They hurry to their end,
they who ween themselves so strongly standing.
I am almost ashamed to work with them.
To turn myself again into licking flames
I feel a luring lust.
To consume them who once tamed me,
instead of stupidly going under with the blind,
though they be the godliest gods!
that does not seem stupid to me.
I'll think on it: who knows what I'll do?
- Wagner, Richard (Rheingold, scene iv)
This subtle friend of the gods is rather refractory to a sober method of analysis dividing him into mythological and folkloristic elements. As a matter of course he has been caught time upon time and placed on the anatomist's table, has had his body dissected and his inner organs numbered as belonging partly to a corn spirit, partly to a spirit of nature and partly to something else; but the analysis has never succeded in depriving him of his deftness and agility, he slips from under the hands of the anatomists and springs to his feet ready with a shocking jest"
(Grønbech, II, pp. 330 -31).
There are few god/esses who bring forth such a strong and swift reaction among followers of the Northern ways as Loki. Particularly in the earlier days of the Rebirth, he was seen almost as a "Nordic Satan", never called on, and usually not acknowledged as a deity by anyone - with a few exceptions such as Alice Karlsdóttir, whose Borealis article on Loki stands as one of the best heathen explorations of his character (this article was later reprinted in Gnosis). There are still plenty of folk in Germanic religion who are shocked by the very idea of giving Loki any sort of worship or spiritual attention, and cannot imagine how someone following the Northern ideals of honour and troth could do so - they see Loki as a sort of Nordic Satan. The idea that someone can call themselves "Ásatrú", true to the Ases, and still worship or even work magically with the one who often works to bring about their end, is still one that meets with much challenge, and is indeed open for discussion. However, there are a few true folk who, like Wodan himself, have found the Trickster to be someone worth sharing a horn with. Forthwith the words of one of those folk, Paul Stigård...
Picturing the Æsir, Loki doesn't fit. He is not a valorous warrior, an incarnation of the world's fertility, nor a sage with the wisdom of the ages. He does not represent a divine level of honour, strength, courage, or any ideal of Teutonic society. Picturing Ásatrú, Loki still doesn't fit. Books dealing with the Norse gods as a subject of religion or magick tend to spend a half page on him. Just enough to show thought was given to Mischief-maker, but not enough to encourage any thought about him by the reader. Asking Ásatrúar brings a similar reaction. No one seems to want to think about Loki, he just doesn't fit.
However, Loki is ever-present in Norse mythology. If our pagan ancestors wanted to ignore him as much as modern Ásatrúar do, he would be briefly mentioned in the Edda, rather than driving Þórr mad in every other lay. Obviously, Loki fits somewhere.
Scholarly works on Norse mythology and paganism also only deal with him perfunctorily. Therefore, books were written to deal with Laufey's-son separately. De Vries wrote "The Problem of Loki" in 1933, and Rooth's Loki in Scandinavian Mythology came out in 1961. Loki was dealt with academically. However, reviving the religion of Óðinn and Þórr leaves no rest for the wicked. Loki insists on having his due.
A problem arises, though, in trying to know who Loki is. This is an eternal problem with neo-pagans. Worshipping a deity who embraces more than one concept prevents easy understanding. Flame-hair takes this to a new level, not only presenting himself in many different, even contradictory, aspects, but also requiring at least minimal effort of study to understand these aspects. He not only refuses to let himself be known, no one seems to want to know him.
However, knowing Od's-blood is possible, whether or not it is desirable. In doing so, another problem facing neo-pagans arises: that of reconciling oneself with one's god. The more common case is the original pagan worship of a deity seeming horrible: the Blood-Eagle and similar rites are no longer desirable. But in this case, the god himself appears reprehensible. Understanding Loki on an intellectual level becomes as much of a problem as dealing with him on a spiritual level.
Possibly the worst act associated with Loki is the killing of Baldr. To most Ásatrúar, this no doubt seems the worst crime possible, the killing of a god. And Wolf's-father is not even remorseful for this act, as well he should not be.
The Edda does not tell of the time Baldr spent in Jötunheimr, learning their ideas before he came back, determined to undermine the gods. He taught them of peace and became the most beloved of the Æsir. He spread flowers and the concept of utopia. He was actually talking deities of war into being nice. While it is not known why the others were so gullible, Loki was not fooled. He discovered Peace-freak's weakness to mistletoe, which was hard to find as it is not native to Iceland, and put that knowledge to good use.
Of course, this is not serious. Baldr was not out to destroy the strength of the Æsir, but his teachings were certainly having that effect. Ragnarök would be coming early in the year, and the gods would not have had a chance in Hel. And if Loki had simply spoken out against this divine hippie, no one would have listened. After all, who trusts Loki? They would have tied him down right then to prevent him from harming the Flower-powerful. And his efforts would have come to naught (Warder's note: Snorri's presentation of Baldr as a kind, sweet, peaceful Christ-figure is almost certainly a great distortion of the god's original warrior-character, as discussed in the chapter on Baldr, where the many spiritual implications of this myth are looked at more closely. But when one considers what Snorri seems to have been doing here, the Loki he knew is to be applauded as the force of change who - even in a literary work - shows up to keep the forces of stagnation from weakening Ásgarðr. Of course, no one thanks the guy who rocks the boat! - KHG).
But there are other despicable acts, other atrocities Sky-walker has done. His family tree reads like a litany of plagues and curses (as if he were responsible for his relatives!). He is apparently the father of the Miðgarðsormr, the Úlfr Fenris, and Hel; the brother of Byleistr ("Lame") and Helblindi ("Death-Blind" - one of Wodan's less lovable aspects - KHG), as well as the mother of Sleipnir, Óðinn's eight-legged horse. And if Baldr can end up resembling Christ by the time the Edda is written, apparently Loki can have descendants similar to Lucifer at that point as well. However, since Loki's children by his other wife, Sigyn, turned out wonderful, is it possible his other progeny took after Angrboda, their mother? If so, this still does not deal with the question of marehood, but that is another matter entirely.
This leaves the primary negative image of Loki, that of a thief. Many times he plays a prank or steals some treasure and brings down the wrath of the Æsir. However, they do not simply punish him or cast him out, they demand he solve the problem. Which he does, every time. He has a trait common to tricksters the world over: providing. Just as Prometheus gave humans fire, Sammael gave Adam and Eve the Apple of Knowledge, and Raven gave the world light, Loki, under the name Lóðurr, has the power to provide mind ("Völuspá" mentions life-force and good appearance - KHG) to humanity, as well as returning anything of which he deprives Ásgarðr. In fact, he is very likely the only one capable of retrieving such things. Simply put, he has the power to give and take, and is the only one with the power to give back what he has taken.
Which is one reason to worship such a god. When something disappears mysteriously, Týr is certainly not to blame, and as such cannot help in its retrieval. Lost objects are the province of Loki, and while his followers may be more likely to lose possession, they do not stay lost.
Another dominion of Loki is parties, especially the crashing thereof. Lokeans come and go unannounced, and try to avoid being bounced from parties as ruthlessly as Venom-eye was in Lokasenna. On the other hand, Ásatrúar who want their celebrations to go smoothly do not offend, but please Loki. Unlike the Greek goddess Eris, he does not pick on people just because they got his attention.
Actually, he does have many other aspects in common with Eris, including bad puns and mental masturbation. However, choosing the path of Loki is more than that, transforming life into the divine rebellion, demonstrating the personal existence of free will every day. Discordians refer to such people as "Chaosists", those who stir up chaos. "Zenarchy" (by Kerry W. Thornley) explains a fitting sort of philosophic lifestyle for Loki-worship, although by no means the only one.
For example, an aspect of life Thornley does not mention is the use of computers. If there is a single greatest representation of intelligence and freedom flowing as fire, it is the energy pulsing through electronics. The keyboard is the taufr of inspiration and the monitor scrys into the Well of Wyrd. No vitki should be without one, much less a follower of Loki.
But all manifestations of freedom without bounds, such as keys, and intelligence without limit, such as books, are connected with Gold-thief. This is why his punishment is so horrible. At the end of Lokasenna, Loki was captured and taken to a cavern under the Earth. There he was tied down with the bowels of his son Nari, and a serpent was placed above him to drip venom onto his face. Sigyn catches the vile liquid in a bowl until it fills up, and then she must pour it out while a few drops of poison spill into her husband's eyes. When he writhes, the Earth shakes.
No doubt the binding of Loki happened in conjunction with the religious suppression in Scandinavia. One of the most positive aspects of Ásatrú is the free admission that every aspect of the religion is a metaphor, a motif of life. When the binding of Loki is mentioned, it is in a prose afterthought to a poetic lay. It is an addition, as the free spirit of the Norse was not being bound until later in history.
But the final point is that just as Óðinn, Þórr, and even Freyr and Frigg have dark sides, Loki has a bright spot or two, and both the "good" and "evil" need to be accepted in any deity. Further, to be Ásatrú is to be true to all the Æsir, not just most of them. Ásatrúar have as many layers as Ásatrú does. Just as all are made up of small amounts of the more popular gods, all have a little bit of Loki as well. Loki has been bound for at least 800 years, as the Teutonic religion has. Now, his bonds are loosening and we gain his fire in our soul and an occasional mischievous spark in our eye.
As far as our forebears' view of Loki, we know relatively little outside of the Eddas. He is not born of the Ases or Wans: he is an etin, with whom Wodan swore blood-brotherhood. This is no bar to counting him among the god/esses: Skaði and Gerðr are also of pure etin-blood, and most of the holy folk are half-breeds. He is the son of the etin Fárbauti ("Cruel-Striker") and a womanly wight called Laufey ("Leafy Island"). Although there is no direct Norse evidence for the nineteenth-century reading of Loki as a fire-god (based on a false etymology connecting him with logi, 'flames'), a naturalist interpretation might read his birth as springing from lightning setting a wood on fire - an event which, in itself, is destructive, but is often needful for the health of the land. One might even draw this out to suggest that, like forest fires, Loki brings true devastation on a long-term scale forth only when he has been kept from doing his smaller works of destruction (leading to new life) for a while.
Loki has several heiti, including Hveðrungr (roarer? - Völuspá 55, Ynglingatal 32), Loptr (he who fares aloft - or, as Paul translates it, "Skywalker"), and perhaps Lóðurr (etymology difficult). Snorri describes him as handsome, and he is normally seen as a short slight man with fiery red hair. The small size is surprising, since he is supposed to be of etin-kin; but other wights (mostly Þórr) are always threatening or beating him, and he seems unable to defend himself physically. On the other hand, Heimdallr, as Warder of the Ases' Garth, is presumably a fine warrior, and Loki proves his equal at Ragnarök...
Not only is Loki always getting the Ases into trouble and out again - but his solutions always bring them more good than they had before. Sleipnir, the walls of the Ases' Garth, Wodan's spear, Thonar's Hammer, Sif's gold hair, Fro Ing's golden boar and ship, the acceptance of Skaði among the god/esses - we have Loki to thank for them. He does not do these things out of loyalty, a trait he seldom shows (in fact, to save his own skin, he once tricked his good friend Thonar into faring towards an ambush in Etin-Home without Hammer or gauntlets). Most of the time, his motivation is to keep from being punished for whatever he did wrong in the first place. Nevertheless, there are many who might think that the reparations he ends up making far outweigh the original damage. Even when he is in the worst odour with the Ases, he is inadvertently helpful: while hiding out from their wrath, he builds a fishing net. As he hears Þórr nearing, he burns it, then leaps into the river and turns into a salmon - but the pattern of the net remains in the ashes so that the Ases can recreate it, and Loki is caught by his own invention and Þórr's quick hands.
Loki is also sometimes helpful when he was not responsible for the problem in the first place. In the Eddic poem Þrymskviða, for instance, he has nothing to do with the theft of Þórr's Hammer - but it is he who finds out where the Hammer is and what Þrymr wants in return for giving it back, and it is he whose quick wits cover so that Þórr can pass as Freyja through the whole of a bridal feast at which the cross-dressed god shows a distinctly unladylike character. He also goes above and beyond the call of duty to make Skaði laugh by tying one end of a rope to a goat's beard and the other to his bollocks, then starting a tug-o-war with the goat. All of the stories in which it is Loki who saves the day (whether or not he was the one who nearly lost it) hint that perhaps it is not such a bad idea to ask him for help in the stickiest situations. In one of our older skaldic poems, Haustlöng, which describes Loki's recapture of Iðunn from the etin Thjazi, Loki is called "Óðinn's friend", "Þórr's friend", and "Hoenir's friend". Simek suggests that this, together with his generally good portrayal in the poem and the myth, "could possibly point to an originally more positive role for Loki in Germanic mythology" (Dictionary, p. 315).
Loki often appears as Þórr's travelling companion on journeys to Etin-Home. In fact, J.S. Pereira has suggested that travellers in highly dangerous areas would do well to call on Thonar and Loki together - though stresses that this would probably only be done in times of the greatest need and most intense danger, such as a war zone where the social order has already broken down so far that Loki's amoral swiftness of wit is the best thing for dealing with it. In such a case, Thonar would not only give the strength and endurance such a faring would need, but also offer a sign of the stability lying on the other side of chaos and the traveller's hope to get to settled steads again. For more ordinary farings, one might suspect that calling on Loki (with or without Thonar) would, at best, be an invitation to lost luggage. Then again, Loki might be just the god to ask about bringing said luggage back, although we would suggest insuring it before calling his attention to it!
Despite his usual charm, Loki appears as a terrifying figure at Ragnarök, when all his might is turned towards destruction - when he breaks his chains and leads the hosts of the evil dead across the sea on a ship called Naglfar, which is made from the finger- and toe-nails of corpses. Then, one of his sons is Wodan's bane and one is Thonar's; if Surtr can be seen as his kinsman as well, which seems likely, it is almost wholly Loki's clan that works the doom of the gods. It should also not be forgotten that he is the god of earthquakes, forest fires, and such.
The earliest evidences we have for Loki are the "Balder-bracteates" of the Migration Age, on which a winged figure - probably Loki in Freyja's falcon-cloak - stands in front of the sacrifice. One image which is probably of Loki has also survived from the Viking Age. The Snaptun bellows-stone found near Horsens in Jutland (now held in the Prehistoric Museum at Moesgård near Århus) shows a moustached face with its lips sewn together - the revenge taken on Loki by the dwarf Brokk when Loki had cleverly gotten out of paying for a lost wager with his head. Though there is no way to really know, one might guess that the smith's sympathies were with the dwarf and that this particular reference on the bellows-stone was a warning to Loki not to get too frisky in the smithy: in fact, the practical purpose of the stone was to feed the flames with a controlled flow of air while protecting the bellows from their heat. This use of his image also suggests the possibility of Loki as first stemming, not from the etins of mountain and ice, but from Surtr's fiery kin in Muspell-Home.
As far as traditional worship goes, there is no evidence for it, neither place-names nor literary/historical references. As William Bainbridge observes, most religious practice is based, one way or the other, on upholding social norms; while the dangerous Trickster may have had his place in some rites, it is unlikely that he ever had an organized cult.
However, ritual drama may well have been a major feature of Scandinavian worship; and if the myths were enacted in a cultic context, Loki would have shown himself very important to Norse worship indeed. Here he could be likened to the Trickster-figures of other traditional cultures, whose clowning during ritual performances and processions - and the whole concept of temporary reversal and "carnival" mockery of the established order presided over by the Lord of Misrule, which ultimately strengthens social norms - is needful to the success of the rites. Like many other Tricksters or Lords of Misrule, Loki is of ambiguous gender: not only does he mother Sleipnir (and it should be remembered that calling a man a mare and/or saying he had borne children was the worst insult possible to the Vikings), but he also dresses as Þórr's lady-in-waiting in Þrymskviða, and in Lokasenna, Óðinn accuses him of having lived under the earth as a woman for eight winters and borne children. When he wants to travel most swiftly, he borrows, not Wodan's eagle-shape, but the falcon-hides of the Frowe and Frija; this again must be seen as a form of shamanic cross-dressing. The Trickster is the one who crosses all boundaries (especially those of social taboo), creating the border-state in which acts of ritual shaping and reshaping are possible. This function, particularly in regards to various degrees of cross-dressing, is shared by other deities; but Loki is the one who embodies it most often and thoroughly. The border-state is the time of greatest might - but also the time of greatest danger, when nothing and no-one is safe; this too should be remembered when dealing with Loki.
It is also worth pointing out that the poem Lokasenna ("the Flyting of Loki"), in which Loki crashes a party of the Ases to which he was not invited (rather like the evil fairy in "Sleeping Beauty") and trades vicious insults with everyone there, is actually one of our richest sources for Norse god/ess lore. Until recently, it had been thought that the irreverent attitude this often raunchy poem shows towards the god/esses was a sign that it had been written after the conversion; but the langage and metre are consistent with an early date. Gurevich suggests that the mockery of Lokasenna actually "should be interpreted not as a sign of the 'twilight' of paganism but as a mark of its strength...All these parodies, mockeries, and profanations occur within the sacral sphere" (Historical Anthropology of the Middle Ages, pp. 168-69), arguing that one of the strongest and earliest characteristics of traditional religions is the ability to weave humour with the most serious holiness and even to laugh at the god/esses. This is surely a side of the Norse religion in which Loki comes into his own....
Grönbech suggests that Loki "was the sacral actor whose business was to draw out the demon, to bring the antagonism to a head and thus to prepare for victory - hence the duplicity of his nature; to act the part he must partake in the holiness and divinity of the sacrificial circle, and when this ritual fact is translated into the language of the legend, it assumes this form: Loki is of giant extraction, born in Utgard and admitted to the company of the gods on his entering into friendship and a blood covenant with Odin" (II, p. 331).
Loki is the total antithesis of social rules, whose very being causes them to break down around him. Sometimes good comes of this, and sometimes ill. Taken to its farthest reaches, this characteristic of his appears in his role as one of the chief causes of Ragnarök. It should be marked that Loki's chief foe is not Thonar (who thinks little of breaking guest-laws when he has the chance to bash an etin on the head), nor even Tiw (as one might have guessed), but Heimdallr, the warder of the Rainbow Bridge and of the gates of the Ases' Garth.
In later Scandinavian folklore, Loki appears as the creator of fleas and spiders, and the spider, lokke, may possibly have some etymological connection with him. This would fit neatly with Loki's character. As well as the father of monsters and mother of Sleipnir, he is certainly likely to be the creator of mildly obnoxious bugs and insects which, like the spider, can be very helpful or can be deadly poisonous. Although cockroaches seldom appear in Scandinavia or Germany, it is a pretty good bet that Loki has something to do with them as well. Other than that, there are no beasts traditionally associated with Loki. However, Alice Karlsdottir suggests that the grackle, being a small, loud-mouthed, and obnoxious cousin of the raven, is probably Loki's bird. The fox, which seems like a smaller, weaker, but slyer and more adaptable cousin of the wolf, has also been suggested for him in modern times. For the same reason, American Ásatrúar might also see Loki in the coyote; he surely has much in common with the Amerindian spirit Coyote.
When working with Loki, it should not be forgotten that he has a truly ill-willing side, and his sense of humour can be very nasty indeed at times. He can, indeed, be a practical joker of the most dangerous sort. Great care is called for, especially in a religion such as that of the Troth, where fires of sundry sorts play such a great part. Both houses and woodlands can go up in flames very easily... Calling Loki into your life will surely bring changes, but there is no surety that you will like them, or even live through them. Toasting Loki at symbel has been found to bring small accidents within the evening (such as eyeglasses melted in campfires or lost forever in snowbanks). Those who work with delicate equipment, especially that through which energy runs, should be especially careful: Loki is the God of the Glitch and the Power Surge.
Nevertheless, it is probably better to be on good terms than bad with him. Some of us have found that a toast made to Loki, or a few drops poured to him, before the start of a ritual/feast works well to stave off disasters, whereas Lokasenna shows in graphic detail what happens when Loki is not given a drink and a seat among the other god/esses - and even when he is not invited, he will show up anyway. Further, it might even be seen as somewhat rude to ask Thonar in and tell him his travelling-buddy has to stay outside, or invite Wodan to a feast and let him think that his blood-brother is unwanted.
In working with Loki today, it has been found that he is especially fond of single-malt Scotch, and a shot of it poured out to him with the appropriate request will often encourage him to fix whatever horrible thing he has done to your life or your computer.
On the wilder edges of Ásatrú, there exists a disorganization by the name "Friends of Loki" - a sort of Norse Discordianism, frequently manifesting via computer. "The Friends of Loki are known for strict dogmas, coordination, hierarchy, organizational rules, orthodoxy, and respect for the staider and socially oriented aspects of mainstream Ásatrú. Not!"
But perhaps the most truly Lokean blessing/curse was not first spoken by any Germanic folk, but by the Chinese: "May you live in interesting times!" Whether this is a blessing or a curse...just depends on how well you get on with Loki.
and very special thanks to Grendel Grettisson for "Friends of Loki", and to all the folk from Trothline who had their say in the long-running and often rather warm "Loki" discussion.