Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Is Loki Worthy of Emulation?

You befriend someone who's a little sly, but full of potential. He provided company in a difficult time, so you return the favor. You invite him into your house to stay with your family. One of the first things he does is offer to negotiate a contract to have a big, nice fence built around your house. Sounds good. Except he negotiated that ruining your house and giving away your daughter to the enemy would be the price. Some deal, eh? Then, behind your back, he delivers your most precious resources into your sworn enemy's hands, resources without which you will eventually dwindle and die, and only brings them back under threat of bodily harm. He turns two of your allies against each other, completely alienating them so they wish to deal neither with you nor each other anymore, and all the aid and support they were lending you dries up. He raises a ferocious son, a predator destined to kill you, raises another son who does nothing but spit venom, and engenders a daughter who seems to bring sickness wherever she goes. He leads one of your sons into an ambush, and brings about the death of another one of your sons.

Now let's say that your family is somewhat important. You're in charge of watching over the weal of a number of surrounding districts and counties, who are depending on you to keep things in order. Your guest, it turns out, has no problem making deals with your enemies whose activities directly negatively impact the economic productivity of all the people you're entrusted to protect.

Finally, when you are assembled in a truce-hall, under cease-fire conditions, he shows up, kills one of the servants of the resident ambassador (with whose people you are in an uneasy truce), endangering the position of everyone in the hall, and then slanders every member of your family publicly, in front of those with whom a shaky cease-fire have been negotiated, and confesses openly to the murder of your son.

Some questions :

Would you ever welcome this person back into your house again?
Would you feel justified in calling for this person's execution or permanent exile?
Would you ever want to have anything to do with anyone who knowingly associated with this person?
Would you ever want anyone you love or protect utilizing this person as some kind of example or model?
Would you ever buy any argument that suggested that overall this person's actions represented a net gain to you and your family?
Have any of your answers been motivated in any way by Christian theology, or by your own gut feelings and common sense, and do you think that most sane people, regardless of their religious or philosophical conditions, would probably tend to draw the same conclusions?


Does more need to be said about Loki?

12 Comments:

Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Well, one thing more.

Were the pagan gods really considered as appropriate objects for emulation? In some cases, at least most of what they do makes a pretty good model, to the extent we're capable of it, for our conduct as human beings.

But morality is only one concern of Pagan religion--right action is important to the gods, yes... but what is right is not always the same for them and for us. And other concerns than what is moral are the concerns of many pagan gods.

I'll agree with those who might question the integrity of Loki worshipers I have known in the present day. Thus far, their ethics and integrity have not impressed me.

But I'm also open to believing that once, within his original culture, Loki might have been honored among the gods as a representation, not of an ideal, but of how reality sometimes is, whether we like it or not.

A lot of Norse mythology seems gloomy in some ways--nothing we can do will prevent Ragnarok; nothing the gods can do prevents the death of Baldur. All things die.

But the interesting question seems to be, given that fact, how will you live?

Loki, if nothing else, acts to force the immortals, too, to face their own version of that hard question. They too will fail. How, then, can they live with integrity? Perhaps he's the necessary spark of chaos that allows heroism, not so much noble for that as needful?

I'm not Asatru (which probably shows to a painful degree) but I have pondered similar questions before, and this is the best I've come up with: the pagan gods were not always thought of as what ought to be, so much as, what is.

8:40 AM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

To answer for all of paganism would be a difficult matter, but to answer for religion in the Indo-European mold is far easier. There the notion of rta or right order is central, and we have a fairly clear dualism between those who align with the local concept of rta (under whichever name) and those who align against it, and the status of God or Demon (Giant, etc.) is fairly well determined by this. Good things are good. Bad things are bad. Yes, there are some ambiguities in between, and yes, there are tricky situations, as there are in life. Sometimes there are tradeoffs. But these do not upset the essential distinctions.

The entire perception that Norse mythology is "gloomy" is a result of 19th century Romanticism. There's nothing gloomy about Ragnarok at all, although it's unfortunate. Ragnarok is the culmination of all the forces that have moved against *rta coming to a head with right and LOSING, FOREVER. The result is the Return of the Golden Age, that which was lost, to a large degree, because of Loki, a fact which was anything but inevitable and necessary, and yet which happened and set the stage for the world as we know it. The world as we know it, in all its cynicism and horror, is not necessary! But it is the world order we now know, in large part because of what Loki did (mythological explanation). While the old heathens were realistic enough to know that this was how it was now and therefore had to be dealt with and prepared for (thus their ever-ready martial attitude), they also knew deep in their hearts that this was not how it was meant to be, and that someday all of the filth would be cleaned out.

Note that at one point in the mythos Loki does show promise. he shows incredible promise. He is given incredible chances, and he fails. His failure is a warning to the rest of us. If we follow in his ways, we shan't do much better. The story is fairly clear : he ends up bound and tortured long before Ragnarok ever comes around. The mischief we see about us --- and I'm not talking about the fun, childlike kind of mischief that once characterized him as a boy --- is a result of the seeds he cast out when he was still unbound. Can you imagine how terrible and unsteady things would be if he were not bound? The world would shake apart. As it is, it shakes from time to time from his writhings anyway. (No, I'm not a fundamentalist, and am not asserting that this is a literal explanation ; but it is a mythic one, and therefore to be taken seriously.)

Ancient heathens, like us all, were well familiar with what "is, whether we like it or not". They needed an explanation for how it got this way. Kind of like a murder mystery. Who's the culprit or culprits? It's like a court room drama. The myths provided an answer as well as a caution.

Worship implies worthiness. I've outlined here the case for the worthiness of someone who exhibits similar actions. It's very easy put in this form to see that such actions are anything but "necessary". People that think we "need" such actions (because they've mistakenly put Loki into some kind of generic "trickster" pattern and then tried to plug in for those general characteristics) have a pretty cynical view on the world indeed. This world is NOT as the Gods intended it. The myths explain why. That doesn't mean this world is all evil. No, much of the tremendous good infused into the world through their actions and sacrifices cohere ; but it would be so much better had it not been for such actions, and so might we learn in our own lives if we will listen and take heed.

2:20 PM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

I agree that the question is how will you live, and while it is true that the Gods themselves have to pay for their various failings, they have made good on those failings. Ragnarok doesn't represent so much a failing as a success. Their actions will ensure the reblooming of the world. I'd call that not only successful, but anything but gloomy.

Odin values chaos that serves the good. He is literally the Master of Wod, and Wod is a turbulent force of dynamic chaos, like the winds. His name, in fact, is etymologically cognate with the Hindu word for wind, "vata". Because he values chaos that serves the good, he once had an alliance with Loki, based on an appreciation for that quality within him, and the potential to turn that quality to good ends as well. Unfortunately, he failed the test, and followed his worst side rather than the opportunity offered to him. That is a tragedy, not only for him, but for everyone. As Gefjun said, Loki now knows that all of life hates him.

Even Baldur's death was not inevitable. The Gods did make a mistake there. They took oaths from all beings, but overlooked one, because it seemed too young and insignificant. You can bet they will never make such a mistake again, and neither ought we. That which seems too young, small, or insignificant to be of threat may indeed grow in power as time goes forward, as they learned to their woe and the world's as well.

There's right, and there's wrong. That's one of the wonderful qualities of earthiness in the heathen tradition. There might be a swathe of territory in between where you get to work your character out, but in the end, such distinctions are not only possible, but necessary. A judgement must be rendered in the court.

2:20 PM  
OpenID Helio said...

We have to keep in mind that a lot of what we know of Loki comes through Snorri and he was a Christian with his own understanding of the world and his own agenda in building a structured mythology, as if the myths of pre-Christian Europe - the North included - never had different versions of the same stories.

I'd also disagree with Cat when she said that "morality is only one concern of Pagan religion". Ancient religions were often orthopraxic in nature: their focus was on correct ritual practice and not doctrine or morality. That was up to the individual and society, respectively.

You're also forgetting apotropaic worship, i.e., presenting offerings to some Gods not to gain their blessings, but to make them go away. The saamis, for instance, offered sacrifices to deities of disease to heal members of the family or community. If worship implies worthiness, it may simply be a practical one, not moral!

Finally, it's always good to remember the positive things that nonetheless came out of Loki's mischiefs: Freyr's boar and ship, Odin's ring and Thor's hammer.

11:37 AM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Ok, I'm publishing this comment out of courtesy, but also as an opportunity to educate, and I hope you will not find that rude.

First of all, the notion that pagan religions were entirely "orthopraxic" is something that has been heavily called into question recently. In fact, it's probably not true at all. That doesn't mean it included an orthodoxy per se, but moral values were indeed very important, as they were within the heathen tradition.

Secondly, throw out Snorri, and we still have Loki confessing to the crime of Baldur's death in Lokasenna, and the image of him bound in Niflhel in Voluspa. Those are both heathen poems.

Thirdly, the "variant" story model is really overused. It's true there were probably subtle differences in the retelling of stories, but the fact is, when it came to important stories, the important details remained the same. These weren't a fragmented people. They had a genealogical relationship to each other.

Finally, all the gifts for the Gods came from the ELVES and DWARVES, NOT LOKI!!! I don't know how many times I will have to repeat that. What Loki managed to do is turn those two tribes of wights against each other and bring mayhem to the world, its weather, and fertility.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Lets take the counter argument then.

Odin and his sons break into his blood brother, Loki's household and slay his wife and kidnap his children. Thereby sealing the aesirs fate. Does this sound like gods worth emulating.

Since that wasn't enough. Odin then invades loki's other household and forces one son to slay his brother and then Odin imprisons Loki. Sygin instead of siding with her kin stands by her husband doing what she can for him.

In the Voluspa, Loki simply spoke the truth but the Aesir and Vanir were simply to weak to bare it.

6:52 PM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

I am tentatively publishing this comment out of courtesy, but more as a corrective measure, in order to effect some education.

Firstly, Odin and his sons never broke into Loki's household. Gullveig was killed in Har's hall, when she had come there with full intent of corrupting. The children lopt had with Angrboda were indeed collected from Jotunheim, because there was prophecy of the immense disaster and evil which would come from them. He had bred unnatural monsters who would prove of enormous harm to the world. Their function as guardians of the world demanded they take action to protect that world from agents of tremendous mayhem. There was no breaking into Loki's household : these monsters were at large within Jotunheim.

Secondly, to characterize Loki's hideaway as his "household" is a curious way of speaking, as if a bandit's hideaway were somehow a household. This is where Loki retreated to evade justice. The Aesir had full warrant, in every legal sense of that word, to enter the hideaway, because Loki had confessed in front of them all, that he had been the one to bring about Baldur's death. He was guilty of premeditated murder.

Note the poetic justice of what happens next. Just as Loki had brought it about that one brother (Hodur) would kill his own brother (Baldr), so Loki had to watch as one of his sons, transformed to match his true wolfish nature, gobbled up his own brother.

Where in Voluspa does Loki speak at all? Loki has no speaking part in this poem. The Aesir and Vanir are indeed strong, and they will win the battle of Ragnarok. Their sacrifices will prove worthy for the entire world, which will be rid of all of Loki's kin, forever. Such Gods are worthy of not only emulation, but great devotion. Hail the Aesir and Vanir!

8:22 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

You should really have stuck with Protestant Christianity, you have this great need for a "Book" to tell you how to live your life. Even if that "Book" has obviously been corrupted to serve Christianity. You really like to twist things. You have taken taken the dualism of your Christian upbringing and inflicted it on heathen polytheism. The main precepts of Polytheism are, "There are no wrong gods and there is no wrong religion". There is only religion and all gods are to be honored. To say otherwise is atheism.

6:40 AM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Nice bullshit there! What, do you think you're dealing with an amateur here? Perhaps you'd like to do some real study into actual heathen polytheisms, like Vedic Hinduism as it manifests in the Rig Veda (plenty of demons and dualism there), or in Zoroastrianism (plenty of demons and dualism there), or in Greek polytheism (plenty of giants and dualism there, too).

Polytheism does not mean "I must worship everything". What kind of nonsense is that?

Just because there are many, many right ways of doing things does not mean that there are not wrong ways of doing things.

"There is no wrong religion." Of course there is. Religions which require inhumane practices, for example, are, yes, wrong. A religion that required the human sacrifice of innocents (re : ritual murder) would be wrong. Now, such a religion could be reformed so that that was no longer a requirement, but it would still have to change to not be wrong.

Polytheism does not mean "anything goes". It is not equivalent to moral relativism.

"There are no wrong gods"? How about a god who requires or encourages mayhem?

So if I don't believe in and "honor" ALL Gods that means I assert that there are NO Gods? That makes no sense, and is black and white thinking.

And the idea that I have a need for a Book to run my life is just absurd. The fact of the matter is, I DO know the lore quite well ; better than most, in fact. I'm well known for that. But I don't seek my living in the lore. I follow the spirit. But having a familiarity with the lore is helpful in referring to it. In oral cultures, there are texts as well. They are just oral texts.

But what's funny to me is that you make arguments from textual suppositions that then when I point out are wrong, you assail the textual approach. That's hypocritical. You made an assertion about Voluspa, I questioned it on the basis of my knowledge about Voluspa, and then you try to insult me rather than engage in discourse. For your information, people with knowledge were respected in heathenism.

I don't mean to be discourteous to you at all, and certainly, by all means express yourself passionately, but if you come in with accusations and a hostile attitude, I'm not going to be as welcoming as if you came to have an actual discussion.

Good day, sir.

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes. He is.

I, for one, stand up and defend Loki.
Loki is and can be a loyal friend.

1:38 PM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Ok, so you've made your claim and asserted your allegiance. But you've given no argument or evidence to back up your claim. So now : is there any reason for the rest of us to not consider you one of the fiflmegir?

9:22 PM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

And let me ask : what traits in particular would you emulate and which do you consider worthy and unworthy of emulation and why?

9:30 PM  

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