Most religions have some form of trickster god, or at the very least a fall guy like Christianity’s devil. The Norse pantheon, famously worshiped by the Vikings, was no different in this respect. Loki, the god of fire and chaos in the heathen faith, was a handsome, mischievous, charismatic giant who was really too clever by half, but not quite clever enough to see his end coming when he finally got caught going too far too often.
Loki’s acts of clever trickery began as soon as he came on the scene. The son of giants, Loki was adopted into the family of the gods known as the Aesir. Loki was the blood brother of Odin, chief of the Aesir, and the two of them were thick as thieves in many legends since Odin respected Loki’s canny nature and his slick tongue that could make you believe almost anything. Loki was also seen often in the company of Thor the god of thunder, who represented hard work and forthrightness as opposed to Loki’s deceitful and often lazy ways. You might wonder how it is a lazy, lying, smooth talking giant managed to slither his way into Asgard… but the young Loki wasn’t really so bad. That all came later.
Loki represents free time, both the necessity for it and what happens if a clever mind is left to its own devices for too long. For instance, Loki is a god who’s greatly fond of practical jokes. The harmless ones didn’t make it into the Asatru mythology, but the not-so-harmless ones leave a long trail of tears, hurt feelings and one can only assume severe beatings. As a for instance, Thor’s wife Sif had beautiful, golden hair. Loki, no stranger to pride and arrogance himself, thought it would be funny to take her down a peg. So Loki cut off all of her hair while she slept, and either so the story makes sense or because Loki used magic shears, Sif’s hair was permanently gone.
Now perhaps it didn’t occur to Loki that Thor’s goodwill would flee when he saw his wife in tears, but when Thor did catch hold of Loki and threaten him with a beating that would last for a century (paraphrased of course), Loki managed to talk his way out of repercussions by promising Sif an even more beautiful head of hair then he’d taken. Apparently intrigued by such an outrageous claim, Thor let Loki go. For now.
Loki, aware that the thunder god was not playing around, went to the dwarves. Skilled craftsman, Loki spoke flatteringly of the gods’ admiration for their work, pitting two pairs of smiths against each other in a competition. The dwarves, whipped into a frenzy to see who could craft better gifts than whom, created some of the finest treasures of the Norse gods in that competition. Among the treasures was Odin’s spear Gungnir, Thor’s hammer Mjollnir, Sif’s new and genuine, living gold hair as well as a number of other gifts. Though Loki had promised his head to the winner, there was the stipulation that he had said nothing about it being removed. So the winning dwarf sewed his lips shut, stopping Loki’s clever words for at least a while.
Though this is an early example of how Loki’s quick wits and facile tongue got him into and then out of trouble again, there were many other examples such as when he attempted to steal Freya’s necklace Brisingsamen and when he did steal and then had to steal back Mjollnir, it was the death of Baldur that sealed Loki’s fate. With this purposeless murder, Loki’s downward spiral from mischievous and untrustworthy had finally earned him a place of genuine and irredeemable wickedness. For this crime he was held beneath the earth, bound by the entrails of his two non-monstrous sons (his other children were the wolf Fenrir, the world serpent Jormundgandr and Hel the goddess of the underworld) and a serpent was set over him to drip venom into Loki’s eyes till Ragnarok. His wife would catch the poison, but when she had to empty the bowl Loki would thrash in agony, causing earthquakes.
Loki is something unique, even in pagan faiths. Typically the role of the trickster is to challenge order with chaos, and to overcome through wits and cunning. Loki displays the canniness that even Odin respects, but it’s his pride and lack of humility that begin twisting him. Always needing to outdo the last con, or insisting that the next time will be different, he grew bitter and envious of the praise and love given to others but not to him. As such one of Asgard’s own became its downfall, and Loki, once counted a friend among the Aesir, became their greatest enemy.
“Who is Loki?” by Anonymous at Wise Geek
“Loki,” by Anonymous at God Checker