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Loki: Guardian of Sacrifice

One of my favorite myths about Loki is the one in which he kidnaps Idunn because it is the myth that I feel best demonstrates his character.

In the most common version of the myth, Loki, Odin, and Hoenir were traveling to Jotunheim and stopped to cook an ox they had hunted. A problem arose, however, as the fire refused to cook the meat.

Thiazi, in the form of an eagle, offered to help cook the meat if the gods would allow him to partake in the feast. The gods agreed, but when the meat was cooked, he took off with both hindquarters and both shoulders of the ox.

That angered Loki, so he struck at Thiazi with a stick (probably large enough to be considered a staff), but Loki ended up stuck at the end of the stick and dragged around until he begged for mercy. The only way Thiazi agreed was to force an oath from Loki that he would entice Idun to leave Asgard so that he could have access to her life-giving apples. Loki agreed.

Back in Asgard, Loki tricked Idunn into leaving the walls of Asgard by saying he had found apples that tasted better and were more life-giving than her own. She wasn’t convinced and insisted Loki show her the apples, which he agreed to do. Once they were outside of Asgard, however, Thiazi showed up in the form of an eagle and abducted her.

Once the gods noticed that they were aging, Odin threatened Loki until he agreed to rescue Idunn. Loki did this by transforming her into a nut while he wore Freyja’s falcon cloak, and Thiazi chased them as they fled towards Asgard. Once there, Loki navigated the fires but Thiazi was caught by the flames, fell to the ground, and Thor killed him.

Now, I generally utilize Sallustius’s five levels of myth interpretation to interpret myths but I just finished reading the last couple chapters of Volume II of the Culture of the Teutons by Vilhelm Grönbech, and he raised a couple of intriguing points specifically about the myth of Idunn’s abduction.

  • “The character of Loki is apparent in the myth: he is the stirrer up of strife and thus the provoker of victory (p.393).”
  • “This myth turns upon a later moment in the sacrifice and reflects a rite used at the lighting of the fire to ward off the influence of the demon [Thiazi] and to secure the preparation of the sacrificial meat (p.392).”

Addressing the first point, one of the most common counterpoints I hear that works to paint Loki as evil generally points out that Loki is the one who caused the problem in the first place, and that he is only trying to save himself. Essentially, Loki gets painted as inherently selfish when this myth is picked apart.

However, if Loki is viewed throughout the myths as the one who stirs up strife in order to make victory possible, that isn’t an inherently selfish behavior. It can certainly come across as selfish or seem self-serving in the moment, but the person exhibiting such behavior generally has the welfare of the entire group in mind.

For example, the gods agree to let Thiazi partake of the meal, but then the eagle tries to take over half the ox. There are three other people who need to eat. Loki strikes Thiazi out of anger, but does he do it because he himself wanted more food or because Thiazi taking so much of the ox threatened the ability of all the gods to sustain themselves in enemy territory?

There’s always more than meets the eye in every myth, and that’s a truth multiplied when Loki is present because he is such an ambiguous character. He defies all attempts at explanation; that’s a common complaint among scholars. Loki’s ambivalence is such a defining characteristic that it tends to make him, well, undefinable. It stands to reason, then, that none of his actions in a myth can be seen as straightforwardly what they seem to be at first glance.

The next action Loki takes is to beg Thiazi for mercy, who refuses and provokes an oath from Loki instead. Loki knows the consequences of the oath before he swears it, but he swears it to get out of enemy hands. He struck at an enemy he could not defeat, and that enemy took advantage of the moment to pin Loki into a difficult situation. Loki then has to fulfill his oath – in every myth where he swears an oath, he upholds it. Loki never breaks an oath. That is another defining characteristic.

So, thus far, the only things we really know about Loki is that he a) defies definition and b) never breaks his oaths.

After Loki coerces Idunn out of Asgard and is found out, he finds himself threatened by Odin to fix the problem. Loki not telling the gods immediately what had happened works to stir up strife; the gods’ ire is piqued – not just at Loki but also at Thiazi.

While the myth never details whether or not the gods strategize together what they will do when Loki returns to Asgard, it is telling that Thor is waiting at the wall when Loki returns with Idunn and Thiazi is unable to penetrate the wall of fire and falls to the ground where Thor slays him. The victory is twofold – the return of Idunn returns the health and vigor of the gods and it also allows the gods to slay one of their strongest adversaries.

Loki thus provokes strife to procure victory – or, put in a different way, he utilizes his own sense of strategy to procure a victory out of what seemed like an untenable starting position. He overcame the odds stacked against him, which indicates how he is involved with the very concept of Luck.

What is really intriguing though is the way that Grönbech discusses the fire at the wall as a fire meant to ward off evil influences from a sacrificial meal. Loki’s attempt to keep Thiazi from absconding with the meat (the sacrifice) is met with resistance. He nearly finds himself foiled in that because Idunn is tempted from Asgard and kidnapped. What becomes interesting there is that Idunn refuses to hand Thiazi any apples, and it is only the apples she hands to the gods that allow them to stay young. She refuses him access to the feast.

When Loki rescues her, he flies her straight through the fires of Asgard – flames through which Thiazi cannot pass, but he and Idunn can. Once back in the safety of Asgard, the gods are able to regain their youth and Thiazi – the giant that threatened the very sanctity of sacrificial offerings – is destroyed. With this understanding, Loki’s connection to sacrifice itself is underscored.

So, having incorporated these two new ideas from the Culture of the Teutons, what the myth of Idunn demonstrates about Loki includes the following characteristics:

  • Ambivalence
  • Cunning used as a strategy
  • The stirrer of strife to provoke victory
  • Upholds oaths made
  • Embodies Luck
  • Guardian of Sacrificial Offerings

Few myths about Loki delve quite this deeply into his character, and it bears continual and constant examination to discover new things about him. All the myths about him do. While it may be tempting for some to paint him as evil and be done with it, stories are never that simple and gods are far more complicated than they seem at first glance. Especially a god who seems to make it his business to evade the very process of being defined.

 

A Lokean Group Response to Karl Seigfried’s “Loki in the White House”

Note: Feel free to reblog and/or copy/paste this in its entirety on your own blogs and websites.

We are concerned about the religious bigotry and intolerance against our community and religious practices, as conveyed in Karl E.H. Seigfried’s recent column “Loki in the White House,” The Wild Hunt, Nov. 24, 2018. 

Those who cultivate a relationship with the Norse god, Loki, are a minority among neopagans. Our individual practices are eclectic, nondogmatic, and individualistic.

By equating Loki with certain cherry-picked actions of the current president of the United States, Siegfried suggests that we who cultivate a relationship with Loki do not understand our own god, our own spirituality, and our community, and what we should understand is that our god is evil. This is no better than an evangelical Christian telling Pagans that our lack of understanding about Jesus and our own gods is leading us to worship demons. This is not only condescending but also inappropriate for an interfaith chaplain. 

While we are individually and collectively offended by Karl E. H. Seigfried’s comparison of Loki to the current president of the United States, we understand his right to his opinion, no matter how ill-founded it may seem to us. However, Seigfried’s article crossed an important line from eccentric opinion to bigotry. 

What concerns us most of all are Seigfried’s final two paragraphs, which are essentially “a call to action” to discriminate and further marginalize all who hail Loki in their religious and devotional practices, whether in a polytheistic or monotheistic context. The opinions he presents in those closing paragraphs are that Loki is bad, therefore we who hail Loki are also bad and undeserving of support.

“Lokiphobia” is a word we wish we did not need to coin, and yet many members of our spiritual and religious community have been dealing with prejudice for years. In Heathen circles, many people who hail Loki have been excluded, bullied, and threatened. We can supply examples of this claim if needed. So it is particularly dangerous to fan the flames of such paranoia and bigotry against an outlier group when things are already so volatile nationally and worldwide.

To be clear, Lokiphobia, in the context of neopaganism, is discrimination against the religious practices and beliefs of people who hail Loki and/or identify as Lokeans (or a similar description). We, the authors, (1) call out Lokiphobia in Seigfried’s column and (2) insist upon respectful, interfaith dialogue in public forums and events where we and our faith are referenced, discussed, or questioned.

While we understand that the Wild Hunt is a platform for many different spiritual views, this article has crossed the line from being an opinion piece to promoting religious discrimination and the expulsion of an already vulnerable subgroup within Heathenry. Many of us are women, LGBTQIA, have disabilities, or hold other identities that on the whole have made us targets within the larger Heathen community which has consistently held much more traditionally conservative views. For our own safety and well-being, we are requesting that Seigfried either amend the portions of his article that are a direct cry for the expulsion of Loki worship or that the Wild Hunt remove the article entirely. 

To do otherwise is to sanction discrimination against a religious minority. 

Whereas in the past we as Loki devotees have largely been disorganized and kept mostly to ourselves, we’re no longer willing to keep quiet and suffer discrimination and verbal abuse in the name of “different opinions.” We have reached a tipping point where we refuse to continue being a punching bag for the American Heathen community’s frustrations or used as villains in its own paranoid fantasies.

We hope that in the name of true inclusivity you will choose to be our allies instead of contributing to years of unnecessary division. This has never just been about how people feel about Loki: this is about how people choose to treat other people. 

Signed:

Dagulf Loptson

Ky Greene

Amy Marsh

KveldúlfR Hagan Gundarsson (Dr.Stephan Grundy, Ph.D., Norse Studies)

Amy Brown

Sae Lokason

Marina Bocuzzi 

Nyki D’Elia

Hilda Gullveigsvän

Aiyana Assata Amare Ashen 

Terra Akhert

Tara Aparicio

Carrie Bertwistle

Susa Morgan Black

Lauren Buhr

Sara Cochran

Moira Hawthorne Copeland

Heathir Dhomhnaill

Amber Drake

Kriselda Gray

Ailim Hazel

Elizabeth Hefner

Alex Iannelli

Mischa Kvashninenkoff

Jennifer Lesko

Roxana García Liotta

Michelle Lord

Tom Mayernik

Jude Melvin

Lindsay Moose

Katherine Morgan

Draca Nightweb

Tahni Nikitins

Katie Oden

Lillian Sara Pink

Jenna Porterfield

Denise Marie Radcliffe

Logan Riley

Emily Sabin

Olivia Sweat

Tedri Liudan Thorne

Kyra Pandora Weaver

Lindsay Wiles

Setwas Buccaneer

Loraine Canaday

Allen Reeves

Scott Mohnkern

Sydney Moore

Stef Potter

Ari Kirk

Timothy Adams 

Leticia Andreas

Jennifer Lawrence

Michael York

Loki – A Few Perceptions

In my experience, Loki is a god with many forms.

He acts to break illusions and sometimes to mold them. He shifts shapes to suit his needs, like all trickster deities. He crosses boundaries yet enforces them.

He is the heart of the hearth-fire, the liminal connection between the human world and the world of the gods.

He is a fierce protector of children and of all those who stand on the fringes – of social groups or society as a whole.

He enacts change, sometimes to a cataclysmic level.

He is an exacting god in that he will not allow you to hide from your deepest truths, the most unsettling aspects of your own psyche – he forces you to face yourself or run the risk of going mad.

He is not a safe god, and yet he is a god full of laughter and joy and beauty.

He is awe-inspiring, as all gods are.

He teaches you to see from perspectives vastly different than your own, to care for other people and other beings with a depth of compassion few of us ever realize.

He teaches you how to accept people for who they are, to see past their flaws – to see the way the flaws you perceive in another person is really what makes them the most beautiful.

And that is just part of the way I perceive him. It is not what everyone perceives of him, of course, as deities have far more aspects than a single person will ever be able to comprehend, let alone perceive.

Now, I leave you with this question: How do you perceive Loki, and how has he most impacted your life?

Who Goes to Valhalla? Or, Odin is a God of War AND Wisdom, not War Alone

It seems to me that every Heathen group eventually has a conversation about who is worthy to go to Valhalla. Someone inevitably insists that only warriors who fall in battle can enter Valhalla, and they decide it’s disrespectful to believe otherwise.

Perhaps the reason that conversation comes up so frequently is that warriors falling in battle and ending up in Valhalla is frequently mentioned by the lore left to us. Once a warrior falls in battle, Freya and Odin split the fallen between them.

There are a couple of considerations the people who posit the argument that Odin only accepts fallen warriors into Valhalla fail to make.

The first of those is that the lore we have available to us in the Eddas and Sagas contain myths that have been rewritten in the hands of Christian writers. It is very possible that the reason Snorri mentioned Valhalla as the heaven for those who die in battle was due to the Christian ideal of fighting for the kingdom of god, which was a prevalent ideal at the time he recorded the stories. Snorri may have simply excluded information from the Eddas because he was writing for a Christian audience – we have no way of knowing with any certainty that Valhalla was restricted to only warriors who fell in battle.

The second of those considerations is that Odin is a god of war and wisdom. It is hard to imagine a god of both qualities stacking his army with a single type of soldier. The best armies, in the human world, are comprised of a vast array of professionals alongside combatants. In American armies, there are professionals that focus on mechanics, engineering, technology, scientific research, historical research, and the list continues. Not everyone who enlists in the military will face combat – there are plenty of units that are noncombatant. That does not mean they are irrelevant to the functioning of the military; it just means they are best suited to working behind the front lines. If human intelligence has taught us that the best militaries are comprised of multiple units with a great number of professionals, who are we to say that Odin would only take combatants in Valhalla?

To try and determine who Odin would or would not take is arrogance at its finest. It’s like people forget, when arguing anything slightly theological, that we are not gods and we cannot speak for them. The only one capable of deciding who can be accepted into Valhalla is Odin himself.

To those who believe only warriors can enter those halls, I wonder what would happen if they entered the hall and found themselves face-to-face with noncombatants. At that point, would the fighters find themselves angry with Odin for daring to accept noncombatants into his hall?  Isn’t this far more disrespectful than the people who believe that Odin can and will accept whoever he wants?

I think there are questions that people fail to ask themselves, and they get caught up in Odin’s aspect as a deity of war and all too often forget that he is also a deity of wisdom. There isn’t a single military on earth comprised of just fighters. Why in the nine realms would Odin exhibit less wisdom than humanity in putting together his own?

On the Worship of Loki – A Facebook Discussion Response

The following is the response I gave to a TAC (The Asatru Community) facebook discussion where the original poster said “Debate* worship of Loki.”

Having read through all of this, I see a lot of people have some very strong opinions about Loki. I’m the admin for the Loki’s Wyrdlings page (found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/959611187421203/?ref=bookmarks), and I serve Loki as a priest. I have quite a bit to say, but I want to start off by saying that this is how I perceive Loki, and I do not expect anyone to agree with me – everyone is entitled to their own path, no matter how different it may be from mine.

So, first – Loki has many, many aspects. He is the Catalyst of Change (generically, the trickster). He is the Worldbreaker – the role he plays in Ragnarok is very real. Even here, however, he is playing a role. The world must always end and begin again, and Loki plays a key role in the change. I could go in-depth to the way I understand the Baldur myth, but I will hold off until/unless someone asks for further clarification.

Second – someone up above said that everyone they knew who honored Loki did so in a vacuum, where Loki alone was honored and the other deities ignored. Personally, I have rarely found this to be true. I myself honor many deities, both within the Norse pantheon and outside it. I work with Freyr, Odin, Freyja, Sigyn, Ullr, Mani, Tyr, and Thor within the Norse pantheon. Outside it, I work with Queztalcoatl and Bast. In my experience, most people who honor Loki honor a plethora of deities because Loki is an incredibly social god who seems to know all the deities in all the other pantheons and is incredibly willing to help people find the connections that others need with the deities.

I’m aware that within Asatru, it is far more common for people to work with ancestors and land-spirits than with deities, and if that is the path your spirituality takes, I have no qualms with it. I have a good relationship with my ancestors and the spirits residing on my land, but my practice primarily revolves around the gods and the relationships I’ve formed with them.

Loki is a deity of connection and self-knowledge – he doesn’t allow people who honor him to lie to themselves for very long, and that is why he can be a difficult god to work with. Someone once told me that the version of Loki who shows up is the version of Loki you expect – if you expect him to be evil and ill-humored, that is what he will give you. If you expect him to be friendly and compassionate, that is what he will give you. He shows up the way you expect him to show up because he has a tendency to reflect your deepest secrets and hidden neuroses to you in such a way you cannot deny that they exist.

Another thing that someone above pointed out is that everyone they’ve ever met has worked with Loki due to the Marvel movies or to be edgy. When I started working with Loki, I hadn’t seen the Marvel movies. I had just finished reading the Lokasenna, and I was incredibly amused by how he had been called the god of lies while telling the truth the entire time. I was instantly drawn to him because he refused to sugarcoat the truth, and I’ve been criticized my entire life for being too honest with people.

That being said, I’ve known people who have come to Loki through the Marvel movies. More than any other deity I work with, Loki seems to enjoy inserting his presence into fictional streams in order to find people who understand him. He is a social deity – he wants to have tons of friends among mortals, so he finds them through whatever avenue he can. Considering the problematic equation of Loki = bad or Loki = devil typically found within Asatru, it is no wonder to me that he seeks people from outside of the community. He is an inherent problem-solver, and the easiest way to solve a problem is often to circumvent it.

Another person stated that Loki is the type to use and discard those who come to him. Up until that point, I was enjoying the back-and-forth because Loki loves to watch people argue over him (his vanity is pretty high, so any attention is good attention). While some people may have the misfortune to be used and discarded by Loki, it is typically only the people who expect that from him who will find that to be true. Loki is one of the least self-serving deities I know, and his compassion knows no bounds.

There is a reason those who work with Loki are often those found on the fringes of society – the disabled, the mentally handicapped, those with mental disorders, those with marginalized gender identities, those within the LGBTQ+ community, etc. Loki prizes the people society discards because he knows what it is like to exist on the fringe. His godhood is constantly questioned, and he is accepted with unease except by those who know him well, which is a very small number. Loki sees the value and potential in the people that society is too quick to turn away from, and he never turns his back on anyone who truly commits to understanding him. He gives people the compassion they need when they need it most, but he also gives people the tools they need to look inside themselves and do a deep inventory of their own neuroses.

That is my experience of Loki. I don’t expect anyone else’s experiences to match, as all spiritual paths are valid and unique. This is simply a final disclaimer – I do not claim to speak for all Lokeans or all Heathens. This is simply my perspective.

Please keep in mind that this is part of a larger conversation – I am posting it here because someone asked to use the response with appropriate credit. I am posting it in my blog to make it easier for others to access and credit appropriately.

 

Odin’s Path: Connection

I read somewhere that Odin’s wisdom is found in the ability to make plans that are successful – in other words, his wisdom is found in strategy. I don’t dispute this, as he is a war god and therefore needs the ability to think strategically, but I don’t think it fully captures his wisdom (and I’m not sure it’s possible to do so).

Strategy and making plans – those are both very important skills, but I think there’s more to wisdom than that. To make good plans, you have to understand people at a very deep level, and to understand other people requires a lot of patience and the ability to listen. It also requires the ability to trust in a person’s own experience of the world without feeling the need to negate it based on the experiences you’ve had yourself.

In my experience, understanding another person necessitates the suspension of disbelief. Each person we meet, no matter how crazy or far-fetched the story may sound to us, has their own story to tell, and we all believe in our own stories. They are, after all, what we are comprised of. They are the world we are made of – our stories define us in a way nothing else can.

To deny another person their story is to deny them their identity – it isn’t simply a case of whether or not we believe that the story that they tell us is a true one. That’s where understanding gets lost. People are worlds in themselves, and each world has its own unique set of rules. What those rules are vary from world to world, from person to person, and there is nothing more wrong or right about any particular set of rules that govern these worlds, these people.

This is the type of thinking that shamans must master in order to find the connections that link worlds, that link people, together. It is in these connections that we find the commonalities, the threads that tie us to one another and to the gods. If someone asked me for a definition of shaman, I don’t know if I would have had a proper answer even a year ago – it took me awhile to realize that the work I’ve always done as an empath has always been the work of a shaman. In some ways, they are the same, as the shamanism I practice is inherently empathic in nature (this is, of course, not true of all shamans nor is it true of all empaths).

Now, I would define my shamanism as the empathy required to forge links between worlds – knowing as I do now that every person is their own world. What people don’t understand – or at least don’t like to believe – is that I connect with gods as easily as I do people, and I have ever since I started to comprehend them as having agency in their own right, as having their own type of personhood. The links between gods and humans are a little bit different, a little more slippery, but they do exist – they always have.

It is because of these links that I tell people, when they ask me which deities they should try to work with (and believe me, I get this question quite often), that the deities they need to look towards first are those that most resemble them in personality. Not the deities they admire the most or the ones they think will be most beneficial – the deities with personalities that echo the personalities of the humans who ask me this question.

Because those are the deities that we can connect with most easily – those threads are most accessible to us. Odin is my patron, I am sworn to his path, and yet he is not a deity I converse with easily. Nor is he a deity whom I consult often – the relationship I have with Odin is a very complex one, and it is in the complexity of his personality and the complexity of my own that we meet. It is not a relationship I could ever hope to properly explain to someone else, but I trust in the relationship we share despite the oddness of its shape.

Loki is also my patron, and I am one of his priests. Unlike Odin, however, I converse easily with Loki. Among the gods I work with, he is one of my best friends. On the surface, he can seem irresponsible and whimsical, but there is a depth of emotional maturity to him that most don’t see in him because they don’t look past the surface. I understand on a very real level what it is like to be seen by others without truly being seen by them, and it is on this understanding that the link between me and Loki is founded.

I honor and work with many other deities, and all of those relationships are founded on different commonalities, different threads that link the world of who I am to the world of that particular deity. With Tyr, it is the understanding of stepping forward into responsibility when no one else will. With Freyja, it is the understanding that female and weak aren’t equal terms, that there is a depth of strength in femininity that is vastly different than the strength found in masculinity. With Sigyn, it is the understanding of the depth of love a person must feel for another to stand loyally by them despite the pain they endure. With Mani, it is a depth of compassion. With Ullr, it is a love of competition. With Freyr, it is an understanding of what nobility truly means. With Bragi, it is a love of words.

With all the gods – with all humans as well – there are links of understanding. It is upon those links that relationships may be best forged. Think about the friends you cherish – what first made you friends? What link of understanding does that friendship center around? And how many of your friends are your friends for the same reason? Because I know the relationships I share with my friends are defined very differently from person to person, from god to god. No relationship is the same as another – for good reason, as that would teach us nothing and also be incredibly boring.

I started writing this because I wanted to talk about how Odin’s wisdom encompasses so much more than simply the ability to make plans – he is the penultimate shaman. He sacrificed his eye to gain wisdom, and he sacrificed himself to gain the knowledge of the runes. His path is a path of sacrifice, and one of the biggest sacrifices I’ve found myself making is setting aside my own sight to pick up the sight of another.

That means suspending disbelief, keeping your own prejudices and default biases under wraps as you listen to the stories of the people around you. I have heard stories that most would view as beyond the realm of belief because I have taken the time to set aside my doubts and trust that a person’s story, when they tell it to me, is true enough for them.