Elisabeth Keller

17. april 2012

Loki the inbetweener
Outline: Loki is no doubt one of the more controversial characters in the Old Norse pantheon. In this essay I want to investigate his position as an “intermediary”. I have found that he is constantly located in between two factions, forces, standards, truths and so forth, and am interested in why that might be. I will investigate three different facets of Loki: his position in between everything else I general, his position between men and women in particular, and his indefinable position amongst the elements of fire, water and air. Loki the “inbetweener”: Loki is one of the most frequently appearing characters in the Old Norse myths, but does not seem to have had his own cult as a god, as we do not know about any shrines, personal or place names that connect to him. In that and more he resembles the Christian devil with whom he has been compared both by name and by function. I do not doubt that Christian ideas have played a major role when the Norse myths were written down, and the likelihood of Loki becoming modeled on Christian myths and becoming more and more vilified in the process seems only logical1, not least because the same thing happened to the Christian devil as well. He is a beautiful young man, but has a foul character2. Many scientists have characterized him as a trickster god, some as a culture bearer; I will argue that he is both and neither. In my opinion he is the element that brings change – for good or bad. He is the one in between all else. Ursula Dronke has suggested Loður as an aspect of Loki3, which would make sense if we see Loki as an intermediary between the beginning and the end. In the beginning in the form of Loður,
1

Anne Holtsmark, Norrøn mytologi – Tru och mytar i vikingtida, Oslo 1990, pp. 146-147, and Wolfgang Golther, Handbuch der Germanischen Mythologie, Leipzig 1895, new edition from Wiesbaden 2004, p. 490 2 Gro Steinsland, Norrøn religion, Oslo, 2005, p.229 3 Ursula Dronke, The Poetic Edda: Volume II: Mythological Poems, Oxford 1997, pp. 124-125

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He is that which drives the story onward. 488-489 2 . the gods to seek out new “technologies”. but he is not just a prankster. pp. He is a liar. after he is being punished for the death of Balder. As the trickster god Loki does break all the rules. as the devotion of his ever patient and kind wife Sigyn shows. He does not do all these things for his amusement alone. In the end he is leading the giants against the gods.Elisabeth Keller 17. both by lying and stealing. april 2012 he gives the lifeblood to the first humans Ask and Embla. at the same time he also makes sure that everyone is prepared for the time when the world ends. new solutions not to get stuck in their ways. but usually it is also he who gets them out of it again often by the same means. which he works towards. His name might support this thesis as it could mean “close”. but he has a goal. He constantly challenges. Leipzig 1895. He has a silver tongue convincing anyone of whatever he likes. a thief and a murderer. and a beloved husband. The ethymological meaning is however far from undoubtedly determined. he is witty and cunning. but also stirring everyone up against him so he gets his mouth sewn together. but because he has to insure that the course of the world goes onward4. towards its inevitable conclusion – Ragnarok. Loki gender bender: 4 Wolfgang Golther. He constantly gets both the gods and himself into trouble. so that there are still other possible explanations. or forces. Some mean that as a culture bearer he has only contributed with the invention of the fishing net. new edition from Wiesbaden 2004. Handbuch der Germanischen Mythologie. funny and insulting. He is not chaos though he seems chaotic in his actions. but a friend to both Thor and Odin. and ultimately to be prepared for the final battle. but if we allow for a wider definition of culture bearing I think Loki is quite formidable at it.

His role as a mother is underlined several times not least by way of kennings. Norrøn religion. In Lokasenna Odin accuses Loki of having lived underground as a woman for eight years while milking cows and giving birth to children. When he becomes a mare to seduce the stallion Svaðilfari. 2002. Oslo. Loki’s disguises and/or shapeshifting are a complete transformation. Also at one time Loki is said to have eaten a woman’s heart and in that way having become the mother of all witches. deliberately staying somewhere in between what is acceptable for most others. Supposedly these abilities have been transferred to him when he mixed his blood with Odin’s. in addition to fathering a whole lot as well. He is a very virile man but does not feel ashamed by transforming into or disguising himself as women.Elisabeth Keller 17. p. he becomes difficult to define. but can actually become that which he transforms into. as for instance Thor does when he disguises himself as Freya. A figure difficult to grasp. He is the child of one or two jotner. Oslo. Loki the element of crime: The third and last aspect of Loki’s nature that I want to take a look at is his connection to the elements. Loki is even defying gender boundaries. contrary to the other Gods who consider it perverse and a great shame. where he not only starts to look like. 43 3 . by way of the seid magic he keeps himself in this unsteady and intermediate position. As a man who becomes a woman. Loki has even given birth to several children. april 2012 Another major aspect of Loki as the middle person is his ability to shapeshift. p. he later gives birth to a foal – Sleipnir. 2005.5 but he is counted among the Aesir by becoming the blood brother of Odin himself. 228 Brit Solli. Seid. Both he and Odin have forbidden knowledge of the female magic called seid. As Brit Solli points out this gives him shaman like abilities and qualities6. He has been suggested as the personification 5 6 a matter not yet resolved see: Gro Steinsland.

I believe him to be all and none. the hearth fire. considering air to be the smallest possible insertion. new edition from Wiesbaden 2004. He has also been interpreted as a water spirit because of his often but not always water related transformations as a for instance a salmon and a seal. I do not see him as a general god of fire. and Kari – air7. However. with his strong ties to concepts of fertility – usually connected to the “fourth” element earth – he might simply be an elemental being all together. Leipzig 1895. as fire and water can only coexist with “at least” air in between them. Lopt is another aspect of Loki. all aerial in nature and has transformed himself into a fly at one point in order to win a bet against a dwarven smith.Elisabeth Keller 17. 490 4 . As he loses a contest against the wildfire. The most commonly suggested elemental connection with Loki is that he might be. Logi meaning literally “fire” is brother of Hler – water. pp. or might have been at some point. Which interestingly enough are the other two elements he is more or less often connected to. one could add him to the water related sphere of Loki’s being. He is also called sky walker and sky treader. Handbuch der Germanischen Mythologie. and the name connects to the element of air. If Loður is in fact an aspect of Loki. He has also brought the fishing net to the people. though Anna Birgitta Rooth has suggested this to be one of the things that mark him as a spider god. In my eyes the three elements on their own are too contradictory to be found in one person. But he is called flame hair and it is not unlikely Logi is another aspect of him. Conlusion: 7 Wolfgang Golther. as the infusion of the lifegiving blood into the first humans could be a parallel to the life giving water. and Hawk’s child. april 2012 of three different elements. as two of them extinguish each.

p. He is the child of one or two jotner8. 2005. He is neither good nor evil. despite his role at Balder’s death and in the coming of Ragnarok. He constantly gets both the gods and himself into trouble. a monster and a lover. of progress in the cosmic plan. Oslo. Loki is not so much a god of many contradictions but of that which is in between two extremes.Elisabeth Keller 17. but a foul character.228 5 . ever driving the narrative onwards towards its inevitable conclusion. Norrøn religion. He is a vile murderer but a beloved husband. april 2012 As I have shown in this short essay. but usually it is also he who gets them out of it again often by the same means. but counted among the Aesir by becoming the blood brother of Odin himself and thereby putting himself in a middle position. He is a beautiful young man. water and air spirit among many other things. He is the element of renewal. He has a silver tongue convincing anyone but is also lying scrupulously . He has been suggested as a fire. and often with new acquisitions for the other gods. both by lying and stealing. 8 Gro Steinsland. He is a virile man but not ashamed of becoming a woman.

Oslo 2005 6 . Oxford 1997 Golther. Anne: Norrøn mytologi – Tru och mytar i vikingtida. Leipzig 1895. Oslo 1990 Solli. Ursula: The Poetic Edda: Volume II: Mythological Poems. Brit: Seid. Wolfgang: Handbuch der Germanischen Mythologie. Gro: Norrøn religion. new edition from Wiesbaden 2004 Holtsmark. april 2012 Syllabus in alphabetical order Dronke.Elisabeth Keller 17. Oslo 2002 Steinsland.

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