Loki’s Monstrous Children in Norse Mythology
Who was Loki?
Loki was the deceitful, shape-shifting Norse god who was up to no good many of the times. He is infamous because his actions and that of his children’s ultimately lead to the demise of the gods in Norse mythology.
Though he sometimes aided the gods, he had many unpleasant encounters with the gods. As a result he went by epithets such as The Sly-One; Concocter of Lies; Evil Companion; Enemy of the Gods; Forger of Evil; and Contriver of Baldr’s death. The latter epithet is in reference to the role he played in the death of Baldr, the Norse god of light who is often described as the fairest and most beloved of the gods.
Loki also went by names such as Wolf’s Father and Father of Sleipnir. These epithets speak to him being the father of a number of monstrous children such as Hel, the wolf Fenrir, and the Midgard Serpent Jörmungandr. Those three children of Loki end up being the gods’ arch rivals during Ragnarök (“Twilight of the Gods”).
In the myth, it is foretold that Loki will break free from his shackles and then lead his giant brethren and other malicious forces to face off against the Æsir tribe of gods. Loki will duel with Heimdallr during Ragnarök, where both gods are destined to kill each other.
Origins and Family
In the Poetic Edda poems, Loki is regarded as the adopted brother of Odin, the AllFather god in Norse mythology. The trickster god was welcomed into Asgard, the home of the Æsir tribe of gods.
The truth of the matter is Loki is a Jötunn – giants and troll-like mythical creatures that often had conflicts with the Æsir gods and the Vanirs (Norse fertility deities).
According to the myth, Loki is the offspring of Laufey (or Nál) and Fárbauti. His siblings are Byleistr and Helbindi.
Loki’s Monstrous Children
Although Loki was married to Sigyn, Loki had an affair outside of marriage. By the beautiful giantess Angrboda, Loki bore three fearsome children. According to the myths, the trickster god tried very hard to hide these three children from the Æsir gods. These children of Loki came to be loathed because of the prophecies that surrounded them. In the myths, Loki’s three monstrous children – the Wolf Fenrir, the Midgard serpent Jörmungandr, and Hel – are destined to unleash unimaginable horrors upon the Norse gods as well as the world.
Hel – Queen of the Underworld
Loki’s daughter Hel is infamous for being the queen of the underworld. She has dominion over all the souls that enter her realm. In the myths, she is perfectly normal and beautiful on one side of her body; however, on the other side, she is shown as a terrifying woman with a decayed corpse.
Fenrir – the Great Wolf
The next monstrous child of Loki is the wolf Fenrir, the fierce creature portrayed as a very strong beast whose thirst for destruction knew no bounds. For this, Fenrir was also known as the Beast of Destruction. In addition to his unchecked growth and sheer strength, the Great Wolf was very agile and uncharacteristically intelligent for a creature of his type.
According to Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda, Fenrir is destined to play major part in Ragnarok. In the prophecy, Fenrir will go against Odin, the chief of the Norse gods, during Ragnarok. In the end, Fenrir will devour Odin. The fact that Fenrir kills and devours Odin, arguably the most powerful Aesir god, is testimony to just how mighty and strong this wolf is.
The mighty wolf will then be slayed by Víðarr (Vidar), one of Odin’s sons. Also, at the start of Ragnarok, Fenrir’s sons – Hati and Skoll – will eat the Sun and the Moon respectively.
Jörmungandr – the Great Serpent
Finally, there is Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent. This child of Loki was called Midgard (Earth) Serpent because his body reached a span that allowed him to encircle Midgard (Earth) once.
Similar to his two other siblings, Jörmungandr will cause immense havoc to the gods and the world in general during Ragnarok. The serpent will squirt poison that will cover the skies and seas.
Accompanied by his brother the wolf Fenrir, the serpent will make its way to the plain of Vigrid. Over there, he will have a legendary showdown with Thor. After an intense battle, the god of thunder is fated to kill Jörmungandr. However, Thor will sadly not make it out alive, as he succumbs to the poison-infested wounds inflicted on him by Jörmungandr.
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Odin’s nightmares and premonitions
For many nights, Odin was said to have been disturbed by a series of nightmares of three fierce and terrifying monsters. The Allfather came to believe that those three creatures had something to do with Loki, the trickster god. Lo and behold, Odin found out that Loki had secretly had an affair with the giantess Angrboda and then brought forth three children – Hel, Fenrir and Jörmungandr.
How Loki’s monstrous children were discovered by Odin
Odin forced Loki to disclose the whereabouts of those three children of his. Loki revealed that the children were with their mother Angrboda in Jotunheim (the land of the giants). Odin then dispatched an expedition team led by Odin and Tyr to catch the children of Loki, who at the time were still very young.
It’s believed that the fates of Loki’s children were decided when they were born. Icelandic poet and statesman Snorri Sturluson writes in the Prose Edda, a 13th-century compilation Norse stories, that Odin seized Fenrir and his siblings from Loki.
Odin then bestowed the realm of the underworld (Hel) upon Hel, making her queen of the realm. Odin believed that Hel belonged with her kind, i.e. the dead, in the underworld. According Snorri Sturluson’s explanation of the Nine Realms in the Norse cosmos, Hel is both the name of Loki’s daughter and the name of the realm she rules over.
Regarding Jörmungandr, the gods had noticed how it had grown from a puny snake to python in just a few days. Odin and the gods then banished Jörmungandr into the world ocean as they were afraid of the awful future that could be unleashed by the serpent if left among the gods.
Finally, the gods adopted and raised Fenrir, who was by then a little wolf cub. Some of the gods, especially Tyr, the god of war, had grown very fond of the little cub Fenrir. Reluctantly, Odin allowed the gods to keep and raise Fenrir in Asgard. Mindful of the prophecy, the gods hoped to inculcate in Fenrir very sound morals that would help the wolf steer away from the destructive path that awaited him. Little did the gods know that there was nothing that they could do to stop the prophecy.
Other children of Loki in the myths
In addition to the three monstrous children, Loki fathered the following children:
Vali and Narfi
By his wife Sigyn, Loki first gave birth to two children – Vali and Narfi (Nari). In one of the poems of the Edda, Loki described Vali as a very obedient child, unlike Narfi, who took after his father, reveling in disobedience and destruction.
Another offspring of Loki was Slepinir, Odin’s glorious eight-legged horse that was said to be the fastest horse in all the Nine Realms. Sleipnir was fast both on water and in air.
According to the Prose Edda, Sleipnir was the product of Loki’s mating with the stallion Svadilfari (Svaðilfari). Loki transformed himself into a beautiful mare in an attempt to distract Svaðilfari from helping his master, a Jotunn, build a wall for the Aesir gods.
Loki had been forced by the gods to thwart the work of the Jotunn who was a close to completing a task for the gods in exchange for the hand of the goddess Freyja in marriage. With Svadilfari distracted by Loki, who was by then disguised as a beautiful mare, the work on the wall stalled and the Jotunn builder could not meet the deadline set by the gods. The builder therefore lost the prize. However, the product of that brief union between Loki and the builder’s stallion was Sleipnir, an eight-legged horse. In the end, the horse came to be Odin’s most trusted companion.