2. Sif's Golden Hair and the Gifts of the Dwarfs.
She was particularly jealous of Sif, the harvest-goddess who was the ward
of the great god Thor. Sif had the most lovely golden hair, long and the very
colour of ripening corn. It always reminded the gods of the happy season
of harvest-time, when the crops were gathered in before the long, cold,
dark days of winter. Hag, wanting to cause as much trouble as she could,
persuaded her husband Loke*, to cut off Sif's lovely golden hair while she
was asleep. Loke was always ready for any mischief, so he did what his wife
When Sif awakened next morning, she wondered why her head felt so very strange. And when she saw herself in a mirror, how very sad she was to see that all her lovely golden hair had disappeared in the night! Thor also was very sad that Sif's glorious hair had been destroyed, but he was also terribly angry, as were all the other gods when they learned of Loke's foolish and unkind prank. Odin the father of all the gods, was told what had happened, and he was very angry indeed with Loke, and told him that by some means or another, he must see that Sif's lovely hair was given back to her.
Loke was indeed frightened at the anger of the gods, and of Thor and of Odin in particular. So he set off at once for the underworld where lived the Dwarf People in their caverns set in the heart of the high mountains. Although he was frightened Loke was planning to make mischief, for Hag had made him as wicked and cunning as herself. In the caves of the Dwarf People lived two very happy families who for many years had been great friends and had lived peaceably together. Such goodwill did not at all suit the evil mind of Loke, so he thought he would try to cause some mischief.
Both these families of dwarfs were very skilled craftsmen, and made all manner of beautiful things in metal. They were rivals of course but friendly rivals until Loke began to work his mischief!
Soon Loke, with his cunning and unkindness, changed everything. The head of one of the dwarf families was named Ivalde, and the head of the other family was Sindre. Loke, frightened by the anger of the gods but still intent on causing trouble, first went to see Ivalde. Loke begged Ivalde to help him by making some long golden hair which he could give to Sif, the ward of Thor, to whom he had done such great harm. He told Ivalde that it would be a difficult task, for the hair must not only look just like gold, but must grow on Sif's head. But Ivalde and his sons and brothers were so skilled at their work , that they promised to do this difficult piece of work for Loke, who, like most mischievous people , could be very pleasant when he wanted to be. so the family of Ivalde set to work most willingly to make the golden hair, for they had often made wonderful things for the gods in Asgard.
When this difficult task was finished, and finished beautifully, Loke asked Ivalde if he would make some gifts which he could take back to Asgard with him.. He flattered Ivalde by saying how wonderful the gods of Asgard thought his work was. So the busy dwarfs made a wonderfully fashioned, long spear as a gift for Odin, the father of the gods. They also made a wonderful boat for Frey to travel about the world. It was so big that all the warriors of Asgard could go with Frey in the wonderful ship and , wherever it went there was always a steady wind blowing from just the right direction.The dwarfs were wonderful craftsmen indeed. Yet when the boat was not in use, it could be folded up like a large pocket handkerchiefand put away ready for the next time when it would be needed
So, with his gifts from the Dwarf People, Loke returned to Asgard. When the gods saw that Sif had her lovely golden hair again, they forgave the wicked Loke. When Odin and Frey saw their wonderful presents from the dwarfs, they also were very pleased, and all the gods decided that Loke had done sufficient for him to be welcomed back to Asgard. But Loke had not finished! He did not like to think that he had been made to pay for his wicked and foolish prank. He was not really sorry for what had happened, and he still had mischief in his heart. So, once again he said farewell to the beautiful but wicked Hag, and set off for the caves of the dwarf people. This time he did not go to see Ivalde, but he went to the rival family of the metal workers, and he told Sindre of all the wonderful things Ivalde had made, and how delighted the gods were with his gifts.Then, cunning Loke laughed at Sindre and his fellow workers and said:
"I am quite sure that you could never make anything half as wonderful as the gifts made by Ivalde. But why don't you try? Try, but I am so sure that you cannot make things like Ivalde makes, that if you can, you may cut off my head!"
So Sindre and his brother Brok set to work to show the gods just what clever craftsmen they were, and try to beat the work done by Ivalde. The families were still good friends, but, naturally, Sindre wanted to prove that he and his family were even more skilled than the workers of the other dwarf family. Sindre set Brok to work at the bellows which kept the furnace fires burning brightly, and told him that he must on no account stop working the bellows or the work would be ruined.
Loke the wicked one, turned himself into a fly, and, so was able to hide himself in the workshop and watch all that was going on. He overheard what Sindre said to Brok and determmined that, if only for a moment, he would stop Brok working at the bellows. As Brok worked steadily sending a current of warm air into the furnace, a fly settled on his hand and bit him. But Brok was keen on his work, and he knew that Sindre was right and that if he stopped only for a second the metal in the furnace would spoil. So he did not even pause to brush the fly away from his hand, steadily he kept his bellows working so that the furnace roared evenly around the metal Sindre was working upon.
Then Loke saw the wonderful gift that Sindre was making. It was a wonderful golden boar, with most life like golden bristles. Sindre was taking great pride in his work for this was the first thing that he had fashioned for the gods of Asgard. He wanted to show them what a fine craftsman he was, and even Loke was surprised when he saw that wonderful golden boar.
This one gift did not satisfy Sindre so he set to work on a second one, warning Brok again that the furnace again must be kept burning brightly and steadily. Never for a moment must Brok cease working at the bellows! This second gift was to be a magical golden ring, a very strange ring indeed for the ring grew steadily day by day as other rings were added to it. So that, instead of being simply one golden ring, each new ring being locked into the one before it. Now, while this magic ring was being made, Loke was up to his mischief again. The fly kept biting Brok on the back of the neck, but once again Brok was brave and took no notice of the savage bites. The bellows were kept working steadily and the flames in the furnace were exactly as Sindre wanted them to be. So the magic ring was made without mishap.
Then Sindre set to work on yet another gift for the gods, and he told
Brok that this would be the most wonderful gift of all. Into the flames of
the furnace, Sindre plunged a piece of very fine iron. The furnace glowed
and again Sindre warned Brok, that the flames must burn evenly or the work
would be ruined. Loke determined that at least he would make sure that at
least there was a flaw in this third gift, so he bit Brok most cruelly on
his forehead, just between the eyes. For a second the pain blinded Brok,
and he raised his hand to brush the fly away. Then he continued his work
on the bellows, and it looked as though no harm had been done. Sindre drew
from the flames a most wonderful hammer, a hammer so heavy, that only Thor,
father of the gods, would be able to handle it.
When Sindre and Brok had finished their work, they travelled with Loke back to Asgard, so that they themselves might present their gifts to the gods.
As it happened, Ivalde and his sons were also in Asgard, and this gave Loki the opportunity to cause real mischief. The gods were so delighted with the presents of both the dwarf metal workers that they decided to have a competition to say which of the two families were the better craftsmen. The judges were Odin, Frey and Thor. To Odin was given the magical ring of gold. The golden boar was given to Frey as a chariot on which to ride across the sky. Thor was given the mighty hammer. This unfortunately was rather too short in the handle for there had developed a flaw when Brok had brushed the fly from his forehead and so, for only a second, had failed to keep the flames in the furnace burning steadily. Nevertheless it was a very wonderful hammer. No one but Thor could use it, and when Thor threw it from his hand, it always came back into his hand when he wanted it.
All the gifts were beautiful, but after a long discussion, the three judges decided that Sindre had won; his were the finer and more wonderful objects. It must have been a very hard thing to decide, but that is what the old legends of the Northmen tell us that Odin, Frey and Thor agreed. Then the trouble started, for Ivalde was an old friend of the gods, and naturally, he was very hurt that they had decided that his old rival Sindre was a better craftsman than he. Ivalde and his kinsmen left Asgard in a very despondent mood, bitterly angry, and thinking that they had been badly treated. Back they went to their old homes in the great caverns beneath the mountains, no longer the friends of Asgard, but their bitter enemies. So the wicked Loke had his way; but there was a shock coming to him, for Brok who had always liked the family of Ivalde, turned to Loke and reminded him of his promise, that if Sindre could do better work than Ivalde, Loke would agree to have his own head chopped off! Loke was terrified, for once again his own wickedness had brought trouble to him.Although he was so frightened, he managed to laugh, and as he ran away he called out to Brok "Come and catch me if you can."
When Odin heard of what Loke had done, he also was very angry indeed, but Loke was one of the gods of Asgard, and Odin did not want to hand him over to the vengeance of Brok. Loke was brought back to Asgard, and Odin said that Brok could most certainly cut off the head of Loke-but he must not hurt his neck. The head could go, as Loke deserved, but the neck could not be touched!
This of course was impossible to do, so Loke escaped the punishment which would have been his just reward. Brok and Sindre went back to their home in the underworld caverns nearly as angry and as disappointed as Ivalde had been. Brok quite rightly thought that the gods had tricked him, so he also returned home with bitter feelings towards the dwellers on Asgard. Nor could he forgive his old friend Ivalde.
Thus it came about that Loke succeeded in bringing bitterness and strife into the world of the ordinary folk, the dwarfs of the mountain caverns, and in also making them angry and dissatisfied with the gods of Asgard.
This story is very typical of the many of the old stories that the Northmen used to tell, and of the wickedness of Loke, the mischief-maker.
We know that the old Northmen were wrong in thinking that there were many gods, but such stories as this show how clever they were in understanding how bitterness and envy can ruin peoples' lives. Loke, the trouble-maker, is still with us today, even though he comes into these old legends of the Northmen, told so many centuries ago. Beware of him, and his mischief making tricks!
*Loke today is "Luck"
Chapter 3 - Idun and the
Apples of Youth.