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Tales The Gods And The Wolf

Source: Folk-lore And Legends Scandinavian

Among the AEsir, or gods, is reckoned one named Loki or Loptur. By many
he is called the reviler of the gods, the author of all fraud and
mischief, and the shame of gods and men alike. He is the son of the
giant Farbauti, his mother being Laufey or Nal, and his brothers Byleist
and Helblindi. He is of a goodly appearance and elegant form, but his
mood is changeable, and he is inclined to all wickedness. In cunning and
perfidy he excels every one, and many a time has he placed the gods in
great danger, and often has he saved them again by his cunning. He has a
wife named Siguna, and their son is called Nari.

Loki had three children by Angurbodi, a giantess of Jotunheim (the
giants' home). The first of these was Fenris, the wolf; the second was
Joermungand, the Midgard serpent; and the third was Hela, death. Very
soon did the gods become aware of this evil progeny which was being
reared in Jotunheim, and by divination they discovered that they must
receive great injury from them. That they had such a mother spoke bad
for them, but their coming of such a sire was a still worse presage.
All-father therefore despatched certain of the gods to bring the
children to him, and when they were brought before him he cast the
serpent down into the ocean which surrounds the world. There the monster
waxed so large that he wound himself round the whole globe, and that
with such ease that he can with his mouth lay hold of his tail. Hela
All-father cast into Niflheim, where she rules over nine worlds. Into
these she distributes all those who are sent to her,--that is to say,
all who die through sickness or old age. She has there an abode with
very thick walls, and fenced with strong gates. Her hall is Elvidnir;
her table is Hunger; her knife, Starvation; her man-servant, Delay; her
maid-servant, Sloth; her threshold, Precipice; her bed, Care; and her
curtains, Anguish of Soul. The one half of her body is livid, the other
half is flesh-colour. She has a terrible look, so that she can be easily

As to the wolf, Fenris, the gods let him grow up among themselves, Tyr
being the only one of them who dare give him his food. When, however,
they perceived how he every day increased prodigiously in size, and that
the oracles warned them that he would one day prove fatal to them, they
determined to make very strong iron fetters for him which they called
Loeding. These they presented to the wolf, and desired him to put them
on to show his strength by endeavouring to break them. The wolf saw that
it would not be difficult for him to burst them, so he let the gods put
the fetters on him, then violently stretching himself he broke the
fetters asunder, and set himself free.

Having seen this, the gods went to work, and prepared a second set of
fetters, called Dromi, half as strong again as the former, and these
they persuaded the wolf to put on, assuring him that if he broke them he
would then furnish them with an undeniable proof of his power. The wolf
saw well enough that it would not be easy to break this set, but he
considered that he had himself increased in strength since he broke the
others, and he knew that without running some risk he could never become
celebrated. He therefore allowed the gods to place the fetters on him.
Then Fenris shook himself, stretched his limbs, rolled on the ground,
and at length burst the fetters, which he made fly in all directions.
Thus did he free himself the second time from his chains, and from this
has arisen the saying, "To get free from Loeding, or to burst from
Dromi," meaning to perform something by strong exertion.

The gods now despaired of ever being able to secure the wolf with any
chain of their own making. All-father, however, sent Skirnir, the
messenger of the god Frey, into the country of the Black Elves, to the
dwarfs, to ask them to make a chain to bind Fenris with. This chain was
composed of six things--the noise made by the fall of a cat's foot, the
hair of a woman's beard, the roots of stones, the nerves of bears, the
breath of fish, and the spittle of birds.

The fetters were as smooth and as soft as silk, and yet, as you will
presently see, of great strength. The gods were very thankful for them
when they were brought to them, and returned many thanks to him who
brought them. Then they took the wolf with them on to the island Lyngvi,
which is in the lake Amsvartnir, and there they showed him the chain,
desiring him to try his strength in breaking it. At the same time they
told him that it was a good deal stronger than it looked. They took it
in their own hands and pulled at it, attempting in vain to break it, and
then they said to Fenris--

"No one else but you, Fenris, can break it."

"I don't see," replied the wolf, "that I shall gain any glory by
breaking such a slight string, but if any artifice has been employed in
the making of it, you may be sure, though it looks so fragile, it shall
never touch foot of mine."

The gods told him he would easily break so slight a bandage, since he
had already broken asunder shackles of iron of the most solid make.

"But," said they, "if you should not be able to break the chain, you are
too feeble to cause us any anxiety, and we shall not hesitate to loose
you again."

"I very much fear," replied the wolf, "that if you once tie me up so
fast that I cannot release myself, you will be in no haste to unloose
me. I am, therefore, unwilling to have this cord wound around me; but to
show you I am no coward, I will agree to it, but one of you must put his
hand in my mouth, as a pledge that you intend me no deceit."

The gods looked on one another wistfully, for they found themselves in
an embarrassing position.

Then Tyr stepped forward and bravely put his right hand in the monster's
mouth. The gods then tied up the wolf, who forcibly stretched himself,
as he had formerly done, and exerted all his powers to disengage
himself; but the more efforts he made the tighter he drew the chain
about him, and then all the gods, except Tyr, who lost his hand, burst
out into laughter at the sight. Seeing that he was so fast tied that he
would never be able to get loose again, they took one end of the chain,
which was called Gelgja, and having drilled a hole for it, drew it
through the middle of a large broad rock, which they sank very deep in
the earth. Afterwards, to make all still more secure, they tied the end
of the chain, which came through the rock to a great stone called
Keviti, which they sank still deeper. The wolf used his utmost power to
free himself, and, opening his mouth, tried to bite them. When the gods
saw that they took a sword and thrust it into his mouth, so that it
entered his under jaw right up to the hilt, and the point reached his
palate. He howled in the most terrible manner, and since then the foam
has poured from his mouth in such abundance that it forms the river
called Von. So the wolf must remain until Ragnaroek.

Such a wicked race has Loki begot. The gods would not put the wolf to
death because they respected the sanctity of the place, which forbade
blood being shed there.

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