Of all the Norse gods, Loki is the most mischievous and generally causes the most harm within the Norse myths.  In The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241 AD), Loki is called the “Mischiefmonger” and “Father-of-lies.”  He is the only god mentioned who does not have a specific function other than to cause problems.  He is also the only one of the Aesir whose parents are both giants.  His father is Farbauti and his mother is Laufey (55).  According to some sources, Loki and Odin are blood brothers and this is why Loki is accepted among the Aesir.  This would also explain why Loki is able to create so much mischief without being punished.  Due to his parentage, Loki is outside the norm among the Aesir, yet still accepted as one of them, thus showing his unique position and liminality among the Norse gods. 

Tricking the Trickster

            In many of the Norse myths, Loki and Thor travel together to Giantland.  This is interesting due to the contrasting characteristics of these gods.  Loki is light-hearted and mischievous with little regard to the consequences of his actions.  Thor is quick to anger and distrustful of almost everyone, especially Loki.  Often when the two are traveling, either with only each other or within a larger group, Loki often gets into trouble and Thor has to resolve the situation, usually by relying on his hammer. 

In one of the journeys with Thor, Loki and Thor are challenged to various competitions with the giants.  Loki’s challenge is to eat as fast as one of the giants; Logi and Loki are set at opposite ends of a table for the race.  The two meet at the middle of the table and Loki has eaten everything on his side except the bones, while Logi ate everything including the bones and table.  Thus Logi is declared the winner.  Thor goes through competitions of his own and fails at each one.  As the two are leaving the castle of Utgard-Loki, their host explains how they had been defeated.  Loki was not racing a giant but “Logi” which means wildfire, which consumed everything in its path.  Thor lost to equally deceptive beings.  The two had been fooled by the giant’s magic.  This story shows that despite Loki’s cunning and ability to deceive, he was unable to see through the tricks of the giants.  Loki lacks the ability to perceive deception and thus lacks part of the cunning attributed to Greek trickster figures. This shows him to be more closely associated with Native American or African trickster figures because of this ability to be tricked.

Transformation of Loki

            In the early days of the Aesir, a giant was given the job of commissioning a strong fort for the Aesir.  The giant asked for Freyja as his wife and possession of the sun and the moon for payment if he was able to finish the building in one winter with only the help of his horse, Svadilfari.  Thinking this was impossible, the Aesir agreed, yet they discovered too late that Svadilfari was a very diligent worker and it appeared that the project would be finished on schedule.  The Aesir blamed Loki for giving them bad counsel in accepting the deal and ordered him to find a way to keep the giant from finishing his project.  Loki transformed himself into a mare and galloped by Svadilfari, who quickly followed him.  With his mighty steed gone, the giant was unable to finish the work, yet because of the deception, he argued about his payment, at which point Thor promptly disposed of him. 

While keeping Svadilfari ‘entertained’, Loki as a mare became pregnant and gave birth to the horse, Sleipnir.  Sleipnir was the mightiest of all horses, for he had eight legs and was the chosen steed of Odin.  Like many trickster figures, Loki was able to blur the reality and become not just a horse, but a female horse.  However, unlike other tricksters, Loki was able to become pregnant and actually give birth to a horse.

            In most mythologies, it is rare for a god or goddess to completely change genders.  This seems to be a characteristic reserved for tricksters alone.  When this gender reversal occurs, the trickster takes on a unique role.  Loki does not merely create an illusion of being a mare, but he actually becomes one, capable of conceiving.  Loki is able to become an illusion, not merely create one. 

Evil Trickster

            One of the most popular stories of Loki is about his destruction of Baldr.  After having prophetic dreams that he will die, Baldr becomes very depressed.  His mother, Frigg, goes to every creature in the world and asks each to take an oath swearing not to harm Baldr.  After this, all the Aesir begin throwing items at Baldr in jest, since nothing will harm him.  Loki becomes annoyed at these games and he disguises himself as an old woman and talks to Frigg. 

Being deceived by Loki’s façade, Frigg confides to him that she did not get a promise from everything, for “West of Valhalla grows a little bush called mistletoe, I did not exact an oath from it; I thought it too young” (Prose 81).  Straightaway Loki retrieves the plant and shapes it into a dart.  Loki then gives the dart to Baldr’s brother, Hod, who is blind and not participating in the game of throwing items at Baldr because he is unable to aim at Baldr.  Loki gives Hod the mistletoe-dart and helps him to aim.  Hod shoots, Loki disappears and Baldr is killed. 


            Stricken with grief, the Aesir try to find a way to bring Baldr back from the underworld.  The ruler of the underworld, Hel, agrees to release Baldr if every creature weeps for Baldr’s return.  Every creature did except one, a giantess named Thokk.  Thokk states, “…the old fellow’s son was no use to me alive or dead, let Hel hold what she has” (84).  The Aesir believed that Thokk was actually Loki in disguise, making sure that Baldr is not returned to the living. 

In most of the stories of Loki, Loki does not try to benefit anyone other than himself.  In the death of Baldr, it appears that Loki only wishes to spoil the game of harmlessly throwing weapons at Baldr.  Yet when given the opportunity to save Baldr, Loki chooses not to weep in the form of Thokk, thus allowing his trick to become more than ruining a game with Baldr, it becomes ruining Baldr for all time. 

In other mythologies, the trickster creates mischief to better himself or someone else.  The trickster is motivated by desire for knowledge, advancement or in many tribal mythologies, for actual food.  Loki has no real motive for destroying Baldr.  Baldr’s only offense towards Loki was because of his invulnerability to weapons.  Without any provocation, Loki seeks to ruin this game and when Loki is not satisfied with merely doing this, he causes further havoc.  By bringing about the destruction of Baldr, Loki asserts himself as not only a trickster, but also a spoiler of life. 

The First Fishnet

            After the death of Baldr, the Aesir wished to punish Loki for his actions.  Loki fled to the mountains where he built a house with four doors, each facing a different direction, so he could see anyone approaching.  To ensure his escape, Loki found a waterfall nearby and would often hide there as a fish.  Worrying that the Aesir might find someway of catching him as a fish, Loki conceived of a way to catch fish, to learn how to get away as a fish if the Aesir discovered the same method.  Loki thus invented the first fishing net, and was trying to discover a flaw when the Aesir came looking for him.  Frightened out of his house, Loki threw the net into the fire hoping to destroy the evidence of how to capture him.  However the Aesir discovered the remnants of the net in the fire and were able to construct one of their own.  This they used to dredge the waterfall and they were successfully able to capture Loki.  In this story, Loki effectively outwits himself by constructing the net that would later catch him.  This motif of a trickster outsmarting himself occurs within Native American and African trickster tales as well.

As punishment for his deeds, Loki was lashed to three great rocks and a serpent dropped venom on him from above.  His wife, Sigyn holds a bowl above his head and captures the venom that drops down.  When the bowl becomes full, she must empty it and while this occurs, venom drops upon Loki and he shakes with pain.  Loki’s shaking is the cause for earthquakes (86).  Thus although Loki was cunning enough to kill Baldr, he was not cunning enough to escape his own punishment.