Loki is a Norse trickster god with the ability to shapeshift. He is known for his cunning and tendency to cause mischief for the other gods. He had no cult of worshippers in the ancient world and no obvious purpose in the Norse pantheon, yet he appears in several myths as both hero and villain.
Loki, unlike Odin and Thor, has no official symbol in Norse mythology. He is often associated with snakes and nets, but neither of these is his personal symbol. If Loki has a symbol in Norse mythology, it is unknown to modern scholars.
Thor has his hammer, Odin has his three interlocking horns, but nothing of Loki’s, if it ever existed, has survived into modern times. But keep reading to learn why Loki is associated with snakes, giants, other interesting things in Norse mythology.
Is Loki’s Symbol a Snake?
Some students of mythology claim that Loki’s symbol is the snake, but there is no evidence of this from the ancient Norse. It does appear that snakes held great religious and cultural significance to the Norse. For example, there are many surviving snake-shaped brooches, but whether or not these snakes are specific to Loki remains unknown.
There is no evidence that the ancient Norse used snakes to represent Loki. However, it is understandable that a modern audience connects the two. Snakes are associated with deceit, fertility, and change, all of which feature in Loki’s myths.
Two myths about Loki feature snakes as well.
One of Loki’s children is Jormungandr (something called Jormungand), a giant serpent. Another myth says that the gods of Asgard punish Loki for his tricks by tying him to a rock and torturing him with snake venom.
The snake drips venom from its fangs onto Loki’s body, but his wife Sigyn catches the venom in a bowl.
When the bowl is full, she must pour it out, leaving Loki unprotected for a short time. Loki endures extraordinary pain until Sigyn returns with an empty bowl, and the cycle continues until Ragnarok, the end times.
Who Is Jormungandr?
Jormungandr is Loki’s son with the giantess Angrboda, and he is a massive snake. He is so big that he surrounds the whole earth, and he is Thor’s archenemy. According to myth, Jormungandr lives in the ocean and is large enough to encircle the earth, catching his tail in his mouth.
For this reason, he is something sometimes called the Midgard or World Serpent.
Thor fights Jormungandr on multiple occasions, and they are predicted to fight at Ragnarok. Ragnarok will begin when Jormungandr releases his tail from his mouth, and he and Thor will kill each other.
Were Loki’s Other Children Serpents?
None of Loki’s children besides Jormungandr are serpents. Loki has several other children, not all of them humanoid, but Jormungandr is the only snake. Loki has at least five other children besides Jormungandr, including two more with Angrboda.
His children are Fenrir, Hel, Narfi, Vali, and Sleipnir. Let’s take a look at who his children are.
Fenrir is the other son of Loki and Angrboda. Like Jormungandr, he is an animal, in this case, a giant wolf. Fenrir bites off one of the god Tyr’s hands, and the gods bind him as punishment until Ragnarok. At Ragnarok, it is prophesied that Fenrir will kill Odin before being killed by Odin’s son Vidar.
Hel is the only daughter of Loki and Angrboda and their only humanoid child. She is the goddess who presides over the realm of the dead, which is also called Hel. However, in Norse Mythology, she is not a goddess but is considered one by many other scholars.
Narfi and Vali
Narfi is the son of Loki and Sigyn, his wife. Vali’s mother is unknown, but some scholars assume he is also Sigyn’s child.
In one account, Narfi, sometimes called Nari, is changed into a wolf and kills Vali. In another version, Vali becomes the wolf and kills Narfi. Narfi’s intestines are then used to bind Loki to the same rock where Loki is eternally tortured by snake venom.
Sleipnir is an eight-legged horse that Odin rides into battle, and Loki is his mother. Loki transforms into a mare, mates with the male horse Svadilfari, and gives birth to Sleipnir.
What Does Loki Look Like?
Nobody is sure what Loki looks like, both because of his shapeshifting ability and the lack of depictions of him. He is probably good-looking when he is not shapeshifting, but that is the extent of modern knowledge of Loki’s appearance.
One account, Snorri’s Prose Edda, says that Loki is beautiful in appearance but evil in spirit. This is the only written description of his appearance when he is not shapeshifting.
There are very few artistic depictions of Loki from the ancient Norse, one of which is the Snaptun Stone, which features a man with his lips stitched together. There is also a myth that tells of Loki getting his mouth sewn shut by dwarves.
Loki’s appearance receives more attention when he is shapeshifting.
In his misadventures causing chaos and mayhem, he takes the form of an old woman, a giantess, a flea, an eagle, a mare, a seal, and a salmon, among others. There may be more Norse artistic depictions of Loki in existence, but they are of him in an alternate form.
Other Symbols Related to Loki
Besides snakes, Loki is often associated with nets.
In fact, the Norse word “Loki” means “knot” or “tangle,” and Loki is credited with inventing fishing nets. The word “Loki” has even been used to refer to spiders in a metaphorical sense, as they tangle and entrap their prey.
Loki, too, creates real and metaphorical nets. He crafts nets to catch salmon, and entraps gods and mortals into his schemes.
But Loki is often caught in his own nets, sometimes literally. In the same myth that depicts Loki inventing the perfect fishing net, he turns himself into a salmon, only to be caught in that net by Thor. When the gods chain Loki to a rock, he is bound by his own son’s intestines–ropes that Loki indirectly created.
Because Loki tends to be caught in traps of his own design, Jormungandr makes a fitting symbol for him, a snake eating his tail.
Loki’s symbol, if he has one, is not known. Even today, Loki remains elusive, changeable, and unknowable.