Myth Study: Lokasenna (Loki’s Flyting)

*This is the story of the flyting between Loki and the Aesir that results in Loki’s binding.

Aegir, also called Gymir, had brewed drink and was holding feast for the gods in his hall. Gathered there were many of the Aesir and Alfar. Thor was away in the east as he often is. Gold was used for lighting instead of fire-light. The beer served itself. All the guest praised Aegir’s servants. Here we’re told that Loki could not bear hearing this and so killed the servant Fimafeng. The Aesir became angry at Loki for killing Fimafeng and chased him off where he ran away into the woods, then continued their drinking. After a time, Loki came back to the hall and found Eldir standing guard outside. Loki asked Eldir what the gods were talking about inside. Eldir told him they were all discussing weapons and war and victory in battles but that none of them had anything good to say about Loki. At this, Loki said he would go into the hall to hear that conversation and stir strife with the Aesir and “mix their mead with malice (or bane)”. Eldir told Loki if he went in and did that, they would retaliate as well. But Loki said to Eldir, “you know if you and I contend with bitter words I will be rich with replies if you talk too much”. So, Loki left Eldir and entered the hall where all fell silent when they saw him. Loki spoke first. “I have come from a long way thirsty and seeking drink of the famous mead. Give me a place to sit, or tell me to go away”. Bragi spoke and said there would be no seat given to Loki because the Aesir all know he isn’t worth inviting. So, Loki turned to Odin and reminded him of the oath he had made to never take drink where Loki was not offered any. Odin then told his son, Vidar, to get up and let Loki, “father of the wolf”, sit down lest he speak against them in Aegir’s Hall. Vidar gave Loki a seat and poured him a drink. And before he drank, Loki began a toast. “Hail to the Aesir, and all the holy gods, except the one over there, Bragi, sitting on the bench”.

Bragi told Loki he would give him a horse and a ring if he would agree to not speak against and provoke the gods. But Loki said to Bragi “You’ll never have horses or rings to give because, of all the gods and Alfar here, you are the one who most shies from battle”. Bragi said if he were outside instead of in the hall, he’d have Loki’s head in his hands for lying. Loki told Bragi “You’re brave on your bench, but you run away if you see an angry man come for you elsewhere”. Idun then asked Bragi not to upset Loki there at Aegir’s Hall. But Loki then told Idun to be quiet because she was the one who was most man-crazed and put her arms around her own brother’s killer. Idun then said “I will not argue with you, I quieted Bragi to avoid you two fighting”. Gefion then spoke saying “Why should you two fight? Loki doesn’t see that he is urged on by fate”. But Loki told Gefion to be quiet and spoke openly of how she slept with a young man who seduced her by simply giving her a necklace. Then Odin told Loki he was crazy arguing with Gefion since she knows the fate of all men as well as Odin himself does. Loki said “Be quiet Odin. You’re the one who unfairly deals victory or failure to men in battle. Even giving victory to unworthy men”. Odin then tried to shame Loki for spending 8 years on earth living as a milk-maid and bearing children like a woman while he was there. But Loki reminded Odin that he himself lived as a woman practicing Seidr and fortunetelling travelling the worlds as a woman. Here, Frigg told them both they shouldn’t discuss what they did in the past in front of others. But Loki quickly told her to be quiet too and said how she had taken many men into her embrace including Vili & Ve. Frigg told Loki to hold his tongue because if her son Baldr was there he would stop Loki. But Loki told her it was he, himself, who made it so Baldr could never ride to the feasting halls again. At this, Freyja spoke up.

Freyja told Loki to be silent because Frigg knows all that happens even though she doesn’t say it. But Loki shot right back at her, telling in front of all how she had laid with nearly every Aesir and Alfar there. Freyja called Loki a liar and said he was just trying to make claims against the Aesir because they were mad at him. But Loki called her out again, saying how the gods had caught her in bed with her brother and she passed gas in front of all of them. Here, Njord told Loki to be quiet saying “it doesn’t matter if women lie with their own men or others. It’s not as bad as a man giving birth like a woman as you did. Such a perversion”. Loki quickly responded, “When you were sent to the east as hostage, Hymir’s daughters urinated in your mouth and you drank plenty. Isn’t that a perversion?”. Njord said that was his reward, and that he got a son that no one hates and who is prince of the Aesir. But Loki responded just as quickly, “I won’t keep this secret any longer, that it was with your own sister that you had that son”.

Tyr then spoke in defense of Njord’s son, Freyr, saying how he is best and most loved of all gods. But Loki said “Shut up, Tyr. You can never deal straight with anyone. That’s why Fenrir took your right hand”. Tyr told Loki that was fine because Fenrir was bound during that happening, so they both had loss. Loki told Tyr again to be quiet, telling him “Your wife had a son by me”. Then Freyr joined in, telling Loki “Fenrir is bound and you will be too unless you be quiet”. Loki told Freyr “You are the one who bought Gymir’s daughter as a bride and gave up your sword to do it. So, when the riders of Muspell come, you will have nothing to fight with”.

This continued between Loki and the Aesir for quite some time. But then Skadi chimed in. “You’re drunk, Loki. If you keep talking this way, you’ll be bound to a rock’s point with the entrails of your own son.” Loki told her if that is what is going to happen to him, she should know he was first and foremost present when her father, Thiazi, was killed. At this, Skadi swore that if that were true, Loki would get no peace or kindness from her or anyone from her dwellings (some versions add threats of harm here). Then Loki grinned and said “You spoke much softer to me, Skadi, when you were inviting me into your bed”. At this point, Thor’s wife, Sif, approached Loki and offered him a cup of mead saying “Hail Loki. At least me, alone, you can say you find blameless”. Loki drank down the cup before responding “I would if that were true. But I know well that the one you betrayed your husband Thor with was me”. Almost instantly, the ground began to rumble as Thor came running home. As soon as he entered the hall he yelled “Be quiet Loki, or I’ll knock your head off with my hammer”. Loki replied to Thor, “Oh, why are you raging so, Thor? You won’t be daring enough to fight against the wolf when he swallows up Odin”. Thor again threatened Loki with his hammer saying he would throw Loki up on the roads east where he’ll never be seen again. But Loki again shot back with quick response. “You shouldn’t brag about your journeys east. I was there that you hid in the thumb of a giant’s glove cowering. Such a hero you are”. Here Thor threatened Loki again saying that he would use Mjolnir to break every bone in Loki’s body. Loki told him he planned on living for quite a long time yet and those threats didn’t worry him since he had seen Thor struggle to open the ties on Skrymir’s meal sack. Here, Thor said “I will use my hammer to knock you dead and right into Hel’s gates”. Loki then responded saying “I spoke before the Aesir and the sons of the Aesir, all that my spirit urged me. But before you I will go. I know you actually will strike”. Then, turning to Aegir he said “You brewed ale for the Aesir, but you will never have a great feast again. Your whole hall will burn and boil when Muspell’s fire comes. And you will burn with it”.

After this, Loki hid in a waterfall disguised as a salmon. The Aesir caught him and turned his son Narfi into a wolf and caused him to tear apart his brother Nari. And they used the entrails of Loki’s son Nari to bind Loki to the rock. Then Skadi took a venomous snake and fastened it over Loki’s face so that the venom would drip down on him. Loki’s wife, Sigyn, stands there next to him with a basin to catch the venom from dripping on him. But when it gets full, she has to carry it out to be emptied before coming back to catch more. And while she is out emptying the basin, the venom drips on Loki and burns. He writhes so violently from this that the very ground shakes. And this is what we now call earthquakes.

Discussion: 1) One thing people often point out in this tale is how “Loki started it” by killing the servant. But we really don’t know why he killed him. The poem says he couldn’t stand hearing them praise the servant. But could there be a reason it bothered him? Was it simply that they were praising the servants when the beer was pouring itself? But then why kill only one of the two servants? He alludes to the fact that he knows the faults of everyone when talking to Eldir before reentering the hall. So, is it possible he knew something the others didn’t? Or was this killing simply the way Loki uses unconventional “chaotic” means to make his point? 2) The example people most often give to prove that Loki is a liar, is the line in this poem when Freyja says “You’re lying”. But we know from other tales in both Prose and Poetic Eddas that what he had just said was not a lie. Is it possible that she was saying that in the same way any guilty party does when someone reveals their secrets and wants others to think it isn’t true? 3) Loki reveals in this one poem, three goddesses who had affairs or attempted affairs with him, two others who had multiple affairs not with him, and incest and other sexual mis-adventures of gods and goddesses alike. Not to mention all the ones Odin and Thor and the male gods had not mentioned here. So why is it that Loki is seen as the most sex-crazed of them all when he actually did less than the others? 4) Since we are told that Loki was being guided by fate to do this, is it possible this was simply something that had to take place for the eventuality of Ragnarok to come about? If that is the case, and fate truly is unchangeable, why keep telling him to be quiet? Why not just grab there and bind him? It again begs the question, is fate a definite, or is it changeable?

What are your thoughts on these questions? What questions do you have about this tale? What did you take away from it? Feel free to comment and discuss and I will respond as quickly as possible. See you next time. Blessings to all.

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