Loki and His Kin

The handout for our September 2017 meeting

Loki and His Kin

Nearly all of Loki’s family are referred to in multiple poems as well as in Snorri’s Edda.

Parents:
Loki’s father is a giant named Farbauti in the Prose Edda, in Haustlong (a skaldic poem attributed to Thjoðolfr of Hvinir), and in Úlfr Uggason’s Husdrapa. Simek (1993) suggests Farbauti may mean “dangerous hitter.” Kock relates the name to lightning, while Bugge believes it to mean “storm” (both as cited in Simek, 1993).

Loki’s mother is Laufey (“leafy island” or “full of leaves” according to Simek) in Lokasenna, Thrymskviða, Sorla thattr, and the Prose Edda. She is also called Nal (“needle”) in Sorla thattr and the Prose Edda. In Sorla thattr, it is explained that Laufey was so slender that  she was called Needle. Simek interprets Laufey as a tree goddess of some kind. Lindow (2001) echoes this interpretation, stating, “she is listed with goddesses in one of the thulur” (p. 208). Notably, Loki is always referred to in poetry and by Snorri as Laufeyjarson rather than the usual patronymic, suggesting that perhaps his father died before his birth or that Laufey was of significantly higher status than Farbauti.

Siblings:
His brothers are Byleistr (Hyndluljoð, Voluspa, Prose Edda) and Helblindi (Prose Edda). Byleistr’s name may mean “wind lightning,” “the one releasing the storm,” or “bee lightning” (Simek, 1993; Turville-Petre, 1964). Helblindi’s name likely means “the blind one of the realm of death” (Simek, 1993). Bugge (cited in Gundarsson, 2006) suggests Byleistr is Oðin. Helblindi is an Oðin-name (in Grimnismal and elsewhere). This, along with Loki’s reproach to Oðin in Lokasenna, may mean that if Oðin and Loki are not blood kin, they are at the least foster brothers or oath brothers.

Spouses and Consorts:
Loki has a wife, Sigyn, who is attested to in multiple sources, including Haustlong, Voluspa, and the Prose Edda. Her name means “victory girlfriend” (Simek, 1993). She keeps a bowl above him to catch venom after his binding. Snorri says that Sigyn is the mother of Nari/Narfi.

Angrboða is the mother of Fenrir in Hyndluljoð and the Prose Edda, and Snorri adds that she is the mother of Hel and Jormungandr as well. Turville-Petre (1964) interprets her name as “Distress-bringer,” while Lindow (2001) prefers “she who offers sorrow.” In Voluspa (stanzas 40-41), a giantess dwelling in Iarvidia (Ironwood) gives birth to “Fenris kindr,” which Dronke (1997) interprets as “the broods of Fenrir” (p. 17). Lindow (2001) states that this giantess is “almost certainly Angrboda” (p. 204).

Svaðilfari appears in Hyndluljoð and the Prose Edda as the father of Sleipnir. His name may mean “the one making an unlucky journey” (Simek, 1993, p. 305).

For those modern individuals who take god spouses, Loki is arguably the most popular figure from Norse mythology to wed. His popularity as a god spouse increased tremendously after Tom Hiddleston played the comic book character based very loosely on him in Marvel’s Thor and Avengers movies.

Children:
Loki bears the eight-legged horse Sleipnir after he keeps the giant builder from claiming Freyja, the sun, and the moon.  Sleipnir’s name means “slipper” or “sliding one” (Simek, 1993). In Griminismal, Sleipnir is named the best of horses. Oðin rides Sleipnir over the ocean in Gesta Danorum and into Hel in Baldr’s draumar. In Gylfaginning, Hermoð rides Sleipnir over the wall surrounding Hel.

In Gylfaginning, Loki’s son Narfi (or Nari) is killed by his other son Vali after the latter is transformed into a wolf, and Narfi’s guts are used to bind Loki. This is explained as a punishment for the death of Baldr. The prose following Lokasenna gives a similar story, though the sons are named Narfi and Nari, and Baldr’s death is not mentioned in the prose; Narfi becomes a wolf, and the guts of Nari are used to bind Loki. Simek (1993) theorizes that Narfi may be the same as the giant who is the father of night.

Fenrir (“marsh dweller”), is also called Fenrisulfr. As noted above, he is the son of Loki and Angrboða. In Gylfaginning, Snorri tells the story of Tyr losing his hand binding Fenrir with Gleipnir; the same story is alluded to in Lokasenna. Snorri also says that Fenrir will slay Oðin during the Ragnarok and will in turn be slain by Viðarr. In Vafthruðnismal, Vafthruðnir says that Fenrir will destroy the sun, but not before the sun bears a daughter. Lindow (2001) and Simek (1993) both speculate that Garm may be identical to Fenrir.

Jormungandr, (sometimes called the Miðgarðsormr by Snorri) is another child of Loki and Angrboða. Some of the literature it appears in includes Hymiskviða, Husdrapa, Voluspa, Ragnarsdrapa, and the Prose Edda. Simek (1993) interprets its name as “huge monster,” though he notes that jormun can mean “earth” or “world,” and gandr can mean “sorcery” or “magic wand” (p. 180). Jormungandr is best known as the foe of Thor, and Thor’s battles with the serpent are the subject of multiple carvings and illustrations.

According to Snorri, Hel is the daughter of Loki and Angrboða. Hel is also a realm of the dead. Simek (1993) relates the name Hel to OHG helan “to hide” and Old Irish cuile, “cellar” (p. 138). In addition to the Prose Edda, the name Hel appears in multiple poems, including Voluspa and Baldr’s draumar. Snorri describes both the wight and the realm in detail in Gylfaginning. He says that she appears to be half black/corpse-like and half white/flesh-colored and that Oðin puts her in Niflheim and gives her authority over all the worlds to have those who die of sickness and old age. Later in Gylfaginning, Snorri describes the death of Baldr and the failed attempt to ransom him from Hel.  In Skaldskaparmal, a kenning for Baldr is “Hel’s companion.” In Gesta Danorum, Prosperina, the goddess of death, visits Baldr in a dream and tells him she will soon have him in her arms; Davidson (1979) believes Prosperina is intended to be Hel. Grimm (as cited in Gundarsson, 2006) identified Hel with the Mother Holle of German folklore.

In addition to his named children, Hyndluljoð credits Loki with giving birth to all the ogresses in the world after eating the heart of an evil woman, and Oðin in Lokasenna accuses Loki of spending eight winters underground bearing children.

References:

Dronke, U. (Ed., Trans.). (1997).  The Poetic Edda: Volume II: Mythological poems, edited with translation, introduction, and commentary by Ursula Dronke. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Gundarsson, K. et al.  (2006). Our Troth 2nd Edition Volume 1: History and lore. North Charleston, SC: BookSurge.

Lindow, J. (2001). Norse mythology: A guide to the gods, heroes, rituals, and beliefs. New York, NY: Oxford University Press

Orchard, A. (Ed., Trans.). (2011). The Elder Edda: A book of Viking lore. London, England: Penguin Classics.

Saxo Grammaticus (1979). The history of the Danes, Books I-IX. Translated by Peter Fisher, Edited with commentary by Hilda Ellis Davidson. Cambridge, England: D.S. Brewer

Simek, R. (1993). Dictionary of northern mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer.

Snorri Sturluson. (1987). Edda. Translated and edited by Anthony Faulkes.  London, England: Everyman.

The Thattur of Sorli. (1921).  In N. Kershaw (Trans. and Ed.), Stories and ballads of the far past translated from the Norse (Icelandic and Faroese) with introductions and notes. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Turville-Petre, E.O.G. (1964). Myth and religion of the north: The religion of ancient Scandinavia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

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