Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This page is about the Norse god Loki. For other uses of the word see Loki (disambiguation).
Loki Laufeyjarson, in Norse mythology is the "god" of mischief, a son of Farbauti and Laufey, and is described as the "contriver of all fraud". Loki is in a sense both a god and a Jotun (compare: Greek Titans and Gigantes), since he mixed freely with the gods for a long time, even becoming Odin's foster-brother. The composer Richard Wagner presented Loki under an invented Germanized name Loge in his operas Das Rheingold and Die Walküre.
The trickster god is a complex character, a master of guile and deception. Loki was not so much a figure of unmitigated badness as a kind of celestial con man, who always managed to persuade the gods to give him another chance. Some anthropologists have compared him to Coyote, a trickster figure of Native American mythology. Loki can at times be reminiscent of the Chinese Monkey King whose persona in myth underwent changes over the centuries.
Loki is an adept shape-shifter, with the ability to change both form (examples include transmogrification to a salmon, horse, bird, flea, etc.) and sex. According to some scholarly theories Loki is conceived of as a fire spirit, with all the potential for good and ill associated with fire. However, this view is probably due to linguistic confusion with logi "fire", as there is little indication of it in myth where Loki's role is predominantly associated with Odin, either as Odin's wily counterpart or antagonist.
Loki was the father of many creatures, men and monsters.
Having liaisons with giantesses was nothing unusual for gods in Norse mythology—both Odin and Freyr are good examples; and since Loki was actually a giant himself, there is nothing unusual about this activity. Together with Angrboda, he had three children:
- Jormungand, the sea serpent;
- Fenrisulfr the giant wolf preordained to slay Odin at the time of Ragnarok;
- Hel, the goddess of the realm of the dead.
Loki was also at least partly responsible for the deaths of some fellow giants. He was flying as a hawk one day and was captured by Geirrod, a frost giant. Geirrod, who hated Thor, demanded that Loki bring his enemy (without his magic belt and hammer) to Geirrod's castle. Loki agreed to lead Thor to the trap.
On the way to Geirrod's, they stopped at the home of Grid, a giantess. She waited until Loki left the room then told Thor what was happening and gave him her iron gloves and magical belt and staff. Thor killed Geirrod, and all other frost giants he could find.
Loki occasionally works with the other gods. For example, he tricked the unnamed hrimthurs who built the walls around Asgard, out of being paid for his work by distracting his horse while disguised as a mare—thereby he became the mother of Odin's eight-legged horse Sleipnir. He also retrieved Odin's spear, Freyr's ship and Sif's wig from Dvalin, the dwarf, as well as rescuing Idun. Finally, in Trymskvida, the funniest of Thor's adventures, Loki manages, with Thor at his side, to get Mjollnir back when the giant Thrym secretly steals it, in order to ask for fair Freya as a bride, in exchange.
Loki may have overplayed his hand when, disguised as a giantess, he arranged the murder of Baldur (he used mistletoe, the only plant which had not sworn to never harm Baldur, and made a dart of it, which he tricked Baldur's blind brother Hod into throwing at Baldur, thereby killing him), although earlier versions of the myth, attributed to Saxo Grammaticus do not implicate Loki. Significantly, also, the poem in the Elder Edda most associated with Loki, the Lokasenna, does not directly implicate Loki in Baldur's death.
The gods, bereft at the loss of Baldur, travelled to the underworld to bargain for Baldur's life; there, Hel told them that the only way to ensure the god's return was to have everything in the world weep for him. The gods went through the land, and convinced not only men, women and animals to weep for Baldur, but also rocks and trees. Finally, they arrived at a cave in which a giantess dwelled. The gods were unable to convince her to cry for Baldur, and so he remained in the underworld.
When the gods discovered that the giantess had been Loki in disguise, they hunted him down and bound him to three rocks with the entrails of either his son Fenrisulfr or Vali. Then they tied a serpent above him, the venom of which dripped onto his face. His wife Sigyn (a goddess, not the giantess who was the mother of Loki's monster brood) gathered the venom in a bowl, but from time to time she had to turn away to empty it, at which point the poison would drip onto Loki, who writhed in pain, thus causing earthquakes. He would free himself, however, in time to attack the gods at Ragnarok along with the other giants and his monster children.
Not all lore depicts Loki as a malevolent being. An 18th century ballad (that may have drawn from a much earlier source) from the Faroe Islands, entitled Loka Thaattur, depicts Loki as a friend to man: when a thurs (troll or giant) comes to take a farmer's son away, the farmer and his wife pray to Odin to protect him. Odin hides the son in a field of wheat, but the thurs finds him. Odin rescues the son and takes him back to the farmer and his wife, saying that he is done hiding the son. The couple then prays to Honir, who hides the son in the neck-feathers of a swan, but again the Thurs finds him. On the third day, they pray to Loki, who hides the son amidst the eggs of a flounder. The thurs finds the flounder, but Loki instructs the boy to run into a boathouse. The giant gets his head caught in a peephole (the translation is not complete, but it appears to be a peephole) and Loki kills him by chopping off his leg and inserting a stick and a stone in the leg stump to prevent the thurs from regenerating. He takes the boy home, and the farmer and his wife embrace both of them.
Loki in popular culture
Loki and Odin are main characters in Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods. These two (together with Thor) are also the three characters to appear most often in Nordic myths. He was also a recurring character in Gaiman's comic book The Sandman, where he was freed from his prison under the earth by Odin, and by contrivance of Dream allowed to remain at liberty. He reappeared in the second-to-last story arc, where he ran afoul of the Corinthian.
In the movie The Mask (but not in the original comic book), Loki's bound spirit empowers the titular mask, which grants its wearer shape-shifting abilities and an altered, chaotic personality, from everything/anything they keep suppressed (see Freud). In the sequel, Son of the Mask, Loki's spirit is released and he spends the movie seeking out his mask.
In the Marvel Universe that serves as the setting for many Marvel Comics publications, Loki is a supervillain who is the primary enemy of Thor, who in Marvel's continuity is Loki's half-brother or foster brother.
Loki is the hero, along with Odin and Thor in the Valhalla comic book or graphic novel series published in Denmark by Interpresse. Originally published in Danish, translations were made into Dutch, German, French, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish. Several animated movies were also produced from the series.
Loki is the main adversary in the 1999 (RPG) Valkyrie Profile by developers tri-Ace. The only way in which he differs from the mythological god, is that he is the offspring of an Aesir and Vanir,which provides the central motivating force for his actions throughout the story.
In Myung-Jin Lee's Ragnarok, Loki has reincarnated into a stoic assassin.
In the popular webomic Sparkling Generation Valkyrie Yuuki, the chains binding Loki loosen, allowing him to interact with the Earth through control of a small plush cat.
- Common Danish, Swedish and Norwegian form: Loke
- Nynorsk - Norwegian form: Lokkje
- German form: Lohho
- Our Troth chapter on Loki
- Loki - A Paean in Progress
- The Baldr Myth
- An essay on Loki
- The Lokasenna - "Loki's Wrangling": a very amusing insult competition between Loki and the other gods in Asgard
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