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Loki, 19th century chromolithographic trade card advertising Petzold & Aulhorn Chocolate, artist unknown

Loki is an unusual deity. A member of the Aesir or Norse pantheon, he appears in many stories about the lives of these gods and goddesses, but there is no evidence that he was either venerated or propitiated by pagan people during the pre-Christian era. According to Snorri's Edda, Gylfaginning: "Also numbered among the Aesir is he whom some call the mischief-monger of the Aesir, and the first father of falsehoods, and blemish of all gods and men: he is named Loki or Loptr, son of Fárbauti the giant; his mother was Laufey or Nál; his brothers are Býleistr and Helblindi. Loki is beautiful and comely to look upon, evil in spirit, very fickle in habit. He surpassed other men in that wisdom which is called 'sleight,' and had artifices for all occasions; he would ever bring the Aesir into great hardships, and then get them out with crafty counsel. His wife is Sigyn, their sons are Nari or Narfi." He is a shape-shifter and gender-changer and although he is married to Sigyn and father to Hel, goddess of the underworld; Fenris the Wolf; and Jörmungandr, the World-Girdling Snake, he is also the mother of Odin's horse Sleipnir.

Due to modern comic book and role-playing game depictions of Loki, most non-Heathens mistakenly see him as a kind of "Germanic Satan" -- an evil, destructive figure who hates the other gods and wants them all ruined. It's true that Loki does some of the worst deeds in the lore, but he is often motivated by a desperate drive for self-preservation and a lack of manly courage, not inherent villainry. In one story, he tricks the goddess Idunn, the keeper of the apples of longevity, into leaving Asgard so that a giant can kidnap her. However, the giants had threatened Loki with death if he didn't produce Idunn, so his treachery is the product of cowardice. In another tale, Loki tricks Thor into visiting a hostile giant without his magic hammer, belt, or gloves -- but, again, the giant had threatened to kill Loki, so here too it is cowardice, not malice, that leads Loki to do evil. And when the walls of Asgard need rebuilding after a war, a giant offers to do the job in exchange for the Sun, the Moon, and Freya's hand in marriage. The Aesir are reluctant to accept this proposition, but Loki talks them into it by offering to trick the giant, saying that if the giant agrees to complete the work in only half the time he asked for, he won't be able to finish by the appointed date, the contract will be breached, and the gods will get part of the walls built for free. Unfortunately, the giant works much faster than anyone had expected, and one day before the deadline, only a few stones need to be set in place. The gods blame Loki for talking them into the tricky deal, and threaten to kill him if he can't find a solution. Driven by fear, he transforms himself into a mare in heat and seduces the giant's work-horse, which had been hauling rocks, to run after him. In the process, he manages to get himself pregnant and he thus gives birth to Sleipnir, who becomes Odin's horse. In another tale of gender-change, Loki dresses as a bridesmaid to Thor, who, in an attempt to retrieve his stolen hammer. is clumsily disguised as Freya at the time. Loki's worst crime is that he tricks Frigga into revealing that mistletoe is the one thing that can kill Baldr and tricks Baldr's brother into using the mistletoe against him. Worse, after Baldr's deat, he refuses to weep for the slain god, thus condemning Baldr to remain in the underworld.

Ultimately, Loki goes too far, and at a feast held by Aegir, he begins by killing one of Aegir's servants and then ruins every friendship he still has by taunting each of the Aesir by name and revealing their most embarrassing secrets. He is driven from the feast-hall and, according to the Lokasenna, as the gods pursue him, "Loki, in the likeness of a Salmon, cast himself into the waterfall of Franangr, where the Aesir caught him, and bound him with the entrails of his son Nari; but his other son, Narfi, was changed into a wolf. Skadi took a venomous serpent, and fastened it up over Loki’s face. The venom trickled down from it. Sigyn, Loki’s wife, sat by, and held a basin under the venom; and when the basin was full, carried the venom out. Meanwhile the venom dropped on Loki, who shrank from it so violently that the whole earth trembled. This causes what are now called earthquakes." Thus, for all of his betrayals, Loki is doomed to remain bound by his own son's entrails to three rocks, as venom drips onto his face until the coming of Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods. Judging by the evidence, Loki is a deceiver, but not a demon. Driven both by fear of death and an over-estimation of his own verbal cleverness, he works either with or against the gods, whichever side is better for him at the time. Loki is generally depicted as a bearded man, often with a look of cunning or deceit on his face. He may be shown accompanied by his children Fenris, Jörmungandr, and Hel, or caught in a net in the form of a Salmon, or bound to the rocks with the snake above him as Sigyn attempts to keep its venom from dripping into his lying, treacherous mouth.


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