En alder av Loki: The Importance of the Trickster myth in the 21st century
The trickster is one of the most important archetypes in the world of myth. He is neither hero nor villain but both as the mood suits him. Through his actions, the flaws and misconceptions of the protagonists, antagonists, and their society as a whole are brought to light. Though often punished for the mischief he causes, Trickster always returns with another prank to challenge the mores of his society. The trickster figure goes by many names and exists in every society. This essay will focus on his guise as Loki, Norse god of mischief, and will examine the continued importance of this aspect of the trickster myth in the 21st century.
It is important to remember that in the Viking cultures which produced the Loki myth, the qualities which summarize Loki's character were viewed as weak or inherently treacherous. Although ingenuity was valued among the seafaring explorers and there was existent a complex political system (in the form of chiefdoms), the "fine print" interpretation of contractual obligations as well as the diplomacy and double speak of the career politician was viewed just as it is in contemporary western culture: openly derided, but privately encouraged.
"In the Eddas of Snorri Sturulson, Loki is described as 'pleasant and handsome in appearance, wicked in character and very changeable in his ways. He had much more than others that kind of intelligence that is called cunning and stratagems for every eventuality. He was always placing the Aesir into the most difficult situations; and often extracts them by his wiles."(Davis p.303-4)
Thus, while he was publicly chided for his "mischief", Loki was always called upon by the Aesir to resolve situations because of his ability to do that which they openly could not without appearing weak or untrustworthy.
Loki's...inventiveness in problem solving made it possible for the Norse Gods to come ahead in every situation and - although sometimes unintentionally - gave the Aesir some of their greatest weapons and defenses. His prank against the giant who agreed to build the impenetrable wall of Asgard in exchange for the hand of Freya not only exempted the Aesir from their obligation to surrender the keeper of their source of immortality but also gifted Odin with the eight-legged steed, Sleipnir (a result of Loki's tryst with the giant's great horse, Svadilfare) (Colum, p. 12); his bet with the dwarves Sindri and Brokkr resulted in the creation of the hammer Mjolnir - the greatest weapon among the gods - a gift for which Loki was repaid for by having his mouth sewn shut for exploiting a loophole in the agreement (Sturlson, p. 147).
It is no wonder then, in such a climate of ridicule, disdain, and betrayal for services rendered, that Loki's "mischief" became increasingly dark and bitter. After facilitating the death and impeding the resurrection of Baldr (in many ways a Christ-like figure), Loki is imprisoned deep within the earth, never to be released until Ragnarok, where he will lead the forces of darkness to exact vengeance upon the Aesir for all of their misdeeds (something not explicitly stated, but easily inferred).
It is in this last capacity with which popular culture is most familiar, perhaps because of its similarity to the tales of the Christian Apocalypse...and, indeed, it is all but impossible for myself to determine whether the Eddas, written in the 13th century, were influenced by the Christian gospels.
Regardless, viewed as a whole, Loki's myth becomes something of a road map to contemporary Western -predominately US - culture; its current political climate in particular, as the media driven era in which we live often casts its politicians in a negative light simply for doing what they've been elected to do.
The unfortunate reality is that every politician is both a protagonist to his party and an antagonist to its opposition, with both sides disclaiming the necessity of any politicians use of side dealing, "creative interpretation" of policy, or compromising on one agenda to further the pursuit of another while at the same time creating an atmosphere that both requires and encourages all of the above; When the extent of the amount of political maneuvering comes to light, the public, the media, and all other aspects of society then vilifies the politician.
It then becomes almost inevitable that the political institute will "turn" on the society which created it.
Therefore, by remembering that Loki's mischief serves a valid - although occasionally unseemly - purpose, one can remember to view both he and his parallels with the appropriate amount of respect and appreciation, while simultaneously pursuing all other avenues of recourse before calling upon him.
Colum, Padriac. The Children of Odin. Hare, John Bruno. Internet Sacred Text Archive.
n.p., n.d. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/ice/cooo03.htm
Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much about Mythology: Everything you need to know...
New York City, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005. Print.
Sturulson, Snorri. The Prose Eddas. Trans. Broedur, Arthur Gilchrist (1916). Hare, John Bruno. Internet Sacred Text Archive.n.p., n.d. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/pre/pre05.htm