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I am not a Loki's man. I am also not not a Loki's man. And to explain what I mean by this, and to explain why I am writing this, I have to first explain about Steve. Steve was the best friend I ever had. He was a street kid, a notorious burglar. I'd read about his exploits in the local paper long before I met him. When I met him, he volunteered to risk his life to help out my sister, whom he'd never met, dealing with a situation it is not my business to talk about. After this he came to me to learn whatever I could teach him about such soul-crafts as galdr and seidh.
He had been much interested in mythology as a youth, and had come to worship the Greek god Prometheus. But over the years he had come to feel this wasn't quite right, and he came to feel that Loki was calling him. So he became a priest of Loki. He took this calling quite seriously. He was, indeed, quite a lot like Loki himself, character-wise. He was an incessant player of practical jokes (except for on April Fool's Day, where he adopted a most serious and solemn demeanor). He made sacrifices, he performed devotional acts. He was a speaker of truths, especially those that were unpleasant to hear and difficult for most people to say, even with close friends and loved ones.
We came to worship together much. We practiced in the arts of seidh and galdr together, and trained in the martial arts. And as the friendship between us became a settled thing we became blood-brothers.
Loki seemed to favor him. Rarely did he ask anything of Loki but when he did the god seemed to grant what he asked in an immediate and spectacular fashion. He needed spending money one night and prayed for Loki's aid at a poker game we were at. He won everyone's money, all of it, in two hands. In each hand he had been dealt a Royal Straight Flush. In stud poker. (For all you non-poker players the odds against that happening once, never mind twice in a row, are simply astronomical.) And he had not been the dealer on either occasion. Another time he was again in need of money, so he took his last dollar to the convenience store and stood awhile listening for Loki's guidance. He then pointed to a scratch card he wanted, and it paid out twenty dollars. On still another occasion we were performing a galdric ritual and the people upstairs were being unreasonably loud, as they usually were. Steve looked up at the ceiling, tight-lipped and irritated and snarled "Loki, please shut them up. Right now!" Instantly everyone upstairs shut up, walked as one to the other side of their apartment where we heard them all sit down. They did not speak or get up again until we went to bed much later.
And it was this that proved his undoing. For while Loki seemed quite happy to give him whatever he asked for, every time this happened Steve's life fell apart. He suffered horrendous runs of bad luck. He went completely and utterly mad, often quite self-destructively. When this happened he would usually disappear, turning up months later unexpectedly. And this eventually got to be too much for him. He put aside his service to Loki. He still believed in him, still considered him his god, but he resolved to have nothing more to do with gods, galdr, seidh, or anything spiritual. He focused on forming a scientific view of the universe (he, like myself, believed that there is nothing incompatible between scientific and religious views). He found a wife, had children, and settled down. And there we lost contact. Not because I was angry at him. Not because he wanted nothing more to do with me. But he had changed too much, and the friendship we had had was no longer possible. Neither one of us wanted to settle for a lesser, more surface level aquaintance, having been so close.
Many years later I had found the berserkergang, and was involved in visionary trance work. And then one day my valkyrie (one of my disir, my fylgja is a valkyrie) appeared before me in a vision, and she had one of her sisters with her. It was Steve's fylgja (also a valkyrie). Steve's valkyrie reminded me of my oath of blood-brotherhood. She asked me to take up Loki's path, in addition to my Odinic one. She asked me to pay the last of the debts Steve had outstanding to Loki. And she asked me to find what he had never found, a way to walk Loki's path without it becoming too much to bear. I guess she thought this would all benefit Steve in some way. So hence my words at the opening of this writing.
And Steve, wherever you are, if you ever chance to read this: I have made that final sacrifice you promised Loki. I am trying to pay your debts to him, in partial payment of my debt to you. Fare well wherever you fare.
I've come to learn some things about Loki's path, both from Steve and on my own. Following is my attempts at putting this into some sort of organized form.
The first thing that comes to mind is to comment that a priesthood of Loki seems to be entirely a modern phenomenon. There is no record anywhere that I have ever heard of of such a thing in the ancient world. He is not even mentioned as being any ancient heathen's patron. Indeed, some modern Asatruar refuse to see him as a god. But this is foolishness. The matter is firmly settled by the Prose Edda. Technically Loki is a jotun, but Snorri refers to him as one of the twelve Aesir whose natures are divine. Also, he is spoken of as a blood-brother of Odin. (Because of this, whenever a toast is given to Odin one is also given to Loki. Those who understand this should offer a separate toast to Loki after offering one to Odin but technically the deal Odin and Loki struck means that a toast to Odin IS also a toast to Loki.)
The relationship between Odin and Loki is a deep one. Loki is Odin's partner in crime. He is Odin's hatchet-man. He's the one who does the things that are best done in the dark, in secrecy, things Odin cannot afford to be seen doing himself. (See below where Baldur is discussed.) Also, like Odin, Loki is a wild, mad, capricious god. Again like Odin Loki is a liminal member of society, dwelling only at its fringes. Also like Odin (but even more so) Loki's honor is generally considered a questionable thing. In general it would be safe to say that Loki is much like all the darkest, most extreme elements of Odin's nature. And so walking Loki's path is much like walking Odin's, only more intense in some ways, a little more limited in others.
Loki is a god of chaos, and change for change's own sake. In its lighter form this means he is a god of mischief (I have known Loki's men who say that in this form he is very much like The Red Guy on the cartoon Cow and Chicken). In its darker form this means he is god of destruction and harm, almost a Norse Satan. But looking at him purely as this is a mistake, as it is only one extreme of his being. He is simply god of chaos, god of change, in all its aspects, baneful and beneficial. (Steve always used to say that a good picture of him to be found in the modern world is in Star Trek's Q.)
Loki is most holy, and is a necessary part of the pantheon. This is a great mystery, and needs much study to understand it. Loki is a trickster, and often betrays his friends. But actually reading his myths, every time he does things, things work out in such a way that it is ultimately to the benefit of gods and men both. This is Loki's nature. He also gets his friends out of as much trouble as he gets them into. He is the chaos and destruction necessary to preserve creation any length of time. A created thing must inevitably be destroyed, ended by the very same law that gave it form. Fires burn themselves out, consuming the very fuel they need for sustenance. Fresh new governments become entrenched bureaucracies. Customs become chains. Many of the best treasures of the gods, things the gods have that are needed for their safety and that of the worlds were derived from some betrayal or custom-breaking of Loki's that none of the other gods could do, for reasons of honor or politics. A woman of Loki once said that he is the force that breaks the dam which is blocking up the stream, stagnating the water and killing the life within. Loki is that which destroys that which needs destroying.
Many of the charges leveled against Loki by modern Asatruar are rather unjust. Many will point to the story of how he traded Idunn and her apples to a giant in exchange for his own safety as evidence of his base dishonorable nature. But this shows a lack of study or thinking. If Loki had truly meant to cost the gods the apples of immortality then he would have died too! It seems a much more rational reading of the myth to assume that what did happen was exactly what Loki meant to happen: he ended up double-crossing the giant and stealing Idunn and the apples back. He simply, as is his nature, used his wits and trickery to extricate himself from a bad situation. (Though I'm sure he must have been rolling on the floor with glee watching the gods panic when they discovered the apples gone, knowing he had the solution in hand!)
Other dishonorable actions of Loki's also come out for the best. His duping of the giant who was building Asgard's wall by leading away his magical horse may not have been honorable, but it won for the gods unassailable fortifications for free, and got Odin a valuable steed and ally in Sleipner. His removal of Sif's hair ended up in winning for the gods their six most valuable treasures, things that are necessary for the survival of gods and men both, such as Thor's hammer Mjollnir. His duping of Thialfi was a nasty trick to play, especially on a mere boy, but it won for Thor a valuable servant and ally.
These good outcomes from bad actions are too consistent a part of Loki's stories not to have meaning. I say they show Loki's true nature: he is the god that does what others can't because of honor or custom. His true function is to preserve the world of gods and men. Because he has no face, no honor in the conventional sense, he is free to do what needs doing, even when the inexorable weight of hide-bound tradition prevents all others from acting. He is the god of dirty tricks. Our cultural ancestors knew the world to be a hard, cruel, dangerous place and understood the necessity of sometimes dealing from the bottom of the deck. Loki I believe is the epitome of this understanding.
It must be said that Odin is farsighted, and has seen the end of the worlds of gods and men. And it must be said he loves that which he created out of Ymir's body, and has dedicated himself to its preservation. He saw a way to preserve something past the inevitable end of Ragnarok. So he conspired with Loki in secret, as the wise Frigga had once advised him. Then he sent disturbing dreams to his son Baldur, who was the greatest of warriors, dreams of his impending death. He told his mother Frigga of the dreams, who went to each and every thing in the Nine Worlds and obtained from it a promise that it would not harm her son Baldur. She received this promise from fire and from water, from iron, from stones, from bears, from men and women. And when this was done it became a form of entertainment amongst the Aesir to strike at Baldur with any sort of weapon they wished, for he was quite invulnerable to everything. Then Odin sent Loki to Frigga in the form of an elderly woman, who asked her what the Aesir were doing over yonder. Frigga described their sport and Loki winnowed from her, by clever conversation, the fact that she had not requested the oath from the mistletoe, for it seemed young, and soft, and harmless. Loki immediately removed himself to the woods, and plucked a sprig of mistletoe, which he was able to fashion into a usable arrow, such is his cunning in crafty things. He went to the blind warrior god Hod, who stood at the edge of the circle about Baldur. Loki implied to him that he was dishonoring Baldur by not taking his part in the sport, and offered to guide his hand. To this Hod assented, and Loki placed in his bow the mistletoe arrow. It sped true to Baldur's breast and transfixed him. At this all the gods were greatly dismayed, and Frigga most of all. She sent Hermod the Bold, son of Odin, to ride to Hel and offer her ransom in exchange for Baldur's freedom, for Harbarth brought his dead son not to his own hall of slain heroes, but to Hel. And Hel agreed to release him if every thing in all the worlds, both dead and alive, agreed to weep for him. So the Aesir sent messengers over all the worlds and everywhere they went a great wailing was heard. But Loki took the form of a giantess who named herself as Thanks, and said she would rather Hel keep what she had. And so Baldur was consigned to Hel until the end of the world despite the best efforts of his mother to protect him. You see, Odin was farsighted, and a necromancer. He had summoned up a dead seeress' spirit, and learned from her the way in which the worlds of gods, and men, and alfs would end, the Fatal Destiny. He saw his own death, and Thor's, and that of the all the mightiest of the gods. And he saw a way to preserve his son Baldur beyond this dark day. For only the realm of Hel would withstand the coming holocaust. By conspiring with Loki Odin was able to arrange for Baldur's death which gave him the opportunity to bring him to the one place he would be safe, and from which he would be freed on the day of Ragnarok. Baldur would then be able to take his father's former place, and with the children of the other gods begin the world anew.
This too is another great service Loki has rendered everyone. Except Baldur, Hod, and Frigga, at least in the short term. It is because of this betrayal that there will be anything much left after Ragnarok. And this provides an answer to the other most common objection modern Asatruar have to Loki's nature; the fact that at Ragnarok he fights on the side of the giants and the dead. Because of his involvement in Baldur's death the other gods chained him beneath the surface of the earth, bound with the intestines of his own son, eternally tortured. But he had taken these actions at Odin's behest, and for the benefit of all. It seems hardly surprising that he would look at this as a betrayal, that the Lord of Chaos would, after being freed from such torture, be in the mood to exact a little "eye-for-an-eye" vengeance.
A note seems necessary here on Loki's torture under the earth. Modern Asatruar in general, and Lokians in particular, seem to be of the consensus that while Loki is chained, he is also free. After all chaos, laughter, and mischief are still in the world. Loki-the-bound is generally considered to be an hypostasis of Loki, an aspect of him so well developed that it is nearly independent. Other gods show this splitting of form as well. The birch goddess is, on Yule night, present in every household to check on the spinning. Odin, as the Grim Reaper, must often be in many different parts of the world at once. And Odin again, as the trinity of High, Just-As-High, and Third, is capable of being in multiple persons at once.
So it can be seen that Loki does have his honor, even though it is certainly not a traditional kind. Nearly every action of his is taken to the ultimate benfit of others. (Though I am sure this is not always a matter of conscious intention, it is nevertheless a part of his constitution.) And he always pays for his transgressions. No matter that he gets his lips sewn shut, or that his life is regularly threatened, or that Thor beats him up. No matter that he went into the whole Baldur affair knowing its outcome (Odin had forseen it with his necromancy). He always sticks around, stays the course. He sees there are consequences for his actions, and he pays them. He might transgress society's bounds, but he pays for it. And knowing that payment is coming and yet acting anyways, this makes his payment voluntary. This is a form of honor.
Nor is he limted to honor. He is brave, too, in his own way. He risked his life, wagering his head in exchange for some of the gods' treasures. He tied the beard of a goat to his balls to win over Skadhi for the Aesir. And he of course faced torture and confinement in the Baldur affair.
Lokians have much in common with Discordians (pagans who worship Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos). Irreverance, mischief, and a complete lack of inhibitions seem to be guiding principles of their behavior. Loki is god of laughter, and a prime function those who have Loki as a patron can serve is to never let anyone go too long without laughing. Another is to make sure no one becomes too complacent, or impressed with themselves, or habitually acts the hypocrite, and as such should take example from the poem "The Flyting of Loki". This is not a comfortable function for either the Lokian or the recipients of his or her flyting, but the health of a kindred can be greatly benefited from an integrated relationship with its Lokian, if it is fortunate enough to have one. After all, truth is truth, and a benefit to those who heed it. A Lokian should always be ready to speak those truths that are too unpleasant or painful for others to say, as Loki himself does. Many kindreds either refuse to look at priests of Loki as real priests, or if they do they tend to look down on them but in this I feel they fail to understand either Loki's nature or the Asatru world view of the holy. Though in truth this disdain is not helped by many Lokians, who seem to see the utter freedom of Loki's way only, and so act out in childish, inappropriate, and destructive ways. The Lokian who is truly devoted to his path, as opposed to just using it as an excuse to play, will always show the same sort of honor as Loki himself, and always pay willingly the consequences of their actions. True Lokians will always act in such a way that it is ultimately to the good of others. (A note to kindreds with Lokians: a good way to deal with a dangerously unbalanced Lokian is to adopt the same strategy the Aesir themselves do and pair him or her with a man of Thor as a chaperone.)
Lokians have more options than just to function as clowns and truth-sayers, though. Loki's path is uniquely suited to the life of the mystic, much as Odin's path is. A mystic is a type of spiritual practitioner who seeks to transcend the limitations of the self and to see directly a more fundamental level of reality. Seidhmen are a type of mystic. Many vitkar (rune magicians) are too.
A fundamental tenet of mysticism of many different varieties is to have no clinging or attachments to the concept of the self. After all it is simply a matter of logic: the self cannot be transcended if it is clung to. Loki's nature is amorphous, chaotic, capricious, ever-changing. Loki is whatever the circumstances he finds himself in allow him or require him to be. The Lokian who emulates his or her god in this fashion is uniquely well-suited to the path of mysticism. Embracing true Loki-nature is equivalent to a supremely forceful nonabiding. The Lokian who does this cannot remain, in thoughts or emotions, anywhere, for the nature of chaos is change. The mystic will be whirled about, his or her fortunes and nature changed from each moment to the next. (I believe Steve's essential problem was that he wasn't able to entirely let go of clingings to preferences of the ways he wanted things to be and allow himself to be carried along by the god.)
The Lokian who is a mystic must give up all thoughts of self control. Such a Lokian must also not make the mistake of thinking of this as a giving up of all self-determination. What must be done is to allow the god to affect the Lokian as he will. The god must be allowed to wreak whatever changes his reason or whim requires in the thoughts, emotions, and fortunes of the Lokian, at all times. Indeed, one of the primary practices for the mystic Lokian is to seek to ever increase his or her awareness of the god at all times, and to lay him- or herself ever more open to his influence. The effect this will have is to prevent the Lokian from ever carrying out or implementing a plan from start to finish, to be sure. But this has a flip side, and it is this flip side that is particularly advantageous to the mystic. Being eternally thrown off of the path the mystic is on forces the mystic to be ever searching for side paths, alternate routes. It encourages an eternal open mindedness that is free from all discriminating thought, all thought that sees that a thing definitely is this and is definitely not that. (After all, such discriminating thought is hardly consistent with the goal of the mystic. By pigeonholing everything one sees, one can hardly learn to see beyond that thing's external appearances.) In short, it forces the mystic to adopt just that frame of mind that will bring him or her to the ultimate goal of transcendence of the self and the world of Midgard, the world of appearances. After all the Lokian is not forbidden a goal… just forbidden attempting to approach it by a single route.
But it should not be thought either that the path of the mystic is the only other path for the Lokian in the modern world. There is a particular advantage that Loki brings any of his people engaged in pursuing any path. And that is the perspective of the outsider. Just as Loki dwells along the outskirts of the society of the gods, so the Lokian is generally brought to dwell along the fringes of any group, social, professional, or otherwise that he or she is in. And this allows a unique perspective that more mainstream followers of the way in question cannot have. To be mainstream is to, in general, think like others who have walked that path before, and also much like most others who currently walk that path. This is a safe way of following any particular way. It ensures that mistakes will be kept to a minimum.But it also tends to discourage original thought and fresh perspectives. The Lokian who follows any path may be more prone to making mistakes, but is also able to think much more originally, to utilize many new perspectives. And this can be very advantageous. Indeed, it is generally the only way of getting out of a rut or breaking through some conceptual dead end. Thus the Lokian can find a way to bring his or her religious life to bear on any of life's ways, be it in art, music, poetry, science, math, history, sales, anything.
Because there were no ancient rites for Loki there are no traditional modern practices. I know two Loki's men who swear the proper sacrifice to Loki is either an alcoholic drink, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or a cup of coffee. Most Lokians I've known think playing practical jokes is a holy obligation. Steve's observance of April Fool's Day as a day sacred to Loki makes much sense (as does his serious mein on that day). All Lokians I've talked to say the path of Loki is not something one seeks out. One is born to it. If you are, there is no escaping it. If you are not, then choose another path. This one is often too rough even for those who are naturally best suited to it.