As part of South Devon Storytellers we have been working through the Norse myths, transforming the self-consciously sparkly Totnes into a world of ice, gods, giants and mountains. On Monday I told stories of Loki: the Father of Lies, the Shape Shifter, the archetypal trickster. These are stories that I have been sitting with for a while now. The obvious question: who doesn’t feel tricked right now, in these scary and changing times?
Loki had, let’s say, a colourful love life. He was happily married to Sigyn, with children, but convention never really suited him, of course. First he turned himself into a mare to make sure the new wall around Asgard could never be finished, by distracting the stallion who was helping the builder. This resulted in Loki giving birth to Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse that carried Odin across the land and sea and sky. (Loki the Radiant Mother isn’t a version of the Shape Shifter you will hear about very often; it’s a challenge to think of him with anything approaching a halo.)
But Loki also had his dark lover, the giantess Angrboda out in the Iron Forest to the east. She bore him three hideous children. Jormungand, the giant worm, was thrown into the sea by Odin, and grew so huge that he wrapped himself around the world and bit his own tail. Hel, the charmer who never smiled and whose lower half was green-black and decomposed, was banished to Niflheim to look after all those poor souls who missed the glory of Valhalla and died of old age or disease. We can only imagine the stench in her hall, with the welcome of a bowl called Hunger and a knife called Famine.
Of all Loki’s three children by Angrboda, though, it has been the wolf Fenrir who has had most impact on me. Fenrir, three times as big as a normal wolf, with power to scare all of the gods in Asgard save for one. Fenrir, the one in the prophesy of the three Norns, who said that he will be the one to destroy Odin, and so destroy all knowledge.
The gods decided to bind Fenrir so that he can cause no more trouble: they didn’t try to kill the destroyer, but decided to restrain him on their own sacred ground. The wolf accepted the challenge and shattered the strongest chains that could be made. It was only when the gods asked the dwarves to use their forge-magic under the earth, that a binding was created to meet Fenrir’s strength.
It wasn’t a chain. It was a silken ribbon, called Gleipnir, shimmering with magic. This ribbon was made of all the things that don’t exist, that only the dwarves knew about: the roots of a mountain, the beard of a woman, the breath of a fish, the spittle of a bird. Fenrir accepted the challenge as long as poor Tyr put his arm in the wolf’s mouth.
The more Fenrir struggled, the tighter his binding became. After Tyr lost his arm, another of the gods propped a sword into Fenrir’s mouth with the point facing upwards. The wolf of destruction was fettered and the wolf was gagged, and the chain was secured a mile down in the earth. And Fenrir howled. A river of saliva streamed from his mouth, sometimes called the River of Expectation, sometimes just called Hope. He waited for Ragnarok, the end of the world, when he could play his part.
I will let the story speak for itself, but you know now why I find it fits the energy of our time. All this, because of Loki’s foul Valentine expeditions.
Perhaps we do already have wolves back in the British landscape – but not the ones we wanted.