Angrboda is a mysterious, yet essential part of Loki’s story. She is his mistress, she dwells in a forest called Ironwood which is located somewhere the realm of Jotunheim. She’s described as a with and a giantess. She is the mother of Jormungund the world serpent, Hel queen of the dead, and Fenris Ulf. That is all that is known about her.
So in typical remix fashion I began casting about for similar mythological characters I could steal details from. I chanced across a mention that described her as the “mother of monsters” as indeed she is, and instantly thought of Lillith.
Lillith is a figure from Hebrew mythology. She is the first wife of Adam, created as his equal from the same dust (rather than from a rib.) She refuses to be subjugated to him, however, and flees Eden. She then takes Samael (alternatively described as the Angel of Death or as Lucifer himself) as her lover and gives birth to the world’s first monsters. In Arab mythology she’s known as the orignal mother of the Jinn–the third sentient race in creation–half demon, half human.
And that’s all we know about Lillith. So obviously I cast my net once more, and this time I started researching the Morrigan–the ancient celtic goddess of war, strife, and death. Morrigan is associated with crows and the battlefield and sometimes the Valkyries. Promising, right?
But it gets better. We can tie the Morrigan directly back to Lillith. From Wikipedia:
In a 9th-century manuscript containing the Latin translation of the Book of Isaiah, the word Lamia is used to translate the Hebrew Lilith. A gloss explains this as “a monster in female form, that is, a morrígan“.
So who or what is Lamia? That’s where things get really interesting. Lamia is a figure from Greek mythology, a queen of Libya who was turned into a child-eating demon by Hera. (Guess why.) Both Lillith and Lamia are associated with snakes and their attributes are frequently confused with each other.
And where it gets really interesting is in the etymology of their names. Angrboda means “she who brings sorrow.” Lillith means “night monster.” Lamia means “nocturnal spirit.” Morrigan means “Phantom Queen.”
So what does all that add up to?
Take the tragic backstory of Lamia, add the feminism of Lillith, crown it with the regality and power of the Morrigan and you get Angrboda–Loki’s mysterious and majestic mistress, the only person to ever compel his voluntary obedience. She has history with Odin (that I have not worked out) and this is the one thing she and Loki have in common. She has ambitions of tearing down the walls of Asgard and, possibly of destroying the world, but recognizes she cannot do so single-handedly. Therefore the monstrous nature of her children are no accident, but carefully calculated design. What Loki sees as betrayal, to Angrboda is strategy. Jormungund holds the world within his coils–and at his mercy. Hel commands the legions of the dead, which far outnumber the living. And Fenris, well, Fenris was just to give Loki a shifter child he could relate to.
Perhaps she bewitched me. That’s what Thor said later, anyway. It’s not that I fell in love with her. Certainly she didn’t love me. But I was fire and she was ice, and so between us there was balance and a kind of quiet understanding. She taught me silence—not just of my tongue but of my heart and mind as well. I learned to silence my footsteps when we hunted, so that no crack of branch would give us away. I learned the patience to wait to take the first shot at a deer until I was absolutely certain it would strike home.
She didn’t ask questions of my past or pressure me about the future. All she expected from me was control in everything. I gave her what she expected, for this was her forest and there were penalties for disobeying. I broke no pottery in Ironwood, and I threw no tantrums. After a few weeks I stopped worrying about being followed from Asgard. After a few months I stopped wondering if I would ever go back. The forest was timeless and unchanging. It was always cold, always winter. The fire in the hearth never died. Angrboda’s cynical smile never changed. As the months turned to years I stopped remembering there was a world outside of her arms.