In Norse* mythology, Loki was a trickster who caused endless trouble for the gods but who also used his cunning to help them. He lived in Asgard, the home of the gods, and he served as a companion to the great gods Thor* and Odin*. Loki enjoyed mischief
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
and disguise and could change his form to imitate any animal. At first the gods found him amusing, but eventually they became tired of his tricks and grew to dislike him.
Nevertheless, Loki helped the gods on many occasions. One time a giant disguised as a builder came to Asgard, and offered to build a wall within a year and a half in exchange for Freyja, Odin's wife. Thinking the task was impossible, the gods agreed to the deal. However, the giant had a powerful stallion that could perform great feats of labor. When it looked as if the giant would succeed, Loki disguised himself as a mare and lured the stallion away, preventing the wall from being completed. The mare later gave birth to an eight-legged horse called Sleipnir, which Loki gave as a gift to Odin.
Loki had a number of wives and children. With his second wife, the giantess Angrboda, he had three fearsome offspring: a supernatural being named Hel, a serpent named Jormungand, and a wolf named Fenrir. As these creatures grew larger and more terrifying, the gods decided to get rid of them. They cast Hel into the dismal realm called Niflheim, where she became the goddess of the dead. They threw Jormungand into the sea, and they bound Fenrir with magical chains and fastened him to a huge rock.
As time went on, Loki grew increasingly evil. Angry with the gods because they now disliked him, he arranged the death of Odin's son Balder. Loki discovered that Balder could be harmed only by mistletoe. One day while the gods were tossing objects at Balder in fun, Loki gave a piece of mistletoe to the blind god Höd and told him to throw it at Balder. The mistletoe struck Balder and killed him.
The gods held a banquet in honor of Balder to which, naturally, Loki was not invited. But he showed up anyway, insulted the gods, and then fled again when they became angry. To escape detection, Loki disguised himself as a fish, but the gods knew his tricks by this time and caught him in a net.
trickster mischievous figure appearing in various forms in the folktales and mythology of many different peoples
supernatural related to forces beyond the normal world; magical or miraculous
To punish Loki, the gods captured two of his sons, Narfi and Vali. They turned Vali into a wolf and let him tear his brother Narfi to pieces. They then took Narfi's intestines and used them to tie Loki to rocks in a cave. A giantess named Skadi hung a great snake over Loki's head, and when its venom dripped onto Loki's face, it caused terrible pain. Loki would twist in agony, causing the whole world to shake. It is said that Loki will remain in that cave until Ragnarok, the end of the world, arrives.