Saturday, May 12, 2012

The God of Chaos and Other Things

So ironically enough going to see the Avengers in theaters with my brothers yesterday (the movie was excellent we all enjoyed it) reminded me how much love Loki in Norse mythology.

I say ironically because I just spent the better part of a year obsessively studying Norse mythology and Viking age Iceland (I've written a number of novella stories related to this) yet it was a comic book movie that reminded me of my love for the God of chaos. Loki though is really an amazingly complex character. He can be good, or evil, God and Jötunn, truth teller, liar, shape-shifter, God of fire and all around plotter and schemer. He is my favorite kind of character.

This lovely illustration by Arthur Rackham for a scene from Wagner's Ring Cycle where Loki taunts the distraught Rhine maidens has hung over my writing desk pinned to by bulletin board since  I was about sixteen. It is one of my favorite Arthur Rackham illustrations and one of my favorite portrayals of Loki. I love the fact that steam rises from the water where his foot touches it as if his body is made of fire.

Another of my favorite illustrators, John Bauer, did an rendering of one of my favorite myths involving Loki all be it a rather strange and confusing one.

In this story which is told in a short stanza within the Hyndluljóð 

Loki ate some of the heart, the thought-stone of a woman,
roasted on a linden-wood fire, he found it half-cooked;
Lopt was impregnated by a wicked woman,
from whom every ogress on earth is descended.

In this story Loki eats a human heart. We aren't quite sure why or who's heart it is although it does seem to be the heart of someone who practiced very powerful magic because eating the heart impregnates Loki. Loki ends up giving birth to an "ogre." Now "ogre" itself is a French word and although very similar creatures appear in many mythologies ogres as large, viscous, people-eating creatures is a central European folktale creation and doesn't actually appear in Norse mythology that I am aware of.

The passage can also be translated thus:

A heart ate Loki,-- | in the embers it lay,
And half-cooked found he | the woman's heart;--
With child from the woman | Lopt soon was,
And thence among men | came the monsters all.

Now between "ogre" and "monsters" I like to think, and other have also put this forward, that Loki gave birth to the first troll-mother, and that is where the Norse trolls come from. 

It makes sense within the realm of Norse mythology and even more sense given the way I have re-imagined trolls in my own work. I can very easily see them as being the children of chaos, fire and very powerful magic. It would still probably horrify Girin though. 

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