LOKI ISN’T SATAN, BUT IF HE WAS IT’D BE FINE
In the Prose Edda, one of the two major sources that provide the foundation for our modern understanding of Norse mythology, Loki saves Valhalla by fucking a horse.
See, the gods want to build a fortified wall, and they hire a magical contractor for the job. The catch is he demands the sun, the moon, and the goddess Freya as payment; I would object, but frankly I wish I were half this confident negotiating my salary.
Loki’s plan to foil this is to transform into a mare and seduce the builder’s horse. Because without the horse to haul everything, the builder will never make his deadline and forfeits payment.
If you’re thinking this is not the strongest Plan A, you’d be right. This is actually Plan B, as Plan A was just passively hoping the guy didn’t finish the job on his own. Amazingly, Plan B works, although Loki ends up giving birth to a magical horse out of the deal.
This fable is not all that important for the rest of the conversation. But I still wanted to lead with it, because it’s worth remembering that for as much as other people’s religions always seem really weird…they COULD be weirder.
Norse mythology never interested me much. But Kevin Feigi went and gave Tom Hiddleston his own Loki TV show (no word on what Simone did with her other two wishes), so it came up.
Sometimes Loki gets lumped in with Satan as a kind of Norse devil figure. The United Aspects of Satan include him as one of their eight titular, well, aspects, for example. The Hiddleston show references Satan too, because apparently eight weeks of Mephisto tweeting was not enough for some people and in a related story I hate the universe.
I’ve always resisted this, partially out of disinterest and partially because it seemed like another flavor of the glib, reductive, sometimes racist trope that assumes every religion has a devil of its own, which is a contrast to the reality that almost none of them do.
In his book Lucifer, devil-obsessed historian Jeffrey Burton Russell writes that by the time Norse peoples switched from their old religion of killing Christians to their new religion of being Christians, the myth of Satan was less protean than once it was, so Loki did not have a big influence on the devil.
But some comments by mythology professor Jackson Crawford on the YouTube channel Religion For Breakfast a couple weeks ago intrigued me. Loki, in most stories, is only half a god, his mother having been a jotunn. Usually we translate “jotunn” as “giant,” but Crawford says this isn’t actually a very good approximation of its meaning.
“I’ve come to prefer calling them Anti-Gods,” he says; the jotunn are functionally very similar to the gods, but of a separate and rival lineage that often breeds conflict but also intermarriage and complicated relationships.
So Loki is half god and half anti-god, which in a zero-sum universe would mean he shouldn’t exist at all…which I guess technically he doesn’t, so touche.
Nevertheless, this explains the weirdness of his presence in the old stories: Often, Loki is antagonistic towards the gods, and yet they seem to tolerate his presence, and sometimes go to him for help. He’s an outsider, but at the same time seems always to be included. After dozens of holiday seasons with my extended family, I can relate.
I bring all of this up because in modern American culture, you run into Norse myth most often in two places: Marvel Comics-related media, and discussions about how neopaganism is increasingly infested with Neo Nazis who need to be cast into wells for the good of the land.
“White supremacy and Norse symbolism have long gone hand-in-hand,” reporter Poppy Koronka wrote in the Huck earlier this year, citing the January attack on the capitol and the murderous 2017 Charlottesville riot among examples that illustrate how un-complex inferiority complexes really are.
“The Viking age and Norse mythology are of particular interest in groups who have committed acts of violence against perceived outsiders,” Scandinavian studies scholar Natalie Van Deusen told the University of Alberta.
The Anti-Defamation League warns that white power groups may employ traditional symbols like the valknot, although they also caution “nonracist pagans may also use this symbol, so one should carefully examine it in context.” (People on the Internet are great at interpreting nuance, so this will work out fine I’m sure.)
And as we’ve discussed before, Modern Satanism during the 20th century in particular ran into precisely this same problem, although I speculate Satan is at least less popular among Nazis than other potential religious figures, because after all he is Satan.
But you know what? I bet not a lot of Nazis are worshiping Loki.
After all, he’s the product of a mixed marriage. And as Koronka points out, many modern readers of the Eddas interpret Loki in particular as a genderqueer character, on account of elements like his habitual shapeshifting and, oh yes, his identifying as a man and then ending up pregnant, that’s sort of a big giveaway.
For that matter, I am sure that white power pillocks could easily turn Loki, a scheming trickster who for some reason is always admitted access into everyone’s circles, into a very lazy antisemitic caricature…and in a sick way, I hope they have. Whatever keeps their hands off of him.
The Hiddleston Loki compulsively wants to be worshiped. I’m not much for worshiping anything, but if needs must, you could do worse.
By a similar token, I have never much identified with Loki as a Satanist, or felt like he really fits in with even within the artificially broad menagerie of godheads who ended up Satanized over the years.
But if he helps keep out the riff-raff, I don’t really mind if he hangs around.