So. Odin isn't Loki's real dad. And Thor isn't his real brother (sorry, Marvel). So just who is Loki's real family? We have explored his best tricks, looked into some fellow tricksters, and even spoken of his loyal wife, Sigyn. But what about the rest of Loki's family? And what is their place in Norse mythology?
Loki's mother goes by two names; Nal and Laufey. Laufey doesn't have a meaning that we know of, but some scholars interpret it to mean full of leaves, Nal means needle. Some scholars think she's called this because she was born slight and small.
(Image courtesy of litzebitz.)
We don't know a lot about Laufey. We don't know if she was a goddess or a giantess. We don't even know if she was a normal human. Presumably, since we know that Loki's father is a giant, if Laufey were a goddess, her son would get his godhood from her. But that's only a guess. As you will see, Loki so far outshone his birth family that we know next to nothing about them.
Loki's father is a giant named Farbauti. He is thought to be related to wildfire in some fashion: his name means dangerous striker, which is a kenning for lightning. The idea goes that dangerous striker hit dry leaves (Laufey) and the danger that is Loki was created.
Yes-- the trickster god has two brothers, Byleistr and Helblindi.
Byleistr's name means either calming lightning or walking among bees. Which would seem to imply that he is a beekeeper? Other than that, we don't know anything about him. He is only ever referred to as Loki's brother or Laufey's son.
Helblindi is Loki's other brother. He is also mentioned as being the son of Laufey, but not always as the son of Farbauti. His name means all-blind or, death defier. Interestingly enough, this name is sometimes given to Odin-- which might be why people tend to think they're related.
What can we learn from Loki's family?
Mythology, fables, and campfire tales are meant to teach us lessons-- about ourselves, the world around us, the nature of the cosmos or the people around us. So, with as limited information as we have about Loki's family, what is there to learn?
Let's take Farbauti and Laufey: when lightning strikes dry leaves, it creates the chaos of wildfire. In a metaphorical sense, this can be taken in so many ways:
- when inspiration strikes boredom, it creates productivity
- when two opposites attract, it makes something beautiful and beyond knowing
- when something inspiring happens, it creates something that far exceeds the original thought
Where can we see this, besides in nature with wildfire? How about when someone sees something so insane, it changes the core of their being? The first thing that comes to mind would be an activist who sees something so horrible, they devote their lives to changing it. Or an artist who uses pain and trauma to create beautiful pieces of work. Or a warrior who devotes his life to peace after seeing the horrors of war. These are all examples of the Farbauti/Laufey/Loki connection.
Why is Loki considered a god if he's a giant?
The honest answer is this: we don't know. Norse-mythology.org talks about this, citing History of the Danes by Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus:
Thor, on one of his many journeys to Jotunheim, the homeland of the giants, finds a giant named Útgarðaloki (“Loki of the Utgard“). Útgarðaloki is bound in exactly the same manner as that in which Loki is bound in [this story]. It seems that even the pagan Scandinavians themselves held conflicting views on whether Loki was a god, a giant, or something else entirely.
Other cultures have sub-diety groups, like the giants would be to the Norse gods. For example, the Greek pantheon has the Titans. In a sense, these are beings that came from before the current pantheon. Religion and spirituality change over time, and new gods move to the forefront, just as Jesus Christ moved into the Norse lands eventually. Check out American Gods if you don't believe this is still happening.
Anyway, this line of thinking posits that the giants were the Titans of Norse mythology-- outdated, but still powerful beings. After all, in the Norse creation myth, the giants came before people. This would mean that Loki is a bridge between the old Norse religion and the new-- whether he is all-giant, half-giant, or half-giant/half-god.
Worship of Loki
One thing that's also interesting? There's no mention of anyone ever worshipping Loki anywhere. Which makes sense-- he was everything an honorable Viking would not want to be. But whether these cults never existed or if proof of them was just wiped out or kept secret, we don't know.
There is modern pagan worship of Loki, though. You can read the absolutely fascinating account of a modern Lokean here.
The author of the piece above says that he considers Loki to be the patron of those in liminal spaces-- those who occupy the spaces between what we could consider being society. People who aren't well-represented by binary gender, people who are multiracial, artists, LGBTQ folks, people who are sick or have mental or physical disabilities, foreigners. People who are outcast by their society, or considered abnormal. These are Loki's people.
Now, this is in no way saying that those who practice Norse heathenry today think of these people as evil or bad. In fact, one could argue that thanks to Loki, who is male and female, gay and straight, god and giant, chaotic and constructive, existing and not, they have just as much place in the world as a devotee of any other god. Or no god, for that matter.
Is Loki your favorite Norse god? Do you worship him? We would love to hear about your experience! Share it with us in the comments below.
Also-- Loki is perhaps best represented by a roll of the dice. Have you seen our bone and horn gaming dice? Whether you're a serious dice collector or just looking for something to spice up your Monopoly set, these dice are sure to shine.