The Avenging Loki: The Great Irony of the Nordic Ragnarok

21 Feb

The End

The end is nigh. At least according to the blowing of the Nordic trumpet in York, now heralded by the Jorvik Viking Centre as the warning for the arrival of Ragnarok, the war of the gods.   If their claims run true, we’ve got until tomorrow to wind up our affairs and party like there’s no tomorrow, viking-style.  Luckily, I’ve got friends in Korea who say it’s already Saturday there and they’re keeping me updated on the status of our future.  

With all the hype over the foretold end and my eternal love of Loki from The Avengers, I’ve recently been looking into the Norse legends, but I was surprised at the great irony wrapped up in the myth (and happy that finally Loki gets some of his own back!).  

Remember how the great Odin was sadly absent an eye in the film and the big question was whether he represented an alternative Fury?   Well, the short answer is no–Odin lost his centuries before the story we saw began.  You know the legends, of how Loki was born to two frost giants but grew into the feared god of mischief in Odin’s court. However, the story is much deeper than this.  

The Story

According to legend, Odin  was a wandering god, traveling high and low across the worlds in search of ever-greater knowledge. At last he came upon Mimir’s Well, also known as the Well of Wisdom.  The well offered those who drank from it sight of the events in the past, the present and the future, attracting Odin’s interest.  In exchange for Odin’s eye, he was permitted to drink the waters and so watched as all the sorrows of the world passed through his mind.  One such sorrow was the coming of Ragnarok and the end of the gods.  

Odin watched as the future children of Loki destroyed the world at their father’s side, killing the gods and burning the planet.  Horrified, began to watch and wait. Why he failed to keep his counsel to himself, we don’t know, but apparently news of Odin’s vision spread for soon the other gods picked up on his fear.  Angered at Loki’s apparent betrayal, they began to turn on him, casting his further aside with derisive comments about his future destructive behavior.  Furious, they refused him entry into the feasting halls, even Thor joined in with the bullying tactics.  Already derided for his questionable ancestry and love of practical jokes, Loki was titled “the Betrayer” before he ever made a move.  

Tomzj1’s “LOKI–The hell’s children”

Then came the dark-fated children–Fenrir, the wolf; Hel, godess of the underworld; Jormungandr, the great serpent; Vali, the shapeshifter; Sleipnir, the horse; and Nari/Narfi, the boy.  And if any creatures were ever to be pitied, it was them.  Sadly, Sleipnir perhaps fared the best, forcibly claimed by Odin as his warhorse, bearing the god on long journeys.  The others were less lucky.  

The first to suffer were Vali and Nari/Narfi.  When the other gods refused to give Loki a seat at a dinner because of the “threat” he posed, Loki grew enraged and started mocking them for their unwillingness to do something about him if he was truly such a great threat.  Angered, Thor and the other gods caught Loki and his two sons, bringing them deep into a cave. There, they deliberately forced Vali to shift into his wolf form and set him upon his vulnerable brother. After ripping his brother apart, Vali was executed and Loki bound to the cavern rocks with Narfi’s guts.  That would have been enough to drive anyone insane!

This seems to have been the beginning of the end. Not long afterwards, Odin had Fenrir, Hel, and Jormungandr brought before him under “peaceful” terms.  Once trapped, he cast Jormungandr ocean.  Hel, Odin sent to the underworld, forcing upon her the task of housing the dead. Out of sight, out of mind I suppose.  Fenrir, who was prophesied to be Odin’s future killer, faced the most painful betrayal of all. At first, Odin’s guards simply kept his as a pet. But as he continued to grow, they tricked Fenrir into trying on a collar meant to control his fearsome power.  Once he was bound, they chained him to the earth, forcing a sword into his tender gums to keep him from biting down. 

Loki fared pretty badly himself.  After tying him down with his son’s entrails, Odin’s new wife Skaði, a frost giant herself, arranged for a venomous serpent to be placed above Loki’s body in such a way that the poison fell on his body. Loki’s wife tried helping him by catching the poison in a bowl; but whenever she had to empty the bowl, the poison fell on a writhing Loki.  If you feel an earthquake, it is the result of Loki’s pained movements seeking to escape the drops.

Vera ist’s “Sigyn and Loki”

With such a past, how could anyone be surprised that Loki’s escape heralds the end of his tormentors? Rising up, he calls forth his children against the forces of Asgard, bringing war upon those he once called family.  Loki is the true avenger, in the name of the forever lost Vali and Narfi and the agony of his other beloved children. Who can blame him for destroying the gods?  Or his children for rallying to his side?  The gods brought it upon themselves!

The Irony

The intriguing part of the story is the loop that evolved. Odin worries about the future so he sacrifices his eye to find out what will happen. Because he has seen a disastrous end, he and the Asgardian gods view Loki’s family as a threat. Because the gods turned on them without cause, suddenly Loki and his children become a threat. That threat is realized when they escape and end the world.  Since Loki and his kids destroy the world, Odin sees them as a threat in his vision. It is a never ending circle of fear, anger, hurt, and revenge.  Had Odin just kept his nose out of the future’s business, it is possible that none of that might have happened. 

I mean, think about it. If Odin didn’t see the future, he wouldn’t have been afraid of Loki. If he wasn’t afraid of Loki, then maybe Loki would have been left alone.  If Loki was left alone, he wouldn’t have had reason for destroying the world. Then there would have been nothing for Odin to see.  And around we go.

The moral of the story–“Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength” (Corrie Ten Boom.) Instead of looking for information about the sorrows he would face in the future, Odin should have  been more concerned with his role as a father and leader in the present.  By focusing on what was coming, he not only failed to stop the end, he created it.  

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