He’s one of the most notorious gods in Norse mythology and thanks to the Marvel Universe he’s also one of the most recognisable in modern times. Loki, the trickster god, famous for his mischievous antics and devious deceptions, aided and hindered the other ruling deities in equal measure. His allegiances were always in doubt, neither good nor evil; Loki chose to be the very definition of disorder itself.
We delve into the Nordic sagas and uncover five of his most mischievous tricks.
The Death of Balder
Balder was the son of Odin and half-brother to Thor. He was the god of light and purity, described as a fair, kind and handsome god, whose beauty was unparalleled. Often praised by others for his mercifulness, Balder was the epitome of all things wise and good. In other words, he was the very best of them.
Although it was believed that Balder was immortal, a prophecy claimed that one day he would die. To prevent the prophecy from coming true, his mother Frigg visited every entity in the cosmos to secure an oath from them that they wouldn't harm her son. She neglected to consult the mistletoe believing it too small and harmless to threaten the life of her boy.
This fatal oversight soon reached the ears of the mischievous Loki who carved an arrow out of the mistletoe. He then handed the arrow to Balder’s blind half-brother Höðr and challenged him to throw the arrow towards his kin. Höðr did so without hesitation, believing that nothing could ever hurt his half-brother. The arrow fatally pierced Balder’s chest and the 'best of the gods' fell dead.
Ruining Aegir‘s feast
Aegir, the ocean giant, was hosting a magnificent feast for all the gods of the Æsir, the main pantheon of Norse mythology. What should have been a time of celebration was quickly ruined by the presence of Loki. The trickster god had become jealous of the praise being heaped on Aegir’s two servants, Fimafeng and Eldir, who were looking after the deities. Loki’s jealously turned into rage and he decided to kill Fimafeng, which in turn brought on the wrath of the other gods who drove him from the hall.
It wasn’t long before Loki had managed to smarm his way back in again and instead of being repentant of his actions, decided the party needed spicing up even more. He collected his best verbal insults and began hurtling them at those around him. None of the gods escaped his scathing tongue. He called Thor a coward, Odin a heretic, Frigg (Odin’s wife) a whore, Freya an incestuous witch and Tyr a cuckold.
With the arrival of an angry Thor, who was late to the feast, Loki decided it best he finally moved on and shape-shifted into a salmon before jumping into a nearby river to escape.
Messing with Thor’s wife
Thor wife was Sif, the golden-haired goddess of Earth and harvest. It was said that her golden locks flowed down her back like a ‘field of corn’, something that Thor would often boast and brag about to his fellow gods. One day, obviously feeling completely bored, Loki decided some random mischief was in order. Creeping up on a sleeping Sif, Loki snipped off her famous locks.
Although Loki found this hilarious when Thor found out he obviously did not. To avoid being crushed by the rampaging God of Thunder, Loki pleaded with Thor to let him make amends. Thor agreed and Loki descended beneath the earth to find the dwarves who dwelled below. Famous for their craftsmanship abilities, Loki had the dwarves make a headdress of golden hair, which he duly gave to Sif to her great delight and relief.
Messing with Thor’s Hammer
There’s clearly a theme here that Loki enjoyed messing with Thor, something that would be quite understandable if they were brothers. Alas, they were not. Although the Marvel Universe tells us otherwise, in Norse mythology the two gods were not related. However, for all his mischief, Thor did have Loki to thank for his famous hammer, the Mjöllnir. Although it could have been even bigger had Loki not decided once again to play mischief.
After collecting Sif’s golden locks and other treasures from the dwarves known as the sons of Ivaldi, Loki decided to taunt two dwarf brothers known as Brokkr and Eitri. Claiming that they could never make anything as spectacular as the sons of Ivaldi, he even bet his head on that fact. Taking the bait, the two brothers set to work and attempted to best the work of their rivals.
Unwilling to let the challenge take place fairly, Loki transformed into a fly and began biting and pestering the two brothers as they tried to work at the forge. Initially, Loki failed to throw their concentration and they produced two wondrous creations. However, as one of them was lowering the iron into the forge to create the Mjöllnir, Loki decided to bite them in the eye, distracting them from their work. This led to the handle of the hammer being shorter than it should have been, leading to a reduction in the size of the weapon.
That being said, when Loki presented the gifts to the other gods, they all judged the hammer as the finest creation they’d ever seen. Loki had lost the bet to the two brothers who subsequently came to claim his head. The trickster god managed to slither his way out of trouble again, dodging the two and reneging on the deal.
Tricking the master builder
A giant and master builder approached the gods one day and offered to build a huge protective wall around Asgard, the home of the Æsir gods. In return, he asked for the Sun, the Moon and the goddess Freya. The gods agreed to his terms but stipulated it must be completed by the first day of summer. Not believing the giant could ever complete the task by that timeframe, they sat back smugly and watched him begin his hard labour.
To their surprise, the giant and his trusty stallion Svadilfari made light work of the task and as the first day of summer approached, the wall was nearly complete. Afraid to lose Freya, the gods quickly decided something had to be done to sabotage the efforts of the giant. Enter Loki.
Transforming himself into a mare, Loki lured the stallion away from his duties. Their tryst in the nearby woods would lead to Loki giving birth to Sleipnir, the eight-legged flying horse that Odin would come to possess.
Realising he’d been tricked the giant attacked the gods before being crushed by Thor.
For more articles about the history and culture of the Vikings, check out our Viking history hub.