Loki cuts the hair of the goddess Sif, from 'The Children of Odin', by Padraic Colum
This week's Myth Monday continues the Norse theme with a look at how Thor acquired not only a fabulous hammer but replacement hair for his wife.
Before you read a translation of the 13th century account from the Prose Edda of Storri Sturluson, here's a run-down:
- The Norse trickster Loki played a trick on Thor's household by cutting off the beautiful hair of his wife Sif.
- Sif woke up and felt her head was lighter. She was humiliated, so she tried to conceal the disfigurement, but it didn't work for long. She couldn't keep her husband from learning the fate of her glorious flowing locks. Thor, the strongman of the Norse gods, immediately knew who must have done it and set off after Loki to smash him to bits.
- He may have been a joker, but Loki wasn't a fool, so he quickly came up with a suggestion to save his own hide that he knew Thor would accept. He offered to get a set of fake hair that was actually gold and would act like Sif's own hair once it touched her scalp.
- Thor accepted and so Loki went to the dwarves to get it made.
- He asked the dwarves to make the finest ship that would always have the wind in its sail and could also be folded up into pocket size, named Skídbladnir for Freyr, and a spear named Gungnir for Odin.
- He then made a bet that the dwarves couldn't make three more things as precious as these. On wager was Loki's head.
- Although Loki then shapeshifted to a pestering insect and tried to make it impossible for the dwarves to work, they made a glowing bristly boar that could run night or day through water, air, or land, a magical gold ring called Draupnir, and a hammer that was given to Thor that would not fail and when thrown would always return to him.
- The gods determined that the hammer was better than the first set of gifts and so Loki lost his bet.
Here's Snorri Sturluson's version, in English translation
XXXV. "Why is gold called Sif's Hair? Loki Laufeyarson, for mischief's sake, cut off all Sif's hair. But when Thor learned of this, he seized Loki, and would have broken every bone in him, had he not sworn to get the Black Elves to make Sif hair of gold, such that it would grow like other hair. After that, Loki went to those dwarves who are called Ívaldi's Sons; and they made the hair, and Skídbladnir also, and the spear which became Odin's possession, and was called Gungnir. Then Loki wagered his head with the dwarf called Brokkr that Brokkr's brother Sindri could not make three other precious things equal in virtue to these. Now when they came to the smithy, Sindri laid a pigskin in the hearth and bade Brokkr blow, and did not cease work until he took out of the hearth that which he had laid therein. But when he went out of the smithy, while the other dwarf was blowing, straightway a fly settled upon his hand and stung: yet he blew on as before, until the smith took the work out of the hearth; and it was a boar, with mane and bristles of gold. Next, he laid gold in the hearth and bade Brokkr blow and cease not from his blast until he should return. He went out; but again the fly came and settled on Brokkr's neck, and bit now half again as hard as before; yet he blew even until the smith took from the hearth that gold ring which is called Draupnir. Then Sindri laid iron in the hearth and bade him blow, saying that it would be spoiled if the blast failed. Straightway the fly settled between Brokkr's eyes and stung his eyelid, but when the blood fell into his eyes so that he could not see, then he clutched at it with his hand as swiftly as he could,--while the bellows grew flat,--and he swept the fly from him. Then the smith came thither and said that it had come near to spoiling all that was in the hearth. Then he took from the forge a hammer, put all the precious works into the hands of Brokkr his brother, and bade him go with them to Ásgard and claim the wager.
"Now when he and Loki brought forward the precious gifts, the Æsir sat down in the seats of judgment; and that verdict was to prevail which Odin, Thor, and Freyr should render. Then Loki gave Odin the spear Gungnir, and to Thor the hair which Sif was to have, and Skídbladnir to Freyr, and told the virtues of all these things: that the spear would never stop in its thrust; the hair would grow to the flesh as soon as it came upon Sif's head; and Skídbladnir would have a favoring breeze as soon as the sail was raised, in whatsoever direction it might go, but could be folded together like a napkin and be kept in Freyr's pouch if he so desired. Then Brokkr brought forward his gifts: he gave to Odin the ring, saying that eight rings of the same weight would drop from it every ninth night; to Freyr he gave the boar, saying that it could run through air and water better than any horse, and it could never become so dark with night or gloom of the Murky Regions that there should not be sufficient light where be went, such was the glow from its mane and bristles. Then he gave the hammer to Thor, and said that Thor might smite as hard as he desired, whatsoever might be before him, and the hammer would not fail; and if he threw it at anything, it would never miss, and never fly so far as not to return to his hand; and if be desired, he might keep it in his sark, it was so small; but indeed it was a flaw in the hammer that the fore-haft was somewhat short.
"This was their decision: that the hammer was best of all the precious works, and in it there was the greatest defence against the Rime-Giants; and they gave sentence, that the dwarf should have his wager....
The Prose Edda in Four Parts - Part Three, by Snorri Sturluson; Translated From the Icelandic With an Introduction by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, Ph. D. Instructor in English Philology in the University of California; New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation 1916
Did the dwarves chop off Loki's Head? Find out in:
Previous 2012 Myth Mondays:
- Hercules Hurls His Guest
- Olympics Origins II: Myrtilos
- Hercules the Giant-Killer
- The First Tyrant
- The King and the Harpies
- The Dawn Goddess Loves a Mortal
- Even a Boar Wishes to Kiss Adonis
- Hero and Leander
- Who Were the Argonauts?
- The Chimera
- Narcissus and Echo
- How Perseus Fits In
- Hesiod and the Bestiary
- The First Olympics Origins I
- Dionysus and the Return of Hephaestus
- Zeus, the Recent Victor of the Titanomachy, Wins Once More in Hesiod's 'Theogony'
- Atlas, the Titan Who Didn't Shrug
- Troilus and ... Polyxena
- Who Is the Virgo?
- Pandora's Box
- Achilles and His Heel
- Hercules and His Labors
- The First Humans
- The Death of Pentheus
- Greek Ghosts
- One More Underworld God
- A Norse God of Winter