Heathen Gods Index Previous Next
Odin and his Brothers--Gifts to First Man and Woman--Loke's Fall--"The Mother of Evil"--Plot to capture Freyja--How Asgard's Wall was built--Loke's Evil Counsel--World-disaster averted--Odin's Horse--Rape of Sif's Locks--Loke threatened--Visits to Elf--Smiths--Wonder Works--The Gods appeased--Rivalry of Elf-Smiths--Loke's Wager lost--Demand for his Head--Elf-Smith outwitted--Loke's Plot causes Winter War--Children of Ivalde--Idun and the Swan Maids--Thjasse--Volund and his Brothers--The Giantess Greip--Fenja and Menja--Freyja lured from Asgard.
IF Odin sought after wisdom and loved justice his brother Loke had the desire to do evil and work wrong, and he became the instrument of dissension among gods and men. In the Golden Age, when there was peace and concord in Asgard, he was yet innocent and of good repute. He was fair o countenance and his form was stately, and pleasant indeed were his converse and his ways.
With Odin and Honer, his brethren, he endowed with their various attributes the first man and the first woman. But the gifts of the gods were of unequal account. Odin gave Spirit which yearns for what is good and inspires courage and veracity, and the love of mercy and justice. Honer imparted understanding and memory and will, and by Loke, who is also called Loder, the man and the woman were given the semblance of the gods, and endowed with passions and desires and longings which ever tend to work evil and bring weakness and
distress. Thus the gifts of Loke are continually at strife with those of Odin and Honer.
But not until the Golden Age was ended did Loke fail and man turn to evil ways. The innocence of gods and men passed from them when from Jotun-heim, as the Skalds have told, came three giant maids, who brought corruption. These three were combined in one form, which was outwardly fair and seemingly good. For the giants had plotted to accomplish the downfall of the gods, and one, whose name was Grep, desired to possess beauteous Freyja, the goddess of Fertility, who sat with her maids beneath the fruitful bough of the World-tree Ygdrasil.
The thrice-born maid whom the giants sent from Jotun-heim was Gulveig-Hoder, whose other name is Aurboda, Hag of Iarnvid and "The Mother of Evil", who assumed the guise of one both fair and young. A maid attendant was she among others to Freyja in the fairest grove of Asgard. She was loved by Loke and became his bride. She fostered his ambition to be chief ruler of the gods, and imparted to him her evil nature and her cunning, while she herself constantly sought to lure Freyja from her secure abode. There came a day when her desire was fulfilled, and war followed war because of her evil doings.
Loke was the chief instrument of her designs. She spread unrest throughout Asgard and set Asa-gods and Vana-gods at enmity, while Loke also plotted with the evil giants to bring ruin to his kindred.
The great wall of Asgard was not yet constructed, and by Loke's secret desire there came before the gods in the guise of a dwarf a Frost-giant who was a cunning artificer. He offered to build a residence so well fortified that it would be ever secure against the attacks of
the Frost-giants and the giants of the mountains. This vast work he undertook to complete in the space of a single winter.
The gods were willing that the fortification should be made, and enquired of the artificer what reward he sought for his service. His answer was that his demand would be possession of the goddess Freyja, together with the sun and moon. But if the work were not completed in the time allowed him, he would receive no reward whatsoever.
His words were not pleasant to the gods, and they took counsel among themselves. There were those among them who desired to reject his offer, and others who were in sore doubt. Yet all of them desired that the fortification should be built.
Then Loke counselled that the offer which the artificer made should be accepted, provided that he would do the work alone and within the time allotted to him. "For," said Loke, "the dwarf can finish not the building in time, and we shall have it for ourselves without payment of any reward."
So the gods agreed as Loke counselled them, but when their will was made known to the artificer he stipulated that he should be allowed to use his horse, named Svadilfare, in performing the work. By the advice of Loke this condition was granted to the cunning artificer. The bargain was sealed and confirmed by solemn oaths.
The work was then begun without further delay. On the first day of winter the giant in dwarf-guise prepared for the laying of the foundations, and during the night his horse drew the stones towards Asgard. When day broke the gods were amazed at the prodigious size of the boulders which were gathered together, and they perceived that the greater part of the work was performed
by the great steed Svadilfare. All winter did the heavy work proceed, and rapidly did the great and vast walls rise around the habitation of the gods.
When the summer drew nigh, the work was far advanced, and the gods perceived that the artificer was certain to finish it before his allotted time was completed. The buildings were already so strong and so high as to be impregnable, and when only three days had to pass, before summer came, the gateway alone remained to be completed.
Wroth were the gods because of the disaster which threatened them, and they sat in council together and asked one of another who had given advice that the terms of the artificer should be accepted and that Freyja should be given away to Jotun-heim, and the sun and moon taken out of the heavens. They agreed that it was Loke and no other who had brought this danger with his evil designs. Him they condemned as the worker of evil, and they said they would put him to death if he did not contrive some means to prevent the artificer from finishing the work and receiving the reward which he had demanded.
The gods immediately seized Loke, who was stricken with great fear. He saw that he would be put to death if he did not cause hindrance to the giant, so he swore a solemn oath that, no matter what disaster might befall him, he would prevent the giant from accomplishing the disaster which was threatened.
In the darkness of night Loke went forth to outwit the artificer. When the great steed Svadilfare was being driven towards the last boulders which were to complete the gateway, a mare ran forth from a deep forest and neighed loudly. Svadilfare leapt with excitement and turned to follow, and the artificer sought in vain to hold him in restraint. But the steed broke free and ran after
the mare, which took flight through the forest, and the great builder made search for him in vain. Thus a whole night was lost, and in the morning the artificer perceived that the work could not be completed in time. He was filled with exceeding great anger, knowing well that a plot had been laid against him. In his wrath he was moved to be revenged, and he assumed his giant form again and rose against the gods. Then it was perceived that he was a fierce and terrible Frost-giant.
Finding themselves deceived, the gods no longer observed their oaths, which had been sworn with one so treacherous. Odin called upon Thor, who seized his great stone hammer and went forth to combat. For him the giant was no match, and the great thunder-god paid him his wages, not with Freyja and the sun and moon, but with death, for the first blow he struck shattered to pieces the great giant's skull. Then the gods seized the body and flung it into the lowest depths of Nifel-hel, the place of sorrow and eternal torture.
The mare which Svadilfare followed brought forth a cloud-grey foal with eight legs. It grew up to be the swiftest steed in the nine worlds, and the name it bore was Sleipner.
To Odin was Sleipner given for his own especial use. On its teeth were graven sacred runes, and it was on the back of Sleipner that Odin ever went forth on his great hunt across the heavens and over the "Milky Way" when the winds were loud and the stars burned in splendour. The great steed he also rode daily to the lower Thingstead of the gods on the bridge which is called Bif-rost.
Thus among men was the riddle propounded: Who are these two who ride forth to the Thingstead? They have in all ten feet, three eyes, and but one tail.
The answer is Odin and Sleipner, for Odin has but one eye; the horse has eight feet and Odin two; and the horse alone has a tall.
Sleipner is not only Odin's steed of war and of the hunt, he is also the steed on which poets rise to divine heights, as Odin, who is the first and greatest of poets, was raised also.
Now Loke and his wife, although frustrated in their desire to work evil against the gods, were still filled with resolve to achieve their wicked ends. There came a season when a new disaster befel. the dwellers in Asgard, and caused great dissension throughout the worlds. Sif, the harvest goddess, who was Thor's ward, was beauteous to behold, and her beauty and her power were in her rich and plenteous growth of shining golden hair.
Her harvest locks did the fierce Hag in maid's guise desire to possess, and while Sif slept Loke seized a sharp sword and cut them off and took them away.
Then was Thor filled with wrath, as were also Odin and the rest of the gods, for in Sif's locks there was abundance and prosperity.
Loke was again seized, and, fearing he would be put to death, he promised to restore Sif's harvest hair and bring gifts of appeasement to the greater gods. Oaths were laid upon him to fulfil his promise, and Loke departed from Asgard to visit the underworld, where gold and treasures were concealed in abundance. But even while he feared punishment, the desire to work evil did not leave his heart, and he sought, while he fulfilled his promise, to work great and lasting dissension.
To the elf-smiths, who are subject to wise Mimer, did Loke proceed, and their services he besought with cunning and evil intent.
Now there were two families of elves who were
accomplished artificers and workers in fine metals, and these were the sons of Ivalde and the sons of Sindre, in whose golden halls in Mimer's realm there were great treasures. They lived at peace with the gods, whom they rendered ofttimes great service by providing ornaments and embellishing the palaces of Asgard with their beauteous work.
Loke plotted to work enmity not only between the families of elf-smiths, but also to estrange them against the gods.
First he went to the sons of Ivalde and besought them to make golden locks for the goddess Sif which would grow like other hair. They set to work and accomplished his desire, and they also made at his request a great spear for Odin, which was named Gungner. There was made for Frey, the god of golden sunshine, a wondrous ship, named Skidbladner, which could hold all the warriors of Asgard, and was ever accompanied by soft and favourable winds. Yet, great as the vessel was, it could be folded into small space like a napkin.
The gods were reconciled to Loke when the golden hair of Sif was restored. The spear was given to Odin and the great ship to Frey.
Then Loke went with evil in his heart to the kinsmen of Sindre, and them he challenged to produce works as wondrous and finely executed as those of the sons of Ivalde. Brok, who was Sindre's brother, protested the greater skill of his fellows, and Loke wagered his own head that such treasures as were already made could not be surpassed. The wager was readily accepted. Sindre made a great smithy, and he and his kinsmen set to work. Loke assumed the guise of a great blood-drinking fly, to harass them while at work.
Sindre first put a pigskin into the smithy fire. Then
he bade Brok to blow the bellows without ceasing until the work was finished. That he did with great activity. But a great fly set itself upon his hand, stinging him sorely and drinking blood. He would have fain ceased his labours because of the fly, but if he did so the charm would be broken and the work rendered utterly without avail. So, suffering as he did, he persisted at the bellows handle, and at length Sindre drew out a wondrous boar with golden bristles, which was a thing to marvel at.
Then Sindre put much precious gold into the furnace, and Brok again blew the bellows. But the great fly attacked his neck, and drew more blood, nor could he smite it or drive it away. At times it seemed as if he must cease to labour, but he prevailed over his sufferings until Sindre drew out a magic ring, which was named Draupner, "the dropper".
A mass of iron did Sindre next place in the furnace, and when Brok began to blow the bellows the great fly became more ferocious than ever, and it stung him between the eyes, so that blood flowed down and nearly blinded him. Brok laboured heavily, and only once did he pause to drive the fly away. Then Sindre drew from the furnace a great hammer, which none save Thor could wield.
"These works, said Sindre, no son of Ivalde can equal."
Brok carried the gifts to Asgard, and Loke went with him.
Then sat the high gods in council to decide whose treasures were of greatest account. They appointed, as judges, Odin and Thor and Frey, and the various works they considered together.
Between the sons of Ivalde and Sindre's kinsmen
there was ever keen rivalry, and Loke knew well that the clan which was given the award would win the hatred of the other, and that the gods would be despised by those who were not favoured.
Each of the gifts received the praises of the gods. But those of Sindre were to them of greatest account. The ring Daupner was a charm for fruitfulness and fertility; every ninth night eight gold rings of equal size dropped from it. It was a ring that grew to a chain without end. To Odin was it given, and the high god had it with the spear Gungner, which the sons of Ivalde had made. Oaths were sworn on the point of the great spear, which, when Odin throws it, gleams brightly as it falls through the stars. Upon great warriors is conferred the power of Odin's spear.
To Frey was given the golden boar on which to ride over the heavens or over the sea. Faster it could run than any steed save Sleipner, and in thick darkness it shone in splendour. When Frey went forth at morning or evening the rays of the golden bristles gleamed high in the heavens.
But the greatest gift of all was the mighty iron hammer, Mjolner, which was given to Thor. It had but one defect, and that was the shortness of the handle, for Brok had ceased to blow when the fly blinded him momentarily. So with the great gift came the defect which Loke had caused. The hammer had power to return to Thor each time it was thrown.
The sons of Ivalde were deeply incensed against the gods because they awarded chief praise to the kinsmen of Sindre, and they departed vowing fierce vengeance. Thus was the end of Loke achieved.
Brok, who thirsted for revenge, demanded his prize for the hammer, and that was Loke's head, which he had
wagered. Loke offered to redeem it, but the elf-smith would have naught else.
Now Loke had shoes of swiftness, and could speed swiftly through the air and over the sea. Crying to Brok: "Then take me," he vanished from sight.
But the angered elf-smith appealed to Thor to seize Loke, and that great irresistible god set forth and returned with him.
"Thy head is mine," exclaimed Brok, who prepared to cut it off.
"Thine indeed is the head, answered Loke, "but not the neck." 1
Brok appealed to the gods, and they gave judgment that favoured Loke. They told Brok that he might take the head, but the neck he must not injure.
Then was Brok possessed with great wrath, and he demanded to sew the lips from which evil counsel came. Loke's head being his by right of wager, none could gainsay him. He took his knife to pierce the evil god's lips, but it was not of sufficient sharpness. So he cried: "Would I had my brother's awl." When he said that, the awl was immediately beside him, and he took it and sewed up the mouth of Loke, and left him there confused with silence.
In great wrath did Brok leave Asgard. Thus was Loke's end doubly achieved, for Sindre's kinsmen were also incensed against the gods because of the judgment they had given when the wager was claimed.
The sons of Ivalde rose in revolt and leagued themselves with the Frost-giants to wage war against the Asa-gods and bring disaster to Asgard.
Let it be told that twice wedded was Ivalde, the rebel watchman of Hvergelmer and the rivers Elivagar. His
first wife was Sol, the sun-goddess, and their daughters were Idun, who became wife to Brage, and also the swan maids who sang on the borders of the western realm of Njord. Then had Ivalde for wife the giantess Greip, and they had three sons who were elf-smiths--Thjasse-Volund, Orvandel-Egil, the great archer, and Ide, whose other names are Hyuki, Hengest, and Gelder, "the Gelding".
Greip, the mother of these sons of Ivalde, had afterwards, with marriage to a giant, two sons whose daughters were Fenja and Menja.
So, as has been told, it came about that through Loke's evil workings a winter war was proclaimed against the gods by the sons of Ivalde and the Frost-giants.
At this time too was the goddess Freyja lured secretly from Asgard by Gulveig-Hoder, the Hag in maiden guise, and was caught in ambush by the great giant Beli, father of Grep, who fled with the goddess to Jotun-heim and concealed her in his strong castle. A double disaster thus fell upon the gods.
Loke sat and thought, till his dark eyes gleam
With joy at the deed he'd done;
When Sif looked into the crystal stream,
Her courage was wellnigh gone.
For never again her soft amber hair
Shall she braid with her hands of snow;
From the hateful image she turned in despair,
And hot tears began to flow.
In a cavern's mouth, like a crafty fox,
Loke sat 'neath the tall pine's shade,
When sudden a thundering was heard in the rocks,
And fearfully trembled the glade.
Then he knew that the noise good boded him naught,
He knew that 't was Thor who was coming;
He changed himself straight to a salmon trout,
And leaped in a fright in the Glommen.
But Thor changed too, to a huge seagull,
And the salmon trout seized in his beak;
He cried: Thou, traitor, I know thee well,
And dear shalt thou pay thy freak!
Thy caitiff's bones to a meal I'll pound,
As a millstone crusheth the grain.
When Loke that naught booted his magic found,
He took straight his own form again.
And what if thou scatter'st my limbs in air?
He spake, will it mend thy case?
Will it gain back for Sif a single hair?
Thou 'lt still a bald spouse embrace.
But if now thou 'lt pardon my heedless joke,--
For malice sure meant I none,--
I swear to thee here, by root, billow and rock,
By the moss on the Beata-stone,
By Mimer's well, and by Odin's eye,
And by Mjolmer, greatest of all,
That straight to the secret caves I'll hie,
To the dwarfs, my kinsmen small;
And thence for Sif new tresses I'll bring
Of gold ere the daylight's gone,
So that she will liken a field in spring,
With its yellow-flowered garment on.
. . . . . .
Loke promised so well with his glozing tongue
That the Asas at length let him go,
And he sank in the earth, the dark rocks among,
Near the cold-fountain, far below.
He crept on his belly, as supple as eel,
The cracks in the hard granite through,
Till he came where the dwarfs stood hammering steel,
By the light of a furnace blue.
I trow 't was a goodly sight to see
The dwarfs, with their aprons on,
A-hammering and smelting so busily
Pure gold from the rough brown stone.
Rock crystals from sand and hard flint they made,
Which, tinged with the rosebud's dye,
They cast into rubies and carbuncles red,
And hid them in cracks hard by.
They took them fresh violets all dripping with dew,
Dwarf women had plucked them, the morn,--
And stained with their juice the clear sapphires blue,
King Dan in his crown since hath worn.
Then for emeralds they searched out the brightest green
Which the young spring meadow wears,
And dropped round pearls, without flaw or stain,
From widows' and maidens' tears.
. . . . . .
When Loke to the dwarfs had his errand made known,
In a trice for the work they were ready;
Quoth Dvalin: O Lopter, it now shall be shown
That dwarfs in their friendship are steady.
We both trace our line from the selfsame stock;
What you ask shall be furnished with speed,
For it ne'er shall be said that the sons of the rock
Turned their backs on a kinsman in need.
They took them the skin of a large wild-boar,
The largest that they could find,
And the bellows they blew till the furnace 'gan roar,
And the fire flamed on high for the wind.
And they struck with their sledge-hammers stroke on stroke,
That the sparks from the skin flew on high,
But never a word good or bad spoke Loke,
Though foul malice lurked in his eye.
The thunderer far distant, with sorrow he thought
On all he'd engaged to obtain,
And, as summer-breeze fickle, now anxiously sought
To render the dwarf's labour vain.
Whilst the bellows plied Brok, and Sindre the hammer,
And Thor, that the sparks flew on high,
And the slides of the vaulted cave rang with the clamour,
Loke changed to a huge forest-fly.
And he sat him all swelling with venom and spite,
On Brok, the wrist just below;
But the dwarf's skin was thick, and he recked not the bite,
Nor once ceased the bellows to blow.
And now, strange to say, from the roaring fire
Came the golden-haired Gullinburste,
To serve as a charger the sun-god Frey,
Sure, of all wild-boars this the first.
They took them pure gold from their secret store.
The piece 't was but small in size,
But ere 't had been long n the furnace roar,
'T was a jewel beyond all prize.
A broad red ring all of wroughten gold,
As a snake with its tail in its head,
And a garland of gems did the rim enfold,
Together with rare art laid.
'T was solid and heavy, and wrought with care,
Thrice it passed through the white flames' glow;
A ring to produce, fit for Odin to wear,
No labour they spared, I trow.
They worked it and turned it with wondrous skill,
Till they gave it the virtue rare,
That each thrice third night from its rim there fell
Eight rings, as their parent fair.
. . . . . .
Next they laid on the anvil a steel-bar cold,
They needed nor fire nor file;
But their sledge-hammers, following, like thunder rolled,
And Sindre sang runes the while.
When Loke now marked how the steel gat power,
And how warily out 't was beat
--'T was to make a new hammer for Ake-Thor,--
He'd recourse once more to deceit.
In a trice, of a hornet the semblance he took,
Whilst in cadence fell blow on blow,
In the leading dwarf's forehead his barbed sting he stuck,
That the blood in a stream down did flow.
Then the dwarf raised his hand to his brow for the smart,
Ere the iron well out was beat,
And they found that the haft by an inch was too short,
But to alter it then 't was too late.
. . . . . .
His object attained, Loke no longer remained
'Neath the earth, but straight hied him to Thor,
Who owned than the hair ne'er, sure, aught more fair
His eyes had e'er looked on before.
The boar Frey bestrode, and away proudly rode,
And Thor took the ringlets and hammer;
To Valhal they hied, where the Asas reside,
'Mid of tilting and wassail the clamour.
At a full solemn ting, Thor gave Odin the ring,
And Loke his foul treachery pardoned;
But the pardon was vain, for his crimes soon again
Must do penance the arch-sinner hardened.
38:1 In like manner was Shylock thwarted when he demanded his pound of flesh.