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Loki ate some of the heart, the thought-stone of a woman,roasted on a linden-woodfire, he found it half-cooked;Lopt was impregnated by a wicked woman,from whom every ogress on earth is descended.

Source: Loki (Wikipedia)

Loki eat the heart, on fire from linden made, found a half-burnt mindstone-wife; was Lopt sired with that wicked woman; thence in the world are all wicked one's come.

Source: Poetic Edda/Hyndluljóð (Wikisource)

  1. A heart ate Loki,-- | in the embers it lay, And half-cooked found he | the woman's heart;-- With child from the woman | Lopt soon was, And thence among men | came the monsters all.

Source: HYNDLULJOTH (The Poem of Hyndla)

My questions are:

-Why did Loki eat that heart?

-Who or what was that woman? Was she a notable character in Norse mythology? If not,what race did she belong to?

-Why was her heart burnt?

-What/who exactly did Loki give birth to?

-How did he carry and give birth to it/him/her? Did he turn into a female to carrry and give birth to it?

  • 1
    Loki was a master shapeshifter and famously transformed himself into a mare to give birth to Sleipnir, thus bearing and giving birth was not beyond his capabilities. – DukeZhou Nov 29 '16 at 21:22
  • @DukeZhou yes, but how exactly did he do so with this monster-thingy? – Vick Nov 30 '16 at 3:35
  • @KVickneshvara Are you asking if there's a legend about how this specific female character turned into a male to impregnate a gender-swapped Loki, or if there's a Kama Sutra Edda? – Lauren Ipsum Nov 30 '16 at 11:11
  • @Lauren Ipsum "this specific female character turned into a male".Where is this stated? – Vick Nov 30 '16 at 13:06
  • 1
    The idea that you could become pregnant by eating something turns up in European myths and folklore frequently. (The Irish myth of Etain is a good example.) It turns up in Norse insults, as well, suggesting that some man has eaten something that made him pregnant. – solsdottir Dec 1 '16 at 2:14
9

The verses you're quoting come from an extremely cryptic poem called the Shorter Voluspa, which is inserted into the longer poem Hyndluljod, and has little to do with it. Like the Volupsa itself, you really need to know the stories already to get the references, as they don't give any details. No other source says anything about this, so that one reference is all we have.

Two things stand out for me, however. First, that Loki was the father/mother of all evil women, i.e. witches and giantesses, whom we might expect to be unnatural. Second, that he is half-giant, and we know from the story of Ymir that they can reproduce in odd ways. (And that getting pregnant by swallowing something is a common trope in myths and folklore.)

  • @solsditttir so there is no other text of Norse mythology that has this legend? – Vick Dec 1 '16 at 2:48
  • No, unfortunately. Both Voluspa and the Shorter Volupsa have many mysteries like this. But I like @andejons' idea about why Loki would eat the heart; it makes sense in the context of Norse myth. – solsdottir Dec 2 '16 at 2:57
  • Today i learnt that there is also a sort of reference of someone getting pregnant in this way in an Icelandic Saga: In Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa, there is an insulting poem that Bjarn writes about his rival Tord, in which he claims that Tord was born after his mother found and ate a half-rotten slimy fish. – andejons Jan 1 '17 at 21:20
  • Yes, that's a famous one. It's a nice right-and-left, because it insults both him and his mother. – solsdottir Jan 2 '17 at 21:30
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Since solsdottir has answered the part about the parentage of the monsters, I'll try to answer the part of why Loki would eat the heart:

The motif of eating the cooked heart of a monster also appears in the story of Sigurd, who eats the heart of the dragon Fafnir and gains knowledge. That story suggests that his fosterfather Regin expected at least something like this would happen (he wants the heart for himself, but Sigurd finds out Regin is plotting to kill him, and so attacks him first). Loki's motivation could have been a thirst for knowledge.

4

The thing about this fragment is that half of it is dual-layered, and the rest is poetic. How it is being read above (that he ate an actual heart, got physically pregnant, etc.) is utterly at odds with poetic license, metaphor, and the skaldic love of wordplay and kennings- and thus missing what IMO are the most likely interpretations of the verse. To grasp its intricacies, let's take it piece-by-piece.

First, what is it that Loki eats?

The woman's heart; in one translation, it is 'the thought-stone'. In a low-tech society, the thought and evidence would be that the body produces stones - kidney stones, gallstones, all this sort of thing. So what would a thought-stone be? The product of the mind, of thinking - or, considered carefully, 'ideas'. Linked with the heart, this makes them what would be called closely held ideas - strong beliefs. That the heart is half-cooked - or in perhaps more modern and cutting terminology, 'half-baked' - may well be important, with all of its connotations of 'poorly thought-out', or simply 'bad' or 'crazy'.

Next, what's up with that fire?

Well, the woman's heart/thought-stone is found 'on a fire' made from a linden tree. In Norse belief, the linden tree is sacred, female, and linked with mercy (as the oak tree is linked with stern-ness); village discussions, hearings, and judgements are given from under the village linden tree. If the heart indicates ideas, then ideas cooked 'on a linden-fire' would be thoughts developed (cooked) while sitting at judgement (under the linden-tree).

So then who's the woman?

Well, the above very strongly indicates that the woman is considered a leader of the village, as the elders would be the ones actually sitting directly beneath the tree. We know of a number of females in Norse mythology who are strong leaders, such as Freya and Frigga, but neither of them are in close relation with Loki. There is, however, a female who is not only a) closely linked to Loki, she is also b) a strong leader of her people, c) considered by the Norse to be 'wicked', and d) someone who has close congress (both physically and philosophically) with Loki: Angrboða.

Angrboða (translated as "the one who brings grief" or "she-who-offers-sorrow" - I prefer the more direct "Grief-Bringer", though 'Angr' is 'grief', and 'boð' is 'offer') is the chieftess of the jotunn of Járnvid ('Iron-wood'); these female jotunn are numbered among the ogresses, but the Norse skald is nothing if not prone to exaggeration, and so 'leader of the clan' gets expanded to 'all the ogresses of the earth'. She is also the mother of what so far as I know are the only three in Norse mythology who are explicitly called monsters - the Midgard Serpent Jörmungandr, the great wolf Fenris, and Hel Half-Dead. That all these three are fathered by Loki is one of the other layers of the above; we'll get into it a little later.

Okay, so Loki eats Angrboða's heart?

Well, no - not literally. If the heart/thought-stone is an idea (or many ideas) that are dear to the one who has them, then how do you eat them? Well, eating is consuming; you 'consume' an idea by listening to it. So Loki eats the heart, or rather, he actually sits down and talks with this vibrant, charismatic leader, and listens to the ideas she's developed from sitting in judgement over her people, and takes her ideas for his own - he 'eats her heart, her thought-stone'.

But what's this about pregnancy?

Well, how can you 'get pregnant' by a thought? Why, by taking it as your own - internalizing it, we would say. Now, actual birthing is only implied - 'thence in the world are all wicked ones come' is definitely suggestive of a pregnancy that results in birth! Take this back to being 'pregnant with an idea', and what would be the product? Why, more ideas, of course!! And if the 'more ideas' that Loki births are 'all the wicked ones', then this is suggesting that all the bad ideas he has after this are a result of him taking into himself the ideas he gains from the ogress/giantess Angrboða.

Another layer of this is the concept (essentially held even in modern times) that a man 'is pregnant' when a woman carries his child. Angrboða gave three children to Loki (Jörmungandr, Fenris, and Hel), and so with a shift of emphasis of reading, as well as a realization that Loki meeting a female who could deal with him on his own level would definitely enflame his passions, it is only a small step to see that Loki's dealings with Angrboða soon proceeded to sexual relations, and he impregnated her - 'with child from the woman | Lopt soon was, And thence among men came the monsters all.'


Reading Nordic poetry and sagas, even in translation, rather requires an understanding of kennings, poetic license and metaphor, Nordic beliefs, sociology both general and particular, and a realization that the damn skalds pretty much never talk straight at something. Always consider that the meaning of the actual word, phrase, or concept is a stand-in for something else, and you probably won't be too far off. ;)

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