His wife was the faithful and hapless goddess Sigyn, whose fidelity surely he did not deserve. After Loki had been bound in a cave with a venomous snake dripping poison upon him as punishment – Sigyn sat by her husband’s side and held a bowl over him to catch the drops before they hit him.When the bowl filled, she had to rise and empty it, and then the stinging drops fell directly upon Loki. It was said his twisting to escape the pain was the cause of earthquakes.
It is Loki who begins the chain of events that leads to the destruction of the gods. He does this by causing the death of the beautiful Baldr, Frigg’s son, who in his goodness and perfection embodies the attainment of every desirable quality. Baldr’s death plunges all of Asgard into mourning.
Yet Loki feels no remorse, and in fact relishes every opportunity to exert his contrary nature. After Frigg had gone to great lengths to bring Baldr back to the land of the living by asking all beings to weep for his return, Loki (in the guise of an old female giant) steadfastly refused to shed a single tear for the slain god. Thus Baldr was consigned to the realms of the dead, under the governance of Lady Hel.
This loss of innocence represented by Baldr’s death is the act that triggers Ragnarok, the end of all things. Ragnarok begins with famine and darkness and bitter cold – a Winter lasting three entire years. It ends with all creation becoming a flaming furnace. In the middle is staged the disastrous final battle in which the gods are arrayed against the powers of evil represented by the giants. Nearly everything and every body, in all realms, is destroyed. Loki fights against the gods, and is killed, as is Odin, Tyr, Freyr, and Thor.
Even the elfs, dwarfs, Sun and Moon are destroyed. Out of this a new Earth arises, and a single man and woman, Lifthrasir and Lif, who had hidden themselves in Yggdrasil the World Tree, emerge. Baldr comes forth, and a few sons and daughters of the gods survive, and begin a fresh cycle of life.
This final lesson reminds us that nothing can remain static – even the gods need renewal.
Tyr, represented by the spear shaped runic letter and known as Tiw by the Anglo-Saxons, is the god of law and order commemorated in the day name Tuesday. (The Roman war god Mars is equivalent to Tyr in many ways, and so recalled in the modern Italian name for Tuesday, ‘martedi’.).
A victory-giver to his followers, warriors marked their weapons with Tyr’s runic sign. Though not as well known as Thor, Tyr performed a feat of courage that no other god could agree to: that of risking his right hand in the mouth of the giant wolf Fenrir (an offspring of the dangerous “trickster” god, Loki).
Fenrir ranged freely about Asgard, the land of the gods, and had special status despite his fearsomeness. Such was his courage that only Tyr was willing to feed this beast. Wearying of the treat of wolfish violence, Odin (Woden to the Anglo-Saxons) commissioned dwarfs to forge from magical materials a fetter with which Fenrir could be bound.
Only dwarfs could have wrought anything so cunningly, for it was made from the breath of a fish, the sinews of a bear, the spittle from a bird, the hairs of a women’s beard, the roots of a mountain, and the noise made by cat as it walks. The resultant fetter was as light as a silken cord and yet completely unbreakable. Wily Fenrir refused to accept such an innocent looking thing about his neck without some form of surety: he demanded that one of the gods place his hand into the wolf’s mouth. Only unflinching Tyr agreed to do so. When an enraged Fenrir realised all his mighty strength could not break the slender cord, he extracted from Tyr his payment – the huge jaws snapped shut and Tyr lost his hand.
End of part 1.
Continue to Vikings – Isle of Man ~ Leif Eriksson part 2