Fire, is in and of itself an embodiment of polarity: creation and destruction, chaos and order. Fire can burn snuffing out life, destroying both homes and crops. Fire can be used to cook and prepare food, warm one against the cold of winter, used to craft the finest and delicate objects from handspun and blown glass, and used at the blacksmith’s forge in the creation of farming implements, cooking instruments, and weapons for the luck, well-being and good-fortune of the community.
In the archaeological record, there are a scant handful of depictions of Loki. One of these is known as the Snaptun Stone. The stone found in 1950 on a Danish beach, is believed to bare a depiction of Loki featuring the sewn lips described in a story found in the Skáldskaparmál. Scientists have dated the stone to the end of the Viking Age, around the year 1000 CE. As precious as any depiction of Loki is, this stone was not just decorative, but was a functioning hearthstone as well. Beneath the depiction of Loki on the stone there is a hole, through which a bellows would be placed and used to stoke the hearth fire. The hearthstone not only protected people from the intensity of the flames, but also acted as a shield protecting the bellows from catching fire as well.
Now, let’s step back and think a moment here. The ancient cultures scattered throughout Europe, which honored the Gods and Goddesses of the Northern Tradition (Odin, Frigga, Freya, Freyr, Thor, Loki, etc.) dwelled in homes known as longhouses. Longhouses are characterized with a central fire pit, or hearth fire in the middle of the dwelling. Life revolved around the hearth, and it was indeed the most important part of the home. At all times of year the hearth fire was kept burning and besides an open door, small holes in the home, and some small task lighting, the hearth provided the only interior lighting in the homes at all times of the year. It was used to cook meals that sustained all who lived there. In the winter, it was a central area where people congregated both for life-giving warmth, as well as a favored area for socialization. The fire would also be used for some level of craft making at its side.
Now, the stone itself is dated in the middle of the period of conversion in the Viking Age. It could be argued that it may have been used as nothing more than a decoration in a Christian household. I personally find it hard to believe that a Christian would have such symbolism in their home, where in some places anything of the like could get you killed. If a pagan did and the God was treated with outright fear, again I find it problematic why they would have this stone present at such a crucial area of the home, as we clearly have Loki depicted in connection with the center of the home. But beyond this mere archaeological remnant, there are other folk customs that connect Loki with the hearth fire. In Norway there’s a custom of feeding leftovers into the hearth/kitchen fire. In Norwegian folk belief, just as Thunder is associated with Thor, the crackling in the hearth fire is associated with Loki. While the Snaptun Stone is undoubtedly recognized as a hearthstone–and the most artistic example found to date– some also theorize that it may also be a connection with smithing activities, thus connecting Loki as the flames used in the creation of materials made by jewelry or black smiths. If true, then this only reinforces Loki as a central force of not only the hearth and home, but as a central force omnipresent in everyone’s lives.
Beyond these references to folklore and history, Loki, is of course a living, breathing, burning God. While He can certainly stir the flames of controversy both among scholars and believers, it is among the believers who tender the flames of devotion for Him where He is a flame that lightens the soul. Being Loki’s is never an easy thing. He does have a tendency to burn away the walls we create, the obstacles we place in our own paths. He’d rather burn away those burdens, so we can trailblaze upon the paths we walk. For those of us who work with Him and open our hearts to Him, He becomes the hearthfire of our souls. So no matter where we travel, we can always find home.
For others who might be interested in working with this God, here’s a prayer of my own crafting that you are welcome to use.
Hail be to thee Loki,
God of my heart,
Dear friend and mentor,
and bald truths.
When I find myself lost
On serpentine paths
Mired in brambles,
Eclipsed by fog and shadow,
You guide me through
back to the crossroads.
You, dear Loki,
Beckon me home.
So do I hail!
Loki isn’t honored by all in the Northern Tradition, and make no mistake that within our tradition he is a controversial god. Treated as an abomination by some, treated with a wary respect and/or fear by others, or like with me–openly welcomed and honored. For those of you who do honor Loki, how do you work with and honor Him?