loki, norse trickster god

As you might expect, the heaven of the Norse gods was a delightful place. It was full of eternal light and beauty and the gods spent the best part of their time just lying around, admiring themselves, enjoying immortality from the apples of eternal life that grew in the orchard.

Occasionally, when a god happened to glance down he might see that outside of heaven there lived the mortal races of men and giants but as they were born and died so quickly they really didn’t merit much attention. True, there was that one regrettable incident when Loki had been persuaded to open up a crack in heaven so that the giants might steal some of the apples of immortality and Time had come pouring in to make all the gods grey-haired and wrinkled – but that was all behind them now and they believed Loki when he promised not to ever do anything of the kind ever again.

baldr, norse god of goodness

Too pure for his own good

The star of heaven was of course, Baldr, the most beautiful of all the gods. Known as the Pure, the Virtuous One, he was the embodiment of all things good and a splendour shone from his face like sunlight. Yet although Baldr was beloved by one and all, and it was impossible to imagine anyone wishing him harm, he began to have terrible nightmares of suffering a violent death.

His mother, Frigg, at once set off to travel the whole world and extract a promise from every creature and plant alive, from every spirit and element to never harm her son in any way. The gods were mightily impressed by this endeavour and in honour of the now-invincible Baldr, they invented a game where they threw their weapons at him to demonstrate his indestructibility. Boulders hurled at his head crumbled to dust before him, iron discuses span wildly out of orbit and arrows fell flat at his feet. And if Baldr happened to give one of his charming smiles at the god who had thrown the missile – well, that was reward enough in itself.

All of which intensely irritated Loki.

Although he was careful to clap and grin whenever anyone glanced his way to see how he was enjoying the game, the sight of such perfection, such goodness and incorruptible purity turned his stomach. Loki was a god, it was true, but his father had been a giant and so was his mistress and he understood better than all the gods the value of a little chaos.

So, disguising himself as an old woman, perhaps a cleaner sweeping up after the gods, he went to exchange a little gossip with Baldr’s mother, Frigg.

“How beautiful and strong your son is!”

“Yes, he is indeed the light of my life – of all our lives!”

“And he seems quite invincible?”

“Nothing on earth and heaven would dare to harm him.”

“And how did this come to be?”

“I made everyone and everything swear to never hurt my son!”

“You made absolutely everything promise?”

“Well… there was one plant, a young, innocent-looking thing – mistletoe, I believe it was called – but it was so small I didn’t think it was worth asking it.”

loki, norse trickster god

Loki, up to no good

Loki’s eyes gleamed and he at once sped off to earth and smuggled a bit of mistletoe into heaven. Then, noticing that while all the other gods never tired of hurling things at Baldr, a blind god named Hod stood to the side and just listened to all the fun. Loki marched up to him indignantly.

“And why are you not honouring Baldr like all the others?”

Hod sighed. “As you know, Loki, I am blind and, besides, I have no weapon.”

“But that should be no obstacle to joining in with the rest!” Loki cried, “Why, I will guide your hand and you can use… this little plant as a missile.”

Hod threw the mistletoe at Baldr and it struck him in the neck, killing him at once. Loki couldn’t help but collapse in a triumphant fit of giggles and while he recovered in time to make a run for it, the gods caught the trickster god and devised a punishment worthy of immortals; extracting the intestines of one of Loki’s sons, they used them to tie Loki to a rock in an underground chamber where a cobra was set to drip burning venom onto his face for the rest of Eternity.

loki the norse god bound by his intestines

Loki's punishment

Luckily for Loki, his wife, Sigu, stayed true to him and insisted that her place was alongside her husband. The gods relented and allowed her to stand beside him with a bowl to catch the drops of falling poison. Every once in a while though, she had to go and empty the venom and while she was away, Loki writhed in terrible contortions as the burning drops seared into his face.

And thus the ancient Norse explained earthquakes.

Loki’s story is a long one, however, and didn’t quite end there. It was known that at the end of the world all bonds would snap and Loki would wriggle free. Then he would return for his revenge upon heaven, riding into war on a ship constructed from the fingernails of the dead… but that’s another story.