Question: What are Loki’s genealogical/family connections?
Loki has a rather complex family tree, so this is a fairly in-depth question. To start with, his parents were Farbauti and Laufey, giving him his last name – Laufeyjarson. He is named after his mother rather than his father, which has all sorts of cultural connotations.
Although it is unknown if he has any direct blood siblings, as that information has been lost, we do know through the lore that Loki and Odin swore an oath of blood-brotherhood. In most ancient societies – the Norse being no different – an oath like that equated you as a blood relation to the other person’s family. In some ways, it is a bond that even transcends that of marriage, when it comes to tying two families together.
We do not know why Odin and Loki swore this oath, though there have been many people speculating on its importance. Some think that Odin did this to tie his wyrd to Loki’s in an attempt to prevent Ragnarok from occurring. That does not work, of course, as Ragnarok must always happen – the worlds must always die and be reborn, ever evolving. So, to me, this theory does not make much sense. It also suggests that Loki himself can be viewed as just another one of Odin’s pawns, so I am not a fan of this theory.
I prefer to think that Odin and Loki grew to know one another in the days before the giants themselves were defeated by Odin and his brothers, as Loki is a god that strikes me as incredibly ancient. It seems to me that the two of them are on more or less equal footing, and the oath would have been sworn because of the relationship that grew out of their fondness for one another, rather than Odin’s incessant need to keep Ragnarok at bay.
There is no real way to know, of course, since that lore has been lost, so all we have now is speculation. What that oath does mean, though, is that Loki’s family and Odin’s family can be viewed as one and the same. Loki thus bears the relations to Odin’s family that he would if he were Odin’s flesh and blood brother. That means that he is Thor’s uncle, and the great-uncle of Magni, Trud, and Modi, and the great-step-uncle of Ullr. In addition, that means that Loki is Baldr’s uncle, and that puts a different weight on the story of Baldr’s death.
There is also the relations that Loki has to his wives and his children. Sleipnir, of course, is his child, though I doubt we can claim that Svadilfari has any sort of spousal relation to Loki. It’s more that Loki used Svadilfari to prevent the giant from finishing the walls on time, and Sleipnir happened to result from that union. It was a great result, however, as Sleipnir contains within him the ability to traverse the nine realms. That is definitely a gift he would have received from Loki – not Svadilfari, who may have gifted him the strength to bear Odin across the realms – and it hints at Loki’s deeper ability to travel through the worlds at will.
Through the lore, Loki has two wives – Angrboda and Sigyn. With Angrboda, Loki has three children – Jormungand, the world serpent, Fenrir, the bound wolf, and Hel, the goddess of death/the underworld. Although the myths suggest that the gods, with Odin making the ultimate decisions, have to deal with the monster children of Loki in order to stave off Ragnarok, there is a deeper significance to each decision.
Jormungand, the world serpent, encircles Midgard and is fairly reminiscent of Ouroboros, which is a mystical and magical symbol that represents the One and the All within it – the duality of life where everything both creates and destroys itself. There’s a touch of Hermeticism in that viewpoint, so if that’s not your thing, feel free to interpret it a different way.
Fenrir, the giant wolf bound with six impossible things, is said to break his chains when Ragnarok begins. The story itself bears the horrors of Tyr forced to betray a close friend for the good of the cosmic order – in many ways, the story tells us that the greater good is more important than one friend, though the consequences for betraying that friend is great – Tyr loses an arm. It is a story of sacrifice and betrayal, and it is also a story of great honor – it depends on the perspective you take.
There are many Lokeans who will not work with Tyr because of his actions towards Fenrir, but I do not feel the same way. Fenrir enacted immediate retribution on Tyr and evened the score between them. I have to imagine that the friendship between Fenrir and Tyr was never one-sided, and Fenrir would have understood Tyr’s reasoning even through the betrayal. The betrayal certainly hurt Fenrir, but I think that he would have understood that Tyr’s function as a cosmic balancer forced his hand despite his desire to keep from causing his friend pain. That’s how I choose to view it, but I highly suggest making your own decisions about it.
Then, of course, there is Hel, who is tossed into Niflheim to become the goddess of death. She is half-alive and half-dead, and there are many modern stories out there that suggest she was subject to ridicule in the land of the gods because of her appearance. I do not really buy that, however, as the gods themselves have different so-called deformities. Odin doesn’t have an eye, having sacrificed visual sight for inner sight (which is the way I interpret the story of his sacrifice at Mimir’s well), and Tyr doesn’t have a hand. It is not unusual for the gods to have oddities about them, and I doubt the gods really cared much about Hel’s appearance.
They did, however, need someone who could rule over the world of the dead, and a god that is already half-dead seems like the perfect choice. It is hard to say where Hel’s power over life and death originate – with Angrboda or Loki – as both of them seem to have psychopomp abilities.
Loki’s marriage to Sigyn produced one child – Narfi/Nari – and he ended up the step-father of Vali, whose blood father is unclear. Both of these children suffered a terrible fate at the hands of the gods when Loki was punished, and it is his rage at the cruel fates inflicted on his children that pushes him into his aspect of Worldbreaker and catalyzes the beginning of Ragnarok.
With the cruelty inflicted on Nari and Vali, is it any wonder that Loki boils with enough rage to take on the Aesir? They have murdered his children, innocent of any ill-doing, to punish him. By the cultural context of old Norse society, he is obligated to avenge them or suffer irreparable damage to his wyrd.