Loki and his Children

The twelve major deities in the mythology of the Eddas were, as
already, enumerated, — in addition to Odin — Thor, Njord, Frey, Balder,
Tyr, Heimdal, Bragi, Forseti, Hod, Vidar, Vali, and Ull. Next after these is
mentioned, among the foremost Æsir, Loki or Lopt, although he is more
properly to be counted their enemy. By race he was a Giant, his father
being the Giant Farbauti and his mother the Giantess Laufey or Nal; yet he
became the foster brother of Odin and was numbered among the Æsir. His


brothers were Byleist (also called Byleipt) and Helblindi. Loki was well-
favored, but crafty and malicious. To be sure, he was sometimes compelled
to make good the evil he had done, and occasionally he even placed his
cunning at the service of the Æsir in seasons of great need; yet in all that
really mattered he remained their enemy and the secret friend of the
Giants. Loki was the actual instigator of the death of Balder. At the last day
he will reappear as one of the captains of the Giants, and his terrible
progeny will cause much more harm than even he himself. With the
Giantess Angerboda in Jotunheim he had three children: Fenrir,
Jormungand, and Hel. Fenrir
was a ravening wolf, known also as the Fenris Wolf; Jormungand was a
hideous, venom-spewing serpent; and Hel was a horrible hag. These three
were fostered as children in Jotunheim, and the gods foreknew that Loki’s
offspring would work them great evil. Therefore the All-Father, Odin,
commanded them to be brought before him. The gods forebore to put them
to death, for the course of fate was not to be broken, neither was the
sacred refuge of Valhalla to be contaminated; so the gods sought other
means of being rid of the three. Hel they thrust into the depths of Niflheim
to hold sway there and to receive in her abode all who should die of illness
or old age, whether men or other beings of earth. Jormungand they hurled
into the deep sea of the universe, where he grew and waxed so great as to
be able to encompass the earth and to bite his own tail. Therefore he is
commonly called the Midgard Serpent, since he holds all of Midgard
encircled. The Wolf, on the other hand, was nurtured in Asgard and was so
ferocious that none but Tyr dared to bring him food. When the gods saw
that he was growing altogether too rapidly, they became much alarmed and
undertook to bind him fast. They declared that they desired, just in sport, to
try his strength by testing his ability to break a chain which they had
provided for the purpose. The Wolf, falling in with their wishes, consented
to be bound but at once burst his fetters. He did likewise with a second
chain, twice as strong as the first. Then the All-Father sent Skirnir on an
errand to certain Dwarfs living in the home of the Dark
Elves, to have them forge a chain that the Wolf should not be able to break
asunder. The Dwarfs accordingly made a chain from the sound of a cat’s
footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a
bear, the breath of fishes, and the spittle of birds; this is the reason why the
footfall of the cat no longer has any sound, why women have no beards,
why mountains have no roots, and so on. The chain, called Gleipnir, was
fine and soft as silk. The Æsir led the Wolf out upon the island of Lyngvi in
the lake named Amsvartnir and there asked him if he would submit to being
bound with Gleipnir. The Wolf, suspecting some trick, gave his consent
only on the condition that one of them would place a hand in his mouth as
an earnest of his release if the chain should remain unbroken. The Æsir,
unwilling to take such a risk, looked doubtfully at one another; finally Tyr
stepped forward and laid his hand in the Wolf’s muzzle. The Wolf was then
bound. The more he struggled to free himself, the tighter held the chain; by
no means was he able to break it and, since the Æsir had no thought of
letting him go, he bit off Tyr’s hand. The Æsir drew the end of the chain
through a great slab of rock, thrust it deep into the ground, and laid a huge
boulder over it. The Wolf, mad with rage, snapped and bit at everything
round about; but they thrust a sword into his mouth so that his jaws gaped
wide. He howls dismally, and slaver runs from him like a river. Thus he
shall lie bound till the world comes to an end; but then he will gain his
freedom, will prove to be the worst enemy of the gods, and will
even swallow up Odin himself. But the Wolf will be killed by Vidar.
In regard to all the malicious tricks Loki played on the Æsir and the
punishments he suffered in consequence, further accounts will follow. His
wife was Sigyn, with whom he had several sons. Besides, he became in a
peculiar manner the father, or rather the mother, of Odin’s horse Sleipnir. It
happened in this way. When Midgard had been created and the gods were
meditating the building of a massive stronghold as a bulwark against the
Giants, a Giant smith came forward and offered to build the stronghold in a
year’s time if he might have Freyja, the sun, and the moon by way of
payment; but if on the first day of summer any part of the work remained
undone, he was to receive no wages. The Æsir felt secure in making such
a promise, and crafty Loki urged them on. But the building proceeded more
rapidly than they had thought possible; for the Giant’s powerful horse,
Svadilfari, during the night pulled into place stones as huge as mountains.
When only three days remained before summertide, the Giant was already
busied with the castle gate, and the Æsir were growing uneasy; at no price
whatever were they prepared to surrender Freyja, the sun, and the moon.
They commanded into their presence Loki, whose bad counsel was the
cause of their trouble, threatened him with death, and thus frightened him
into promising to find a way out of their difficulties. Transforming himself
into a mare, he ran whinnying out from the forest at evening just as
Svadilfari was at his task of hauling stone. Svadilfari
broke loose and followed the mare into the woods, pursued in turn by the
builder; that whole night not a stone was hauled, and thus the work was
interrupted. The mason was enraged; but Thor crushed his head with
Mjollnir. The mare — or Loki — later foaled Sleipnir, the world’s fleetest
horse, a gray with eight feet.


Sources:

Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 21-25.
Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson. Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906.


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