Modern Heathens who encounter Loki only within the pages of Norse Literature are profoundly shocked by the idea that anyone would want to worship a god who caused the death of another god, and who will fight against the Æsir at Ragnarok. In countless popular retellings of the Norse stories, Loki is the transgressor, the betrayer, and the one whose wicked deeds will bring down all that the Gods have wrought.
Does this mean that the so-called "Lokeans" are people who long for the destruction of all the other Gods, all the worlds and to be consumed in a forge of utter Chaos and Madness? Perhaps no more than angry blue haired emotional teenagers striking out at a world that rejects them? Hardly.
Separating the God from the Myth
Many Heathens who claim not to believe in mythic literalism will descend straight into it when it comes to Loki.
This includes both Lokeans and those opposed to the worship of Loki. Those who claim to not take the Eddas as literal historical accounts of events quickly find themselves saying "Loki did this" or "Loki did that" in order to justify their distaste, and on the other hand you have Lokeans making up all kinds of head-cannon for why whatever Loki did was a good thing, actually
We aren't going to go into discussions about Loki's role at Ragnarok or his role in the Death of Baldur simply because it's far too tempting them to descend into that same trap of mythic literalism. We're going to assume for the sake of this article that none of what is said in the literature actually happened or will happen.
There's debate over whether or not Loki was worshiped in pre-Christian times.
Lack of any evidence of a Loki cult would appear to confirm that at the very least if there were such a cult, it wasn't widespread or long-lasting like the cults of Thor, Odin or Freyr Yngve. Some point to one particular artifact or another of incredibly uncertain meaning as proof. Some cite this lack of evidence as being evidence in itself because if a Loki cult had existed, it would have done so in secret--and thus the fact that we have found no evidence of it is actually evidence in itself.
Let’s not wade into that debate, instead, let’s consider the fact that no one seems to have these kinds of conversations about Heimdall, Loki's supposed mortal foe at Ragnarok. Heimdall's lack of temples, place names or artifacts don't seem to generate the same sneer and accusations of being some kind of “angry teenager” when people say they worship him.
Regardless of historical precedent, there isn't any doubt that Loki is worshiped as a God now, and a God uniquely suited for modern Pagans and the challenges we encounter.
We're not going to descend into the usual traps of whataboutism ("but whatabout Odin doing bad things too!") or secret UPG head-cannon ("Oh, well there are many things you don't know about Thor and how much of an arrogant jerk he really is”). We're just going to stick to the text itself and the scholarship around Loki's role.
You will also see no reference to Loki as a "trickster" or a "god of mischief." Firstly, because the "trickster" figure is more often a figure within some Native American story-complexes and the appropriation of these figures into Heathenry through Loki is problematic. Secondly because the "god of mischief" is both limiting and actually inappropriate for Loki's character.
Symbols of Loki
Most of Loki’s symbols are things that modern worshipers have discovered and have shared with the community as his worship has become more widespread and accepted.
Birds associated with Loki
Alice Karlsdóttir has suggested that the grackle (Quiscalus quiscula), a smaller cousin of the raven known for its loud, obnoxious calls, is probably Loki’s bird, at least in North America.
Flowers and other plants associated with Loki
Rhinanthus minor is a flowering plant native to Eurasia and northern North America, commonly known as “yellow rattle” in English. In Iceland it is lokasjóður, “Loki’s Purse,” probably for its purselike seedpods that rattle when dry. In Denmark, “Loki’s oats” (Lokes havre) was the common name for Avena fatua, known as “wild oats” (appropriately enough) in English.
Whether truly an association that was part of pre-Christian belief, modern Lokeans think of fire as a symbol of Loki’s passionate, shape-shifting and sometimes dangerous nature.
Knots and nets
Nets and knots are also linked with Loki, who is said to have invented the fishnet (Gylfaginning 50) and caught Andvari in Rán’s net (Reginsmál, prologue). His name has been linked to the Proto-Germanic root *luk-, which means a knot or loop—by which nets are made. The Icelandic word loki means a knot or tangle, while the related word lykkja means a folded thread (Heide, “Loki, the Vätte, and the Ash Lad,” pp. 89-91).
Loki in Medieval Germanic Heroic literature
Loki is often depicted as a short slight man with fiery red hair, but this is not explicitly stated anywhere in the existing literature; Snorri says only that Loki is fríðr ok fagr sýnum, “handsome and fair of appearance” (Gylfaginning 33, ed. Faulkes, vol. 1, p. 26). He is often assumed to be small in stature because Thor and assorted jotuns threaten or trap him, and he seems unable to defend himself.
Loki the Companion and Crafty Friend
Snorri says of Loki that
Hann hafði þá speki um fram aðra menn er slægð heitir ok vælar til allra hluta. Hann kom Ásum jafnan í fullt vandræði ok opt leysti hann þá með vælræðum
“More than others, he had the wisdom that is called craftiness, and he was treacherous in every way. He always got the Æsir into deep trouble, and often freed them with his schemes” (Gylfaginning 33, ed. Faulkes, pp. 26-27).
Loki is associated with læ, an Old Norse word whose meanings range from “skill; craft” to “fraud; treachery; treason” to “harm; misfortune; bane.” Loki is said to be lævíss, “wise in læ,” and lægjarn, “eager for læ” (Wanner, “Cunning Intelligence,” p. 216). Yet in the poem Thrymskvida, when an adversarial tribe stole Thor’s Hammer, Loki appears as Thor's help-mate. Not only does Loki find out where the Hammer is and what Thrym wants in return, he warns Thor that these adversaries will take over Asgard if Thor doesn’t recover his Hammer.
The notion of him being a "trickster" and God of Mischief both seem ill applied to Loki: He does not trick the gods for the fun of it, or for personal profit. Nor does he steal, except when compelled (by Odin in Sǫrla þáttr, by Thjazi in the myth of the theft of Idunna’s apples; see Liberman, “Snorri and Saxo on Útgarðaloki,” pp. 111-112). And although Loki keeps getting the Æsir into difficult situations, he uses his læ to come up with solutions that bring them additional benefits.
Sleipnir, the walls of Asgard, Odin’s spear, Thor’s Hammer, Sif ’s gold hair, Freyr’s golden boar and ship, Skadi herself, and even fishing nets are all great boons to the gods—and all result from Loki’s stratagems.
Indeed, Haustlǫng, one of the oldest surviving skaldic poems, refers to Loki as “raven-god’s (Óðinn’s) friend” (hrafnásar vinr), “Hoenir’s gracious friend” (hollr vinr Hoenis), and “Thor’s confidant” (Þórs rúni; verses 3, 4, 7, 8; transl. North, pp. 3-5). Rudolf Simek suggests that this “could possibly point to an originally more positive role for Loki in Germanic mythology” (Dictionary, p. 315).
This "more positive role" could have to do with how Loki may have originally been understood as a character within the literature and what role he played in the drama.
Loki the Hearth-Spirit of Odin's House
The key to understanding how Loki would have been seen in pre-Christian literature might be in his strange and complicated relationship to Odin and Thor. For all that they will be on opposite sides at Ragnarok, Odin and Loki are strangely similar.
Loki reminds Odin that they became blood-brothers in Lokasenna 9; Loki is said to be the brother of Býleistr and Helblindi (Gylfaginning 33, ed. Faulkes, p. 26), but Odin lists Helblindi, “death-blind,” as one of his own names in Grímnismál 46.
Folk practices recorded from southern Norway in the fifteenth through twentieth centuries include making offerings to Loki by burning them in the hearth fire, such as lost baby teeth and the “skin” from heated milk. Interestingly, when a baby tooth was cast into the hearth fire, Loki was asked to receive the tooth and help a new one grow in; one rhyme spoken in Sweden was
Locke, Locke, gif mig en bentand! Här har du en guld-tand.
“Lokke, Lokke, give me a bone tooth! Here you have a gold tooth.”
It is hard to reconcile the folk belief in Loki as a spirit of the hearth and weather with the epic literature depiction of Loki as an adversary of the gods.
But Eldar Heide has proposed that the two are not as distant as it might seem. In Heide’s theory, Loki is based on the vätte (“wight”), an underground land-spirit associated with a farm, who can be either helpful or malicious depending on how he is treated (as opposed to the farm’s tomte, who is almost always helpful; see Heide, “Loki, the Vätte, and the Ash- Lad,” p. 71)
Living on the margins of divine society, he can see and articulate what the other gods cannot, and can use that outsider’s understanding to benefit himself and the other gods. At the same time, he is never fully trusted among the Æsir; like the hearth vätt, he responds to ill treatment by playing unpleasant pranks.
This doesn't mean that Loki is a hearth spirit and nothing more. This only suggests how he may have been originally interpreted by the audience.
This is only to suggest that this is how his characterization in Medieval heroic literature follows a particular pattern. Far from being read as a "devil" or "demon" most people may have read Loki as being a house spirit who served Odin's household (including as a travel companion for his son Thor)--and took from Odin (as the head of that house) several of his characteristics to the point where he describes himself as Odin's Blood Brother.
Later poets and storytellers may have taken liberties with this initial characterization of Loki and played him into a far more serious and adversarial role in the events of poems like the Voluspa.
Loki the Transgressor
There is no evidence for the pre-Christian traditional worship of Loki as a god with temples and holy places of his own, in the ways that other gods are known to have been worshiped.
Neither place-names nor literary and historical references point to an organized cultus. Religious practice is often based on upholding social norms; a god who walks right through social norms whenever he feels like it is unlikely to have an organized cult. However, several of the Eddic poems, in particular Lokasenna, are strongly suspected to have been scripts for ritual dramas (Gunnell, The Origins of Drama, especially pp. 238-247).
Here Loki has a pivotal role as the chief dramatic motivator of the action—and someone would have had to take his role in the drama or else there would be no drama. Without the trouble he causes, there would be no story to tell.
Loki and Gender Fluidity
Male and female social and sexual roles in saga-era society were kept strictly divided (recall, for instance, that a man could divorce a woman if she wore trousers; see Laxdæla saga 35). And yet in the poetry and drama of that very society, there is Loki, constantly playing off of this division.
In the story of the building of Asgard’s walls, he gets the gods out of a bad bargain by shapeshifting into a mare and being mounted by the builder’s stallion, later giving birth to Sleipnir (Gylfaginning 42).
This would have been read at the time as exceptionally degrading: the old Norwegian legal codes specifically prohibit accusing a man of giving birth, or calling a man a mare or any female animal (berendi, literally “bearer” but used as an obscene word for the female genitalia; see Price, The Viking Way, p. 177).
In the Gulaþingslǫg these insults are fullréttisorð, “words that demand full compensation,” even though they are also called ýki, “exaggerations” not physically possible (Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, pp. 14-17).
After examining the mythic treatment of Loki, we want to open this with attestations from his own worshippers, and what they believe about him.
He also brought healing. I felt accepted and cherished, as well as challenged to step up my game...I have never felt a deity that was so present, when he cares to make himself known. In my personal gnosis, he feels utterly egalitarian and emotionally honest...Loki is many things to me: my guiding star, my fulltrúi (most trusted one), a teacher who presents a shape-shifting template for spiritual growth, inspirational writer’s muse, adopted ancestor, the fractal face of a certain creative force...—Amy Marsh
I was also drawn to him insofar as he represents someone on the border or outskirts of many different identities, like I am... My connection with Loki also deepened when exploring the more painful elements within his lore: for instance, the loss of his children, his binding, and Sigyn’s loyalty all speak to me on an emotional level. In terms of what Loki “does for me,” like many Lokeans, I have experienced dramatic upheaval in my life since working with Loki... Though I won’t deny that change is terrifying and uncomfortable, this upheaval has led me to a better, happier, more meaningful life. For me, Loki has been both a catalyst, and a force of unconditional love at the center of any chaos. I am nothing but grateful. —Bat Collazo
After he spoke to me, my fortune began to shift for the better. I suddenly had public transport change from strangers, cigarettes I didn’t even have to bum. It was simply “You look like you need one of these” Marlboro gifts. Loki helped me connect to the people around me on a meaningful level. They could see me struggling, I could feel their empathy. I think perhaps I am drawn to Loki on a level of being the outcast, the one who maybe doesn’t belong, but is in the crowd anyway... I feel drawn to him because he doesn’t want me to suffer that anymore. He means overcoming, victory over self-destruction, truth to self, and most of all compassion. Unto myself and others. —Jennifer Lainhart
Loki the Compassionate
One of the themes that emerges from attestations that believers have about Loki is that Loki is a compassionate God in the sense that he is a God who suffers with humans and who understands human suffering. Where other Gods may be considered to be sympathetic to human suffering and are called to protect us from it, Loki's worshippers say that Loki understands their pain and they gain strength and courage to face their pain through this shared understanding.
One should recall that the root of the word “compassion” is “to suffer with” or to feel the pain of another. Odin and Tyr have stories in which they suffer, but the stories about their suffering are either because they were pursuing another end (Odin suffering ordeals to gain wisdom or magic) or because they were duty bound to do it (Tyr suffering the loss of his hand because it was the will of the Aesir to bind Fenris). Loki’s suffering is of an altogether different character.
Loki the Companion
Another theme that emerges from talking with Lokeans is the idea of Loki as a companion. Where Odin wanders the world alone in search of wisdom, Loki is often seen in the company of other Gods--especially Thor--accompanying them on their journey. No matter where you see Loki in the literature, it's often in the service of his friends. Loki's worshippers often describe him as their only friend in a time when their friends were few and their fortunes were little. The trans community has also adopted Loki, not only because of Loki's own gender fluidity in the literature, but because of Loki's unconditional love while they discover their own gender identity and take the journey into that gender identity--which can be frustrating and lonely.
Loki the Transformer
There's also a shared notion that for all the chaos in their lives, Loki is the one who transforms that chaos into good fortune. The notion of Loki being a "chaos God" or "a force of Chaos" even among Loki's own worshippers may be misplaced. Often, Lokeans will say that since Loki came into their lives, they experienced total upheaval. But let's turn that causal relationship around. It could instead be the case that the chaos was coming the whole time, and causing the chaos in someone's life, Loki finds ways to knit it back together. Where Thor destroys an obstacle in your path, Loki transforms the obstacle into the path.
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