-by Dan Coultas, April 2018
Loki, son of Laufey is arguably the most complex and complicated of all the Heathen Gods. He is a controversial character, so much so that some heathens will not even mention his name. There are those who believe that you should never make an offering to Loki. On the other side there are those who have dedicated themselves to Loki as a patron God, and refer to themselves as Lokians. The topic of Loki is huge, and I will not be able to cover every story or opinion about him here (this piece is longer than some essays I submitted at university as it is!), and I have not covered Loki's children, as they can be a topic for another week. However, hopefully this short piece will give you a starting point to form or further develop your opinion of Loki, and decide if you want any kind of relationship with this controversial figure. If you want to explore the topic of Loki further, I thoroughly recommend Stephan Grundy's book, referenced below, for a more comprehensive study.
People have tried to pigeonhole Loki into several different roles seen in other mythologies. These include both the fool and the trickster, however neither of these come close to fully explaining Loki's character. The comparison with the role of the fool is likely based on the humour that Loki brings into the tales of the Gods, for example when he he tied his private parts to a goat in an attempt to make Skadi laugh. Despite these humorous acts, Loki is far too clever and cunning to fill the role of the fool. The trickster initially makes more sense, as Loki is known to play tricks. The theft of Sif's hair for example. However, the traditional trickster God is usually just that, and Loki has far more to his character than just playing tricks. Comparisons have also been made between Loki and Satan. This is possibly due to the lack of an entirely 'evil' character to direct scorn towards, that those brought up in a Christian society are used to. Whilst Loki does things in the tales of the Gods which to the modern reader seem bad, these comparisons with Satan are largely baseless. In Christianity Satan's actions are 'evil', and no good can come of them, and this is simply not the case with Loki. He is, for the most part at least 'a mischievous rather than a wicked being'*1 and even 'rescues the Gods from serious predicaments'*1, not something that Satan would ever do.
Arguments that people use against Loki can equally be applied to other Gods. He uses cunning to outwit his opponents, so does Odin. He indulges in what a modern viewer may regard as questionable sexual practices, so does Odin (again!) but also Freya and others, and anyway, unlike many monotheistic religions, there is nothing in Heathenry to suggest these practices are morally wrong. The difference perhaps is that he takes things further. He does what the other Gods are not prepared to do, because they have reputations to uphold. Odin uses underhand tactics when he can get away with it, but sometimes something blatant has to be done. This can be where Loki comes in, almost as a 'fall guy', doing the dirty work for the other Gods that they cannot do themselves.
I do not wish to discuss the death of Balder too much as I don't want to tread on the toes of Calvin who is writing a piece on Balder and Hodr for next week, but seen as it is one of the main reasons people give for not worshipping Loki it does need to be addressed. It is Loki who guides the blind God's hand as he fires the mistletoe arrow that kills Balder (in Snorri's account at least) and (possibly) Loki, in the form of an old woman, who refuses to weep for Balder. However, the end result of Balder's death is that he will not be present at Ragnarok, and will therefore survive to take up his fathers throne. This was all foreseen by Odin. The wise and far sighted Odin would surely want a way to ensure that someone of his line would survive the doom of the Gods, but he could not kill Balder himself, this would be catastrophic for his reputation. Is it therefore possible that this is an extreme case of Loki doing Odin's dirty work for him?
Loki's role at Ragnarok itself is clearly opposed to the rest of the Gods of Asgard. He will side with his children, the Fenris Wolf and the Midgard Serpent, as well as Sutr, in destroying Asgard and slaying the Gods. However, it is important to remember that this will take place following his binding in the entrails of his son, and torture with snake venom at the hands of those same Gods.
For me Loki embodies the forced change, that we did not want to make, but which leads to a positive outcome in the future. If it wasn't for Loki's influence, we would not have achieved this outcome by ourselves. That is not to say that Loki's influence will not seem terrible at the time. As we have seen in the lore Loki does terrible things, but they lead to a much greater outcome. From the acquisition of the great treasures of the God's at one end of the spectrum, through to Baldur's return after Ragnarok at the other, it is actions by Loki, initially ranging from seemingly pesky (in the case of the former) through to evil (in the case of the later), which are the root cause of these positive outcomes. So in our lives the forced change may be something relatively trivial, or it might be a massive upheaval or tragedy, but the common factor is that in the long run, some good will come of it.
The other thing Loki embodies is the inconvenience truth. In the Locasenna Loki gets drunk, and lays bare the faults of the Gods. This eventually leads to his expulsion from the hall, and ultimately his binding in the entrails of his son. However, it is important to note that the reason Loki's accusations anger the Gods so much is that they cannot deny them. Facing up to our own faults is hard. Nobody wants to hear the negative opinions people have of them, but if we are not prepared to face these faults, then it is impossible to address them. When we are forced to 'take a good hard look in the mirror', this to me is Loki forcing us to face up to our shortcomings, so that we are able to accept them, and then work towards improving ourselves.
So what part should Loki play in heathen practice today? A good starting point is always to examine evidence of ancient practices. Was Loki worshipped by the arch heathens? Place names are a good indication of worship, and the absence of any Loki based place names has been used to argue that he cannot have been worshipped, however this is no form of proof. 'We also have the shortage of Frigg-based place names to demonstrate unequivocally that the absence of place names does not necessarily correspond to the honour in which a deity was held'*2. Clearly, we need to look further. 'No mention of him has survived in Anglo-Saxon Materials, but that is true of most Scandinavian deities'* and clearly, Loki is a prominent character in many of the surviving tales of the Gods, more so than many for whom we know a cult following existed. Loki often appears as a supporting character to the heroes of the tale. He is unlikely to have been ascribed this role if he was seen to be entirely harmful. The telling of these tales is in itself a form of honour.
Whilst Loki is ascribed with actions that can be (at least temporarily) harmful to the Gods, he is never accused of harming humans. This is particularly relevant when compare this with Odin, whom few have a problem with the worship of today, but is said to have claimed the lives of thousands of his own followers. 'In heathen and medieval literary sources, runic inscriptions, and surviving “charm spells”, ill luck and like troubles are variously blamed on witches, trolls, dwarfs, alfs, thurses, ill-disir, and the ill willing dead. Never Loki'*2. It seems that the idea of Loki as a being that is solely harmful to humans has very much come about since the heathen period, possibly as an attempt to align him with the Christian devil when viewed with modern sensibilities. Whilst there isn't a wealth of evidence for Loki's worship in the heathen period, his significance in the surviving literary sources would suggest he would have been worshipped in some way or another.
So how do modern heathens view Loki? Like in many aspects of Heathenry, the issue is more pronounced amongst our cousins across the pond, where heated arguments and even threats of violence have been made over whether or not Loki should be worshipped. Fortunately, for the most part, we are a little bit more restrained in our debate over here! Regardless, there are still those who think that Loki is one God that they should steer clear of. Also fortunately, this should not be a problem. 'Those who cannot work with Loki need not call on him, any more than anyone who fears or dislikes Odin, Ran or any other God or Goddess should feel they have to call on that deity'*2. This is one of the strengths of Heathenry, no two Heathens will have the exact same beliefs and practices, and that's fine. If however, you wish to include Loki, make offerings to him, and give him thanks, there is no reason why you should not. Whilst his methods may sometimes seem harsh, surely he deserves thanks for the results? If you really do not wish to make any offering to Loki though, it is important to remember that as his sworn blood brother, Odin refused to drink unless Loki was welcome to join him, and so you must also think about excluding the all father.
Personally, I see Loki as necessary, and in many case helpful. He is a complex God. His path is not the easy path, it is not the path we would take given the choice. But the world is not perfect, and neither are we, and I believe it is for that reason that we need Loki, and therefore we should give him our thanks as we would to any other deity who helps us. That is my opinion, I would love to hear yours!
*1Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe *2Grundy, Stephen, God in Flames, God in Fetters: Loki's Role in the Nothern Religions