Lokasenna Time!

Loki_taunts_Bragi

The Columnist shook his credentials and raised an outcry against Loki. There was a “Wild” ruckus in the Comments section, so Loki found the Editor without. Loki greeted him and said:

1] “Say thou, Editor,     nor before set thou

One foot forward:

What the Columnists speak of,     at their laptops sitting,

the website here within.”

Editor said:

2] “Of their credentials speak,     and of lofty deeds,

the glorious Pundits,

Of neopagan readers     who click their bait

not one speaks well of thee.”

Loki said:

3] “In I shall, though,     into the Hunter’s Hall—

fain would I hear their boasts;

brawls and bickering      I bring the goods,

their typos I shall mix with truth.”

Editor said:

4] “If thou goest     into the Hunter’s Hall,

and fain would’st hear their boasts;

if hate and mocking     they heap upon you,

be sure to Twitter me.”

Loki said:

5] If with words we war,     I and your Pundits,

then full well thou wotst,

Editor, that I    will uppermost be,

if foul of me thou fallest.”

Then went Loki within the hall, but when they who were there saw who had come in, the Pundits all were hushed.

Loki said:

6] “Thirsty cometh     to the Hunter’s Hall,

burdened with glorious purpose,

To ask the Pundits     if that anyone

would pour him the mellow mead.”

7] “Why are ye closed,     in your comments section,

Allow me not to have a word?

A space on your Disqus     in your weblog give me,

or else unleash my bloggers!”

Pundit said:

8] A seat on the bench,     our banquet to share,

will this Pundit not ever give thee;

for well I wot     what Pagans at the feast

it behooves me to have.”

Loki said:

9] “Art mindful, Pundit,     how in olden days we

watched thy strain at interfaith dialogue?

Thou doest much better     amongst Ancient Astronaut

Theorists opining on alien craft.”

Pundit said:

10] “Arise then colleagues,     let the Wolf’s father

be benched at our banquet;

lest that Loki     demand a retraction

in the Hunter’s Hall.”

Then arose the Pundit and snatched a laptop away from Loki.

But before he sat, Loki hailed the Columnists:

11] “Hail to you, Pundits,      hail, Columnists,

Hail to all would-be bloggers,

but to one Pundit only,      who with you sits,

Serves grevious slander to my name.”

Pundit said:

12] “My byline art most precious,     I beseech thee, Loki,

Call off thy bitter bloggers,

Lest to pagan hosts     my wits show slowest:

beware my trump comparisons!”

Loki said:

13] “Of trump comparisons    small store, ween I,

hast, Pundit, thou to boast!

Of all the pundits     within this hall

thou are most inclined to make

assertions with no merit.”

Pundit said:

14] If without I were—     as within I am—

Hunter’s hallowed hall:

in my hands would I have     thy rep full soon

for your crimes are as of trump.”

Loki said:

15] “Thou are swift to cry trump,     but slow to examine,

Pundit, thou spurious claims;

I offer critique,     if bold thou art;

not a whit would a brave brain stay.”

A Reader said:

16] “I beg thee, Pundit,      to bear in mind

That of Odin’s kin he is:

Diss not Loki     with taunting words

in Hunter’s weblog hall.”

Loki said:

17] Right on, Reader:     of neopagans

this oft contentious lot,

rains foul words     and fouler deeds,

upon my mortal friends.”

Reader said:

18] “I tease not Loki     with taunting words

in Hunter’s weblog hall;

I but soothe Pundit     with theories crazed

lest Lokeans go to battle.”

Editor said:

19] “Ye Bloggers all     within this hall

why do ye war with words?

We knoweth well     the drag this is,

let’s love all merry things!”

Loki said:

20] “Right on, Editor     I have in mind

the way to make amends

For weregild take     the apology make

and Loki hate forswear.”

And from that day forth, all were welcome in the hall. 


Based on the “Lokasenna,” The Poetic Edda, translated by Lee M. Hollander.


Please also check out these thoughtful rebuttals:

Dagulf Loptson, Loki and Trump: My Thoughts

Kyaza, Analysis of Seigfried’s Comparison of Loki and Trump

Sonya Odinsdottir, Rebuttal to Article: Loki in the White House

Sarenth Odinson, Loki is Not Trump (Neither is Odin)


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Slut Shaming in the Lokasenna

I have to admit, I have struggled with the Lokasenna, an Old Norse poem in the Poetic Edda, sometimes known as “Loki’s Flyting” (or “truth telling”) delivered as an exchange of insults with the rest of the Aesir deities.

Le_fête_d'Aegir_(1861)
1861 Painting, Le fete d’Aegir. Artist unknown. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Jackson Crawford’s video on the Lokasenna is quite helpful in explaining the content and some of the cultural underpinnings. Dagulf Loptson’s explanation of Lokasenna, in the chapter segment called “Loki’s Battle Rap,” is also key to my understanding (pp. 164-167). He cites Karen Swenson’s Performing Definitions: Two Genres of Insult in Old Norse Literature (Camden House Inc., SC, 1991, pp. 58-59). What I’ve gleaned so far is that the Lokasenna is an account of Loki’s ritual battle of wits and words designed to win back his place in Aesir society by exposing hypocrisy, “pointing out that the gods are guilty of the same crimes that make Loki an outcast,” thereby “resetting the social standard” (Loptson, p. 166). It should be noted that none of the gods or goddesses deny Loki’s claims.

It’s an incredibly bitter exchange, no matter which translation you read. I have Lee M. Hollander’s 1988 version, but plan on ordering Dr. Jackson Crawford’s translation of the Poetic Edda in the near future. For me the most disturbing element in Lokasenna is Loki’s slut-shaming of the goddesses, some of whom were his own clandestine lovers. And if some goddesses weren’t actually his lovers, he exposes their other private love affairs (often with relatives) or ridicules their exchanges of sexual favors for jewelry or property.

If I get the gist correctly (using Hollander’s version),  Loki indirectly outs Freya as one of his ex-lovers when he says that “all Aesir and alfs within this hall, thou has lured to love with thee.” Since Loki is among the Aesir in the hall, I assume he’s counting himself too. Loki says Tyr’s unnamed wife, plus Sif and Skathi, have also been his lovers. Loki does not name the goddesses Ithun (Idun), Gefjon, Frigg, and Beyla as his conquests, but he shames them for other illicit sexual activities. (However in his video, Dr. Crawford remarks that it sounds like all the goddesses have been with Loki at some point, but I haven’t read his translation.)

To be fair, Loki also “slut-shames” Frey and Njorth’s for incest with their sisters.

Now I know it’s ridiculous to attempt to graft 21st century feminist standards or moral interpretations on a poem produced in a “hyper-masculine” culture (Dr. Crawford’s word for Old Norse society) and written in either the late 10th (Hollander) or 12th century (Crawford). However, because I am a mortal cis-gal of this era and Loki is my “most trusted one” in my polytheistic practice, I still have to make my own peace with this content (along with the homophobic elements–ack!) and I’m not sure I can.

Except to try to understand this ritualized “truth-telling” in the context of Loptson’s interpretation.

And also, perhaps in a more emotionally personal way, by trying to imagine the frustration and anger of a god who is not just rejected by friends (such as Odin) but also by former lovers, not one of whom puts in a good word for him (even though the sex must have been fantastic!). Sif’s cowardly offer of mead in exchange for Loki’s silence must have been the last straw–rather than being proud of their liaison, or even just honestly admitting to it, she begs to be excluded from his flyting. Loki’s not having any of it. He exposes Sif just as he’s exposed all the rest. And so the Aesir circle their wagons against Loki and he can only hurl himself against their collective hypocrisy. Still, Loki might have won the ritual “battle rap” if Thor hadn’t shown up to spoil the party by threats of force. Loki flees but is captured. This stamp from the Faroe Islands illustrates the rest of the story.

Faroe_stamp_498_Djurhuus_poems_-_Loki_Laufey's_Son
Stamp from the Faroe Islands, 2004, showing Loki bound and Sigyn holding the bowl to catch snake venom.

Loptson says “Loki is a very modern-minded god” (p. 8) and these days many artists enjoy rendering Loki in hipster garb. I like to think Loki’s au courant with more than fashion. For one thing, he’s become a favorite god of people who are diverse in gender and sexuality, so how did he mutate from pre-12th century slut-shamer to 21st century sexual and gender human rights ally?

In a purely intellectual exercise (not to be confused with UPG), I like to imagine that the Western world’s sexual revolution of the 1960s-1970s might have shattered the last remnants of Loki’s Old Norse misogyny. After all, slut-shaming is itself a despicable form of hypocrisy and I feel Loki has enough self-honesty to realize this, once his anger cools.

I like to imagine him wandering through the “Swinging London” of the 1960s. New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco too! I can imagine him getting drunk with Janis Joplin on one memorable evening, and as she pours out painful tales of her Port Arthur adolescence, how she was called “pig” and “whore” and “the ugliest man on campus,” Loki begins to understand his own marginalization and sexual complexities through the lens of her passion and despair. And perhaps while staggering down Haight Street at 2 AM, sobered by the brisk wind and fog of the “cool grey city of love,” he reflects on his famous “flyting”–perhaps wishing a few things unsaid. Unfortunately, by the time he calls Janis back for another tryst, she’s no longer alive in Midgard. But Loki doesn’t forget.

I can imagine Loki’s intellectual and sexual encounters with an array of 20th and 21st century change-makers. I see him spending a few nights with gay filmmaker Kenneth Anger, after attending a private screening of Kustom Kar Kommandos. He has tea with Quentin Crisp and parties with David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. He’s been known to leave flowers on the graves of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and  Pete Burns and to watch the sunset from Stinson Beach, thinking of Janis’s ashes scattered off-shore. He’s visited Alan Turing’s memorial and whispered greetings from Christopher. I can imagine Loki trading Anais Nin stories with Henry Miller after attending one of Nin’s feminist lectures. I can imagine Loki shapeshifted into an ordinary 1970s housewife, attending her first “consciousness raising” group, or volunteering on a rape crisis hotline. He’s been at the side of a gay-bashed teenager, offering solace. He inspired Robert Mapplethorpe to take up photography. He’s cheering, not booing, Sylvia Rivera’s speech. Later, he attends Pride Marches all over the world and donates to the UnSlut Project. He has read every name on the Transgender Day of Remembrance website. Twice.

He gets it. And we love him for it.

After all, what’s the point of being an ancient primordial being–part wave, part particle, part cosmic force, part sugar dandy–if you can’t partake a bit of the life and times of the mortal morsels in Midgard? I imagine immortality could be awfully dull, otherwise.

I like to imagine that Loki knows now how easily the human spirit can be broken by sexual and gender shaming, that among humans it has become a fascist technique for control, and that he and the rest of the gods could set a better example by not going there, even in their own present and future conflicts. 

In other words, I like to feel that Loki continues to evolve, as we all should, and that as Worldbreaker he also challenges himself to break his own prejudices and conditioning.

It’s only that very last sentence, above, that I might claim as a “UPG.” And maybe that’s how I make my peace with the content of Lokasenna.

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Loki and the Johari Window

“‘Cause everybody knows, the things she doesn’t see…” Velvet Underground, Femme Fatale.


Johari_Window Additions
Public domain Johari Window with added comments.

I woke up thinking about the Lokasenna (Loki’s Flyting), a poem from The Poetic Edda which shows Loki blowing the Johari Window wide open, busting communication protocols and social facades, outing his sex partners, exposing hypocrisy, and spilling secrets right and left, including his own. This burst of truth-telling did not end well for Loki. He was punished with barbarous cruelty.

You can find a translated text of the poem here. Dr. Jackson Crawford’s video about the Lokasenna is helpful in understanding this poem.

I also find Dagulf Loptson’s book, Playing with Fire: An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson (2014, Asphodel Press) to contain an interesting perspective, setting this poem within the context of an old Icelandic-style family feud. He reminds us that the Aesir have already banished and/or tortured three of Loki’s children (those he had with Angrboda), with absolutely no provocation except prophesy, and that if Loki were to ignore such deeds, it would be seen as a fatal sign of weakness. In the section called “Loki’s Rap Battle” (pp. 164-167), Loptson describes Loki’s poetic insults as a verbal duel designed to win back his place in Aesir society by exposing the evil deeds of the other gods. Loptson writes:

“The secret actions of the Aesir as they are revealed are resetting the social standard, and Loki is arguing that there is no reason he should be considered an outcast since everyone else does the same unacceptable things.” 

Loptson notes that none of the gods refute what Loki says. Yeah, they’ve done all that stuff, but had hoped to keep it in that lower left hand section of the Johari window. As for Loki, he’s fine about revealing his own secrets (especially his sexual conquests), but his propensity to damage himself through his own impulses is as probably as obvious to the others as their hypocrisy is to him. At the moment, though, Loki doesn’t see this and probably doesn’t care. He is enraged and heedless, ignoring his own capacity for cooler strategies.

We could imagine that the other gods and goddesses see that Loki is about to go way too far and will soon be in serious trouble (and they will be all too happy to oblige, since he’s left them no face-saving options at all). With their social masks torn to bits, the insulted gods and goddesses lose all pretense to honor and higher standards and give way to their own worst impulses, killing Loki’s two innocent children and then binding him with one child’s entrails. They leave him to suffer from a poison-drolling snake (which Sigyn tries to contain with a bowl).

I am not trying to comment in a scholarly way on this poem. I am trying to understand the underlying psychology or social dynamics using the Johari Window as a lens. More than that, I am trying to understand this poem’s implications and lessons for Loki devotees.

The Aesir were clueless about the depth of their own hypocrisy and when this was exposed and their public masks were shredded, their vengeful actions flowed from the lower right hand corner–revealing deep capacities for cruelty which had been previously unknown to themselves as well as to everyone else. That lower right hand corner is where our shadows live.

If in our devotions to Loki, we find ourselves in a similar situation–our public selves in tatters and our secrets exposed–how may we extract the golden potential from that lower right hand corner, instead of unconscious capacities which are hard and cruel and which may lead us to actions that will shame us even more?

I am wondering if part of what we need to do is to cultivate fearless self honesty as well as compassion for our failings. If we can do that in small ways, on a regular basis, perhaps we won’t be surprised into a massive overreaction when confronted with larger uncomfortable truths. That’s easier said than done, however, as that upper right hand corner–the stuff everyone knows about us but that we don’t see ourselves–contains the clues to our failings and negative personality quirks. (Of course we may also be unaware of good qualities and habits as well.) Communication theory tells us that we can ask for “feedback” from others in order to gain access to that upper right hand corner, but that’s not always possible or appropriate (as with white privilege, for example, where it really is not the job of people of color to provide feedback for white people on this topic).

As a Loki devotee, I assume that I’ll be in for some persona shredding of my own as I go deeper into cultivating this relationship with my “most trusted one.” And I may also have to struggle against an impulse to shred others when I feel provoked. Fortunately, I’ve had several decades of practice in curbing my own quick tongue and capacity for brewing “poison” out of anger and resentment. Not saying I’ve perfected this, but I do have a habit of diligence to fall back on. And I can always ask my gods and guides to protect me from my own worst impulses just as I ask them to shield me from the injustice of others (or provide me with tools to cope). And perhaps our trusted ones can help us to explore the unknown capacities in the lower right hand section as well?

Can’t hurt to ask. Could help. A lot.

Are you a fellow traveller? Got insights about the Lokasenna? Please comment!

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