Every one who is familiar with Scandinavian mythology must be reminded by this carving of Sigyn sitting beside, or over, the bound Loki. The same cross on which this scene is found also represents, among other things, Longinus piercing the crucified Christ with his lance so that blood flows from the wound. The carvings on this monument argue, then, for the view that the author of Völuspá heard in norther England the story of Loki and Sigyn, or verses which treated that story. He may possibly have seen the Gosforth Cross himself, and have been told the story of Loki and Sigyn in explanation of the scenes carved thereon.
In Codex Regius of Völuspá, the section on Baldr's death and Loki's punishment is placed directly before the strophes on the places of torment of the dead, after which comes the omens preceding the end of the world (Ragnarøk); and the text of the same poem in Hauksbók, which contains nothing about Baldr's death, mentions Loki's punishment directly before the announcement of Ragnarøk. Similarly, in a Sibylline oracle, Jesus, and His death, descent into the lower world, and resurrection, are spoken of directly before the statements regarding the destruction of the world by fire.
I do not lay any stress on the fact that the Sibyl in Völuspá dwells upon Frigg's weeping for the death of her son Baldr, even as Christian accounts from the Middle Ages make very prominent the sorrow of the weeping Mary at the cross on which her son hangs crucified. It is of much more importance that all creatures wept over Baldr to get him back from the world of the dead: men and animals, earth and stones, trees and all metals. This has its model in Old English poems on the death of Christ. In the AS peom on the Holy Rood, we read: 'All creation wept (wéop); they lamented the fall of the king. Christ was on the cross.' The same conception is expressed more fully in Cynewulf's Crîst: 'They saw the mute creation, the green earth, and the high heaven with fear feel the sufferings of the Lord, and, full of sorrow, they lamented, though they had no life, when the wicked men seized the Creator with sinful hands' (1128 ff). 'And the trees also acknowledged who created them with abundant foliage, when the mighty God ascended one of them, and here suffered anguish for the benefit of men, loathsome death for the help of mankind: then many a tree under the heavens became wet with bloody tears, red and thick; sap was turned into blood' (1170 ff).
Cynewulf took the idea that mute creation bore witness at Christ's death to His divinity from the tenth homily of Gregory the Great, which was composed in 592, or thereabouts. And even as the English poem on the Holy Rood says that 'all creation wept (or, uttered sounds of grief, wéop)' when Christ was on the cross, so Leo the Great (who was Pope from 440 to 461), represents Nature as lamenting over the sufferings of the Redeemer on the cross, and in this connection uses the expression universa creatura congemuit. Moreover, in the Irish poem Saltair na rann, v. 7765, we read that at the crucifixion 'every creature wailed.'
Cynewulf contrasts with the sorrowing and weeping creation 'the blind men harder than stone,' who could not recognise that the Lord had saved them from torment. 'For this inheritance they gave their lord no thanks (þanc).' In the Scandinavian myth, in contrast to weeping creation, is placed the wicked Loki, who, transformed into a witch in a cave, weeps dry tears for Baldr, and says that he has not enjoyed any benefit from Odin's son. This witch is called Thanks (þökk), i.e. the unthankfulness of the wicked.
Cynewulf tells us that the earth trembled at the death of Christ. In Saltair na rann we read that 'heaven and earth trembled: the sea proceeded to go over its bounds.' All lands trembled when the ship on which Baldr's body lay left the shore.
Before Baldr was laid on the bale-fire, Odin whispered something in his son's ear. Two Old Norse mythological poems emphasise, in conclusion, the fact that no one knows what he said, except Odin alone. This conception may perhaps be the echo of two places in the New Testament. In the twelfth chapter of St. John's Gospel, we read that when Jesus had come to Jerusalem to be crucified, He said: 'Father, glorify Thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him' (28 ff). And in Matthew xxiv. 36, Jesus says: 'But of that day and hour [when Heaven and Earth shall pass away] knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.'
The Saviour, who is risen from the dead, shall some time come again in His glory. Baldr is some time to return from the abode of the dead to the restored earth.
The name that Odin's son bore in Scandinavian epic story which preceded the Eddic account, namely Baldr, contributed in large measure to the later transference to him of stories of the Christian God; for this name Baldr was etymologically the same as the Anglo-Saxon appellative bealdor, 'the lord,' by which the God of the Christians could be designated in Anglo-Saxon.
LOKI, FENRIR, VÍTHAR, MITHGARTHSORM.
Loki is a mythical personage known only to the Scandinavians; the myths of the heathen English and German races have no mention of his name. Loki was created at the end of the heathen period by Scandinavians in the West, after they had heard Jewish-Christian tales from Christian peoples.
The Scandinavians who formed the name Loki may have interpreted it as 'the closer,' 'he who end, finishes,' and have regarded it as a derivative of the verb lúka, 'to close, end, finish.' But this name Loki, 'the closer,' was in my opinion, a reconstruction of the foreign name Lucifer, instead of which we often find in the Middle Ages among certain peoples (e.g. the Irish) the form Lucifur. This form of the name was probably regarded by Christians in the West, from whom the Scandinavians got the name, as Luci fur, i.e. 'the thief Luci'; and this suggested the shorter Scandinavian form Loki. The Loki of Old Norse mythology is called 'a thief,' and there are many stories about what he stole.
Loki was handsome in appearance. This is explained by statements of English and Irish Christians regarding Lucifer. The prince of the fallen angels received, in the Middle Ages, the name Lucifer, 'Light-bringer,' i.e. the morning-star, because to him were transferred the words of Isaiah xiv. 12: 'How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!' Among Anglo-Saxons and Irishmen, Lucifer was the name regularly given to the prince of the fallen angels. In accordance with this name it was thought that the prince of the fallen angels was a fair and radiant person. The Scandinavians retained, along with the name Loki, which was a reconstruction of Lucifer, the conception of the demon's exterior implied in the name Lucifer. The Icelandic Maríu Saga (Saga of the Virgin Mary) uses, with reference to Lucifer before the fall, the same adjectives, fagr and fríðr, that are used of Loki in Snorri's Edda.
In Lokasenna, Loki, in Ægir's hall, reminds Odin that in the morning of time they two had mingled their blood together and had become sworn brothers. This may be a reminiscence of the idea that God the Father, in the beginning of the ages, before man was created, made Lucifer chief in his hall, the prince of all angels---an idea to be found, for example, in the Northumbrian poem Cursor Mundi.
According to the common account among the Christian Anglo-Saxons in the Middle Ages, the prince of the angels was transformed at his fall into a devil, and was afterwards bound. Terrible pictures were drawn of his external appearance. In the mythical tales of the Scandinavians, this Christian idea regarding the devil was partly transferred to Loki's double among the giants, Utgarðaloki. In Saxo Grammaticus, Ugarthilocus is represented as sitting, with iron fetters on his hands and feet, in a hideous and filthy cavern, before which are a swarm of venomous serpents. Each of his stinking hairs projects like a horn. Thorkil and his companions pluck out one of these. We are here reminded of the popular stories of how a hair is drawn from the head of the devil.
The connection between Loki and Lucifer is supported by the fact that Loki is one of three brothers---the other two being Býleistr and Helblindi. In the same way, in the Christian Middle Ages, three devils often appear together, Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Satan, and these three are often described as brothers. In the Middle Ages Beelzebub was often called, in the British Isles, Beelzebuth or Belzefuth. Of this Býleistr, or Býleiftr, the name of Loki's brother, is a reconstruction. Since the name Beelzebuth was explained as 'the lord of flies,' and since it was believed that the devil could appear in the form of a fly, the name was interpreted by popular etymology in England as a compound of AS béo (ON bý, usually býfluga), 'bee'; and the Norsemen therefore reproduced Beelzebuth, Belzefuth as Býleistr, or Býleiftr, Býleiptr. In forming the second part of the word, they had in mind leiptr (fem. and neut.) 'a flash of lightning.' This connection between the Scandinavian demon and a flash of lightning is also apparent in Christian writings; for in the Gospel according to St. Luke, x. 18, we read: 'I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.'
Loki was thought of as the demon of fire. This conception is apparent in the names of his parents: Fárbauti 'he who strikes in a dangerous and destructive manner, and Laufey, 'foilage-isle,' or Nál, 'the needle (on pine trees).' We have, however, further evidence that Loki was regarded as the demon of fire in several expressions in use among the Scandinavian peasantry. In Iceland Loka spænir was formerly used of 'shavings to light fires with,' and Lokabrenna is a name of the dog-star. In Telemarken, Norway, the common people say, 'Lokje is striking his children,' when there is loud crackling in burning trees. (19) This conception of Loki as the demon of fire is based on the words of St. Luke: 'I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven,' and on the belief of Christian theologians, that the body of the demon consists of fire and air. In the Cornish drama, 'The Creation of the World,' Lucifer says: 'I am the lanthorn of heaven, certainly, like a fire shining.' Loki is also called Loptr, i.e. 'air.'
The second of Loki's brothers is named Helblindi. In like manner the devil, in the Middle Ages, is often called blind, and the Anglo-Saxons used many names for the devil that begin with helle-.
Loki, like the devil, can transform himself into a woman and into a fly. Loki's inner nature and activity are also described in conformity with those of the devil. He is called 'the enemy of the gods,' even as by the Christians the devil was called 'the enemey of God.' Loki is also termed 'the author of misfortune.' The epithet regularly applied to him is lævíss, 'skilful in finding out how to bring harm upon others'; and this same quality was ascribed by Christian Norwegians in the Middle Ages to the devil, to whom they ascribed hrekkvísi, prettvísi. Loki, like the devil, is slægr, 'sly.' He is sometimes spoken of as frumkveði flærðanna, 'he who first spoke falsehood'---a phrase that sounds like a reproduction of the biblical 'father of lies.' The devil is called in a Christian poem meistari flærða, 'master of falsehood.' The peasantry in Jutland call a certain weed 'Loki's oats,' and use the expression, 'Now Loken sows his oats,' of a quivering motion in the air that blinds and confuses the eye. This expression, like that in earlier use in Germany, 'Now the devil is sowing his seed,' is based on the parable as told by St. Matthew (xiii. 38ff) in which the devil sows the tares, which are 'the children of the wicked one.'
Loki has, however a double nature. He is one of the Asir, Odin's foster-brother from the earliest times, and an associate of the gods; but his father was a giant (jötunn). The bound Loki, who is loosed at the end of the world, is called by the Sibyl jötunn. This ascription of a double nature to Loki is due to the transformation of the prince of the angels of light in the Middle Ages into a devil. Satan, the Prince of Hell, is also called jötunn in a legendary tale. (20)
That the myth of Loki arose under the influence of Christian statements regarding the devil, also appears from the mythical stories about Loki's children.
Loki begot with the giantess Angrboða (i.e. 'she who causes sorrow') three children, who were the worst enemies of the gods---the wolf Fenrir, or Fenrisúlfr, the Miðgarðsormr, and Hel, the ruler of the world of the dead.
Forewarned that the wolf Fenrir should be their destruction, and observing how fast he was growing, the gods quickly had him bound. But at the end of the world, in ragnarøk or ragnarøkkr, Fenrir gets loose from his fetters, and then, in the great final struggle, swallows Odin. Víðarr, Odin's son, avenges his father, and slays the wolf.
This myth is doubtless, as a whole, of independent Scandinavian construction; but it arose under the influence of the mediæval Christian conception of the devil as a wolf (21)---a conception which was common in the Middle Ages. (22) Avitus calls the devil infernus lupus. Gregory the Great calls him a soul-robbing wolf. The idea was also familiar in Germany. Dietmar von Merseburg calls the devil lupus vorax. In works composed in German, he is called hellewolf. The same idea occurs also among the English and Irish.
With the Christian conception of the devil as a wolf, the Scandinavians fused stories of the monster Behemoth, first mentioned in the Book of Job (xl. 4), and regarded in the Middle Ages as one of the forms of the devil.
The binding of the wolf Fenrir is a parallel to the binding of Loki. It has several points of contact with a Finnish tale of the wicked smith who forged a neckband for the Son of God. (23) Jesus induces the smith, voluntarily, to put the fetter on his own neck, even as the gods induce, Fenrir, voluntarily, to bind himself with the fetter Gleipnir. Both in the Finnish and in the Scandinavian myth, the fetter is made secure by being fastened deep down in the earth. Both the captives yell horribly when they find themselves tricked.
19. On Loki as a fire-demon, see A. Kock in Indogerm. Forsch., x, 90-103, where he particularly throws light on the Old Icelandic expression ganga yfir sem Loki (corrupted lok, Mod. Icel. logi) yfir akra. Back
20. I may add here that the Scandinavian myth of Loki embodies elements not only from the Christian Lucifer, but also from many other sources, especially from classical stories about Mercury; but I cannot discuss these borrowings in this place. Back
21. It is based on Christ's words to His Apostles: 'Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves' (Matt. x. 16). Back
22. Compare on this point Alfred Maury, Essai sur les légendes picuses du moyen-âge , p. 162; Jacob Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, 948, D.M., Nachträge, 294 f; Wilhelm Grimm, in Haupt's Ztsch. f. deut. Alt., XII, 213. Back
23. See Bugge, Studier (First Series), pp. 384-386, following Julius Krohn. Back