Snorri Sturluson: The Prose Edda
13th century, Icelandic: numerous copies in Iceland, Copenhagen.
Loki and Heimdall become seals.
'There were three principal gods in the Scandinavian pantheon,' said Quintin.
'Well – five really,' said Miranda.
'Five?’ replied Quintin. 'Thor, Odin, Loki, and all the others...'
'Freyja and her brother Frey,' said Miranda.
'They were members of the Vanir, not the Aesir,' objected Quintin.
'When the Asiatic gods invaded Europe, according to Snorri Sturluson's Ynglinga Saga, written in Iceland in the thirteenth century, it is true that the Vanir were already there,' conceded Miranda. 'But rather than being annihilated, which usually happens with old gods when new ones arrive in the temples of a new culture, there was an exchange. Some of the Vanir went to live in Asgard with the Asiatic gods and in the Prose Edda Snorri tells us that they mixed their spittle in a big cauldron, which I imagine means that all their poetry and belief was melded together. And a lot of the stories that Snorri tells probably reflect this – like when Loki and Heimdall become seals, and the fact that Loki is always borrowing the ability to change into a hawk from the goddess Freyja when he needs to fly to Giantland.'
'Isis and her vulture form then, or the Irish goddess that would appear as a crow. But the giants were the enemies of the gods.'
'That's right – so they were probably the old gods. But the myths and allegories were all melded together. Loki is the son of a giant and he will fight on their side at the final battle, at the end of the world. It all begins with the death of the god Baldr, which was all Loki’s doing.
'Baldr had had bad dreams and feared what they might mean. So all the gods of Asgard went around getting assurances from everything in the world that they would do no harm to Baldr. Having obtained all these assurances, they then amused themselves by throwing stones and spears at Baldr, knowing that everything they threw had promised not to do him any harm. It was like a festival and a circus. Great fun! Except that Loki had disguised himself as an old woman and gone to Freyja to get the lowdown on what was happening. She told him that everything had made the promise except for the mistletoe. So Loki persuaded the blind god Hod to throw a spear of mistletoe at Baldr, and it went right through Baldr and killed him.
'All the gods knew at once that Loki lay behind this murder, but he fled from them and turned himself into a salmon and hid in a river.'