When I first began researching Loki in the Fall of 2009, I was disappointed at the lack of information I could find, and moreso in the bias presented in what information was out there. There are surprisingly few accounts of personal interaction with Loki in Heathen writing, and even within the Pagan community. For any one article I found recounting a personal experience with Loki, I found ten based solely on fear and prejudice, claiming that Loki was not a God and should not be worshiped, or that His energy was inherently deceitful and should not be sought under any circumstances, with little or no sources cited to support their views. I’ve even seen personal accounts go as far as to say that cats bearing his name have tried to kill their owners by knocking electrical devices into their bathwater. (To this, I have to add a little bit of snark: If you leave your blow dryer, curling iron, and/or toaster on the side of your bathtub, and your cat, an arm-flail, or gravity drops it into your bathwater with you in it, besides being a tragic accident, that is not Loki’s responsibility. That, folks, is natural selection. Do not blame a God, blame Darwin.)
So, in light of that, I am making two pieces regarding both my research and my own experiences with Loki both as an offering to Him, and as a resource to anyone who may be on the same search I was and is struggling to find information on Him or those who work at His side.
Challenging Misconception One: Loki is not a God
This is an argument that you will hear in many circles, despite the fact that Loki speaks of being the blood-brother to Odin (a process generally consisting of two individuals opening a purposeful wound upon the hand or some other surface, and mixing blood to create a spiritual bond and connection) in the Lokasenna and is often counted among the ranks of the Aesir in various myths. The main defenses for this argument include the fact that no shrines have been found dedicated to Loki, nor have there been any historical records of cults centered around his worship. Similarly, no landmarks bear his name, with perhaps the exception of the designation of the star Sirius as “Lokabrenna” or “Loki’s Torch” in the Juttish/Cimbrian Islands. (de Vries 226) Still, to name a celestial body after a mythological character, with no mythological explanation, such as that of Thiassi’s eyes, still denotes cultural significance in reference to that character.
What truly baffles me about this is that Loki is not isolated among the accepted Asa Gods when it comes to a lack of recovered shrines. For example, Heimdall and Hoenir similarly have no historical reference of a shrine, temple, cult, or sacrifice (de Vries 204). It would seem rash to assume that they were never worshiped or venerated. Keep in mind, as well, that many Norse monuments and shrines were constructed of wood, and were not as impervious to the test of time as the stone temples and statues of Greece and Egypt. Unfortunately, this made them much easier to destroy, such as Olaf’s account of smashing a wooden effigy of Thor in the Heimskringla, when Christianity swept Europe. Unfortunately, unlike the Pagan cultures in say, Egypt or Greece, the Norse traditions were handed down orally, and we truly have no account of their culture written by anyone other than Christian monks who were free to insert Christian lore as they saw fit, as Snorri has been accused of in many sources. Egypt had over two thousand Gods and Goddesses within its religious practice (Bard 734). We have found neither shrines nor temples to even half of these, yet they are recounted in religious texts, such as the Papyrus of Ani as being Gods. We would have no record of these beings whatsoever if these manuscripts had not survived, or we would be puzzling through ambiguous names mentioned within tombs and on monument walls, much as we are weeding through the identity of Loki.
Outside of shrines, the only true evidence to be found is left in lore. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is found in the Loka Tattur , in which Loki rescues the son of a peasant family. The father bets his son as collateral in a challenge with a giant (a chess game in H.A. Guerber’s Myths of the Norsemen). When the father loses, he cannot stomach the idea of the giant taking his only child, and systematically calls upon Odin, Hoenir, and Loki to save his child. The three gods individually steal the child away and engage the boy in a wild, shape-shifting game of hide-and-go seek. It is only Loki that finally manages to outwit the giant by asking his family to build a boathouse with a special iron fixture over the door, into which the giant runs and knock himself out cold.
This myth is significant in the fact that Loki is called right along with, and in the same fashion as Odin and Hoenir, indicating that this family would have placed the same divine significance on Loki as they placed on the two deities called before him. As in many of Loki’s other myths, He is called in desperation and as a last resort after everything else has failed.
While many scholars have categorized Loki as a “demon”, goblin, vaettir (spirit), or one of the alfar, I believe this story sets him apart from those spirits. In no other place in Norse Myth are the vaettir, alfar, druegar or other such non-ancestral spirits called in such a manner to help man, nor are they summoned beside such powerful and well-known names such as Odin and Hoenir. If Loki were a spirit befriended by and bound to Odin, Loki would have been set to assist instead of or alongside Odin, not called upon specifically and separately. On this note, I also have a problem with classifying anything in Norse culture as “demonic”. There is no context for the idea of demons in Norse culture, especially not in the Judeo-Christian sense of a being working explicitly to do evil, often in answer to some greater, more malicious higher power. I find that to describe a character by a term out of their cultural context is to describe them completely incorrectly. The closest reference that I could even find it Norse lore is Angrvaettir, which has been loosely translated as “angry spirit” and this is never used in any myth to describe Loki. Furthermore, if the Norse themselves had any such notion of Him, He would certainly not be called upon to rescue a child.
Another argument that Loki must be an angrvaettir or some type of “demon” is that He is referred to as “evil” and “evil-doer” within various verses of lore. (Hymiskvitha verse 38, Grueber) I have heard heathens argue that such as phrase would never be used to consistently describe a deity. However, Odin has a name (Bolverk) that literally means evil-doer. (Lemming, Fee 18) One may argue that Odin experiences this title in only one tale, while Loki is called evil in a variety of sources. However, if we explore the context in which these are used, you find that Loki is more commonly placed in a position of needing to break either himself or the Gods out of dire situations, where Odin only encounters this once: in his journey to Jotunheim to retrieve the Mead of Inspiration.
Misconception Two: Loki is the murder of Baldr, and Hodr was innocently caught in Loki’s trick.
When Baldr is murdered in Aegir’s Hall, Odin sends his night-old son Vali to avenge Baldr’s death. However, when Odin discovers that Loki had a hand in His son’s death, He chooses to imprison Loki rather than order Him slain. This had never made sense to me, at least not until I read Saxo’s rendition of the tale.
In Saxo’s narrative of Baldr and Hodr, Nanna (Baldr’s wife in many other tales) is the foster sister of Hodr and he is in love with her. Baldr sees Nanna in the bath and similarly falls in love with her. Hodr is warned by “forest maidens” about Baldr’s intentions and promptly proposes to her. Hodr is encouraged by Nanna’s father to fetch a magical sword and armlet, as the sword is the only thing that can kill Baldr. From here we follow a back-and-forth battle of these two figures over Nanna. Hodr first defeats Baldr and a host of Gods, and then is Himself defeated by Baldr later in the tale, only to conquer again and eventually mortally wound Baldr with the magical blade (Saxo Grammaticus 63) Loki is nowhere present in Saxo’s tale.
To borrow a great point from Anna Rooth, the renditions of Baldr’s demise found in the Gylfaginning and the Voluspa are very close parallels to several other myths, including the demise of Atys as accounted in Heredotos and the accidental slaying of Fergus by the blind poet Ailill in Irish myth. In the death of Atys, Atys, son of the Lydian king Croesus, has a dream that he will be killed by a lance. Croesus orders all lances and spears to be confiscated and banned throughout the land to protect his son’s life. When a giant boar begins to ravage the countryside, Croesus sends a man of his household, Adrestus, to slay it, and eventually succumbs to Atys’ pleading that he accompany Adrestus on the hunt, as boars certainly have no spears. When the two have the boar surrounded, Adrestus takes aim at the boar and misses, inadvertently slaying Atys. I find the most striking prose in the comparison between this myth and Baldr’s death to be Croesus’ reply to Adrestus when he begs the king to sacrifice him over Atys’ body: “And it is not you who are to blame for this misfortune that has overtaken me. But the blame must lie with some deity, who knew from the first what was to happen (Herodotos, stanza 45)”. Also very similar to the Baldr myth, Ailill, jealous of Fergus’ interloping with his wife, Maeve, convinces the blind warrior-poet Lugaid that the splashing he hears in the water is actually a buck and a doe frolicking. Knowing Lugaid is not one to miss, Ailill hands the poet a spear and turns him in Fergus’ direction, causing the Lugaid to unwittingly slay his own foster-brother.
Most modern renditions of this tale stem from Snorri, who unabashedly added other areas mythology and locations into his work, such as suggesting that Odin originally came from Troy (Lindow 116). Whether or not we can make the leap that Snorri stole the framework of his rendition of Baldr’s death from the mythos of surrounding cultures is uncertain, though it is noteworthy that the same concept is repeated in several other cultures. Over time, it is extremely likely, if not fully accepted, that Christian influence seeped into Norse myth (de Vries 179-185, 282-288, Grueber 248) especially as Christian conversion gained momentum in the late tenth century. If Snorri had sought to make a further connection between Loki and the Christian Satan, he may have taken this opportunity to do so, as Loki is only briefly mentioned in this myth, and, within the plot, seems rather out of place.
It’s possible that if Loki was involved in Balder’s death, and informed Hodr of the only possible weapon with which to murder Balder, He did this as a back-handed way to help preserve His blood brother’s lineage after Ragnarok. It’s well-known that Odin and most, if not all, of his sons die in the Ragnarok. Loki spends several stanzas of the Lokasenna chiding Gods and their servants alike for their poor skill or absence at battle. Certainly, it would have been perceived as cowardice if Balder had watched the Twilight of the Gods pass and not battled, and likely died, at the side of the Asa Gods. This makes even more sense coupled with the fact that many scholars speculate that what Odin whispered into the Balder’s ear prior to sending his body out to sea was “Resurrection”. (Guerber 28) The obvious question is ‘Why would Loki do this?’ Since this is speculation around the lore, it’s truly hard to say. Perhaps this was truly just retaliation for Odin’s reactionary mistreatment of Loki’s own children. (Especially the tossing of Hel into Niffleheim/Helheim at a very young age and the tossing of Jormangund into the sea.) However, Odin has asked Loki to perform several “questionable” acts in the lore to suit Odin’s own ends: such as the theft of Brisingamen to gain Freyja’s aid in inciting and controlling the war between two clans. Even if Odin didn’t outright ask Loki to somehow aid in sending his son to Helheim, which is questionable, Odin may have made mention of his anxiety from the revelations of Ragnarok. Loki may have taken it into His own hands to “do something about it”, and that certainly may have been colored by any resentment He bore for Odin’s treatment of His own family. If there was reasoning behind Balder’s death and need to remain in Helheim until Ragnarok, this lends more reason why Loki, in his guise as Thok, does not cry, because it would completely unravel the purpose behind the work. Regardless, the fact that Balder is the only one of Odin’s line to survive Ragnarok and ascends to His father’s place after the destruction lends curiosity to the whether or not Balder’s death was just a tragic accident or a reluctant, morbid plot between the King of the Aesir and His close companion.
I’m sure this essay will continue to grow and reshape as I learn or feel the need to add new information, but these are my views on and rebuttals of some of the biggest “criticism” of Loki. It would appear that He often served as a more intentional and conscious “Cat’s Paw” for the Aesir, especially Odin, which likely lends to the common view of Loki as a God of chaos. This is a notion, from this view of the lore, that I can agree with, that parallels something that He once told me in my own personal experience: “My altar is laid on the foundation of crisis.” He is certainly a God of chaos, at least in the mindset of being a “God of last resorts”, which is something that is depicted in His lore over and over again. Though, the most common view of Him is as a God of fire. This is something that I agree with from my own personal interactions, even if it is not clearly present in the lore. Any connections to Loki and the hearth fire are very loose, as is defining whether or not He and Lothur on the same entity. Also, while the connection between the Loki’s creation of the net, transformation into a salmon, and the Fire Fish Runes of Finland (which define how to make and drag a net) is present, it’s still somewhat of a leap. (Rooth 159) I can definitely see where both viewpoints emerge, and I find both equally valid. In several cases, Loki is the last handle the Aesir retain on hope when everything else has fallen apart, whether or not the current crisis is by His own doing. Even in the cases when Loki is the cause of panic and mayhem, He always brings something better than the trouble he caused: Skadi, from his ordeal with Thiazi; Draupnir, Gullinbursti, and Mjollnir from His penance for cutting Sif’s hair. He’s certainly turned my life upside down many times, sometimes for his own devices, but, regardless, I have always left his tests, jokes, and ordeals a better person than I was before.
This, I believe, is why so many people fear Him and are hesitant to work with Him: He turns your life upside down to force you to make yourself better. What creates chaos in your existence, and why are you so attached to it? Is it worth that pain? He throws you into the change that you need to move forward, and not everyone can contend with that. Loki truly does try His people by fire, and it’s a hard road that some people will never allow themselves to walk. I can accept the hesitancy, the unwillingness, but I do feel a sense of sadness and even resentment that the aversion from Loki may discourage Pagans from coming to Him. Just mentioning His name in a group of pagans will evoke reactions from love to fear to disgust to outright hatred. So many practitioners I’ve spoken with want nothing to do with Him, or even his followers, because they’re heard “stories”. And many of these people can’t even tell you what the “stories” are about, in any acute detail, but damnit, they’ve heard them. While it’s truly a great injustice, I know that those who need the Fire God tend to find their way to His altar, and He’ll be waiting. Personally, I’m honored to be tempered in Loki’s fire, and happy to endure that heat over and over again.
de Vries, Jan. The Problem of Loki. Helsinki: Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seuran kirjapainon o.y., 1933.
Rooth, Anna. Loki in Scandinavian Mythology. Lund, 1961.
Lindow, John. Norse mythology: a guide to the Gods, heroes, rituals, and beliefs. Oxford University Press, 2002.
Snorrason, Oddr, and Theodore Andersson. The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason. Cornell University Press, 2003.
Fee , Christopher, and David Leeming. Gods, Heroes & Kings: the Battle for Mythic Britain. Oxford University Press, USA, 2004.
Bard, Kathryn. Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. 1999.
Geurber, H.A. The Myths of the Norsemen. Digiread.com Publishing, 2009.
Macaulay, G. C. (English Translation) “Herodotus.” Sacred Texts. N.p., 1890. Web. 15 Jan 2011. .
Elton, Oliver. (English Translation) “Saxo Grammaticus.” The Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus. Sacred Texts, 1905. Web. 13 Jan 2011.