This story is interesting in many ways. Here we learn how Loki through mischief ultimately plays a part in shaping the Norse gods’ history giving Mjollnir to Thor. Just as interesting maybe is the ever-flexible morality of the gods. Trickery and deceit are just as often accepted as frowned upon.
Being the trickster god, Loki is of course right in the middle of it all.
One day Loki was wandering past Thor’s great hall and he saw Sif, the wife of Thor, was lying asleep outside her house. Her beautiful golden hair flowed all around her. Loki knew how much Thor loved that shining hair, and how greatly Sif prized it because of Thor’s love.
Naturally, Loki thought this was a chance for mischief he could not pass up. Smilingly, he took out his shears and he cut off the shining hair, every strand and every tress. Sif did not stir or wake up while her treasure was being taken from her. In the end, Loki left Sif’s head cropped and bare.
Thor was away from Asgard. Coming back to the City of the Gods, he went into his house. Sif, his wife, was not there to welcome him. He called out to Sif, but no answer came from her. He visited the palaces of all the gods and goddesses, but Sif, his golden-haired wife was nowhere to be found.
When he was returning back to his house he heard his name whispered. He stopped, and then a figure stole out from behind a stone. A veil covered her head, and Thor scarcely knew that this was Sif, his wife. As he went to her she sobbed and sobbed. “Oh Thor, my love,” she said, “do not look upon me. I am ashamed for you to see me. I shall leave Asgard and the company of the gods and goddesses and I shall go down to Svartalfheim and live amongst the dwarfs. I cannot bear that anyone in Asgard should see me like this.”
The wrath of Thor
Alarmed by what Sif was saying, yet not understanding, Thor cried out, “dearest Sif, why are you saying such things, what has happened to you?” Looking devastated Sif said “I have lost all the hair on my head. I have lost my beautiful golden hair that you loved as much as I did myself. You will not love me anymore, and so I must go away, down to Svartalfheim and to the company of the Dwarfs. They are as ugly as I am now.”
Then she took the veil off her head and Thor saw that all her beautiful hair was gone. She stood before him, ashamed and sorrowful, and he grew into a mighty rage. “What!? Who was it that did this to you, Sif?” he bellowed. “This will not stand! As sure as my name is Thor and you are my wife I will use all my powers so that you get your fairness back. Come with me, Sif.”
Taking his wife’s hand in his, Thor went off to Odins’ great hall where the other gods and goddesses were gathered. Sif covered her head with her veil, for she would not have anyone look upon her shorn head. But from the anger in Thor’s eyes, all saw that the wrong done to Sif was great indeed.
Thor told everyone about the cutting of her beautiful hair and a whisper went around the hall. “It was Loki who did this, no one else in Asgard would have done something so shameful,” one said to the other.
Loki the culprit
“It must have been Loki who did it,” Thor quickly agreed with the other gods. “He has hidden himself, but I shall find him and when I do I will strike him dead.” “No, do not kill him, Thor,” said Odin, the Allfather of the Gods.
“No, no one in Asgard, god or not, may kill another. I will ask that Loki come here to explain himself. You can not kill him, but you are free to make him return to Sif the beauty of her golden hair.” Then the call of Odin went out through Asgard and that was a call no one could deny, not even Loki.
When he heard it, Loki had to come from his hiding place and go to Odin’s great hall. Arriving he only had to look at Thor and see the rage he was in to understand that this was a prank he would regret. Then looking at Odin the Allfather and seeing the sternness in his face he knew that he would have to make amends for the shameful wrong he had done to Sif.
In an eerily calm voice Odin said, “ There is something you will do Loki, restore to Sif the beauty of her hair and do it quickly”. Loki looked at Odin, then Loki looked at Thor, and he saw that what he said next might decide his fate. His mind was already racing trying to find a way of restoring to Sif the beauty of her golden hair. “I shall do as you command, Allfather,” he said.
Loki had quickly understood that in order to restore Sif’s beautiful hair he needed to find help. There was only one way to turn really and this Loki knew. Among all the races living in the nine realms, Loki could really only see the Dwarves having the ability to help him.
Living in Svartalfheim deep below the earth, in caves and hollows, the Dwarves or gnomes were little twisted creatures. While both wicked and ugly, they were also the best craftsmen in the world. In the days when neither the Aesir nor the Vanir were friendly to him, Loki had often gone down to Svartalfheim.
Now that he was commanded to restore to Sif the beauty of her hair, Loki knew the Dwarves were the only ones who could help. Finding some reason for them to help however might prove difficult. Loki didn’t have many friends and even fewer among the Dwarves.
Down, down, through the winding passages in the earth he went, and he came at last to where the Dwarfs who were most friendly to him were working in their forges. All the Dwarfs were master smiths, and when he came upon his friends he found them working in their smits. The two brothers Loki turned to were sons of Ivaldi, a master craftsman, legendary even among the Dwarves. With hammers and tongs, they were working every day creating wondrous things.
Loki watched them for a while and took note of the things they were working on. One was a spear, so well balanced and expertly made that it would hit whatever mark it was thrown at no matter how bad the aim the thrower had. The other was a boat that could sail on any sea, but that could be folded up so that it would go into one’s pocket. The spear was called Gungnir and the boat was called Skidbladnir.
Recruiting the Dwarves to help
Speaking with the sons of Ivaldi Loki made sure to praise their work and high craftsmanship. “Truly”, he said, “these treasures are so wonderful they are fit for gods!”. Cunning Loki understood that with the proper flattery the sons of Ivaldi would give away both the spear and the ship.
“You know what might be even a greater treasure?” Loki asked the dwarf brothers. He then told them that an accident had happened that had made Sif lose her beautiful hair. “Were you to make something as beautiful as that, both Sif and her mighty husband Thor would forever be in your debt.”
Flattered by Loki’s praise and intrigued by his story about the accident that had fallen upon Sif they eagerly got to work. The two dwarfs took up the bar of fine gold and flung it into the forge. Then taking it out and putting it upon their anvil they worked on the bar with their tiny hammers until they beat it into threads that were as fine as the hairs of one’s head.
But that was not enough. They had to be as fine as the hairs on Sif’s head, and these were finer than anything else. They worked on the threads, over and over again, until they were as fine as the hairs on Sif’s head. The threads were as bright as sunlight, and when Loki took up the mass of worked gold it flowed from his raised hand down on the ground. It was so fine that it could be put into his palm, and it was so light that a bird might not feel its weight.
Thanking the two brothers, Loki said he would travel straight to Asgard to present the gifts to the gods and tell them that the sons of Ivaldi were truly the best craftsmen in all of Svartalfheim.
Loki presents the gifts from the sons of Ivaldi
When Loki returned to Asgard he went straight to Odins’ great hall. Entering, he made a show of presenting Sif with her new hair. “Look here dear Sif” he said, taking out the golden hair from his sack. “Is this not even more beautiful than your old hair?”.
Poor Sif took off her veil and Loki put upon her shorn head the wonderful mass of gold he held in his palm. Over her shoulders, the gold fell, fine, soft, and shining as her own hair. And all the gods and the goddesses had to agree when they saw Sif’s head covered again with the shining web. This was indeed wondrous and Sif was even more beautiful now than before.
Feeling the mood swing and hearing the gods praising Sif’s great new hair, Loki wanted to regain their favor. “Dear friends this is not all that I bring back from Svartalfheim” he said. Pulling open his sack again he took out two more items, the spear Gungnir, and the boat Skidbladnir.
Now both the Aesir and the Vanir gods and goddesses marveled at these wonderful things. Loki explained how Gungnir would always find its target and Skidbladnir would always have favorable winds. He then gave the spear as a gift to Odin, and to Frey, who was chief of the Vanir, he gave the boat Skidbladnir.
All Asgard rejoiced that things so wonderful and so helpful had been brought to them. And Loki, who had made a great show in giving these gifts, said boastingly: “None but the dwarfs who work for me could make such things. There are other dwarfs, but they are as unhandy as they are misshapen. The Dwarfs who are my servants are the only ones who can make such wonders.”
The dwarf Brokkr disagree
Now Loki, being Loki, had really put his foot in his mouth and in his boastfulness had said a foolish thing. There were other dwarfs besides those who had worked for him who were proud craftsmen, and one of them was there in Asgard.
Unknown to Loki he stood in the shadow of Odin’s seat, listening to what was being said. Trembling with rage he stepped out of the shadows and into the light of the hall. He was Brokkr, and if he was known for anything in particular it had to be that he was the most spiteful of all the Dwarfs.
“Ha, Loki, you lying boaster,” he roared, “Eitri, my brother, who would never serve you, is the best smith in all of Svartalfheim.” The Aesir and the Vanir laughed to see Loki outfaced by Brokkr the Dwarf in the middle of his boastfulness. As they laughed Loki grew angry.
“Be silent, Dwarf,” he said, “your brother will know about smith’s work when he goes to the sons of Ivaldi who are my friends, and learns something from them.” “He did learn from the Dwarfs who are your friends! My brother Eitri learned from the dwarfs you call your friends!” Brokkr roared, in a greater rage than before.
Brokkr and Loki wager their heads
“The things you have brought out of Svartalfheim would scarcely be noticed by the Aesir and the Vanir if they were put next to the things that my brother Eitri can make.” To this Loki said: “Sometime we will try your brother Eitri and see what he can do”.
“Try now, try now,” Brokkr shouted. “I’ll wager my head against yours, Loki, that his work will make the gods of Asgard laugh at your boasting.”
“I will take your wager,” said Loki. “My head against yours. And I will be happy to see that ugly head of yours off your misshapen shoulders.”
“The Aesir will judge whether my brother’s work is not the best that ever came out of Svartalfheim. And they will see to it that you will pay your wager, Loki, the head off your shoulders. Will you judge in this matter all you who live in Asgard?” Brokkr asked the gods and goddesses assembled in the great hall. “We will sit in judgment,” said the Aesir.
Then, still full of rage, Brokkr the dwarf went down to Svartalfheim, and to the place where his brother Eitri worked. There he found Eitri in his glowing forge, working with bellows and anvil and hammers beside him, and around him masses of metal—gold and silver, copper and iron.
Brokkr and Eitri sons of Ivaldi
Brokkr told his tale, how he had wagered his head against Loki’s that Eitri could make things more wonderful than the spear and the boat that Loki had brought into Asgard.
“You were right in what you said, my brother,” said Eitri, “and you shall not lose your head to Loki. But the two of us must work at what I am going to forge. It will be your work to keep the fire nice and steady, you must not let it blaze up nor die down for a single instant. If you can keep the fire as I tell you, we will forge wonders. Now, brother, keep your hands upon the bellows, and keep the fire under your control.”
Then into the fire, Eitri threw, not a piece of metal, but a pig’s skin. Brokkr kept his hands on the bellows, working it so that the fire neither died down nor blazed up for a single instant. And in the glowing fire, the pigskin swelled itself into a strange shape.
Loki the shapeshifter
Sadly for Brokkr, he was not left alone to work the bellows in peace. Into the forge flew a large gadfly and soon it settled first on one of Brokkr’s hands then the next and stung them. This was no ordinary gadfly and the pain was excruciating.
The Dwarf screamed with pain, but his hands still held the bellows, working it to keep the fire steady. Knowing well the powers of the mischievous god Brokkr understood that the gadfly was Loki. Fearing for his head, Loki had come to spoil Eitri’s work. Again and again, the gadfly stung his hands and Brokkr felt as if they were pierced with hot irons. Even so, still, he worked the bellows so that the fire did not blaze up or die down for a single instant.
Eitri came and looked into the fire. Over the shape that was rising there, he said words of magic. The gadfly had flown away, and Eitri asked his brother to stop working. He took out the thing that had been shaped in the fire, and he worked over it with his hammer.
Bringing Gullinbursti to life
It was a wonder indeed, a boar, all golden, that could fly through the air, and that shed light from its bristles as it flew. Brokkr forgot the pain in his hands and screamed with joy. “This is the greatest of wonders,” he said. “The gods in Asgard will have to give the judgment against Loki. I shall have Loki’s head!”
But Eitri said, “The boar Gullinbursti may not be judged as great a wonder as the spear Gungnir or the boat Skidbladnir. We must still make something more wonderful. Work the bellows as before, brother, and do not let the fire die down or blaze up for a single instant.”
Then Eitri took up a piece of gold that was so bright it lightened up the dark cavern the two Dwarfs worked in. He threw the piece of gold into the fire. Then he went to make ready something else and left Brokkr to work the bellows.
The gadfly flew in again. Brokkr did not know it was there until it settled on the back of his neck. It stung him till Brokkr felt the pain was wrenching him apart. But still, he kept his hands on the bellows, working it so that the fire neither blazed up nor died down for a single instant. When Eitri came to look into the fire, Brokkr was not able to speak from pain.
Draupnir the magical arm ring
Again Eitri said magic words over the gold that was being smelted in the fire. He took it out of the glow and worked it over on the main anvil. Then in a while, he showed Brokkr something that looked like the circle of their sun. “A splendid armring, my brother,” he said. “An armring for a god’s right arm. And this ring has magical powers. Every ninth night eight new rings just like it will drop from this armring, for this is Draupnir, the Dripper.”
“To Odin, the Allfather of the Gods, shall I give the ring” said Brokkr. “And Odin will have to declare that nothing so wonderful or so valuable was ever brought into Asgard. Oh Loki, cunning Loki, I shall have your head soon enough, in spite of your tricks.”
“Be not too hasty, brother,” said Eitri. “What we have done so far is good. But we can do better still to ensure we convince the Asgardians to give the judgment that delivers Loki’s head to you.
Work as before, brother, and do not let the fire blaze up or die down for a single instant.”
This time Eitri threw into the fire a bar of iron. Then he went away to fetch the hammer that would shape it. Brokkr worked the bellows as before, but only his hands were steady, for every other part of him was trembling with fear of the gadfly’s sting.
The creation of Mjollnir
He soon saw the gadfly dart into the forge. He screamed as it flew round and round him, searching out a place where it might sting him. It sat down on his forehead, just between his eyes. The first sting it gave took the sight from his eyes. It stung again and Brokkr felt the blood flowing down. Darkness filled the cave. Brokkr tried to keep his hands steady on the bellows, but he did not know whether the fire was blazing up or dying down.
He shouted and Eitri hurried up. Eitri said the magic words over the thing that was in the fire. Then he drew it out. “An instant more,” he said, “and the work would have been perfect. But because you let the fire die down for just an instant the work is not as good as it might have been made.”
He took what was shaped in the fire to the main anvil and worked over it. Then when Brokkr’s eyesight came back to him he saw a great hammer, a hammer all of iron. The handle did not seem to be long enough to balance the head. This was because the fire had died down a little while it was being formed.
“The hammer is Mjollnir,” said Eitri, “and it is the greatest of the things that I am able to make. All in Asgard will rejoice to see this hammer. Only Thor the mighty will be able to wield it. Now I am not afraid of the judgment that the Asgardians will give.”
“They will have to give judgment for us,” Brokkr cried out. “They will have to give judgment for us, and the head of Loki, my tormentor, will be mine to take.”
The Dwarves present their gifts
Brokkr and his brother Eitri along with a number of other Dwarves traveled by the Bifrost bridge to Asgard. When they were there they went straight to Odin’s great hall where they found the Allfather together with the other Aesir and Vanir gods and goddesses.
“Welcome sons of Ivaldi,” Odin said, “you must have some wonderful things with you that make you look so pleased. Let us see what you have brought, Brokkr. If they are more wonderful and more useful than the things Loki has brought out of Svartalfheim, the spear Gungnir, and the boat Skidbladnir, we will judge in your favor.”
Then Brokkr commanded the Dwarfs who waited on him to show the gods and goddesses the first of the wonders that Eitri had made. They brought out the boar, Gullinbursti. Round and round the great hall the boar flew, leaving a track of brightness. All the gods in Asgard said one to the other that this was a wonder indeed.
But none would say that the boar was a better thing to have in Asgard than the spear that would hit the mark no matter how badly it was flung, or the boat Skidbladnir that would sail on any sea, and that could be folded up so small that it would fit in any one’s pocket. No one was of the opinion that Gullinbursti was better than these wonders. Brokkr gifted Gullinbursti to Fryer, the Vanir chief and god of peace and fertility.
For the next wonderful creation, Brokkr presented the gods and goddesses with the arm ring Draupnir. Bright as the sun itself Draupnir lit up in the great hall. All admired the noble ring. And when it was told how every ninth night this ring dropped eight rings of gold that were like itself, a murmur spread among the gods, all saying that Draupnir, a ring that would multiply, was a wonder indeed.
Hearing their voices raised, Brokkr looked triumphantly at Loki who was standing there with his lips drawn closely together. Brokkr then gave the noble armring to Odin the Allfather to wear.
Finally he commanded the attending Dwarfs to lay before Thor the hammer Mjollnir. As he did so Brokkr explained that nothing could break the hammer and that when thrown, it would always return to Thor’s hand. Thor picked up the hammer and swung it around his head. As he did so he uttered a great cry. And the eyes of the gods in Asgard lightened up when they saw Thor with the hammer Mjollnir in his hand.
“This is a wonder, a wonder indeed! With this hammer in his hand none can withstand Thor, our greatest warrior. No greater thing has ever come into Asgard than the hammer Mjollnir.”
Then Odin, the Father of the Gods, spoke from his throne, giving judgment. “The hammer Mjollnir that the Dwarf Brokkr has brought into Asgard is a wonderful thing indeed. In Thor’s hands it can crush mountains, and hurl the Giant race from the fortifications surrounding Asgard. Eitri the Dwarf has forged a greater thing than the spear Gungnir and the boat Skidbladnir. There can be no other judgment.”
A debt to pay
Brokkr looked at Loki, showing his gnarled teeth. “Now, Loki, yield your head, yield your head,” he cried. You should not ask such a thing,” said Odin. “Please ask for any other penalty for Loki for mocking you and tormenting you. You can ask him to give you the greatest thing that it is in his power to give, but please do not ask for his head.”
“No, no,” screamed Brokkr. “Of course, you gods and goddesses of Asgard would shield one another. But what of me? Loki would have taken my head had I lost the wager. Loki has lost his head to me. Let him kneel down so that I can cut it off.”
Loki came forward, smiling with closed lips. “I kneel before you, Dwarf,” he said. “Take off my head. But be careful. Do not touch my neck. I did not bargain that you should touch my neck. If you do, I shall call upon all the gods and goddesses to punish you.”
When hearing Loki’s words Brokkr drew back and clearly was enraged. “Is this really the judgment of the Gods?” he asked. “The bargain you made, Brokkr,” said Odin, “was an evil one, and you will have to follow all its evil consequences.”
Brokkr, in a rage, looked upon Loki, and he saw that his lips were smiling. He stamped his feet and raged. Then he went up to Loki and said, “I may not take your head, but I can do something with your lips that mock me.”
The final laugh
“What would you do, Dwarf?” Thor asked. “Sew Loki’s lips together,” said Brokkr, “so that he can do no more mischief with his lying tongue. You cannot forbid me to do this, his head is mine. Down, Loki, on your knees before me.”
Loki looked around seeking support from the other gods and goddesses but found none. He understood that their judgment was that he must kneel before the Dwarf. He knelt down with a frown upon his brow. “Draw your lips together, Loki,” said Brokkr. Loki drew his lips together while his eyes flashed fire. With a large needle threaded with a special magical thread that he took from his belt, Brokkr pierced Loki’s lips. He took out a thong and tightened them together as he stitched Loki’s lips firmly together. Then in triumph, the Dwarf looked at Loki.
“Oh Loki,” he said, “you boasted that the Dwarfs who worked for you were better craftsmen than Eitri, my brother. Your words have been shown to be lies. And now you cannot boast for a while.”
Then Brokkr the Dwarf, with great majesty, walked out of Odin’s great hall, and the attending Dwarfs marched behind him in procession. Down the passages in the earth the Dwarfs went, singing the song of Brokkr’s triumph over Loki. And in Svartalfheim it was told forever after how Eitri and Brokkr had prevailed.
In Asgard, now that Loki’s lips were closed, there was peace and a respite from mischief. No one amongst the Aesir or the Vanir was sorry when Loki had to walk about in silence with his head bent low.