By far the most controversial and debated god of the Norse is Loki, and the only thing that most scholars seem to agree on is that he is a trickster god.
He is attested in the Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, skaldic poetry, the Norwegian Rune Poems, and widely throughout Scandinavian folklore. In archaeological finds, he is depicted on the Snaptun Stone, the Kirkby Stephen Stone, and the Gosforth Cross. Despite his controversy, both Eddas state that he is one of the Æsir.
His father is the jötunn Fárbauti and his giantess mother Laufey, though he is most often referred to as the Son of Laufey, suggesting that his mother had a higher social standing than his father. He also has two brothers, Helblindi and Býleistr. Loki is the father of Hel, Fenrir, and Jörmungandr by the giantess Angrboða, and the father of Narfi and Nari by Sigyn. He is the mother of Sleipnir, by the stallion Svaðilfari.
It’s unclear how Loki comes to be counted among the Æsir, but he enjoys a long standing friendship with Thor, and some sort of oath with Óðin, under which the one cannot accept a glass of wine without offering the same to the other. He is responsible for the kidnapping of Iðunn, the death of Skaði’s father, and many other catastrophic occurrences for the gods, but in equal measure he acquires blessings in their name: Thor’s iconic hammer Mjölnir, Sif’s golden hair, Oðin’s spear Gungnir, Freyr’s golden boar Gullinbursti, and Freyr’s great magic ship. Because of Loki’s shenanigans, Ásgard has impenetrable walls, and he further hatches many schemes to win back various lost items and loved ones.
Loki finally comes undone when he brags about the death of Baldr (which it appears he had a hand in) at a party, to Baldr’s mother Frigg. He is tortured for this; tied to three stones with the entrails of his son, with a serpent’s poison dripping into his face from above. His only comfort is his wife, Sigyn who holds a bowl to collect the venom. His screams are said in folklore to be the cause of earthquakes.
At Ragnarök, Loki is fated to break free and lead the armies of the gods’ enemies against them. This “god of lies” will duel with Heimdallr, a god of truth and forthrightness, until the two finally kill each other.
Thoughts on Loki
The whirlwind of controversy surrounding Loki starts simply – with his name. In modern interpretations, he is often linked with the Old Norse word logr, which means “fire” and this has spawned an entire generation of Heathens believing that he is a Fire Giant, or associated with fire in some way.
In some later medieval folklore he is also associated with fire, an element that brings both blessings and catastrophes if used carelessly. This more modern association seems to have have stuck, and he is especially associated by modern heathens with uncontrolled, destructive fire. Some heathens see this “new” association as a part of living tradition. The gods after all are not stagnant – they evolve with us.
Part of this evolution is due to Snorri’s story of an eating competition between Loki and the giant Logi, who is a literal embodiment of fire. While separate characters in the tale, many find it hard not to see the two near-identical looking and sounding names to be puns, in the same way that Oðin and Oðr are – separately presented characters who are possibly the same person.
If we only look to the linguistic evidence for fire in his name, we don’t find it. In other Scandinavian dialects of the time, Loki’s name is related to words likened to knots, loops, tangles, nets and webs. Spiders, and the flies in their webs are symbols of Loki’s, as are nets, and images of bondage. It should come as no surprise when his lips get sewn shut as a punishment in one of his stories.
A common modern mis-translation is that Loki is the brother or half-brother of Thor. This is due to Marvel Comics (and movies) which are loosely inspired by the old myths and change several things in the retelling. He is not Thor’s brother in the lore, but rather his companion, and the two have a sort of odd-couple relationship.
While all of Norse mythology is in varying degrees demonized by Snorri and Saxo (a tradition carried forth by many Christian authors recording Pagan stories) Loki in particular is given the darkest treatment and is “satanized” and clearly compared to the Christian Devil. This is because in preserving the lore of their ancestors, Snorri and Saxo wanted to present Heathenry as a precursor to the coming of Christianity, and they found in Loki the closest to a Satan figure.
Like all of the gods, Loki is giant-descended. It is important to note that in the lore, giants are actually considered just another tribe of gods. It is only later that they become diminished in standing, much like the Irish Tuatha De Dannan are turned into the miniaturized Victorian flower fairies (or in the case of the Jötnar, giganticized). It is important to note that Loki is no more or less jötunn-descended than Oðin or Frigg.
It is made clear in the lore that Oðin does not receive drink unless Loki also does. This might be a reference to libations, as when Oðin received libation, Loki always did also. Trickster gods are common in old pagan religions the world over and they often played a key role in questioning the decisions of the chief-figure they are associated with. This tradition was considered a sacred one, and the divine trickster would later evolve into the Medieval jester, who accompanied the king and was allowed to say things to him that others were not. The Fool archetype of Medieval folklore is also a descendant of Loki’s. Shakespeare’s Mad King Lear, lost on the Heath with his Fool, are likely descendants of Oðin and Loki.
While the antics in Lokasenna seem, especially through a Christian lens, to present Loki just being a dick, roasting the king was actually a common custom in Proto-Heathen times, and a sacred one at that. Loki might be thought of today as a god of stand-up comedians who can say things, sometimes horrible things, others cannot.
Loki was originally disregarded in the earlier days of the Heathen revival, but as Christian bias is being examined more critically, he is being revived through the lens of an older ethical system, one that is not a mere duality of Good vs. Evil, but rather like Tricksters in other traditions, he is a deity of change.
Change, like Loki, is something many people do not like. Change, like Loki, can be looked at as being responsible for just as many good things in our lives as bad. It is intriguing that the Change God (Loki is also the most consummate shape-shifter in the lore) almost always accompanies the Champion God (Thor) and the Knowledge God (Oðin). He is definitely a figure of chaos, but then again so is his best ‘frenemey’ Oðin. He and Oðin start off in the lore on the same page.
There is some evidence to suggest Loki might be one of the three creator gods. In other traditions, Trickster Gods often are also Creator Gods. It is recorded that a trinity of Gods finds the driftwood Ash and Elm, and breathes life into them – Ash to Ask the first Man, and Elm to Embla the first Woman. These three Gods we are told are Oðin, Vili and Vé, or alternatively Oðin, Hœnir and Lodur. It is thought that Lodur is very likely another name for Loki.
In manufacturing the kidnapping of the spring goddess Iðunn by the frost giants; and his subsequent retrieval of her (which ultimately leads Skaði, a powerful and much beloved Jötnar goddess to join the Æsir) Spring is “captured” by Winter, mirroring the inevitable change of the seasons. Bringing the Winter goddess into the fold speaks of a renewed appreciation for the cycles of the seasons. Loki in this tale is unafraid to have everyone laugh at him, like any good comedian.
He ends up cutting Sif’s hair, which results in her being given better, magical hair. Sif is the harvest goddess, her hair is the grain. In this myth, Loki depicts the necessary reaping of the harvest, and on the flip side he is also the manufacturer of the process by which the grain will always grow again.
In the process of replacing Sif’s hair, he arms the Æsir with their most powerful artifact, Thor’s hammer, with which he makes his travelling companion the most powerful of the Gods. Loki’s “evilness” begins to come more and more undone.
While Snorri makes Loki the prime conspirator of Ragnarök, it is clear that Ragnarök is always inevitable, and always has been. No one can stop it. No one can truly be held culpable for it. It is a natural, even cyclical process of the Universe.
Loki is perhaps best captured by the Biblical passages that suggest we “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Perhaps the irony of his wisdom being found in a Bible passage would amuse Loki. He is certainly the element of drama that interrupts stasis, without which life would likely not be much fun.
To modern heathens, he represents the drama in life, and in so many ways problems are a great part of the natural evolution and growth of human beings. Many trans heathens look to him, with his gender-switching and shape changing, as a patron deity of gender non-conformity … which, like Loki himself, makes many of a certain religious framework highly uncomfortable.
It is common heathen practice, when offering a drink to Oðin, to also offer a small bit to Loki too.
The star Sirius in old Norse is named “Lokabrenna,” or Loki’s Brand.
Suggested Signs & Symbols:
Scissors (Sif’s shears) and knives (as adopted by Marvel’s Loki with daggers). Sewing implements, and specifically sewn lips. Sealed lips and “loose lips sink ships” motifs. Gossip. Treasure and loot. Making lemonade out of lemons. Shape-shifting and gender-bending. Horses, wolves, snakes, and foxes. Flies, especially biting flies, spiders, and spider webs. Traps, netting and bondage. Tricks, pranks, comedians and jesters. The concept of “the Silver Tongue,” i.e a real smooth talker! The Joker card and Stage magic.
Loptr, Lodur, Hveðrungr, Lokki, Lokkemand, Loke, Lokke, Luki, Luku, Lukki.