Loki: Spider god Brother of Odin
Loki, perhaps the most reviled of the norse gods is also the most mysterious. More ink must have been spilt on Loki than all the other gods put together. And still he remains a mystery. And the more you investigate Loki the deeper you get entangled in the mystery.
No one can do justice to Loki in a single article, or even a book. Even now Loki reveals new aspects, and changes as the world changes. The Loki cult consider Loki a god of computers, Cyberspace and Internet - once there was even a microcomputer called the Loki. Given the changes in the world since the grand planetary conjunction of 1987 Loki has been at least partially released from his bonds. The Recession of 2007-2009 had effects similar to Ragnarok, though given Human Memory, Greed and Stupidity, it may not have a permanent effect. Still, like Loki the recession revealed much the rich and powerful wanted hidden and we can hope that for once lessons have indeed been learned.
Even worshipers of Odin tend to regard worshiping Loki, trickster, clown, shape shifter and catalyst as not respectable, ignoring Odin's origins as a death god and god of storm, frenzy and ecstasy who invented Seidr, a form of magic regarded as so unclean the ancients left it to women.
Notions of loki
Carlyon describes Loki as sly, vengeful, destructive and Evil, handsome, sociable and with a sense of humor. He has a talent for trickery and occasionally plays tricks for no apparent reason. And that is a clue to one aspect of Loki's nature.
Root stripped out all the non Scandinavian elements from the tales in the Loki cycle and found a very small number of traits that could belong to the original Loki: Loki is a shape shifter, can travel by air and water, is the companion of Thor and the inventor and victim of the net. He is also foster brother of Odin.
Root argues from this and folk sayings about spiders that were written down in the seventeenth century that Loki was originally a spider god, and that this is perhaps his oldest aspect. I think he originated as a spider totem or a shaman's power beast, just as I think Wodan may have grown from Horse, Wolf and Raven. As I was reading Root's book in order to write this article a spider suddenly crawled across the page. I was on a beach at the time and have never seen a spider on that beach before.
I have been told Root's approach has some flaws, but the result feels convincing.
Loki and Fate
Loki's characteristic weapon, the net may be related to the spiders web and the sacred grid common to many ancient civilizations, most commonly seen in the three by three grid that represents the division of space into eight directions plus a center, and the Web of Wyrd woven by the Norns. Root mentions a kenning of Loki as "He who lays out the life-nets of the Gods" all suggesting one aspect of Loki is Fate.
If Loki is Fate we can view the binding of Loki as an effort to control fate, and Loki's part in Baldur's murder as ensuring that events moved in their fated direction. The whole story of Baldur's death is an example of how fate cannot be defeated, and trying to avoid your destiny can bring it about. But is also shows that fate is not completely unavoidable: If the Mistletoe had been asked to swear not to harm Baldur his fate would have been averted. When Loki bursts his bounds at Ragnarok he shows how the effort to control destiny can result in disaster. Even Loki's talent and liking for trickery mirrors the twists and turns of fate.
So much for the original Loki. For scholars this is very important, but is it and should it be as important for Pagans? How important is the history of a god? Do we want to fossilize the gods and assume they never change or do we want to relate to them as they are today after millennia of interaction with humanity?
More in Part two