Sigyn: Get to Know Loki’s Mysterious and Dutiful Wife

Sigyn was an Aesir goddess and the wife of the trickster Loki. She is portrayed as loyal and dutiful but may have secrets to reveal.

Mar 11, 2024By Jessica Suess, MPhil Ancient History, BA Hons History/Archaeology
sigyn wife of loki

 

While Sigyn was one of the Aesir gods of Asgard, she was also the wife of the trickster Loki. He was a giant invited to live among the Aesir due to a brotherhood pack with Odin. When Loki finally betrayed the gods one too many times, he was cruelly punished, however, Sigyn stayed by his side.

 

Sigyn’s name suggests that she was also the goddess of victory in battle. Were her split loyalties between her Aesir family and her giant husband the reason that neither side could win during Ragnarok?

 

Wife of Loki

sleipnir tjangvide sweden
Odin Riding Sleipnir, fragment of the Tjangvide Runestone, c. 800-1099, Source: Researchgate

 

In the surviving sources, Sigyn is listed among the most important Aesir goddesses living in Asgard. But like most of the Aesir goddesses, we know very little about her. She is usually only mentioned in relation to her husband.

 

Sigyn was the wife of Loki, the trickster giant. But from very early on in Norse mythological history, Loki lived among the Aesir in Asgard. This was the result of a brotherhood pact that he made with Odin.

 

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Sigyn was not Loki’s only partner. He most famously had three children with the giantess Angrboda. These were the serpent Jormungandr, the wolf Fenrir, and the giantess Hel. With his Aesir wife, Loki also had two children, Narfi and Vali.

 

Despite being welcome in Asgard, Loki often found himself in conflict with the gods. Thor threatened Loki when the trickster removed his wife Sif’s beautiful golden hair. But Loki was able to regain the favor of the gods by procuring new hair for Sif from the dwarves. While there he also procured a number of other treasures for the gods, including Thor’s hammer Mjolnir.

 

The Aesir also turned on Loki when his meddling meant that they were about to lose the goddess Freyja, the sun, and the moon to a builder who was constructing the walls around Asgard. But Loki was able to save the day by shapeshifting into a mare to distract a stallion that was helping the builder. One consequence of this misadventure was that Loki ended up pregnant and gave birth to the eight-legged steed Sleipnir. He gifted this animal to Odin as his steed.

 

Eventually, however, Loki took things too far.

 

Loki’s Betrayal

balder death
Hodr Killing Balder, illustration in SAM 66 75v, by Jakob Sigurðsson, 1765-1766, Source: Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, Reykjavik, Iceland

 

Loki finally pushed the gods too far when he played an integral role in the death of Balder. Balder was one of the many sons of Odin, born to his Aesir wife Frigg. Balder is portrayed as the most noble and handsome of the gods and the most beloved entity in the cosmos.

 

Frigg was very protective of her son, perhaps because her seeress abilities revealed certain things about his fate. To ensure his safety, Frigg visited all things in existence and extracted promises from them that they would never hurt or participate in hurting her son. This made Balder more or less invincible. Consequently, the gods would entertain themselves by throwing things at Balder and watching them bounce off harmlessly.

 

For some reason, Loki was determined to discover whether Balder had any weaknesses. He disguised himself as an old woman and made friends with Frigg. The two eventually started talking about what she did for Balder. As the old woman, Loki marveled that she had truly spoken to all things in existence. With her guard down, Frigg revealed that she did forget to talk to the humble mistletoe plant, but that this could not be important.

 

loki bound sigyn collingwood
Loki and Sigyn, illustration page 245 in The Older or Poetic Edda by Olive Bray, illustrated by W.G. Collingwood, 1908, Source: The Internet Archive

 

With this information in hand, Loki created a mistletoe dart. He then joined the gods one day when they were entertaining themselves by throwing things at Balder. He approached Balder’s brother Hodr and asked him why he was not participating in the game. Hodr reminded Loki that he could not because of his blindness. Of course, Loki offered to help him. He placed the mistletoe dart in Hodr’s hand and told him where to throw it. To everyone’s surprise, the mistletoe dart struck Balder dead immediately.

 

This death was a double tragedy. Because Balder did not die in battle, his soul could not be taken to Valhalla, Odin’s hall in Asgard. Instead, it was sent to Helheim. Only Hel, the daughter of Loki who rules there, can release a soul.

 

The gods pleaded with Hel to let Balder go. She agreed on the condition that all things in existence weep for Balder to prove that he is the most beloved creature in existence. The gods did succeed in getting all things to weep, with the exception of an old witch. This is assumed to have been Loki in disguise. Consequently, Balder was forced to stay in Helheim.

 

Divine Punishment

sigyn wahlbom sweden
Loke and Sigyn, pen and ink on paper by Carl Wahlbom, 1833, Source: The National Museum, Sweden

 

The aftermath of Balder’s death was bloody. His wife Nanna threw herself on his funeral pyre. Hodr was killed for his role in Balder’s death and joined his brother in Helheim. But Loki does not seem to have been punished immediately.

 

At some point after the death of Balder, the gods have a dinner in the hall of Aegir. Irritated not to be invited, Loki turns up and starts insulting all the gods. It is in this conversation that he reminds Odin of their blood brotherhood and that the two agreed never to drink ale unless it was brought to both of them.

 

In another part of the discussion, Frigg says to Loki that if her son Balder was still alive, he would not escape the wrath of the gods. In response, Loki proudly claims responsibility for the death of Balder. Thor then shows up and starts to threaten Loki’s life. It is only after this that Loki flees, but he is caught and brought to justice.

 

loki and sigyn marten painting
Loki and Sigyn, by Mårten Eskil Winge, 1863, Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

The gods brought Loki to a secure place, along with the two sons he shared with Sigyn. Vali was turned into a wolf before his father’s eyes. The young man lost his mind to blood lust and ripped his own brother Narfi apart. He then ran off, presumably to his own death. The entrails of Narfi were used to chain his father to three rocks.

 

The gods then placed a poisonous serpent over Loki’s head to drip venom onto his face. The contact of the venom with his skin was so painful that Loki’s entire body convulsed when it happened. This caused earthquakes to shake the nine worlds of the Norse cosmos.

 

Despite Loki’s clear guilt in this incident, Sigyn chose to stay by her husband’s side in this deserted cave. She also tries to spare her husband from the worst of his pain. She stays by his side with a bowl in hand to catch the venom. But every so often she must leave to empty the bowl, and earthquakes shock the world.

 

This is why Loki is sometimes referred to by the kenning “Sigyn’s burden.”

 

Goddess of Victory in Battle

sigyn loki gosforth cross
Loki and Sigyn depicted alongside other images of Ragnarok on the Gosforth Cross, England, 10th century, Source: Newcastle University, United Kingdom

 

The Norse name Sigyn can be interpreted as meaning “victorious girlfriend”. This is usually thought to refer to her relationship with Loki. But this may not be the case. It is equally probable that she was a goddess of victory, much like Nike in the Greek pantheon and Victoria in the Roman pantheon. She would compliment Odin, as a god of warfare, in the same way that Victoria accompanies Mars. This could suggest that Sigyn’s favor is integral to victory in battle, which raises an interesting question about Ragnarok.

 

In the Voluspa, when the Volva is telling Odin what will happen at Ragnarok, the prophesied end of days, she starts by saying that she sees Sigyn sitting unhappily beside her bound husband.

 

According to the prophecy, earthquakes, perhaps caused by Loki’s convulsing body, allow him to break his chains. They will also allow Loki’s three children that he had with Angrboda, who were also cast out by the gods, to break out of their prisons.

 

fenrir and tyr
Tyr and Fenrir, by John Bauer, from Our Fathers’ Godsaga, 1882-1911, Source: SNL.no

 

Fenrir, the wolf, was chained up with magical chains but he will break them. Jormungandr, the serpent, was thrown into the waters surrounding Midgard. He will emerge from those waters. Hel is reigning in Helheim. But the earthquakes will shake free a ship made from the toenails of the dead called Naglfar. She will be able to sail out of Helheim.

 

Together Loki and his children will lead the assault on the gods, and the two sides will rain down mutual destruction on one another. Fenrir will kill Odin, only to be killed by another of Odin’s sons, Vidarr. Thor and Jormungandr will kill one another. Loki and Heimdall will kill one another. The battle will cause so much destruction that the entire universe will just sink back into the waters of chaos.

 

But why can neither side win? The surviving sources do not say what Sigyn will do after her husband breaks his chains. But because she is the goddess of victory in war, could the fact that she can’t choose a side between her Aesir kin who killed her children, and her giant husband who betrayed her kin, be part of the reason why neither side can claim victory and both sides are destined for mutual destruction?

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By Jessica SuessMPhil Ancient History, BA Hons History/ArchaeologyJessica hold a BA Hons in History and Archaeology from the University of Queensland and an MPhil in Ancient History from the University of Oxford where she researched the worship of the Roman emperors. She worked for Oxford University Museums for 10 years before relocating to Brazil. She is mad about the Romans, the Egyptians, the Vikings, the history of esoteric religions, and folk magic and gets excited about the latest archaeological finds.