How Loki became the blood brother of Odin in Norse mythology

Indeed, the Norse myths present a different picture of the relationships between Thor, Loki, and Odin than many popular adaptations depict. In the original mythology, Loki is not the biological or adoptive brother of Thor; instead, he has a more complex relationship with Odin and the other gods of Asgard.

Below, World History Edu presents a detailed look at the relationship between Loki and Odin:

Blood Brothers

In Norse mythology, Loki and Odin made a pact and became blood brothers, meaning they considered each other as equals and shared a close bond.

This pact is symbolic and doesn’t imply any familial or biological relation. The blood brotherhood likely signifies a mutual respect and shared obligations, possibly originating from earlier, less well-documented stages of Norse mythology.

Similar Traits

Both Loki and Odin share characteristics of cunning, wisdom, and a penchant for mischief and trickery.

Odin is often portrayed as a seeker of knowledge and wisdom, willing to go to great lengths, including self-sacrifice and deception, to gain insight and understanding.

Loki, on the other hand, is the archetypal trickster, using his wits and shape-shifting abilities to manipulate situations to his advantage or to create chaos.

Odin:

  • Role: Chief of the Aesir tribe of deities, god of war, death, sky, wisdom, and poetry.
  • Characteristics: Wise, cunning, seeker of knowledge, has shapeshifting abilities, and is associated with the ravens Huginn and Muninn, representing thought and memory.

Odin in Norse Mythology

Loki:

  • Role: Trickster god associated with fire, magic, and shape-shifting.
  • Characteristics: Clever, deceptive, mischievous, and unpredictable, often causing problems but also helping to solve them with his cunning and resourcefulness.

Loki is often described as a companion of the gods, especially Odin and Thor. He is a frequent accomplice to the gods in their adventures, and his cunning and trickery often help them overcome obstacles. However, his unpredictable nature and tendency to cause mischief also create problems for the gods. Image: Loki in Norse Mythology, with a fishing net (per Reginsmál) as depicted on an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript (SÁM 66)

Where in the myths does it say Loki and Odin mixed their blood together?

The story and exploits of Loki is attested to in three major sources: the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda and Heimskringla. All three of those sources were written/compiled in the 13th century, with the Poetic Edda and Heimskringla written by Icelandic poet and politician Snorri Sturluson.

As a result, Loki is attested to in Poetic Edda poems like Lokasenna, Völuspá, Þrymskviða, Baldrs draumar, Reginsmál, and Hyndluljóð. In the Prose Edda, he is mentioned in the book Gylfaginning, which attests to his monstrous children with the female jötunn Angrboða – Hel, Fenrir, and Jormungandr.

The Poetic Edda poem Lokasenna is best known for containing the part where Loki and Odin mix their blood together. The poem “Lokasenna” involves Loki engaging in flyting, a form of poetic insult exchange, with various gods. It starts with Ægir, a sea-associated figure, hosting a feast attended by gods and elves, where the servers, Fimafeng and Eldir, are praised enormously by the attendees. Unable to bear the praise, Loki slays Fimafeng, causing the gods to chase him away. The gods return to their drinking after expelling Loki from the hall.

The poem “Lokasenna” showcases a heated exchange between Loki and various gods and figures. For example, Loki confronts the gods during a feast, reminding Odin of a past pact. Image: A depiction of Lokasenna (1895) by Danish artist Lorenz Frølich

The trickster god then encounters Eldir outside the hall after emerging from the woods and forces Eldir to tell him what the gods are discussing inside. Eldir reveals they are discussing their weapons and warfare prowess, and none speak well of Loki. Loki declares his intent to enter the feast and incite discord among the gods, vowing to “mix their mead with malice.” Eldir warns that the gods will retaliate if Loki brings conflict. Regardless of those warnings, Loki makes his entrance into the hall, a silence falls as he is noticed by the attendees.

Once in the hall, Loki tells the gods that he is thirsty and desires for “the famous mead.” He also questions the gods’ silence and demands a seat at the feast or to be told to leave. Bragi, the skaldic god of poetry, responds first and denies Loki a place. Bragi tells Loki that the gods decide who is invited. Loki bypasses Bragi and reminds Odin of a past pact where they mixed blood and vowed not to drink ale unless it was shared between them, highlighting the bond they once shared.

Odin gives Loki a seat by instructing his son Vidarr to stand up and let Loki have his seat. Despite this gesture, Loki continues to sort of run his mouth, leading to more confrontations. Bragi refuses to offer Loki a place, which leads to an even bitter spat.

Loki taunts Bragi (1908) by English artist W. G. Collingwood

The Lokasenna further goes on to make mention of Loki’s tirade of insults and flyting contest with various other gods and entities. The trickster god not only provokes and insulting them, but he also reveals hidden truths and controversial moments.

Loki highlights bonds and past pacts, particularly with Odin, and reveals unspoken deeds, like his affair with Sif. He quarrels with many, including Bragi, Frigg, Freyja Tyr, Heimdall, Gefjun, and Njörðr, exposing their faults, secrets, or controversial actions.

When Thor arrives, he vehemently demands Loki’s silence and threatens him with his hammer, Mjöllnir, promising severe harm. Loki, undaunted, taunts Thor about his fierceness, referencing future events at Ragnarök and past humiliations, like his encounter with Útgarða-Loki. Thor, in response, repeatedly threatens Loki with dire consequences and death.

Loki acknowledges Thor’s presence and temper, mentioning his previous provocative revelations before the Æsir but shows a semblance of yielding before Thor, recognizing Thor’s capacity to act on his threats. Thus, Loki’s interactions with Thor depict a blend of defiance, revelation, taunting, acknowledgment of power, and a semblance of submission.

Description of Loki and Odin’s relationship in the Poetic Edda poem Lokasenna

Relationship Complexity

While they share similar characteristics and have a blood pact, Loki and Odin are not always on good terms in the myths. Loki’s antics often lead to tension and conflict among the gods, and his role in the death of Odin’s son, Baldr, results in his severe punishment. Despite their bond, Loki and Odin have a complicated relationship, characterized by mutual respect, rivalry, and occasional hostility.

Modern interpretations of the relationship between Loki and Odin

The Norse myths have been interpreted and reinterpreted in various forms, including modern adaptations like Marvel Comics, where Loki is depicted as the adoptive brother of Thor, with Odin as their father, but this diverges from the traditional Norse myths. In these adaptations, Loki is typically portrayed as being adopted by Odin after a war with the Jötunn (giants), where he is brought to Asgard, the home of the gods, and raised alongside Thor.

READ MORE: Difference between Loki’s depictions in Marvel Comics and the Myths

Frequently asked questions about the relationship between Odin and Loki

Understanding the nuanced and multifaceted relationship between Loki and Odin requires delving into the intricacies of Norse mythology and looking beyond simplified or modified adaptations. The dynamic between these figures exemplifies the complex moral and existential themes embedded within these ancient tales.

Loki is a trickster, sometimes helping the gods and sometimes causing problems for them. He’s neither wholly good nor evil. His motivations can be complex, driven by both mischief and perceived slights. It’s also the case that he is considered the “blood brother” or, in some sources, a close companion to Odin.

What are some of the times when Loki interacted with Odin in the myths?

Loki and Odin have numerous interactions in the Norse myths, reflecting the complex relationship between them.

Here are some notable episodes that involve interactions or connections between the two:

  • One of the most significant references to the relationship between Odin and Loki comes from the poetic source, where they are said to have sworn oaths as blood brothers. This would explain why Loki was able to live among the gods despite his consistent mischief.
  • In the poem “Lokasenna”, Loki crashes a feast hosted by the sea god Aegir. Here, Loki verbally spars with many of the gods, including Odin, Heimdall, Frigg, Tyr, and Gefjun. When Odin accuses Loki of madness, Loki reminds Odin of their oaths to share their blood and not accept a drink unless it was offered to both of them.
  • In some myths, Odin and Loki, along with Hoenir, go on journeys together. During one such adventure, they come across a giant who blocks their way until they can solve his riddles. In another tale, the three gods come across a giant who offers them shelter in exchange for their help in an endeavor.
  • One of the most tragic episodes in Norse mythology is the death of Odin’s son, Balder. Loki, out of spite, orchestrates the death of the beloved god. When the Aesir gods discover Loki’s role in Balder’s death, it is Odin who decrees the severe punishment for Loki. Loki is then bound in a cave with a serpent dripping venom onto him.
  • In the “Völuspá”, one of the poems in the Poetic Edda, Odin consults a seeress about the future. Though Loki isn’t directly interacting with Odin, he is mentioned prominently in the prophecies, especially concerning Ragnarok.

How different is Loki from Odin in the myths?

Odin is one of the principal gods in Norse mythology, associated with wisdom, healing, death, royal power, poetry, and war.

Loki, on the other hand, is a complex figure in Norse mythology, often portrayed as a trickster or mischief-maker, and is associated with both helping and hindering the other gods. According to the mythology, Loki is a Jötunn (a type of giant), the son of Fárbauti and Laufey.

The relationship between Loki and Odin is somewhat mysterious and not entirely clear in the surviving sources of Norse mythology. Some myths describe them as blood brothers, suggesting a bond formed through a ritual rather than by familial ties.

What are some of the traits Loki and Odin have in common?

Loki and Odin share certain characteristics, including cunning and a penchant for trickery and shape-shifting. Odin is portrayed as a seeker of wisdom and knowledge, often using deceptive means to achieve his ends, while Loki is the archetypal trickster, whose mischiefs and manipulations create chaos but also occasionally lead to new creations and solutions.

How estranged is the relationship between Loki and Odin in the myths?

Despite their close relationship, Loki’s actions, especially his role in the death of Odin’s son Baldr, lead to his alienation from the other gods. Loki’s increasingly harmful pranks and his insults towards the gods during the Æsir–Vanir war strain his relationship with Odin and the other gods, culminating in his imprisonment and predicted role in Ragnarök, the downfall of the gods.

What happens to Loki and Odin during Ragnarok?

During Ragnarok, the prophesied end of the world in Norse mythology, both Loki and Odin meet catastrophic ends, signifying the demise of the old order and the rebirth of the world. Image: The Norse god Odin battles the wolf Fenrir while other deities and their combatants fight in the background on the field Vígríðr in an illustration (1905) by Emil Doepler.

In the prophesied end of the world, Loki is foretold to fight against the gods, leading a horde of monsters and giants against Asgard. Odin and Loki, once blood brothers and companions, become enemies, with Loki’s actions contributing to the destruction of Asgard and the death of many gods, including Odin.

Odin, the Allfather and chief of the Aesir, faces the great wolf Fenrir during the events of Ragnarok. It is prophesied that Fenrir will break free from his chains and open his jaws wide, with the lower jaw against the ground and the upper jaw in the sky, and he will consume Odin, marking the fall of the Allfather and symbolizing the destruction of the old order and wisdom. Odin’s son, Vidar, avenges his father by killing Fenrir.

In stanza 54 of the Völuspá, a poem from the Poetic Edda, Fenrir, referred to as “a relative of Loki,” is depicted consuming Odin before meeting his demise at the hands of Odin’s son, Víðarr.

Loki, after being bound by the gods as punishment for his role in the death of Baldr, breaks free during Ragnarok and aligns himself against the gods. He becomes the leader of the forces of chaos, leading monsters, giants, and the denizens of Hel against the gods and the world. Loki faces Heimdall, the guardian of Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, in battle, and they kill each other. Loki’s demise represents the end of deceit and chaos inherent in the old world.

Following the cataclysmic events of Ragnarok, which include the deaths of many gods, the submersion of the world in water, and widespread destruction, a new world is reborn. It is foretold that this new world will rise from the waters, fertile and abundant, and surviving gods and a new generation of humans will inhabit it, symbolizing renewal and hope after catastrophe.

In this reborn world, it is said that the sons of Odin and a few other gods will survive and inherit their fathers’ roles, and a pair of humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, will repopulate the human world, marking the beginning of a new cosmic cycle.

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