Celebrity feuds are the meat and drink of modern gossip columns. But what do you do when it’s two gods duking it out? The Greeks had plenty of god feuds, as you might expect, including Poseidon vs. Zeus, and Hera vs. Hercules. And the Norse had a god feud of their own, involving their two most important gods: Odin and Thor.
There are many stories in which a heroic character penetrates the otherworld and is challenged by some sort of ogre or other strange being. This challenger may question the hero’s worthiness or ability.
Norse myth has two examples of a female quester who faces a challenge to her fitness and an attempt to thwart her in her aims. In Hyndluljod Freyja has to convince the far-from-agreeable Hyndla to help her protegé win a lawsuit, while in the poem Helreid Brynhildar Brynhild is challenged on her way to Hel by a giantess who questions her ethics and actions.
Verbal duelling is a major part of the sagas and Eddas, as a substitute for other kinds of violence. Mostly it happens between two men, who accuse each other of cowardice, effeminacy, and general unmanliness.
However, there are incidents of male – female flyting as well, with men and women trading insults, usually much the same insults. The two best-known examples of male – female flyting in the Eddas are the quarrel between Skadi and Loki in Lokasenna, a poem which is essentially Loki’s verbal duel with each god and goddess in turn, and the heroic poem Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, which features a bout between the hero and a giantess.
In Skáldskaparmal Snorri gives a list of names for Loki. The last is “the wrangler with Heimdall and Skadi.” He also tells us that Loki and Heimdall will fight at Ragnarök, and kill each other.
As you can see from the picture above, Heimdall and Loki are enemies, opposed forces, order and chaos. I can see how Loki fits into this, but why Heimdall in particular? (Although considering what Loki gets up to in the Thor and Avengers movies, “mischief” seems a very mild description of his activities.)