Loki – Lucifer of the North

by Rutger Marnsson

Loki embodies the duality of sacred and profane. He is the balancing factor between the Aesir and the giants. He is an accuser of hypocrisy and calls out the gods on their shortcomings. Inversely, he is himself a liar, a thief and a murderer. He is by Fenrir the grandfather of the wolves Skoll, whose name means treachery, and Háti, meaning hateful. Some identify Loki with Loður, part of a trinity with Odin and Hœnir, which gave life to humans. Some also identify him as a fire god. Although this has been used most famously by Wagner in his Ring cycle, it has no decent foundation.The misconception is caused by linking Loki’s name to the old norse word logi, which means fire. It is more probable that Loki is a sky god. In the Edda, he is also called Lopt, meaning sky or air. Naturally, most will be familiar with the association of Lucifer with the element air, which is one of the main reasons I seriously considered to try and connect Loki with other Luciferian deities. This connection can be traced back to Qabalistic and alchemical tradition, as well as John Dee equating the element air with the process of creating the element mercury in his Monas Hieroglyphica.

His greatest crime to the gods is the murder of Baldr, the god of light and benevolence. For this he is bound upon a rock deep beneath the earth, with the intestines of his son Narfi. Above him is placed a serpent dripping poison. His only relief is brought by his wife Sygin, catching the poison in a bowl. But every time she goes to empty it, the poison burns Loki and as he pulls his bonds in agony, the earth quakes.

The Punishment of Loki, by James Doyle Penrose

The Punishment of Loki, by James Doyle Penrose (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Now that we know this, how can we put it to use? Obviously, Loki has the element of the adversary and trickster seated strongly within his character. He is an ally to the gods, but in the end chooses to take the side of the giants and fight the Aesir. His exact reasons are not given, but we can certainly assume that it is both because of his heritage as a giant, as well as the punishment bestowed on him by the Aesir.
Let’s take a look at the story of Baldr’s death. Frigg went across the worlds to make everything and everyone swear not to harm Baldr. But she forgot the mistletoe. When asked about it by Loki, she simply shrugged it off, as she assumed the mistletoe to be too small and harmless to bother about. So was it Loki’s plan to abuse a situation, or to confront the Aesir with their hubris? If I may extrapolate, perhaps that is why Hoð was chosen by Loki to kill his brother, his blindness symbolising the Aesir’s blinding arrogance.

Further we have the Lokasenna, the insulting of the Aesir by Loki. Obviously, Loki’s conduct as a guest leaves much to be desired. Yet, the citing of events confirmed in other stories seems to allude to a certain truth in Loki’s accusations, especially when the Aesir counter with well known events themselves. Loki goes in with less than chivalric intentions in mind: he simply wants revenge after the Aesir have chased him out, when he slew one of the serving men in the hall. He shows a very human face; perhaps we could say his Jotun side is illustrated strongly here. Despite that, we also are given two very strong points about Loki in this story.

Firstly, Loki refers to himself as Lopt, meaning air or sky. By many he is thought of as a fire god, but this self referral seems to counter that entirely. Secondly, Loki calls Odin out on his oath to him. While Loki has a loose friendship with the Aesir (especially Thor, whom he has accompanied to Utgard on at least two occasions), he has a bond of blood brotherhood with Odin. This is a very interesting relationship, especially because the two have a number of themes that connect them to each other.
Naturally, both Odin and Loki are users of magic and employ trickery freely to obtain their goals. While Loki’s actions may not need to be illustrated, we can read that Odin uses false names a number of times to avoid discovery. Also in one notable story, he steals Suttungs mead of poetry. Of course, originally the mead belongs to the Aesir by right, as it was made from the blood of Kvasir: a being created by the Aesir. Still, trickery and theft are obviously a important part of how Odin works.
In the same story we read that Odin can shape shift (a trait also owned by Loki), as he turns into a snake. Snakes are closely tied to Loki as well, both by way of one of his offspring begotten by the giantess Angrboda: the world serpent Jormungand, as by the serpent placed above him when he is bound to the rocks by the Aesir. Other animals are tied to them as well. Familiar will be wolves, Odin having two as his companions (Geri and Freki) and Loki fathering the Fenriswolf, who will kill Odin at Ragnarok. Thirdly we find birds. Odin, trying to flee from Suttung, changes into an eagle. He also has two ravens (Huginn and Muninn) that inform him about the goings on in the nine worlds. These animals don’t seem connected, until we realise that both are scavengers and the sagas when referring to battles speak of feeding the ravens as often as they speak of feeding the eagles. Loki’s ties to these birds is less obvious. He only changes into a bird once, which is a hawk and only so with the aid of Freyja’s cloak. He is, however, taken and later chased by a giant who takes the form of an eagle, Thjazi, in a myth that practically centers around Loki. It is also here that we see the connection between both Loki and Odin being chased by a giant in eagle form, as they both have stolen something from him (Odin stole the mead of poetry, Loki stole Idunn and her apples). Lastly and most clearly, Loki bore the eight legged steed Sleipnir, which was gifted to Odin.

As a short aside, Loki is credited with giving birth to all the monsters in the world, by eating a giantesses’ heart and becoming pregnant from it. Although it is unclear whether actual monsters are meant here, or rather men with malicious or evil intent:

A heart ate Loki,– | in the embers it lay,
And half-cooked found he | the woman’s heart;–
With child from the woman | Lopt soon was,
And thence among men | came the monsters all.
Hyndluljóð 43

Loki’s roles, as we can observe, are many. He is both Aesir and Jotun, effectively a member of two worlds. We can see in this a connection with mythological beings such as Prometheus, who himself a Titan, nonetheless befriended the Olympians. Prometheus was punished for stealing the gift of fire and was bound to a rock as punishment, where an eagle (again, that animal) ate his liver every day. Loki was punished for causing Baldr’s death, who possessed a shining beauty. Loki was punished by being bound to a rock and having a snake (again, a common animal between Odin and Loki) drip poison on him. Although the punishment is different, the theme of being chained to or on a rock is a common one, as well as the cause being the removing of a source of light (be it literal or proverbial).
Also, not only does Loki travel between the realms of gods and giants (who might be seen as a sort of Scandinavian demons or devils), he can also shift between his humanoid form and that of an animal. As discussed, he can change into the shape of a horse, but is also able to change into a salmon, a horsefly and a hawk (with the aid of Freyja’s cloak). When we observe Loki’s birthing of Sleipnir in horse form, we might even assume that he also is able to take the form of a snake (like Odin) and wolf, to father Jormungand and Fenris with Angrboda. This might be strengthened by the Aesir changing Loki’s son Váli into a wolf, which might have connected to a certain theme surrounding Loki.

He is a shape shifter, not only being able to disguise himself as another humanoid, but as an animal as well and even able to change his gender. This gender fluidity is especially important with his connection to Odin and his affinity with Seidh (a form of sorcery, which was taught to Odin by Freyja). As magic was mainly the domain of women in ancient Northern Europe, a man practicing it would be considered unmanly, effeminate. Although this is very speculative: this is the very thing Thor accuses Loki of being in the Lokasenna. For someone not to be bothered by this would require the acceptance of both one’s masculine and feminine sides.
When we consider Loki’s dual nature of male and female, as well as being part of the Aesir (and a citizen of Asgard) as well as a giant (and citizen of Jotunheim, home to the enemies of the Aesir), and on top of that we take into account his connection to snakes and identity as a trickster, it isn’t very hard to draw some kind of connection with the Greek god Hermes. Hermes is not gender fluid himself, but with Aphrodite fathered Hermaphrodite, who possessed both male and female organs. Hermes also is able to travel between worlds, namely the world of the gods and the underworld and carries the Caduceus: a scepter wrapped with snakes. On top of that, the Roman counterpart of Hermes, Mercury, was equated with Odin by the Romans when they invaded Germania. It is undeniable that there are strong parallels between Hermes and Odin, but also between Odin and Loki, hence also between Loki and Hermes. Furthermore, the connection between Loki and Prometheus is in this way supported by Homer, who credits Hermes with the invention of fire. The Loki-Hermes connection is (in my opinion) further strengthened by Hermes’ ability to fly and Loki’s kenning of Lopt, meaning air or sky. Odin also is able to fly, both through his eagle form, as well as on Sleipnir, who just as Hermes is able to travel to the underworld.
It is perhaps not unthinkable that at one time Odin and Loki were one deity, and were only separated when warrior cults grew in influence and Odin’s negative aspects needed to be separated from him, taking form as a wholly other being. If true, this is perhaps the strongest indicator that Loki is also a scapegoat character, as he is in effect the shadow side of Odin.

So we have Loki as an accuser, trickster, shape shifter, gender fluid, traveller between worlds, and (hypothetical) scapegoat. It seems very logical that he was identified with the devil. But what are the real results of his actions?
First, let’s consider some of the boons Loki indirectly bestows on the Aesir. Of course we all know about Mjollnir: with this weapon, Thor is able to slay any giant with a single blow. Along with Odin’s spear Gugnir (given to him also because of Loki) these weapons are the most powerful the Aesir possess. These, and especially Mjollnir, are the only reason the Aesir even have a fighting chance against the giants, seemingly being greatly outnumbered by them. Then we have Sleipnir, who enables Odin to travel to the underworld. There he learns of Baldr’s fate and the need to father a son (Váli) with the giantess Rind to avenge Baldr. As an aside, it’s notable that Loki also has a son called Váli, who is turned into a wolf to kill his brother Narfi, whose intestines are used to bind Loki.

In the Voluspa there is no mention of the gods surviving Ragnarok, not even by going to Helheim. Baldr, however (who went to Helheim after being killed by his brother Hoð) returns to Valhall together with his brother. Loki seems to have effectively saved him from oblivion by his trickery and ensured that he will preside over the new world. Of course, there are bad things Loki does and often the only positive thing he does is return things to the status quo. After enabling the theft of Mjollnir, he is forced to retrieve it (for which he needs Thor’s help), he facilitates Idunn’s abduction and is only able to retrieve her with the help of Freyja’s feather cloak and after he cuts Sif’s hair he is forced to replace it. That misadventure almost causes Loki to lose his head in a wager with the dwarves making the hair: they claim to be able to make gifts to amaze the Aesir (while Loki wagers they would not be able to). As the dwarves are not able to gain Loki’s head (he did not wager his neck and they are not allowed to touch it), they sew his mouth shut. As this is apparently enough to appease them, speech may perhaps be an important part to Loki’s character, which is a major aspect of Hermes/Mercury as well. The wager itself also points strongly in the direction of Hermes as god of luck and gamblers.

I have delved somewhat into the character of Loki, but we may be sure that there is still far more to discover. There are certainly Luciferian aspects to him, but most of his known escapades are limited to the realms of the gods and giants. We might consider it our duty to draw that down to our level of consciousness, or perhaps up from the darkness of the collective unconscious and distill from it the parts that are beneficial; to learn from his mythology and become more than we were before. Both Prometheus, Mercury and Hermes are and have been for a long time staple go to archetypes for the Luciferian, now perhaps Loki might join those ranks and enlighten us further. Like his actions returned to the world after Ragnarok the brightness of Baldr, so too should we aim to let his image guide us to a brighter dawn within ourselves.

Disclaimer: although much what is written above is pulled from myth, I have added speculation to it in an attempt to get more meaning out of the texts and meld it with existing knowledge into something more. Please consider what is written here to be mere opinion and take from it what you find meaningful.