Loki (also Loptr, or Hveðrungr), the God of Lies, wasn't a particularly faithful husband to his wife Sigyn and he frequently journeyed Jotunheim (or Jǫtunheimr) to sleep with the giantess Angrboda (Angrboða). From this affair Loki fathered three absolutely awful children: Fenrir the wolf (Fenrisúlfr, Hróðvitnir, or Vánagandr), Jormungand the serpent (or Jǫrmungandr), and Hel who was human in form, pink from the waist up but rotted and green from the waist down.
The other gods, particularly Odin (Óðinn), when they heard of these children, and then saw them, were concerned. Fenrir, Jormungand, and Hel all had the potential to grow into very formidable enemies and since they were a combination of the lying trickster Loki and the god-hating giantess Angrboda, nothing but the worst and most vile things were expected from them. With this concern in mind, the gods went to the Well of Urd to speak with the three Norns; Urd, Verdandi and Skuld (Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld).
"Their mother is evil!"
"Their father is worse!"
"They will bring harm to you, they will try for the kill!"
The Norns warned.
The gods resolved that something must be done to put a stopper in the damaging potential of Loki's illegitimate offspring. So, under cover of darkness and on Odin's order, a few gods stole into Jotunheim and broke into Angrboda's home. They surprised the giantess while she was sleeping and before she could defend herself they bound and gagged her. The gods then absconded with her children and brought them back to Asgard (Ásgarðr).
Odin knew immediately what to do with Jormungand the serpent and Hel the woman. He cast Jormungand into the ocean which surrounded Midgard. The serpent sank to the ocean floor and there he remained. He eventually grew so immense and long that he encircled the Earth and could bite his own tail. Jormungand would stay in the ocean until Ragnarok (Ragnarök), during which he would battle Thor to their mutual demise.
Odin cast Hel to the dark and misty realm of Niflheim (Niflheimr), the world beneath the worlds. He struck a deal with her, giving her reign over the underworld and of all the beings who died of old age or illness. In trade she promised to provide food to anyone who came to her in need of some. Hel constructed a mighty fortress and had two man servents, Ganglati and Ganglot. She called her new home Eljudnir (Éljúðnir). Her plate was called Hunger, her knife Famine, her bed Sickbed, and the sheets upon her bed Glimmering Misfortune.
Odin was uncertain of what to do with the Wolf, Fenrir. All the gods seemed to agree that he seemed to be an ordinary wolf and so decided that there was no harm in allowing him to roam the fields freely. Tyr (Týr), the god of glory, among other things, was the only god brave enough to interact with Fenrir and so he was in charge of feeding him. As the Wolf got older, he got bigger and stronger and more fierce. The concern of the gods was renewed and so they returned to the three Norns at the Well of Urd to consult them once more; but their tune hadn't changed.
"The Wolf will cause Odin's death. We have seen this."
It was decided, upon hearing this warning, that the Wolf must be contained or killed. Odin new they couldn't kill Fenrir within Asgard as his evil blood would poison the sanctity of their realm. So the call was made to bind Fenrir, to contain him in some way and render him harmless to the gods.
The gods constructed a might chain and they called it, "Laeding" (Leyding). It was made of iron and was incredibly strong. They approached Fenrir with it.
"Are you as strong as this chain, Fenrir? Could you break free of it? Surely you could, you look easily twice as strong as this small chain!"
Fenrir examined Laeding and responded that while the chain indeed looked strong, he was certain that he was stronger. Fenrir permitted the gods to bind him with Laeding. Once he was bound up tight the gods instructed that he try to escape.
Fenrir dug his mighty paws into the earth and flexed his body and arched his back. Laeding was easily burst and it shattered into a thousand pieces.
The gods were dismayed but they hid their contempt and congratulated Fenrir, saying that he was indeed the strongest Wolf they'd ever encountered. The gods told Fenrir that they would construct a stronger chain and test him again in a few months. Fenrir welcomed the coming challenge.
When the gods finally finished constructing the new chain, which they called "Dromi", it was twice as strong as Laeding with links so large and heavy that no man could move them. They brought it to Fenrir and asked again to test his strength.
Fenrir examined Dromi and concluded that it was indeed much stronger than Laeding, but then he thought, "Have I not grown stronger in these months since I broke Laeding?" He concluded that he surely must have and so he agreed to be bound a second time. Again the gods bound the Wolf and again the Wolf shattered his bonds.
The gods were now very worried. With Odin's life on the line it seemed like no fetter could bind the mighty Fenrir. Just then Odin had a thought:
"If anyone can make a fetter that will not break, it is the dwarfs!"
So Odin sent the messenger Skirnir (Skírnir) and his horse to Svartalheim (Svartálf[a]heimr) to strike a deal with the dwarfs. In a day Skirnir arrived at the mouth of the caves which lead to the underground area beneath Midgard. The brave Skirnir navigated the tunnels and went deep into the Earth. When he arrived at Svartalfheim he was met by Nar, and Nain and Niping and Dain and Bifur and Bafur and Bombor and Nori and hundreds of others. Skirnir's deal was an exchange, an unbreakable fetter in trade for an incredible amount of gold. The Dwarfs accepted the trade and they began to construct the great bind Gleipnir.
When it was finished Gleipnir was as smooth and elegant as a silk curtain; delicate in appearance but unbreakable by man, beast, and god alike. This bind was the result of strange ingredients, and magic. When Gleipner was delivered to Asgard, and Odin asked what elements were present in its construction, Skirnir informed them:
"It's made of six things, besides magic: A bird's spittle, the sound a cat makes when it walks, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, the roots of a mountain, and a woman's beard."
The gods, armed with this newest fetter, Gleipnir, sought out the Wolf Fenrir once more. Fenrir had grown even more immense and strong in the months since he had shattered Dromi. The gods were worried that perhaps Gleipnir was not up to the task, but Odin reassured them that the Dwarfs magic would not fail.
When Gleipnir was presented to Fenrir he was extremely suspicious.
"I'll get no glory for breaking out of this dainty ribbon... but I am sure it is stronger than it looks or your would not have brought it to me. I'm concerned you've used magic to make this fetter and you are attempting to cheat me. However if I refuse the challenge I will look like a coward, so I will accept on one condition."
Odin and the other gods asked what condition that might be. The Wolf answered:
"One of you must place your arm in my jaws while I am bound, and leave it there as I struggle to free myself. If you have indeed cheated me with magic, that god will lose his arm. If you have not cheated me with magic and I still fail to free myself, I have lost the challenge and you must then release me. If you do not release me, that god will lose his arm in one mighty bite."
The gods, realizing their true intent, had no intention of losing an arm but Tyr, who had formed a relationship of trust with Fenrir, and perhaps felt guilty about what they were doing, volunteered to place his arm in the mighty Wolf's jaws... and so he did.
With Tyr's arm between Fenrir's teeth, the other gods carefully bound the Wolf with Gleipnir and then stepped back.
As Fenrir struggled to get free it became immediately apparent to him that he had indeed been tricked with magic. He demanded to be let free, but the gods refused his request. As promised, Fenrir bit down on the god Tyr's arm with vengeance and great force. Tyr tried to pull away before the beast's jaws slammed shut but his hand could not get free in time; Fenrir took Tyr's hand and swallowed it whole. Tyr screamed in agony and backed away from the Wolf, retreating to a safe distance.
Fenrir had been successfully bound but he was writhing around fiercely on the ground, his massive jaws snapping at whoever would dare to get close to him. Working together the gods tied the loose end of Gleipnir to a large chain called Gelgja (old Norse for "fetter"). They then wrapped Gelgja around a mighty boulder called Gjoll (old Norse for "scream"), looping it back and securing it to itself. The gods then drove Gjoll a mile down into the Earth and dropped the mountainous rock Thviti (old Norse for "batterer") on top of Gjoll, securing it beneath the Earth.
Less mobile than before Fenrir was still snarling and biting wildly, swearing revenge. One of the gods, as the Wolf's mighty jaws opened fully, jammed the point of his sword up against the roof of Fenrir's mouth and rested its hilt upon his bottom jaw; Fenrir was gagged, unable to close his mighty jaws without piercing his brain with sword now lodged vertically in his mouth.
Fenrir had been bound.
The serpent Jormungand waits, the woman Hel waits, and so too does the might Wolf Fenrir wait, for Ragnarok, when they will be freed to take their revenge and destroy the Earth. It is told that, just as Jormungand and Thor will be then end of one another, Fenrir and Odin will kill each other in the final battle after the gods fall from grace and Ragnarok begins.
Bonus information: After Fenrir had been bound he still struggled and wailed. From his mouth flowed a great amount of saliva. This saliva flowed constantly and formed the river Ván (Old Norse for "hope" or "expectations").
- Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda: http://www.amazon.com/Prose-Edda-Mythology-Penguin-Classics/dp/0140447555/
- Snorri Sturluson's Poetic Edda: http://www.amazon.com/Poetic-Edda-Lee-M-Hollander/dp/0292764995/
- Kevin Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths: http://www.amazon.com/Norse-Myths-Pantheon-Folklore-Library/dp/0394748468/
- Wikipedia on Jotunheim: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B6tunheimr
- Wikipedia on Angrboda: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angrbo%C3%B0a
- Wikipedia on Jormungand: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B6rmungandr
- Wikipedia on Hel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hel_(being)
- Wikipedia on Urd: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ur%C3%B0r
- Wikipedia on Verdandi: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ver%C3%B0andi
- Wikipedia on Skuld: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skuld
- Wikipedia on The Norns: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norns
- Wikipedia on Ragnarok: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragnar%C3%B6k
- Wikipedia on Eljudnir: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lj%C3%BA%C3%B0nir
- Wikipedia on Tyr: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C3%BDr
- Wikipedia on Odin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odin
- Wikipedia on Skirnir: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sk%C3%ADrnir
- Wikipedia on Svartlheim: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svart%C3%A1lfar
- Wikipedia on Asgard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asgard
- Wikipedia on the Binding of Fenrir: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fenrir