin had to give up the ring. Loki now said that both ring and treasure would be a curse to every possessor of them.14 Snorri tells this story, but it is also the subject of Reginsmal, where the otter is called Otr, and Loki borrows Ran’s net in order to catch Andvari, who says that the gold, not the ring, will be a curse.

When Loki cut off Sif’s hair out of mischief, Thor would have broken all his bones, had he not sworn to get the Black Elves to make Sif hair of gold, which would grow like other hair.15

In Thrymskvitha Loki, by crafty counsel, aids Thor to recover


his hammer from Thrym. We are not told that Loki had caused the hammer to be stolen, but this may once have been the introduction to the story.16

Two forms of the story of Loki’s theft of the Brisinga-men from Freyja are given. One is that related in the Sorla-thattr, already cited; the other is obscurely referred to in a poem, a fragment of which is cited by Snorri, and in Snorri’s account of Heimdall. Here Loki has apparently stolen it from Freyja for his own purposes. Heimdall contends with him for it and both are in the form of seals.17

Loki does mischief for mischief’s sake. He is a thief (of the Brisinga-men) or he causes theft (Idunn and her apples). He dislikes others to be praised, even a servant, as when he slew Fimafeng at Ægir’s banquet.18 He is foul-mouthed and slanderous, as Lokasenna shows. Some account must be given of the contents of this poem. The prose Introduction tells how Ægir invited many of the gods and elves to a feast. All went well until Loki, angry at the guests’ praising Fimafeng for his ability, slew him. The gods shook their shields and howled at Loki, and drove him out to the forest. At this point the poem begins. Loki has returned and asks Eldir of what is going on in the hall. Eldir tells how the talk is of weapons and war, and that none has a friendly word for him. Loki says he will go in, bringing hatred to the gods and mixing venom with their ale. He enters and says that he has come from a far journey and asks for a drink. The gods are silent, till Bragi speaks and says that there is no place for him here. Loki appeals to Odin on the ground of their old brotherhood sworn in the morning of time, and Odin bids Vidar find a place for the “wolf’s father,” lest he should speak evil. Vidar obeys and Loki pledges all present:

“Hail to the Æsir! hail to the Asynjur!
    And all the holy gods;
Save only to that one of them,
    Bragi, sitting there on the bench.”


The poem now takes the form of a “flyting” between Loki and most of the guests present, in which much scurrility is spoken, and many mythological incidents, some of them otherwise unknown, are referred to. Bragi is accused of cowardice. Idunn begs him to weigh Loki’s kinship with Odin and speak no taunt to him. Loki turns on her and accuses her of an amour with her brother’s slayer. She does not refute this taunt, but merely tries to calm Bragi, who is overcome with ale. Gefjun now intervenes and begs that no bandying of words will continue, for Loki is known as a slanderer and hates everyone. Loki accuses her of misconduct with a youth who gave her a necklace. Odin tells Loki that he is mad to raise Gefjun’s anger, for she knows men’s destinies just as Odin himself does. Loki turns on Odin and tells him that he does not justly assign victory, and often gives it to him who deserves it least. Odin says this may be, but Loki had been eight winters under the earth milking cows in woman’s form, and even giving birth to children. Loki retorts that Odin had once wrought magic spells in the guise of a witch in Samsey (Samsö, north of Fünen).

These two taunts — a man bearing children as a woman, a man taking woman’s form — were not uncommon in the Scandinavian North, but were regarded as most deadly insults. Gods and goddesses in turn address Loki and strive to silence him, but in vain. He accuses Frigg of misconduct with Odin’s brothers, Vili and Ve, and when she says that if Balder were alive, he would fight with him, Loki boasts that it is he who caused his death. Freyja, “a witch strong in evil,” is accused of sharing her favours with all the gods and Alfar, and with being her brother’s lover. Njord intervenes, wondering why this womanish god, who has borne children, should come here. Loki taunts Njord with being a hostage from the Vanir and with having a son, Frey, by his sister. Tyr now says that Frey is best of heroes. Loki bids him be silent, for he is no peacemaker and had lost his hand by the Fenris-wolf, and his wife


had a son by Loki for which crime no fine was ever paid. Frey reminds Loki that the wolf is bound till the Doom of the gods and that soon he, too, will be fettered if his tongue is not quiet. Loki says that Frey bought Gerd with gold and his sword, and now weaponless must await Muspell’s sons when they ride through Myrkwood.

At this point Byggvir, Frey’s servant, intervenes, and says that if he were of such birth as Frey, he would crush Loki to marrow and break all his bones. Loki taunts him — little creature that he is — with cowardice. Now Heimdall speaks and tells Loki he is drunk. Skadi says that soon the gods will bind Loki with his son’s bowels. Loki cries that he was first and last among those who slew her father, and reminds her of his amour with her.

Sif comes forward, pours ale for Loki, and says that she at least is blameless, but she also is reminded of misconduct with him. Beyla, wife of Byggvir, cries that the mountains are shaking and Thor, absent slaying trolls, is coming, and will silence the slanderer. She is also vilified, and now Thor enters and bids Loki, wretched wight, be silent or his hammer will close his mouth. Loki says he need not threaten so much: he will be less fierce when he fights the Fenris-wolf. Thrice again does Thor threaten him: Loki still taunts him — with hiding in a giant’s glove (p. 92) and with his difficulty in opening Skrymir’s wallet. Finally he says that he has spoken all he wished to say: now he will go, because Thor is such a great fighter, but he warns Ægir that no more feasts will he give, for the fire will soon consume all that is here.

A prose conclusion, which is out of place, as Loki’s imprisonment followed on Balder’s death, tells how he hid as a salmon in Franang’s waterfall, where the gods caught him. He was bound with the bowels of his son Vali, and his son Narfi was changed into a wolf. Skadi fastened a venomous snake over his face, so that its poison dropped on it. Sigyn, his wife (who is included among the Asynjur by Snorri), held a shell under


the poison, but when she drew it away full of venom, some drops fell on Loki’s face. He then struggled so much that all the earth shook, and that is called an earthquake.

This poem belongs to the pagan period (tenth century) and was written by a pagan who knew the old myths, and who treats the deities with a kind of Aristophanic humour. These myths were discreditable, but like the Greek poets condemned by Plato, he does not hesitate to tell them. The prose Introduction is of later date, for the poem itself tells how Loki had come from a long journey late to the feast, and had thus not been expelled for slaying Fimafeng. The gods receive him coldly, knowing his enmity to them. In spite of his dexterity in scurrility, none of the gods dare silence him, not even Odin. Thor alone, when he enters, and not even he immediately, can do this. Was the poem written by a Thor worshipper?

Lokasenna shows Loki at enmity with all the gods, though he is plainly shown to be a blood brother of Odin. As clearly is he called the father of the Fenris-wolf. Loki’s wife was Sigyn: their sons Vali and Narfi. But in Hyndluljod his amour with the giantess Angrboda resulted in the birth of the Fenris-wolf and the Midgard-serpent. To these Snorri adds a third, Hel. When the gods learned that these were being nourished in Jötunheim, and knew that they boded ill to them from their mother’s blood, still more from their father’s, Odin sent gods to bring them to him. The Midgard-serpent was now cast into the sea and lies about all the land. Hel was cast into Niflheim. The Fenris-wolf was bound.19

Hyndluljod also tells of Loki’s eating the cooked heart of a woman which he found in the embers. Through this he became with child, and gave birth to a monster. Nothing further is known of this myth, nor of that of which Odin speaks in Lokasenna — Loki as a cow-maid under the earth for eight winters and there bearing children. This has been explained as a nature myth. Loki is the subterranean fire, regarded as female, producing vegetation through warmth. The eight winters


should be regarded as eight winter months during which frost reigns and warmth retreats within the earth and works in secret. The cows which Loki milks are warm springs!20

Loki’s transformations were numerous — into a mare, a seal, a fly on two occasions, a flea, a milkmaid, a woman, a giantess, a salmon. By means of the feather-dress he became a bird.

Loki’s worst action, showing him as foe of the gods, is found in the myth of Balder. Here he plays an evil part, without any compensating good. Balder’s death, brought about by him, as already told, brings near the Doom of the gods. This led to Loki’s punishment. He ran off and hid in a mountain, making a house with four doors, so that he could see in all directions. He transformed himself into a salmon by day and hid in Franang falls. When he sat in the house he took twine and knitted meshes as a net is made. When he found that the Æsir were at hand, Odin having seen his hiding-place from Hlidskjalf, he cast the net into the fire, and leaped as a salmon into the stream. The Æsir went into the house and there Kvasir saw the ash made by the burning net and realized that it was a device for catching fish. The Æsir now made one of the same pattern and, by its means, tried to catch Loki, who evaded them, until Thor waded to mid-stream. When Loki tried to leap over the net, he caught him. Loki slipped through his hand, but Thor was able to grip him by the tail. Hence the salmon has a tapering tail. The Æsir now took Loki’s sons, and changed Vali into a wolf. He tore his brother Narfi to pieces, and with his bowels the gods bound Loki to three flat stones set on edge in a cave. These bonds turned to iron. The rest of this myth is given by Snorri as it is told in the prose appendix to Lokasenna. Loki now lies in bonds till the Doom of the gods. The sibyl refers to this in Voluspa:

“Bound saw I in the hot spring’s grove
A monstrous form, the repulsive Loki;
There sat Sigyn sunk in pain
For the woe of her spouse.”



From a sculptured Cross at Gosforth, Cumberland. The two figures within the circle are supposed to be Loki bound and tortured by the serpent’s venom, and his wife, Sigyn, holding a vessel to catch the venom as it drips. See p. 144.


At the Doom of the gods Loki breaks forth. To this the dead seeress, consulted by Odin about Balder’s dreams, refers. No one shall now consult her until Loki frees himself, shakes off his fetters, and the destroyers come to the Doom of the gods.22 How he breaks loose is not told, but Voluspa describes how he stands at the helm of a ship with the people of Hel. Snorri gives further details. Loki, Hrym, and the Frost-giants come forth. The champions of Hel follow Loki, who fights with Heimdall, each slaying the other.23 Thus Loki acts as opponent of the gods.

The myth of Loki’s bonds resembles one in Iranian mythology. The hero Thraêtana conquered the dragon Azhi Dahaka and bound him to the rock Damavand. There he lies till the Last Day, meanwhile causing earthquakes by his struggles. In the end he breaks loose and takes part with hosts of evil against the gods.24

We have seen that Thor and Loki visited Utgard, the giants’ region, where its lord, Utgard-Loki, practised deception on them. While it is possible that Loki’s name has been used in the name of the lord of Utgard, it can hardly be that he, Loki, and Logi (“Fire”) which devours all, are one and the same being. Loki is as prominent in the story as the others.

Snorri gives several kennings for Loki, based on his relationships and his deeds. He is “Foe of the gods,” “the sly god,” Slanderer and cheat of the gods,” “the bound god,” “Thief of the giants, of Brisinga-men, of Idunn’s apples.” Other bynames are “Wolf’s father,” “the cunning Loki.”25 He calls himself Lopt, and this name is also given to him by others.26 Its meaning is “the airy one,” or it is connected with lopteldr, “lightning.” The name Lodur, which occurs only in Voluspa, as that of the associate of Odin and Hœnir, is generally supposed to be an earlier name of Loki, who was “companion” and “friend” of Hœnir according to Thjodolf of Hvin. This name is regarded as equivalent to Luhþurar, “the Fire-bringer.”27

Loki’s original nature has been sought in the meaning of his


name, which may be connected with Logi, German Lohi, “fire.” Hence he is a Fire-demon, fire having the same destructive power as he delighted in. The name has also been derived from Lucifer, a name of the devil, and his personality regarded as a reflexion of the devil’s.28 Others connect it with lúka, ljúka, “to close,” “to bring to an end,” lók, “the end.” Hence Loki would be “the one who closes or brings to an end,” because his deeds lead up to the end of all, the Doom of the gods.29 None of these meanings is quite satisfactory, though the suggestion that Loki was originally a Fire-demon has some evidence in its favour. His father is Farbauti, “the dangerous striker,” i.e., the storm; his mother is Laufey, “the leafy isle,” or Nal, “needle,” the needle-tree or fir-tree. Loki is a creation of the storm which, in lightning, brings down fire on the wooded isle.30 Or, again, referring to the primitive production of fire by friction, by means of the fire-drill, Farbauti is the piece of stick, the drill, which by rubbing on a soft piece of wood, Laufey, produces fire.31 Here, again, these meanings are problematical.

Loki’s twofold nature is undoubted — he is tricky and destructive, yet he has the power to set things right. He is a friend of the gods, yet he brings trouble upon them. In addition to this, he appears in darker colours. He is father of monsters, a base slanderer, the cause of Balder’s death, a monster chained under the earth, the leader of hosts of evil against the gods. Thus, for some reason not known to us, Loki becomes monstrous and sinister, whereas he was merely mischievous at first. If he was originally a Fire-demon, fire is both beneficent and dangerous, and in this may be seen both the twofold aspect of Loki’s character, and also his later emphatically destructive aspect. If he represents fire, then his giving vital heat to Ask and Embla would be appropriate. Whether or not we are to regard him as a spirit of fire, his twofold aspect, no less than other traits, suggests the characteristics of elfin beings. These other traits are shape-shifting, skill in theft, craft, and trickiness. He is beautiful in form, but of evil nature. He travels swiftly


through the air either by means of bird’s plumage or shoes by which he ran through air and over water.32 He is chosen to go to the dwarfs’ land in order to get them to forge Sif’s hair. His conduct to these dwarfs is of an elfish kind. He is also associated with dwarfs in the making of Menglod’s hall, and, like a dwarf, he forged the sword Lævateinn in the Underworld.33

We may thus conclude that Loki, whether originally an embodiment of fire or not, was a spirit of an elfin kind, raised to divinity and included among the Æsir, just as Æsir and elves are constantly named together. He was also an embodiment of the mischief-maker, so common in all states of society, whose mischief has often dire results for himself or others. He is like the Greek Thersites or the Conan of the Celtic Fionn saga.34 Such persons were common in actual life: why should there not be one of them associated with the gods? If Loki was an elfin Fire-spirit, then he might have been regarded as personifying the volcanic fires known in Iceland. This has been already hinted at in the interesting interpretation of the milkmaid myth. Some later folk-lore is also thought to point to Loki’s connexion with fire or heat. A Norse saying when the fire crackles is: “Loki is beating his children,” and the skin of the milk is thrown into the fire as a dole. On hot days when the air shimmers, or in spring when the mists rise from the ground in the sunshine, a Danish saying is: “Loki is driving out his goats.” The sun appearing through clouds and drawing up moisture seems to be referred to in the sayings: “Loki drinks water,” or “Loki is passing over the fields.” In Sweden when a little child’s tooth falls out, it is thrown into the fire with the words: “Lokke, Lokke, give me a bone tooth; here is a gold tooth.” In Iceland chips and refuse for firing are called “Loki’s chips,” and subterranean sulphur fumes “Loki’s vapour.”35

The elfish Loki rose in character and became the companion of gods. Olrik tried to trace different conceptions of Loki in myth and folk-lore. Thus he regarded him as in part a once beneficent being. As stealer of Brisinga-men he is the Promethean


stealer of fire for the benefit of mankind, this famous jewel being supposed to represent fire (brisingr, “fire”; *brising, “bonfire”), though it is never stated that this necklace did good to men. Loki also invented the fishing-net — a myth inserted in Snorri’s account of his capture.36

The myth of Loki’s binding and breaking loose before the Doom of the gods has been by some traced to the account in Revelation of Satan’s binding and breaking out of the abyss. But there may already have been in the North myths of a monstrous being bound under the earth, whose movements caused earthquakes — a not uncommon myth.37 If such a being bore a name resembling Loki’s,38 then the two would tend to be confused, and the elfish Loki would become more demoniacal and monstrous, parent of monsters, foe of the gods, and cause of Balder’s death. We have seen the close resemblance of the Iranian myth of Azhi Dahaka, found also in Armenia,39 to that of Loki. Olrik maintained that the Eddic myth of Loki chained and breaking loose had its provenance in a series of myths of giants or animals bound and causing earthquakes, found in the Caucasus region and radiating forth in all directions.40 The Iranian myth is one of the series, but such a myth may have been native to Scandinavia.

If Loki owes some of his more monstrous traits to the early medieval devil, he is, on the whole, an original figure of Norse mythology, one of those beings who, possibly kindly in origin, is dowered with a more complex character as time goes on, and ends by being wholly sinister and monstrous.

Loki’s wife Sigyn is counted among the goddesses: her function of guarding him from the venom of the snake may point to her being a guardian-goddess against poison. To the more monstrous Loki the giantess Angrboda was joined and was the mother of monsters.