The Religion of the Northmen
PROPAGATION OF EVIL; DECLINE AND FALL OF THE WORLD
In the first ages of the world there was a glorious time of peace among the gods and men. But Jötun-women came to Ásgard, and the Æsir formed connections with them. Then happiness was destroyed; the air was poisoned with wickedness, and strife was begun in heaven and on the earth, to continue until the destruction of both. The Jötuns attack the Æsir, now with strength and now with cunning: nought but the power of Thor is able to prevail over them.
The author of the greatest misfortunes which have befallen the gods and men, is Loki or Loptr. He is of Jötun descent, but was received among the Æsir, and even in the morning of time he was the foster-brother of Odin. He is of a fair countenance but evil in disposition. He is called the Slanderer of the Gods, the source of deceitful cunning, a disgrace among gods and men. He accompanied the Æsir, and they often made use of his strength and cunning; but he still oftener acted in concert with the Jötuns for the destruction of the Æsir.
Loki had three children by the Jötun-woman Angurboða: the Fenris-wolf, the World-serpent (Miðgarðs-ormr, also called Jörmungandr) and Hel, or Death. The Æsir knew that this offspring of Loki should bring upon them great calamities; they therefore bound the wolf on a desert island, and set a sword within its outstretched jaws; the Miðgarð-serpent they cast out into the deep sea, where it encircles the whole earth's surface and bites itself in the tail. But Hel was hurled headlong down into Niflheim, and Al-father commanded that all who died of sickness and old age should go to her. Her dwelling, Helheim, is large but frightful. She is half pale-blue and half white, grim and ferocious of aspect.
The greatest grief was brought by Loki into the whole world, when he by his deceit slew Baldur the Good. The Æsir knew that danger was threatening Baldur, and his mother Friga took oath of all Nature that nothing should harm him. But she forgot a tender twig, the mistletoe. Loki tore this up and persuaded the blind Hödur to throw it at his brother Baldur in sport. Loki himself guides Hödur's hand and Baldur is killed. The Æsir are struck dumb with grief and horror. At last Friga sends Odin's swain Hermoð to Hel, in order to ransom Baldur from Helheim, and Hel promises to release him if all Nature bewails his death. It is also done; men and animals, the earth and even the solid rocks shed tears. All but one old Jötun woman, who will not weep, and therefore Hel keeps back her prey. But this Jötun woman was the disguised Loki, who was the greatest cause of evil among the Æsir. Nanna, the wife of Baldur, died of grief, and was burned upon her husband's funeral pile; but Odin's son, Vali, although but one night old, avenged Baldur's death by slaying Hödur, his murderer.
Loki, pursued by the Æsir,
now fled up to a mountain from which he could see to all corners of the
world, and when he saw the Æsir drawing near in their search after him,
he changed himself into the likeness of a salmon, and hid himself under
a waterfall. But Odin saw him from Hliðskjálf, and the Æsir caught him.
They then bound him with the intestines of his own son Nari, upon three
sharp rocks in a dark cave, and Skaði fastened a venomous serpent over
his head, whose poison should drip down into his face. Sigyn, his faithful
wife, stands beside him and holds a vessel under the venom-drops; but
when it is full and she goes away to empty it, the venom drips down into
Loki's face, and then he writhes himself so that the whole earth shakes.
Thence come the earthquakes. Thus shall Loki lie bound until the end of