You think you know the story. In fact, it is one you think you know well. But of course, you are unpardonably wrong. You wouldn’t know the truth if it came up and smacked you in the face with a hammer. Hah! My apologies, I could not help it. My kind are so fond of weapons, I simply had to make the joke. At least one of them would hit you in the face with a hammer and call it fun.
Who am I? Well, I am called Loki. Yes, I am he. Not the one in green-and-antennae chic, but the real deal; the mischief-maker, the lie smith, the smoke rising from the flames of Asgard. Bane to the Aesir, the Vanir, and all the Nine Realms. He whose eternal imprisonment will be over only at the end of all things, with the Ragnarök that will kill us all.
Well, not all of us. Baldur, of course, will live and he will lead the survivors to a new life beneath the branches of the World Tree, the Yggdrasil. The rest of us will be dead and gone, but he will go on living.
And therein lies the injustice of it all. For, you see, my imprisonment is for the crime of his murder. All my torment because of a death that is no death at all, just a brief sojourn into the realm of Hel. A much-needed lesson in humility for he who will be reborn to lead the new age. Oh yes! Did I forget to mention? He must be reborn, for it is written, and how can a person be reborn if he has not first died?
I get ahead of myself. It is nothing new for me, whose essence is the formless and the ever-changing. I am there in the candle and the forest fire, the life-giving flicker and the all-consuming inferno. It is not in me to be constant any more than the dancing flame, which is never still and always varying. I do not lie because I seek to obfuscate the truth, but because I cannot always be truthful. I do not cause mischief because I seek pain in others, but because I cannot always be kind. I am chaos, bound to be everything and nothing all at once, and at the whim of my own existence. This makes it difficult to be concise, because I cannot always tell what needs to be told.
I will begin, so far I as can see, at the beginning.
I am not a god. I was born to giants and adopted by the Aesir into their ranks for services rendered. Oh yes, I was once called blood brother by the Allfather himself, who swore never to raise a glass but that I had one, too. This was after I aided them, of course; Odin would not have allowed one such as me among his brethren if I had not proved useful. There is no beneficence in him; he is a hard god. What else could one expect from one called Terrible, the Stormbringer, Killer, and God of Treachery? What else from he whose horse is the gallows and whose spear chooses who will die? You think because he is wise that he must be kind and in this you are wrong. Odin knows no kindness. And yet it is I who is so oft maligned.
I saved the Aesir the cost of building Asgard’s mighty walls. I tricked the horse Svadilfari into following me and so saved Freyja from marriage to a giant; so I saved the sun and the moon, also, for those had been part of the price. And I gave my son to Odin for his mount; a son I bore, for I was a mare at the time of his conception. From this day I was called Sly One, and Odin was pleased with me. I was admired for my tongue and for my tricks.
Then was Mjolnir—the mighty hammer of Thor—stolen from his bedroom. Not by I, of course, for I would not be so foolish and nor had I a yen for such brutishness. But I was accused; even when I had their admiration, I never had their trust. Once again, the price was Freyja; once again I saved her from that price, this time by dressing Thor in the wedding dress intended for his sister. I tricked those who had stolen it and thus was Thor reunited with his weapon. Thus was I named blood brother; not an Aesir and yet of them.
If there is something you must know about me, it is that I am accorded a coward. Among the denizens of Asgard, subtlety and thought are as one with pusillanimity. Only Odin understood my intricate workings, for he is master of the raven Thought and his eye sees all. I was maligned, mistrusted, feared. But I knew something they did not: Ragnarök would make equals of us all. Even Odin—great Odin—would die, and no amount of battle courage would save them.
They feared the Ragnarök, of course, though they missed the hypocrisy in feeling it. None of them wanted to die; in that, they were not alone. Only Baldur—and remember that it was he who would survive the battle and journey forth into a new world—felt no such fear. It was arrogance instead which blossomed within him; an arrogance which would make him a poor leader, and unworthy of his great role. Beneath him, Midgard would suffer and Asgard remain in ruins. I could not have that.
Oh! I see that has shocked you out of your temerity. You scoff to learn I cared aught for humanity. But of course I did; of all of them, I cared the most. I did not demand their dead or sink their ships; I did not promise protection and laugh as they screamed for help. I was not the Queen of vanity to demand love, or the Watcher to spy upon them. Sif, I suppose, cared; she gave them grain, after all, and hence life, but never once did she stand up for them. When Thor thundered, she laughed along with the rest at his blood sport. I might have been feared, but I was also respected; I was fire, weapon and life, whose danger was understood because I did not hide it.
I am silver tongue, I am liar and trickster, I am Sly One and bane, but I am always honest with my danger. I do not promise comfort and deliver pain. If I hurt, it is because it is in my nature to do so, and thus it has ever been so.
The others obfuscate and pretend. I am simply wild.
But my imprisonment. Baldur, as I have said, will survive the Ragnarök. But in order to do this, he must be reborn. He cannot die at the end times because he is already dead at their genesis. Unfortunately, none of my brethren seemed to realize this. Or perhaps they did and actively sought to stave off its coming, but Odin would not be so stupid; he knew Ragnarök would come anyway, whether or not Baldur was dead. I would like to think it was love for his favorite son which drove him to such deeds, but then I would be lying to myself. And I do not do that.
Baldur was special. Everyone knew that. His mother even collected promises from every living thing that they would do him no harm. Everything except mistletoe, which was deemed too young to make such an oath. Even Frigg, it seemed, was not immune from arrogance. Even gods can succumb to hubris.
When I learned of this, I was mortified. I am bound to my nature; I live by it, love by it, breathe by it. To so flout the will of the Norns—of destiny—was anathema to my very being. I could feel the wrongness of it in every flicker of every flame of all the realms. And so I set out to make it right. I set out to end the arrogance of the gods.
We knew from dreams—and dreams are prophetic—that Hod would slay his brother. Hod, the god of ice and darkness, blind and trusting; he would no more have killed bright Baldur than Odin would kill himself. And so I tricked him. I have him an arrow of mistletoe and challenged him to hit his brother with it. We all thought it would be a laugh; everyone was taking turns swinging all manner of weapon at Baldur’s head, guffawing when it went aside. But I knew of Frigg’s oversight; I knew the arrow would sing true.
And so was Baldur killed. So was nature made right. So was I damned, for I had all but assured Ragnarök. Which, of course, was assured anyway.
They tried to bring him back, you know. Even then, they sought to defy themselves and fate, to undermine what was at the heart of everything. To bring an end to death and an end to ends. I could not abide this. Perhaps I am bound more to the nature of things, to its cycles and dualities, perhaps I hated the hypocrisy. Perhaps I was simply tired of their mistrust and wished to see them punished. It could be any or all of those things; with me, it could be none at all. I am not always sure even of my own thoughts. It is a burden, trust me.
They went to Hel to get him back. Hel, my daughter, Queen of Niflheim because she must be put somewhere and she could not stay in Asgard; she was too ugly, too grotesque to their eyes. I think her beautiful because she is exactly as she should be. But then, I am a partial father. And she was kind; she promised Baldur’s life in return for sorrow. Should every living thing weep for him, he would return.
But everything did not weep. Like the fire and the smoke, I am shapeless and shifting. I can be what I want; I can be what you want, too. I changed myself into an old crone and refused to weep. Thus was Baldur kept in Hel. Thus was everything made right.
I was caught, of course. For as I can be anything, Odin can see anything. One of my sons was killed—innocent, he was, of everything but being mine, which should tell you what sort of monsters the Aesir really are—and his entrails used to bind me to a rock. A snake was placed above me—a bit of showmanship, that, which even I must admire, for the snake is my animal—which dripped acid upon my face. I was allowed one kindness: Sigyn, my wife, could collect the acid in a bowl and keep it off of me. A small kindness, for it is a small bowl and must be emptied often. And so here I lie, bound until the end of time, when I shall escape and Ragnarök will begin.
Oh yes. I see you grasp my meaning. Even now, chained and writhing, I am true. Even now, I play my part. For I must escape if Ragnarök is to begin. Baldur must be dead and I must escape my shackles. I ensured the first, but it was the gods themselves who have made sure of the second.
I am Loki, god of lies and mischief, born of the smoke and flames. I am called Trickster and Sly One. I am called murderer and Blood Brother. I am no Aesir, but I belong to them. And I will always be true.
I will always be true.
Picture: Wikimedia – The Punishment of Loki by Louis Huard (Public Domain)