The Demonization of Loki – Part II

Part Two: Loki as a Trickster Figure


One of the most enduring theories about Loki’s nature is that he is the quintessential Trickster figure.  While this theory is not without controversy, it does provide an interesting avenue into the examination of Loki’s character. Lewis Hyde, in his book Trickster Makes the World, defines a Trickster Deity as one who represents the “paradoxical category of sacred amorality.” (Hyde. P. 10). He goes on to point out that Tricksters invariably appear in nearly every mythology, often cropping up in folklore and popular culture as well.

Every group has its edge, its sense of in and out, and trickster is always there, at the gates of the city and the gates of life, making sure there is commerce. He also attends the internal boundaries by which groups articulate their social life. We constantly distinguish – right and wrong, sacred and profane, clean and dirty, male and female, young and old, living and dead – and in every case trickster will cross the line and confuse the distinction….Trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox. (Hyde, p. 7).

Certainly that amorality is one of the dominant characteristics of Loki as his stories have come down to us in the lore and it’s the characteristic that gives modern Heathens the most trouble in coming to terms with him as part of the existing cosmology of Gods.

Because Tricksters are defined by their ambiguity and guile, (Hyde, p. 18) it is not surprising then to find folklorists and scholars willing to place Loki in this category. Like the West African Eshu, Loki may be considered a trickster not only ‘because he fools people and creates chaos, but because he’s always escaping the codes of the world.” (Davis, p. 39). Dumezil, for instance, in his monograph Loki, while not approaching Loki as a Trickster, discusses him as a manifestation of creative and often impulsive intelligence, what he calls ‘the unquiet thought.” (Dumezil, p. 216). Scholar Jan de Vries on the other hand, places Loki definitively in the category of Trickster, emphasizing his nature as mischief maker. (de Vries, p. 224) and, equating him with Lodur, as a divine thief of fire, a comparison Dumezil also makes.

It is admitted by all scholars that the most outstanding feature of Loki is his character as a trickster and a thief. With only very few exceptions all the traditions about him show him as a cunning creature, delighting in making mischief. Sometimes he shows a rather childish pleasure in playing his tricks upon the gods, often he contrives to do serious damage, but in most cases he is obliged to repair his faults. …Loki as a trickster is quite sufficient as a religious phenomenon. (de Vries, p. 253-254).

Parallels may also be drawn between Loki as Trickster and Loki, Prometheus-like, as a cultural hero. Something of this perhaps survives in the Faroese balled, the Loka Táttur, in which Loki is the only God out of three (the others being Odin and Hoenir) who is able to save a peasant boy from a giant’s wrath. This tale stands in stark relief amongst the surviving lore, portraying Loki as a cultural hero instead of as the enemy of Gods and man. It is interesting that Loki is paired with Odin and Hoenir as this pairing is echoed in the creation triad of Odin, Hoenir and Lodur as well.

The Trickster and the Hero are both powerful cultural archetypes often highlighting those transformative or traumatic moments where the sacred leaks into every day life. The most ubiquitous of mythic or archetypal figures are often also the most disturbing and controversial and the trickster is no exception to this rule. Diana Paxson in her book “Essential Asatru” declares: “Steer clear of Loki if you have problems with ambiguity;” and later notes “like Coyote in Native American myth, Loki is a trouble maker and a culture bringer, the latter often as a result of the former.” (Paxson, p. 71).

As Hyde notes, Tricksters are Gods are uncertainty. (Hyde, p. 247). They are figures who ‘can tear a hole in the fabric of fate so a person might slip from one life into another.” (ibid). They help the outsider escape the restrictions and boundaries imposed by cultural conventions. Liminal figures, tricksters often define thresholds and then by their actions either cross or expand those thresholds. Tricksters inhabit “The cracks between languages or between heaven and earth,” (Hyde, p. 260) and by their finagling machinations, create a means whereby diametrically opposed opposites (like heaven and earth, good and evil, chaos and order) may intersect and learn from each other without actually touching and thereby violating the necessary boundary between the sacred and profane. (Hyde, p. 263). They are the enemies of entropy, the living embodiment that unchanging surety is an illusion, that, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: Everything changes. Nothing remains the same. (Balme, p. 11).

Like any good trickster, Loki is the most controversial being in the entire Nordic pantheon. Many modern Asatruar won’t even utter his name, such is the discomfort he inspires. Loki entered the ordered ranks of the Aesir through a ‘back door,’ so to speak: he swore blood brotherhood with Odin (a God with more than his fair share of tricksterish qualities). This oath entitled Loki to be treated with all the honor and respect due Odin’s actual brother. (Krasskova, p. 97). Despite this erstwhile acceptance into the ranks of the Aesir, Loki pays little heed to their rules and comfort zones. Interestingly enough, one possible etymology of Loki’s name is ‘a looped piece of string,’ in other words, a loop-hole. (http://www.ellipsis.cx/~liana/names/norse/vikbynames.html). Certainly in the surviving Eddic tales, Loki is a master of creating them both for himself and others.

It is part of a trickster’s nature that they force those who work with them to expand the boundaries of their understanding. They bring evolution, a dynamic synergy and creative power. They often act as catalysts and facilitators of growth. Through Loki’s tricks, for instance, the Gods acquire tools like Mjolnir that help them defend and maintain the order that the Aesir created at the beginning of time. When Thor’s hammer is later stolen, it is through Loki’s quick thinking that Thor is able to win it back. (A certain gender fluidity is also, often the mark of a trickster and it is notable that in the Thrymskiviða, Thor must disguise himself as the goddess Freya to triumph and Loki himself exhibits a certain ambiguity in the area of gender, even transforming into female form twice, once actually giving birth). At the same time, through Loki’s direct interference, the Gods lose Baldr, one of the favored sons of Odin. Eventually, Loki is said to rise up against the Gods.

So what are the traditional characteristics of a trickster, outside of a certain moral ambiguity? Folklorist Barbara Babcock defines trickster figures by their duality:

No figure in literature, oral or written, baffles us quite as much as trickster. He is positively identified with creative powers, often bringing such defining features of culture as fire or basic food, and yet he constantly behaves in the most antisocial manner we can imagine. Although we laugh at him for his troubles and his foolishness and are embarrassed by his promiscuity, his creative cleverness amazes us and keeps alive the possibility of transcending the social restrictions we regularly encounter.   …In the majority of his encounters with men, he violates rules or boundaries, thereby necessitating escape and forcing himself to again wander aimlessly.   …

Trickster is . . . a “creative negation” who introduces death and with it all possibilities to the world. . . . Things “are” by virtue of and in relation to what they “are not”: structure implies antistructure and cannot exist without it.   …Trickster, “the foolish one” — the negation offering possibility — stands in immediate relation to the center in all its ambiguity . . . . And for this we not only tolerate this “margin of mess,” this “enemy of boundaries,” we create and re-create him. (Babcock, p. 147-186).

It is easy to see Loki fitting into these rather broad categories. He is bringer of gifts, cultural hero and at the same time brings destruction (or negation) by helping to kill Baldr and eventually leading the etin forces against the Aesir at Ragnarokk. Erin Weber in her article on Nanabozho and Hermes briefly discusses the attributes common to tricksters across cultures, again reinforcing their ambivalent ambiguity:

…godlike qualities intermixed with human frailties, the role of educator, often through the counter or negative example (particularly through ambiguous sexuality that presents the consequences of disobedience vis-à-vis societal norms), as well as the function of guide to worlds unknown or as middleman or conductor between worlds. In essence, the trickster embodies an entire bundle of contradictions that enact an uneasy but necessary reconciliation of the world’s dualities.  (http://72.14.253.104/search?q=cache:YKa8gQXaNm4J:honors.web.mtsu.edu/docs/Word%2520%26%2520Excel%2520Documents/Weber%2520(Erin)%2520Abstract%252006U.doc+Characteristics+of+Trickster&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=39).

Loki, a being who resists categorization of any sort manages to fall fairly neatly into the categories that define tricksters. A few relevant examples will clearly highlight this aspect of Loki’s nature.

Creative powers, bringer of culture:

As discussed above, Loki was responsible for the acquisition of several important tools of the other Gods. In payment for his theft of Sif’s hair, he won Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer by which he defends Midgard and the realm of the God against Jotun incursion; Odin’s armring Draupnir that drops eight identical rings every ninth night; Frey received his golden boar Gullinbursti and of course, Sif received new hair made entirely of gold, hair that took root and grew like real hair when placed upon her shorn head. The theft of Sif’s hair and its eventual replacement with pure gold is interesting in that many modern Heathens (and some scholars) accept the idea that her hair represented the grain crop (particularly wheat) and that this story may be symbolic of the seasonal harvest: the grain, so necessary for life, is cut and grows anew with the turning of seasons. Scholar Marion Ingham points out that the few scholars who still support such nature-symbolism point to the fact that it is virtually indispensable to have thunderstorms for the grain to ripen—it fixes the nitrogen. And Thor with his mighty hammer is associated with thunder. (Krasskova, p. 53).  Thus, in a rather round-about way (fitting for a trickster) Loki might be seen to assist in bringing about the creative abundance of the harvest.

Loki is associated with fire and by some scholars (such as de Vries) with Lodur, one of the triune of creator Gods (the other two being Odin and Hoenir).  Of Lodur, the Voluspa  notes that he was responsible for bestowing ‘life hue and warmth’ upon the first man and woman, just as Odin gave breath, and Hoenir consciousness.

Of course it should be noted that not all scholars accept Loki and Lodur as being the same entity. There is admittedly scant etymological evidence to support this attribution, yet the translation of the name as “Fire bringer” and Loki’s ongoing connection with fire, particularly in folklore where he is often regarded as something of a fire-spirit or fire demon (MacCullough, p. 148-149), as well as Loki’s connections with Odin have contributed to its persistence.

By some accounts, Loki creates the fishnet, which is then used to trap him when he attempts to flee in the aftermath of the Lokasenna. Then of course there is the story of Skrymsli the peasant’s child in which Loki is hailed as a hero, providing a permanent solution to the danger the child was in where Odin and Hoenir only provided temporary aid. (Guerber, p. 119).  And while it may not fall strictly within the confines of “culture-bringer,” in his travels with Thor, Loki does consistently help his companion navigate interactions with the Jotuns, effectively bridging two disparate cultures.

Promiscuity and sexual ambiguity:

Perhaps no other aspect of Loki’s character gives both modern scholars and Heathens such pause as his sexual exploits and ambiguity. Unlike any other God, Loki is known to several times have shape shifted into female form. While Odin is accused of unmanly behavior and keeping company with witches in the Lokasenna, only Loki goes so far as to assume female shape and actually give birth.  He first does so when the safety of Asgard is under threat. A stone mason hires out to the Aesir to build a sturdy protective wall around Asgard. His payment, should he finish by a set date was to be the sun, moon and Freya as his bride.  The Aesir agreed largely because it did not seem possible for the giant to finish in the time allotted. His horse Svadilfari, however, proves to be of more aid than the Gods expected and so, to lure the stallion away and thus slow the giant down and prevent him from fulfilling his part of the contract, Loki transforms into a mare. This results in Loki giving birth to Odin’s eight-legged steed Sleipnir, hailed in the Grimnismal as ‘the best of horses.

He again transformed into female form (this time that of an old woman) after the death of Baldr. Hela, Mistress of the Underworld, had agreed to release Baldr from her realm, on the condition that every living thing weep for him. In the guise of the old woman Thokk, Loki refused saying “Let Hel keep what she has.” He is also accused of taking the form of a milkmaid and living for eight winters beneath the earth and bearing children. (Lokasenna, stanza 23). Preben Sorenson speculates that this ‘must certainly be taken to mean that Loki served as mistress to giants or trolls, whose sexuality was considered gross and unbridled.” (Sorenson, p. 24).  He points out that in Nordic culture, “the charge of wearing women’s clothes, of performing women’s work or being a woman or a female animal evoked the whole complex of ideas on cowardice and effeminacy” (when applied to men) (ibid). Thus, Loki taking the form of a woman was in effect, Loki violating a major cultural taboo and engaging in that which was nið and/or argr i.e. unmanly and socially/sexually deviant.

Transcendence of social restrictions/violation of boundaries:

This is perhaps the area in which Loki most exemplifies tricksterish behavior. Most glaringly evident, are his violations of gender and sexuality taboos as noted above. Loki manifested through his gender fluidity, behavior that was considered nið and/or argr– unmanly and effeminate and thus inappropriate. It is worthy to note that many  modern Asatruar find this particular behavior equally as offensive as his role in the death of Baldr.

Gender fluidity aside, the very means by which Loki becomes part of Aesir society exemplifies his position as ‘other.’ He is of Jotun birth, a member of a race in constant conflict with the Aesir, yet he becomes blood brother to Odin and thus gains entrance into that culture. He travels frequently between the two worlds, maintaining a wife amongst the Aesir (Sigyn) and a wife amongst the Jotuns (Angurboða). On the latter, he births three terrifying children: Fenris, the great wolf of chaos who so frightens the Aesir that they contrive to bind him; Jormungand, a great serpent who is thrown into the sea to surround Midgard; and Hela, a half woman, half corpse child, who is cast into the Underworld. On Sigyn, Loki fathers two boys: Narvi and Vali but one is killed by his brother who is transformed into a wolf when Loki is bound. So while Loki brings very helpful tools to the Aesir and utilizes his cunning intelligence to help them avoid trouble (or conversely to get them out of trouble that he has helped create), he also sires children who embody the powers of destruction, transformation (in the body of a serpent) and death.

He is a thief, by its very definition a violation of boundaries. He steals Freya’s necklace, Sif’s hair, and is the cause of Idunna and her apples of youthfulness being stolen by the giant Thjiazi. In this latter story, Loki manages to rescue Idunna, which leads to Thjiazi being killed. This in turn leads to his daughter Skaði storming the halls of the Aesir demanding wergild for the death of her father. Loki assists in soothing her anger, playing the fool to cause her to laugh. This he achieves by tying the beard of a goat to his testicles and prancing around, in yet another example sexually ambiguous behavior. By setting into motion the course of events that led to Skaði allying herself with the Aesir, Loki crossed yet another boundary and helped bring some of the wildness and primal power of the Jotun race into the sacred enclosure of Asgard.

Loki was also known for his shapeshifting, which is perhaps the most concrete and pragmatic of his violations of accepted boundaries. At various times he transformed into a mare (birthing Sleipnir), a seal (battling with Heimdall after his theft of Brisingamen), a fly (on two occasions), a flea, a milkmaid, a woman, a giantess, and a salmon. He also borrowed Freya’s feathered cloak to transform into a bird (to retrieve Idunna after his machinations had contributed to her being kidnapped by the Jotun Thjiazi in the first place). (MacCullough, p. 146). These exploits violate not only simple physical boundaries but also gender expectations, as noted above.

Creative negation/introduction of death/possibilities:

While not ever associated with being a death deity in and of himself, Loki hovers on the periphery of death and transformation throughout the Eddic lore. Firstly, he is the father of Hela, who takes her place in the Nordic pantheon as a Goddess of the Underworld. Secondly, in contributing to the death of Baldr, Loki becomes a bringer of death and opens up the possibility of the order the Gods created surviving Ragnarok, for after Ragnarok, Baldr is freed from Hel and thus something of the world of the Gods remains intact.

Loki is clearly a liminal figure, always existing betwixt and between: neither fully part of the world of the Jotuns (beings of chaos) nor fully part of the world of the Gods. Belonging to neither, he is able to move between both and possesses the synergetic  power of active manifestation. Because he is a being of chaos yet bound to order via his oath to Odin, he is able to manifest this quixotic and change-inducing power directly in the ordered realm of the Gods. He opens careful doorways and through them, that power is brought under tentative control. This liminality is perhaps the most ambivalent aspect of Loki’s nature, as it is within many tricksters, through the most cursory examination of the surviving lore shows that Odin possesses it too. Odin however, always returns to the secure realm of inangarð, to the hallowed ground of the Gods. Loki is never part of that, though he may dwell there for awhile. He is always an outsider, always on the fringe of the Divine community, always “other.” (Krasskova, p. 99).

Because, as the stories of Loki show, tricksters are never actually fully accepted parts of the communities they serve, they provide unique role models for those people who may struggle with the artificial and often limiting boundaries of their culture or society. Tricksters help humanity recognize and effectively utilize those opportunities whereby cultural conventions may be usurped or surmounted or simply dispensed with entirely. The struggle to overcome and better one’s fate is a recurring theme in many myths, from that of Prometheus stealing fire to aid humankind to Sigurd, battling the vagaries and often brutal implacability of wyrd. Myth encapsulates that eternal struggle and the trickster teachers various methods whereby one might triumph at it. Hyde refers to these methods as works of artus (Hyde, p. 252) and theorizes that it is such ‘artus-working’ that truly defines the trickster.

Artus is a Latin word for joint, though it’s also related to the word ars or art, skill, craft (or a crafty action). (Hyde, p. 254). The trickster possesses a singular talent for finding the point between dualities, between heaven and earth and turning reality on its proverbial head. As “artus-workers,” tricksters ferret out hidden vulnerabilities (just as Loki found Baldr’s vulnerability to the mistletoe) and untruths, utilizing the first and exposing the second. In Nordic cosmology, Loki might actually have gotten away with his part in the slaying of Baldr were it not for his visit to one of the Aesir’s feasts wherein he systematically exposed the weaknesses of each God and Goddess present, pointing out where they fell short of the expectations of the Divine community (modeled of course on Norse ethics and mores of the time). It was this act, encapsulated in the Eddic poem the Lokasenna, which led to Loki’s punishment, not necessarily his hand in killing a God.

Hyde notes that ‘trickster shifts patterns in relation to one another, and by that redefines the patterns themselves.” (Hyde, p. 257). Being outside of the community, yet conversely to a limited degree part of it, the trickster has a remarkable freedom not only in pointing out weaknesses, but in navigating them to his own advantage. He becomes the translator between the world of myth and the world of temporal culture, a fact that perhaps explains Loki’s many appearances in Scandinavian and even Anglo-Saxon folklore.

In many respects, the trickster is a translator. Translation, the act of changing one thing into another, occurs at the point of articulation and underlies nearly all of Loki’s actions. It involves both an act of sacrifice—of that which is being translated or changed—and creation. In the hands of the trickster, nothing remains untouched, unknowable, unchanging. At the same time, the trickster, who himself acts without shame, makes one ever more aware of those things society might define as shameful (often by his very violation of societal rules and boundaries). Inevitably, the trickster is punished for his transgressions against his community’s taboos and by this highlights that to be without shame, is to be without reverence. It is not reverence that the trickster fights against, but unmindful, unthinking regulations that are irreverent in their lack of mindfulness, regardless of how much shame they evoke. Glimmers of this may be seen in the Lokasenna wherein Loki attacks the sexual behavior of the Gods. Tricksters not only show how to circumvent the boundaries of cultural taboo, but conversely, when they should be upheld as well.

In acting the trickster, Loki is both cunning thief and provocateur, dancing merrily across the divide between the sacred and profane, shameful and honorable, accepted and taboo. As trickster, he supports the traditional structure and boundaries of their communities and at the same time, creates doorways whereby the sacred, the numinous, the unexpected –that which brings evolution—may touch and transform the community.

Sources:

  1. Babcock-Abrahams, Barbara, (1975). A Tolerated Margin of Mess: The Trickster and His Tales Reconsidered. Journal of the Folklore Institute, vol. 11, #3, pp. 147-186.
  2. Balme, Maurice, et al. (2003). Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek. New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. Bellows, Henry (translator) (1926). The Poetic Edda. New York: The American Scandinavian Foundation.
  4. Cawley, Frank Stanton, (1939). The Figure of Loki in Germanic Mythology. Retrieved October 2006 from http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0017-8160%28193910%2932%3A4%3C309%3ATFOLIG%3E2.0.CO%3B2-L
  5. Ellis Davidson, H.R. (1964). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. New York: Penguin Books.
  6. Davis, Erik, (1991). Trickster at the Crossroads. Gnosis Magazine, Spring #19
  7. de Vries, Jan, (1933). The Problem of Loki. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia Societas Scientiarum Fennica.
  8. Dumezil, Georges, (1986). Loki. France: Flammarion.
  9. Guerber, H.A. (1994). The Norsemen. UK: Senate Publishing Company.
  10. Hyde, Lewis, (1998). Trickster Makes the World. New York: North Point Press.
  11. Kaldera, Raven, (2006). Jotunbok: Working with the Giants of the Northern Tradition. MA: Asphodel Press.
  12. Krasskova, Galina (2005). Exploring the Northern Tradition. New Jersey: New Page Books.
  13. MacCulloch, John, (1964). Mythology of All Races, Vol. 2. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc.
  14. Paden, William, (1994). Religious Worlds. Boston: Beacon Press.
  15. Paxson, Diana, (2006). Essential Asatru. New York: Citadel Press.
  16. Rooth, Anna Birgitta, (1961). Loki in Scandinavian Mythology. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerups Förlag.
  17. Sigurðsson, Gísli (translator), (1999). Eddukvaeði. Iceland: Mál og menning.
  18. Sorenson, Preben, (1983). The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society. Denmark: Odense University Press.
  19. Simek, Rudolf, (2000). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. UK: DS Brewer.
  20. Weber, Erin, “Nanabozho and Hermes: A Look at the Persistence of the Trickster Archetype in Louise Erdrich’s Tracks and Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (abstract). Accessed November 30, 2006 at http://72.14.253.104/search?q=cache:YKa8gQXaNm4J:honors.web.mtsu.edu/docs/Word%2520%26%2520Excel%2520Documents/Weber%2520(Erin)%2520Abstract%252006U.doc+Characteristics+of+Trickster&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=39

  • http://wyrdmeginthew.blogspot.com Siegfried Goodfellow

    Loki confesses to being the radbani of Baldur at Aegir’s Feast in Lokasenna, and for that he is killed, because it was treason to his blood-brother oath with Odin. You don’t kill your blood-brother’s son! Particularly when that son represents a great deal of the good that is in the world!

    Secondly, an Indo-European comparison, particularly with the Ribhus in Rig Veda, indicates that Loki did not “bring these treasures” to the Gods, such treasures being given on a regular basis anyway. What he in fact did was set two different tribes of artisans against each other in a conflict that was disastrous to the world.

    Thirdly, Loki, in getting together with Angrboda, engenders three of the most horrific monsters of the world.

    His “tricks”, if you want to call them that, are sociopathic.

    The figure CLEARLY exists as an object-lesson in what NOT to do, that has NOTHING to do with Christian “demonization” (heathenry is not simply the opposite of Christianity ; in fact, heathenry shared many assumptions with Christianity), and there are very rational reasons to steer clear of such a figure.

    It’s really clear : you take someone into your house, under your roof and protection. They kill your most beloved son, they wreak havoc with the world, in the process engendering a monster who will directly become the death of you, they steal some of your most precious and needed resources (Idunn’s apples) and render them up to your sworn enemies, only bothering to make good on the crime when threatened with bodily harm. They storm into a truce-hall and kill one of the ambassadorial servants, and then slander everyone in your family, finally admitting to the crime of bringing about your son’s death. Is this anyone you or anyone in your family would want to have anything to do with? And if your family was in charge of watching over the world’s weal, is this someone you would want anyone imitating, calling upon, invoking? Would you believe anyone who said, “Look, I really love you and your family, but I also associate willingly with this guy who killed your son and wreaked havoc with your house, and I justify it by the fact that you guys were once friends a long time ago?”?

    I think those are fairly cool, rational, non-demonizing reasons to steer clear of Loki.

    But there’s nothing to fear. Lopt and Heid remain humanity’s most beloved deities, for the cheating, conniving spirit, and the love of gold and everything that goes with that represent a great deal of mankind’s authentic values, whatever lips service they may give to other powers. So most people will continue worshipping Loki in deed even if they never call upon his name.

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    Posting for Siegfried Goodfellow:

    “Firstly, I do not believe it is for us to judge the Gods by our human morality. To my mind, that is hubris. There is also the fact that pre-Christian Paganisms and Heathenry drew their moral codes from their society, not their religion. That’s a difficult thing for moderns to really grasp and I think that within Reconstructionist religions, it’s a particular stumbling block, but one that should be kept in mind when examining the surviving stories.

    You say that Loki’s children by Angurboda are monsters. One of those children is Hela, Goddess of the Underworld, that same underworld where the majority of modern Heathens will be going when they die, if you also believe the lore on that point of fact. A little respect might be in order.

    Not to mention that what Odin (and I say this being Odin’s and loving Him dearly) did to Loki’s family was far more horrific than the slaying of Baldr: taking two boys, and in front of their mother (and father), causing one to slay the other, to rip out his intestines– in front of their mother — and then using those intestines to bind the father. That is horrific. At least Baldr’s death was clean. Odin’s morals are every bit as “sociopathic” (if you want to use that term, I don’t. it has very specific psychological meaning that I do not believe fits here) as you accuse Loki’s of being.

    Loki does not exist as an object lesson of what not to do no more than any of the other Gods do. They do not exist for our whims, including our moral edification. They exist. Period.

    I praise and honor Loki because He has been a friend to my house. Because of Him I was able to open myself up to Odin. Every good thing in my life (and those things are considerable) have in some way passed through Loki’s hands, including my relationship with Odin. I maintain that those who are so quick to slander, drawing on lore alone, have never actually *met* the Deities in question. That direct experience makes all the difference. Lore is a great and useful map, but a map does not the territory make.”

  • http://wyrdmeginthew.blogspot.com Siegfried Goodfellow

    The lore is a guide to the direct experiences of generations upon generations of heathens. It compresses that experience into narrative.

    I do not slander where truth is spoken as per the lore.

    Hel-Urd rules over the kingdom of the dead where the ancestors of most will go. Loki’s daughter Hel-Leikn is the ruler merely over Niflhel, where nidings go.

    And the dichotomy between those familiar with the lore and those who have “actually met” the Gods is nonsensical. It is not upon any of us to evaluate the theological experiences of another ; neither do those individual theological experiences, in and of themselves, trump generational, collective experiences as they come down to us through the lore. Nothing separates by any necessity the realms of the Scholar and the Gnostic.

    As far as judging the Gods by human morality, we have been fashioned with divine gifts that reflect their qualities. The Breath of Odin, the Divine Spirit, lives within us, and reflects, however obliquely, his qualities. Moreover, there are divine ethics inherent within the narratives themselves that can be appealed to that just so happen in many ways to overlap with human ethics. The match is not always one-to-one, but there is significant overlap.

    The dichotomy of the derivation of morals : religion or society seems too deeply drawn if applicable at all. There was a realm left to human evolution of custom, and then there were other realms that did indeed concern the Gods.

    I find no evidence for Vali’s rending of Narfi having taken place in front of either of their mothers.

    As far as the punishment (for this is what it was) seeming somehow worse than the crime, consider that the wergild for Loki, Vali, and Narfi combined could not compare to that of Baldr. If we examine Teutonic lawcodes describing wergilds, the wergild for a serf class might be 1/3 of that of a noble. It is not said that all of existence loved Loki’s sons. Baldr was not only important, but vital to the preservation of the Golden Age, and Loki destroyed all that. Loki had wolf-children. If the Aesir gave one of them his true shape, and he rended the other, they were only showing the consequences of breeding wolves within one’s own family.

    Odin is not sociopathic. He will utilize expediency when it serves a higher goal, yet will show remorse at the same time. Where was ever Loki’s true remorse?

    “Loki does not exist as an object lesson of what not to do no more than any of the other Gods do. They do not exist for our whims, including our moral edification. They exist. Period.”

    Strange that the mythic narratives of people the world over incorporate significant object lessons within them, but somehow the mythic narratives of the Teutons form some sort of exception, because they are “true”.

    Ethics are not whims. They are necessities. If Lopt has whispered otherwise, one might want to consult Havamal. It’s a more trustworthy source.

  • http://wyrdmeginthew.blogspot.com Siegfried Goodfellow

    One more thing on Loki’s sons :

    One son, changed into a wolf, rends another son, who is seemingly innocent.

    Just as Hodur was made to kill Baldur.

    It’s poetic justice.

  • Galina Krasskova

    The lore was written by men. It is not revealed scripture. It was written well after conversion by politicians and poets and never intended to be taken as religious scripture. It is deeply, intrinsically flawed.

    that being said, we’re lucky to have it. We’re lucky to have any scrap of knowledge giving us any information on our Gods, but the way that contemporary heathenry has chosen to utilize lore, has more in common with Protestant fundamentalism than it ever will with the religion of our ancestors.

    Judging the Gods is hubris, pure and simple. You assert that the death of Narvi, the binding of Loki, the destruction of Vali cannot make up for the death of Baldr? I could not disagree more. It was brutal overkill. I agree: Odin is expedient and remorse will not stop Him from doing what He feels must be done. The Gods play Their games amongst each other. I do not believe it is for us to become involved. Our portion is to honor Them, to give appropriate offerings, and to be respectful –something that few heathens seem to grasp.

    Lore is a crutch used by contemporary heathens to avoid direct experience with the Gods. All religious experience is, at its core UPG. It is unverifiable save to the person experiencing it. There comes a point where the authority of any written piece of “lore” should bow its head to the authority of personal experience. Those preaching lore over the Gods are usually those who have precious little experience WITH the Gods.

    Yes, there are many lessons we can draw from the stories of our Gods, even filtered as they are through the lens of Christian belief. You will note, that amongst the other ancient polytheisms, the Gods behaved in ways that to our human morals would be considered badly, but while people might have been encouraged to learn from these tales, at the same time, those selfsame Gods were worshipped. Draw what lessons you want, but it is a sad thing when one puts human morality over respect for the Holy Powers: all the Holy Powers. This ridiculous casting of Loki as some sort of Norse Satan is ill-considered and comes far more from our Christian upbringings and a need to have an enemy than anything else.

  • http://wyrdmeginthew.blogspot.com Siegfried Goodfellow

    “but the way that contemporary heathenry has chosen to utilize lore, has more in common with Protestant fundamentalism than it ever will with the religion of our ancestors.”

    This trope is often repeated, but repetition does not make it correct. In fact, lore is utilized all over the world in tribal societies in precisely the way it is utilized in contemporary heathenism — as a strong authority.

    The fact that the lore was written by human beings does not discount its revelatory quality, just as with Rig Veda. The power of poets has always been an acknowledged part of IE societies.

    The lore itself was not COMPOSED after conversion ; it was TRANSCRIBED from the oral lore which had been composed well before conversion. This is a point of some importance.

    Who’s judging the Gods? I was discussing the offspring of a jotunn. Besides, the narrative is quite clear. I’m merely drawing conclusions from the judgements the narrative already implicates. The lore is very clear about the value of Baldur. Everything — EVERYTHING — changes for the worse after Baldur’s death. There is NOTHING about the value of Loki’s children. In fact, from the narrative, their sole value was to bind Loki.

    “There comes a point where the authority of any written piece of “lore” should bow its head to the authority of personal experience. ”

    Au contraire. The lore is the compressed experience of the ancestors, whose collective experience far outweighs the novice dilettanteism of any individual, let alone a modern individual well outside the ancient flow of tradition.

    Don’t get me wrong. I agree that experience is important. But it does not trump lore. Experiences need to be digested over long periods of time. UPG shifts and changes over time. Things one one thought revelatory become moments in a learning process. It’s the reification of that learning process more than reification of the lore that accounts for problems in contemporary heathenism, as I see it.

    “Those preaching lore over the Gods are usually those who have precious little experience WITH the Gods.”

    Absolutely no evidence for this. This is an authoritarian statement. It is an attempt to discredit those who have actually bothered to educate themselves and engage in the kind of intense and critical scrutiny Odin wants us to engage in. It’s invoking an old trope of “bookish versus gnostic”, when in fact there is no strict separation between the two. It most certainly is not true in my case.

    I am not casting Loki as a Norse Satan. The fact of the matter is, however, that the Trickster figure worldwide is often far more dark than contemporary configurations would have it, and in some ways does at times approach a somewhat devilish figure. Loki is very different than Satan. He enjoys an intimacy with the chief of the pantheon very different than Lucifer, even if Lucifer was honored. Loki came from an opposed tribe from the get-go, rather than being originally one of the Gods. Loki was given a chance, therefore, that Lucifer was not, because Odin saw something good in him, which makes Loki’s betrayal all the worse. It is precisely the potential of good within Loki that makes his treason, to someone who took him in as friend and intimate, all the more poignant, and which therefore, completely justifies the treatment he received.

    The good potential in Loki is something I am very much aware of. As a character, I love Loki. I have done much celebrating of Loki, publicly. And if part of your attempt here is to open those who have simply begun their path closed down to that potential, that’s a valuable part of the dialectic, but those who celebrate Loki are often far too lazy in their recognition of just how much harm he also does. It is, no pun intended, a tricky balance, and I will side on the side of the Gods’ judgements. Loki lays bound.

  • http://krasskova.weebly.com/blog.html Galina

    You wrote: “This trope is often repeated, but repetition does not make it correct. In fact, lore is utilized all over the world in tribal societies in precisely the way it is utilized in contemporary heathenism — as a strong authority.”

    The fact that the lore was written by human beings does not discount its revelatory quality, just as with Rig Veda. The power of poets has always been an acknowledged part of IE societies.”

    Incorrect. Heathenry has a strong tendency to utilize lore the way Protestantism utilizes it…as the dominant authority, reigning in experience and moreover separating the folk from the Gods. Tribal societies often have their shamans or priests or interlocutors with the spirits and Holy Powers as well and throught his, the influence of the oral lore is mitigated. It works far more hand in hand with experience than we allow within contemporary Heathenry. Lore is not a revelation. It is not holy writ. It was not even written down by practicing Heathens. Do I think that a person can draw closer to the Gods and deepen their spirituality by studying the lore: yes. Do I think that lore should have any particular authority to dictate spiritual expression: no, I don’t for a number of reasons. It’s one map of many; it’s not the only map nor even the best one.

    You wrote: “The lore itself was not COMPOSED after conversion ; it was TRANSCRIBED from the oral lore which had been composed well before conversion. This is a point of some importance.”

    What is of more importance to my mind is that transition from an oral tradition to a literate one. What was transcribed was one form of a story. We do not know if it was the only form. We do not even know if it was the dominant form. It was the form the poet happened to prefer…and not for any theological reason either. We are not a religion of the book. It’s time to stop pretending otherwise. Lore is useful to a point, but only to a point.

    You wrote: “Who’s judging the Gods? I was discussing the offspring of a jotunn. Besides, the narrative is quite clear. I’m merely drawing conclusions from the judgements the narrative already implicates. The lore is very clear about the value of Baldur. Everything — EVERYTHING — changes for the worse after Baldur’s death. There is NOTHING about the value of Loki’s children. In fact, from the narrative, their sole value was to bind Loki.”

    And there are those of us who believe the Jotuns are amongst the Holy Powers. And one part of the lore is clear about Baldr. Of course then there’s Saxo’s account which doesn’t mention Loki at all. One of Loki’s children includes Hela. Unless you’re in the military, where do you think you’re going when you die? A little respect for Her might be in order.

    You wrote: “Au contraire. The lore is the compressed experience of the ancestors, whose collective experience far outweighs the novice dilettanteism of any individual, let alone a modern individual well outside the ancient flow of tradition.”

    It is not the compressed experience of the ancestors. I find that assertion laughable. It is what we have and we’re fortunate to have the stories but let’s not make it more than it is. The collective experience of the ancestors can best be obtained by honoring those same ancestors. “Lore” as collective ancestral experience is much the same as looking at a Danielle Steele novel as the collective experience of our generation. Gods help us if that be the case.

    You wrote: “Don’t get me wrong. I agree that experience is important. But it does not trump lore. “

    And there we disagree.

    You wrote: “Experiences need to be digested over long periods of time. UPG shifts and changes over time.”

    Yes, because spirituality shifts and changes. Nothing wholesome and healthy remains static and unchanging.

    You wrote: “Things one one thought revelatory become moments in a learning process. It’s the reification of that learning process more than reification of the lore that accounts for problems in contemporary heathenism, as I see it.”

    The problem as I see it is too much authority being given to lore and not enough to the Holy Powers.

    My original comment: “Those preaching lore over the Gods are usually those who have precious little experience WITH the Gods.”

    Your response: “Absolutely no evidence for this. This is an authoritarian statement.”

    Yes, based on the authority of my experience.

    You wrote: It is an attempt to discredit those who have actually bothered to educate themselves and engage in the kind of intense and critical scrutiny Odin wants us to engage in.”

    What Odin wants varies from person to person. As to education: I have an MA in religious studies and the focus of my degree was the evolution of Heathenry and Paganisms in contemporary America. I’ve read the lore. I’ve studied it. It’s a nice map. It doesn’t hold a candle to experience.”

    You wrote: “ It’s invoking an old trope of “bookish versus gnostic”, when in fact there is no strict separation between the two. It most certainly is not true in my case.”

    That is precisely the division that exists within modern Heathenry. Do I think it HAS to exist: no. I don’t. IN fact, I think ideally the two should work hand in hand to support each other. That is not what’s happen though; instead far too much weight is being given to the bookish end of the equation.

    You wrote: “I am not casting Loki as a Norse Satan. The fact of the matter is, however, that the Trickster figure worldwide is often far more dark than contemporary configurations would have it, and in some ways does at times approach a somewhat devilish figure.”

    Yes, I agree there. The Tricksters can be very dark. However, we have many Gods who are every bit as dark as Loki. Odin stands foremost in that respect. Slander one. Slander all of Them.

    You wrote: “ Loki was given a chance, therefore, that Lucifer was not, because Odin saw something good in him, which makes Loki’s betrayal all the worse. It is precisely the potential of good within Loki that makes his treason, to someone who took him in as friend and intimate, all the more poignant, and which therefore, completely justifies the treatment he received.”

    I could not disagree with your interpretation more.

    You wrote: “The good potential in Loki is something I am very much aware of. As a character, I love Loki. I have done much celebrating of Loki, publicly. And if part of your attempt here is to open those who have simply begun their path closed down to that potential, that’s a valuable part of the dialectic, but those who celebrate Loki are often far too lazy in their recognition of just how much harm he also does. It is, no pun intended, a tricky balance, and I will side on the side of the Gods’ judgements. Loki lays bound.”

    Loki does no more harm than Odin. He is one of the Holy Powers and I do not believe it is for us to cast aspersions on any of Them. Our portion is to honor Them rightly and well. To say that this Being is “good” and that one “tricky” is to put our own judgments above Their natures and that is where I find the hubris to lie. My purpose in writing this article was to A) honor Loki (and because I find His stories interesting and B) to teach those coming into the faith about this God, who is often troubling and difficult to consider.


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