Loki is one of the more well-known Norse gods to modern-day society thanks to Stan Lee and Marvel, which is not necessarily a bad thing, though it can breed some misinformation. Despite his newfound fame over the past decade or so, Loki is still shrouded in mystery, which leads many to interpret him in a variety of ways. Anyone who browses the internet can type “Loki” into their preferred search engine and yield many results, most of which will lead to “Loki- TV series” or “Loki- Marvel.” Among these results is Britannica’s Encyclopedia entry about the god and if you type “Norse mythology” following “Loki” you will see more blog entries and informational articles with their interpretations of the god himself, and not just the dashing portrayal of him that Tom Hiddleston does so well.
So how does one even begin to discuss such a complex god? Let’s start with some basics! According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, Loki is “a cunning trickster who had the ability to change his shape and sex. Although his father was the giant Fárbauti, he was included among the Aesir (a tribe of gods)” (Britannica 2022). This brief description is how Loki is described in most translations of the Poetic Edda, a collection of sagas and poems translated by Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century. He is described as “trickster.” Across the board, we can gather from most sources that speak on Loki that his designated role among the gods is that of “trickster and god of chaos.” We know that he has many children, some of whom he is father to and some who he even gave birth to. Loki fathered one or two sons with his Aesir goddess wife, Sigyn- In some translations of the Poetic Edda, it is said that he had one son “Narvi or Narfi” and in others, such as in Bellows’ translation of the Poetic Edda, it is said that he had two sons, “Vali and Narfi” (Bellows). He also is the father of the World Serpent, Jormungandr, the goddess of the underworld (Hel) and the giant wolf, Fenrir, whose mother is the giantess Angrboda. Additionally, with the stallion, “Swadlfari”, in the form of a mare, he gave birth to Odin’s eight-legged horse, “Sleipnir.”
We see throughout the sagas in various translations where Loki can shapeshift into various beings- To name a few, we see him shift into a woman to help Thor get Mjolnir back from the giant Thrym and to save Freya from having to marry Thrym. We see him shapeshift into a mare to seduce the stallion Swadilfari who was helping a giant build a wall around Asgard so that the gods would not lose the sun, the moon and Freya. And lastly, we see him shapeshift into a fly, a flea, a salmon, an eagle, a seal, a troll and others. When he shapeshifts, Loki isn’t always doing so to save the gods from something horrible. Sometimes it is to save his own skin such as when he shifts into a salmon to hide in the river from the gods after he insulted everyone in Aegir’s Hall in Lokasenna (Bellows) or if you are reading another version, it is after he kills Baldr and he is hiding to escape punishment for this (Faulkes).
In the Poetic Edda, Loki can be found to be described as “lie-telling” or “the liar Loki” (Crawford). Some people in the Norse Pagan community deem Loki to be “evil.” On the opposite end, Loki is revered and there is a neo-pagan movement in which some Loki fans are referring to themselves as “Lokean” which means that they primarily worship and work with Loki and anyone who is related to him. Some individuals believe they are having sex with the god or that he is pursuing him romantically. Stating these perspectives about Loki is not to say that these perspectives are necessarily wrong. So many different ideas are not unusual for such a polarizing, controversial god like Loki. So is Loki evil? Is he a sexy man of mystery seducing young women everywhere? Another internet theory says he is a fire god, another says he is an air god, though this is never stated in the Poetic Edda. All of these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg and it would take several articles like this to unpack everything there is to unpack about Loki.
As with any of the gods, how one sees Loki is up to them, however, as we can see from the previous statements in this article, it can be helpful to consider multiple sources. The other piece to this puzzle that is the complexity of Loki and all the gods? Our belief, our CONNECTION to the gods informs how we feel about them. Our EXPERIENCES, our own perceptions.
Bellows Henry Adams. The Poetic Edda. Princeton University Press 19361923.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Loki". Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Dec. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Loki. Accessed 18 March 2023.
Crawford Jackson. The Poetic Edda : Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. Hackett Publishing Company 2015.
Snorri Sturluson and Anthony Faulkes. Edda. Dent 1987.