Snakes, fire, a robust sexual history and magic expertise… how can I comprehend Loki as anything other than the bearer of knowledge that resembles tantra (or Western-style sex magic)? (Yes, I know he has additional attributes but I’m not concerned with those at the moment.) What follows is my “unverified personal gnosis” (UPG) on this topic.
But let’s back up a bit. Let’s think a moment about this concept called “gods” (I’ll use this word to mean deities of all genders). Dagulf Loptson’s book, Playing with Fire–An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson (Asphodel Press, 2014), is an important source for me these days and he describes his concept of gods as “enormous, primordial, creative beings who manifest themselves in both the unseen and physical worlds via nature and human insight.” This works for me. Furthermore, Loptson suggests that gods take many forms, and we humans give them many faces. This also works for me.
I’d like to suggest that among other things, these primordial beings offer templates of spiritual enlargement to those humans who care to partake. Sure, the gods can also torment us, play with us, comfort us, blow our tiny minds, and request offerings (like the colorful donut-patterned shower curtain Loki wanted a few days ago), but when I really ask myself what human/deity interactions are all about, I get a kind of transcendent evolutionary vibe, if ya know what I mean. They can open themselves as doors, if we want to step through them, and change.
That’s why we have scads of spiritual traditions, religions, and magic rituals, with an endless array of techniques for getting in touch with these larger beings: meditation, prayer, trancework, offerings, mantras, visualization of yantras, contemplation, and quite a lot of sexual magic. Sexual actions, energy, and fluids have figured prominently in all kinds of practices, from Tibetan Buddhism to Crowley’s OTO and beyond. And sometimes there are elaborate rituals that include imagining oneself and/or one’s partner as divine (thereby stepping into the template). The process of cultivation is key.
So let’s say there really is an “enormous, primordial, creative being” out there that we call “Loki,” as well as various other kennings (defined as “indirect bynames,” Loptson, p.20). Like other deities, Loki has various attributes and associations, both ancient and modern. And like other deities, he can provide us with a template for spiritual expansion. I’ll repeat the four associations I mentioned above: (1) snakes, (2) fire, (3) a robust sexual history, and (4) magic.
Snakes. Loki fathered the giant Midgard-circling snake, Jörmungandr, and was also tormented by a poison-dripping snake when bound by the Aesir. These days, many Lokeans wear the Urnes Snake as a pendant, though there’s no actual evidence linking this image with Loki in ancient times. (The Lokean Welcoming Committee has a good discussion of the Urnes Snake here and points out that it has now become a modern symbol for Loki.)
Both Hindu and Buddhist forms of tantra are also associated with snakes, which are symbols of kundalini energy, said to be coiled at the base of the human spine. There are also three snake deities in Hinduism. Shiva (the ultimate tantric god) is usually depicted wearing one of them, Vasuki, around his neck. Also notice that two of the carvings (below) feature two entwined snakes.
In Passionate Enlightenment–Women in Tantric Buddhism (Princeton University Press, 1994), Miranda Shaw writes:
“Kundalini-yoga offered a range of techniques to harness the powerful psycho-physical energy coursing through the body. In India it is believed that this energy can be channeled for procreation, sexuality, creativity, or spiritual experiences and heightened awareness. Most people simply allow the energy to churn a cauldron of chaotic thoughts and emotions or dissipate the energy in a superficial pursuit of pleasure, but a yogi or yogini consciously accumulates and then directs it for specified purposes. This energy generates warmth as it accumulates and becomes an inner fire or inner heat (candali) that burns away the dross of ignorance and ego-clinging.” (p. 31).
Fire: Dagulf Loptson’s book contains a chapter (pp. 136-154) which deals extensively with Loki’s association with fire, specifically with ritual and cremation fires. There is also an interesting comparison of Odin (Nordic god associated with cremation) and the possible role played by his fiery pal, Loki, with the Hindu Shiva (also god of cremation) and Agni (god of cremation fire). I can’t replicate the arguments here. Just get the book if you’re interested in knowing more. I still need to get God in Flames, God in Fetters: Loki’s Role in the Northern Religions, by Stephen Grundy (published by The Troth). With a title like that, I expect yet more examination of Loki’s associations with fire.
Cremation grounds were a popular setting for tantric practices and gatherings. Miranda Shaw writes that “Tantric Buddhists encountered their Hindu counterparts at the cremation grounds…” (p. 31). She also describes bone instruments, ornaments and skull-caps used to serve meat and drink at tantric feasts. Skull Imagery and Skull Magic in the Yoginī Tantras by David P. Gray (Santa Clara University) is another interesting resource.
I note here that one of Loki’s kennings means “vulture’s path” (Loptson, p. 36). Vultures were frequent visitors to charnel grounds. Loki is the father of Hel (or Hela), the Norse goddess of death. Her physical description could almost be that of a “wrathful dakini.” (For that matter, Fenris, Loki’s wolf child with Angrboda, could also have a symbolic association as a cremation grounds scavenger. This is pure speculation, however.)
I suggest it might be interesting to consider Loki’s connection with snakes and fire (and death) as an esoteric reference to the “inner fire” of transformative sexual energy, something that Loki may very well teach and/or provoke.
Robust Sexual History: In the Norse poem, Lokasenna, Loki reveals his sexual history with just about every goddess in Asgard (and these days some people speculate about a sexual relationship with Odin as well). Plus, he’s a shapeshifter who mated with a stallion and bore a magical horse. And he’s got more than a few present-day god-spouses (of all genders). Lots of deities have active sex lives, but Loki combines that with his most noted quality: bringer of chaos and transformation. In Western tantric circles, it’s a given that taking up a tantric practice inevitably means that all hell is going to break loose in your life. We would nod at each other and say, “yeah, hero’s path, dude!” in the same way that Lokeans frequently commiserate with each other about the fan-hitting stuff that goes down after accepting Loki into your life.
Loptson references Loki’s “ecstasy” in the thirteenth verse of his “Loki’s Stave.” Sophie Oberlander calls Loki a “God of ectastic union” (The Jotunbok–Working with the Giants of Northern Tradition, Raven Kaldera. Asphodel Press, 2006, p. 269). Fuensanta Plaza writes of an incident in which Loki manifests as a “huge, fierce joy” (Also Jotunbok, p. 265). I believe I have also felt something of this on several occasions, accompanied by delicious shivers.
Magic. Loki has magic powers, particularly shapeshifting (which Loptson also calls “skin leaping,” pp. 238-239). Loptson also mentions “bind runes” and fire magic and divination (pp. 235-237). Elizabeth Vongvisith also credits Loki with runelore (learned from Odin), seidr-craft (learned from Freya), word magic, and sex magic (Jotunbok, p. 258).
Loki is also known as “the mother of witches” (Mordant Carnival, Jotunbok, p. 271), birthing “troll-women” or “ogres” after eating a woman’s burnt heart (“The Short Seeress’ Prophesy,” The Poetic Edda, translated by Lee Hollander, University of Texas Press, 1962, p. 139).
Tantra is known for its association with magic. Powers known as “siddhis” just naturally come with the turf. Miranda Shaw writes that “…supernatural powers and expertise in magical arts…within the Tantric Buddhist context they are accepted as evidence of spiritual attainments.” This includes mastery of the body (including shapeshifting and ritual gazes), control of weather and elements (fire!), and the ability to magically transport objects (including food from people’s kitchens), and more. One famous dakini, Gangadhara, was known to turn into a wolf.
Many Lokeans complain that Loki will often make things disappear out of mischief. There are many anecdotes about missing items that are not “returned” (or made visible?) until Loki is asked (nicely, I hope) to bring it back. I had this experience with a CD that “disappeared” from my car for a couple of weeks, and I did look everywhere for it, several times. I figured out that I’d played one song way too many times in the car and asked Loki if he actually made things disappear or just prevented people from seeing them? Within a few minutes, I found the missing CD at my feet, near the brake. I do feel somewhat foolish for sharing this story, but honestly, many such are shared. I can only hope that if I ever begin to suffer from dementia, that Loki will go easy on me…
Finally, I’ve come across three kennings for Loki: Sky-Treader, Sky-Traveler, and Sky-Walker. These remind me of the term for tantric yoginis and dakinis: Sky-Dancers. I haven’t found a historical or lore source for these particular kennings yet, however, and would welcome one if you have it.
Based on much of the above, I revived my solo tantric practice and dedicated ninety days of continuity to Loki in return for some specialized instruction. I am now on day 53. It’s proven to be an interesting way to work with Loki, and I believe that committed energy work will prove helpful in this ongoing relationship, providing me with the necessary stamina and sensory refinement to “go deeper.”
At this point, I’d say Loki closely fits the “profile” of a deity who offers a template of transformation fueled by sexual energy–using some symbols and methods that are at least superficially comparable to Hindu and Buddhist tantric traditions. I am not sure if scholarship will ever uncover the reasons for these similarities, which do not seem purely coincidental. But because human sexual energy holds the potential to become a transformational spiritual force, perhaps the answer to this riddle is that some deities will always be available to assist us with this, no matter what culture or epoch we (and they) occupy.
P.S. Here’s a reminder that it’s important to decolonize yoga and tantra.