We’ve been hitting the Greeks pretty hard with these spotlight posts, but now it’s time to lighten things up with the apocalypse. And who better to start things off than the Norse?
One of the more important aspects of Ragnarok is to understand what led up to it. Odin has been trying to delay the start of Ragnarok thanks to gaining knowledge from the Well of Mimir and his sacrifice on Yggdrasil, which means that certain checkpoints will either hasten or delay the onset, and the biggest of these is the death of the god Baldur, who is loved by all of the gods.
Now, this story, like most of the truly good Norse stories, involves Loki. Thanks to the Thor and the Avengers movies, Loki has seen a resurgence in popularity. Tom Hiddleston is absolutely perfect for the role, and the characterization is absolutely perfect. The only real difference between the movie version and mythology version is the sense of humor. Loki is a trickster god, so he plays more tricks. While they can turn out to be very sadistic, they are always funny to Loki. One of the best stories is where he shaves Sif’s (Thor’s wife) head completely bald (but that’s a different myth).
So pair the death of Baldur up with a sadistic practical joker like Loki, and already this story is going to be interesting. This all began because Baldur had some bad dreams. Being good parents, Odin and Frigga took oaths from everyone and everything that they would not harm Baldur. And, being Norse, all the gods decided to get together to test the theory, throwing things at Baldur, making a party out of it. This sounds like just about any group of guys, especially when alcohol is involved. It works! He’s invulnerable, even to Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir.
Loki arrives and is confused, so he takes the shape of a woman and asks Frigga about the whole thing. Frigga, however, did overlook the mistletoe, which she thought was harmless. Worse still, she told Loki about this.
We have to pause here as this is an important bit. According to the myth, as “a wife of Odin, Frigga was incapable of lying” (Bierlein 232). I think the lying thing extends beyond simply Odin’s wife. Both Odin and Frigga obtained oaths from everything (except the mistletoe because Frigga didn’t bother to ask) that they would not harm Baldur. Odin even went so far as to get oaths from Hel, the goddess of death, and her mother Angerbode.
The oaths are enough for Odin and Frigga. This implies that the ideas of an honor code, of keeping one’s word, and holding to the truth are important to the culture. I think it’s safe to say that it even goes beyond this to indicate the importance of truth in the culture. The wording is specific, too. Frigga is incapable of lying. Breaking the truth cannot be done. It’s not that she chose not to; she had no choice in the matter.
The truth and oaths are irrevocable concepts to the Norse gods, then. Even those gods and beings who would supposedly be reviled such as Hel and Angerbode are bound by oaths and the truth. However, this also points out the fatal flaw to everything. Loki is a trickster god. His very nature is that he does not speak the truth. There could be no tricks without deception and falsehood. He must be capable of lying in order to obey his very nature.
The idea that other gods are incapable of breaking oath or telling anything but the truth magnifies Loki’s power. He is alone in a world of truth tellers, where he can eagerly lie and deceive at will. Anything gained by deception is his, even as he deceives Frigga by changing his shape into a woman. This is also an important distinction. Frigga could not lie, but neither is she required to give an answer, but she did not perceive any danger from a woman (much like the mistletoe) and so spoke.
I have to bring this back to the Norse knowledge myth, where Odin got his runes. Those runes form the basis of the Norse language, and are words of truth. Likewise, Odin exchanged his eye in order to see the truth of what is and what is to be. Yet here we have Loki who has power built on falsehoods. If Odin’s power of truth is to forestall the onset of Ragnarok, then Loki’s can only hasten it.
Loki’s good at his job.