Yesterday I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s book, Norse Mythology. Overall, I strongly recommend it as a fine blend of scholarship and story-telling. At the heart of Norse mythology is the Triad of Odin the king of the gods, Thor his mighty son and Loki his trouble making blood brother.

At the end of the book, of the Loki remains the most curious of the three. For a start, he is not a god but lives with them. He is there because the gods for all their revulsion of him, need him. Loki is the smartest person in Asgard and he knows it. But for all his wit and charm, he doesn’t belong in the hall of the gods and everyone knows it.

He marries a goddess with whom he has two brave sons. But he also cheats on her with a giantess with whom he has three monstrous children. At various times, he plans the murder of another god, defeats an attempt to rescue a dead one and has a goddess kidnapped by a giant to save himself. All throughout he chuckles with glee at his own cleverness. Loki is intelligence gone wrong. Intelligence without wisdom.


Children of Loki

All gods are cruel. Angered by his friend’s death, he kicks a nearby dwarf into the funeral pyre burning him to death just because he was in a bad mood. To get at the mead of poetry Odin seduced and betrayed an innocent girl. But only Loki is malicious. Where Thor is guided by his passions and Odin by his purpose (greedy as it may be) only Loki inflicts pain for the joy of it.

While reading, I was forced to ask, why would anyone do that?

The reason is that Loki is jealous. He is contemptuous of the idiocy of the gods and knows that despite all his brilliance, the gods are equally contemptuous of him. The fuel for his arrogance and malice is a deep sense of insecurity. At a banquet, he murders a servant because he can’t stand anyone being praised higher than himself. When all the gods were expressing their delight with the most beautiful among their number, Balder, only Loki plotted to kill Balder.


Loki (extreme left) laughs at the death of Balder

His nature also determines his doom. Finally having offended the gods once too often, Loki goes into hiding. But uncertain of his disguise, he thinks up the methods the gods could use to trace him. Finally it is through the clues of these methods that the gods catch him.

His punishment is as cruel as his deeds. He is tied down with the entrails of his own son. A serpent is suspended above his head which drips venom into his eyes. His wife Sigyn is his only companion who with a bowl collects the drops of venom as they fall from the snake’s fangs. Every time she moves to empty the bowl, the venom drops in her husband’s eyes.


Loki and Sign


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