Review of Dagulf Loptson’s “Loki: Trickster and Transformer”

Within the Lokean community, there are few people who generate as much excitement as Dagulf Loptson, who gave Lokeans their first book about Loki in 2015, Playing With Fire: An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson. Many practiced Lokeans today started on their spiritual road with Loki using Playing With Fire as a guiding light in their relationship with Loki. In the years since that book was published, a need within the Lokean community emerged for a solid foundational framework for creating a devotional relationship with Loki. In 2020, Dagulf Loptson’s new book, Loki: Trickster and Transformer, promises to do just that.

At 84 pages, it is at first uncertain whether the book will live up to this goal. By the third page, however, it is clear that this thin book is written in an accessible way yet also packed with scholarly density. Loptson starts by outlining the book, a decision that simultaneously serves to outline the way to develop a spiritual practice with Loki.

Each of the first ten chapters explores a different heiti, or poetic byname, of Loki and includes a specific magical or devotional technique for practitioners to follow. Loptson encourages readers interested in working with Loki to invest at least a week to work through each chapter so that they can develop a strong understanding of each heiti.

Loptson also does his due diligence by providing a warning for anyone new to devotional practice to a deity like Loki, who is an agent of change and can thus act in unpredictable and terrifying ways. For people who are wavering on the brink of working with Loki or not, Loptson suggests they ask themselves whether they are ready for change. Though the question is seemingly simple, there is a lot of complexity that goes into answering such a question.

In addition to cautioning people about the inherent unpredictability of working with Loki, Loptson also provides a list of sources that contain the myths and stories where Loki plays a prominent role. This list includes the Poetic and Prose Eddas, the History of the Danes, the Saga of the Volsungs, Sorli’s Tale, Lokka Tattur, and Loke in the Older Tradition. While the majority of these sources are ancient by today’s standards, the last is a modern article written by the Danish scholar Axel Olrik in 1909.

Throughout the book, Loptson makes solid use of his sources without cluttering it with unwieldy footnotes, which often prove to be the bane of academically sourced Pagan titles. He instead relies on endnotes, a bibliography, and a recommended reading list. This reading list includes Lewis Hyde’s book, Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art, which is admittedly one of the best books on comparative mythology that I have ever had the pleasure to read, so it gave me great pleasure to see it referenced in Loptson’s new book.

Another aspect of Loki: Trickster and Transformer that I found highly enjoyable was the well-organized internal structure of every chapter. The first ten chapters begin with a short synopsis of a myth, and that myth always references the origin of Loki’s byname that is featured within that chapter. After the myth, Loptson provides some scholarly and personal insights into the myth before ending the chapter with a devotional or magical practice that is described in detail.

The first chapter focuses on Loki’s byname, Loptr, and ends with the opportunity to create a ritual candle to Loki. It is here that Loptson first notes that Scandinavian magic often contains a blood element, as runes and staves are often anointed with a drop of blood to empower them. He cautions readers at this point that he will mention blood magic again and then offers alternatives for those who cannot use blood for whatever personal reasons or reservations they may hold. Loptson makes no apologies for suggesting using blood from the first ritual and in several others, and that, in my mind, is one of the strengths of this book. Far too often, Pagan authors shy away from even discussing the concept of blood magic, so it is refreshing to see it discussed so frankly.

In the second chapter, the focus is on the heiti Vé, and it ends with the opportunity to create Loki-specific incense – more appropriately referred to as recels – and to use it to perform a purifying ritual. While I highly appreciate the included formula, it is not one that I will ever be able to use myself, as I have several significant allergies to many herbs and am sensitive to smoke. It is hard to say what kind of purification item could be made in lieu of recels for people with allergies and sensitivities like mine, though it would be nice to have an idea.

That said, the third chapter focuses on the byname Lóðurr, ending with the opportunity to create a wood-burned amulet that again uses blood magic. The ritual itself is a beautiful one, and I personally plan to create the suggested amulet once I can afford the materials. Wood-burning kits are not accessible price-wise, but it could be argued that saving the money for one to create an amulet like this one is a devotional act in and of itself.

Moving on, the fourth chapter focuses on the heiti In Slægi Áss, or the Cunning God, and ends with the creation of an embodiment of Loki’s image in a personal snaptun stone. Afterward, a ritual offering to Loki using the stone is suggested and a note on offerings included.

The fifth chapter centers around the byname Lundr Lævíss, the name that comes from the story of the kidnapping of Idunn. Incidentally, this is my favorite myth featuring Loki, so, unsurprisingly, this is one of my favorite chapters. It ends with the devotional act of making a set of Lokean prayer beads, which is an often under-utilized devotional practice in today’s Western polytheist community.

The sixth chapter features the heiti Lokabrenna, or Loki’s Torch, which is incidentally where the name for the devotional collection of Lokean works originated, a collection which Loptson helped produce alongside me, Amy Marsh, and Rose Moon Rouge. Due to that work, I was already predisposed to enjoy this chapter, and I absolutely loved the outdoor ritual performed under the light of Sirius, the Dog Star, as the devotional practice that concludes it.

In the seventh chapter, the focus is on the heiti Goða Dolgr, or Loki’s role as the enemy of the gods. This is where Loki’s children are discussed and a ritual for facing one’s inner demons is outlined. I am not a fan of using the term “demon” in this manner since I am a spirit-worker and am trained in exorcism techniques. The term “demon” for me immediately conjures the idea of malignant spirits, as it is where my life experiences have led me.

That said, however, Loptson does an admirable job of stating upfront that he is not using the term in this way and is instead referencing the inner parts of a person that have yet to be faced as the “demons” confronted in this particular ritual. The only other word that he could have feasibly used here would have forced a reference to shadow work and Jungian psychology, so, faced with those two choices, the term “demon” is preferable as it clearly distinguishes spiritual work from psychological work.

In the eighth chapter, Loki’s byname of Inn Bundi Áss (The Bound God) takes center stage. Here, the focus shifts slightly away from Loki onto Sigyn, as the devotional practice comes in the form of creating a blot bowl complete with a runic inscription requiring a bit of blood magic to activate. Loptson insights in this chapter about Sigyn’s origin as a goddess of libations is thought-provoking and inspiring, and he thus adds a dimension of practice for those of us who honor Sigyn alongside Loki in our daily lives. Loptson’s quiet insertion of a devotional practice for Sigyn in a book about Loki demonstrates his regard and reverence for Loki’s family and helps suggest to practitioners that a practice involving Loki necessarily involves his family.

Chapter nine focuses on the heiti Hevðrung (the Roarer), and this is the chapter in which Loptson discusses the ever-contentious myth of Baldr’s death. There are some keen insights here, which is refreshing considering how often this myth is rehashed in Heathen circles. The chapter ends with a recipe for creating Loki oil which can then be used for anointing yourself and other ritual items. An alternative for this ritual for those who are sensitive to herbs exists if you extrapolate the water blessing mentioned in the tenth chapter and use the blessed water for the anointing in place of the oil.

The tenth chapter centers on Loki’s byname, Gammleið, or Vulture Road. This deals with Loki’s ties to cremation and the funerary fire, which is a name I have rarely seen discussed or explored. There is definitely some thought-provoking insights in this chapter, and it ends with a blot to Loki replete with an outline and suggested offerings.

In the final chapter, Loptson provides a dedication ritual for those who seek something more formalized and concrete when it comes to defining their relationship with Loki. He makes a point to state upfront that no such ritual is required or needed, which I appreciate. Loptson’s inclusion of a dedication ritual is a beautiful one, as it allows people who need more structure to step into their relationship with Loki in a more formalized way. It will perhaps provide the incentive needed for those wavering on the brink of a devotional practice with Loki to take a firm step into that relationship.

Overall, the way that the devotional practices are presented are rational choices that increase the devotional work on a practitioner slowly. The practices proceed in a logical fashion. In order, the practices include: creating a ritual candle, creating incense and purifying space, creating a devotional amulet, creating an image of Loki in the form of a snaptun stone, the creation of prayer beads, doing an outside ritual, doing internal work through facing inner “demons,” creating a blot bowl, creating anointing oil, then doing a blot to Loki. The dedication ritual is optional, but it also serves a logical procession from the blot.

Truthfully, Loptson provided me with a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for my review – which, as a Lokean, cannot be anything but honest. After all, as a Lokean, the last thing I’m going to do is lie to someone to feed their ego. It would be an affront to my relationship with Loki. In Loptson’s book, I counted an astonishing 2-3 typos in the entire book, one of which may have been inspired by Loki himself. The only other issue I had (I have a seriously hard time moving past typos, it’s a personal failing on my part) was the lack of accessibility for those with lower incomes and sensitivities to herbs and smoke. Those last two are perpetual problems within the Pagan community overall, however, and it is thus unsurprising that Loptson’s book contains them.

That said, Loptson definitely delivers on his promise to provide the framework of a functional spiritual practice with Loki. His new book, Loki: Trickster and Transformer plays a vital role in providing a much-needed resource for Lokeans already engaged in a spiritual practice with Loki and for those new to and/or considering a devotional relationship with Loki. Complete with academic insight and intuitive interpretation, this is a title that delivers on both the practical and academic side, which is an exceedingly rare and beautiful gift in the Pagan world. If you are a practicing Lokean or someone just starting out on the road with Loki, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book when it comes out in June 2020 from Moon Books. You can preorder your copy here.

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