This question makes me grin. Today’s 30 Days of Deity Devotion query is “any interesting or unusual UPG to share?” About Loki? OMFG! When is personal Loki gnosis not interesting or unusual?
I began this blog a few months before Loki arrived on the scene with unmistakable flair and “glorious purpose” (snurk!), quickly taking center stage in my daily devotions. Like so many other Lokeans, I now feel he’s been with me all along–at least since the time that teenage me used felt pens to draw cows on large marshmellows, then scattered them all over La Jolla Cove Park so that people would understand that marshmellows are NOT vegetarian. (As a newbie vegetable person, I was upset that tiny ones melting in hot chocolate were no longer an option…) (This is an issue that no longer concerns me…)
So, not only did Loki take over my spiritual focus, he also began to dominate this blog. The great thing about Loki is that he’s a never-ending source of inspiration. I do have lots of unusual “unverified personal gnosis”–great heaping gobs of it–and I’ve been (over)sharing like mad this last year. (What people think no longer concerns me…)
Here are my five offerings of past gnosis, concerning Loki and epigenetics, positive pyschology, communication theory, environmental health, and tantra (in reverse chronological order).
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.
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.
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 bynot 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.
“UPG” stands for “unverified personal gnosis” and I’ve been spending time lately in internet spaces where this type of experience is either celebrated or scorned. Gnosis means “knowledge of spiritual mysteries.”
Earlier today I posted about a book I’d been reading in a social media group. I asked if others had read it too. One man responded that the book was “one man’s UPG” with a lot of “MUS.” (The book in question actually contains material from several people.) I had to ask the meaning of “MUS.” It stands for “made-up shit.”
I read that and had feelings…
Okay, yes, there is lots of “MUS” in this world. Lots and lots. “Gubmint” is full of it these days. And I, in common with you, dear reader, deplore what seems to be a widespread, general decline in critical thinking skills.
However, I’m not willing to sneer at or dismiss “unverified personal gnosis” just because someone’s numinous, transcendent, shamanic (yes, I know this word is often overused in a culturally inappropriate way), meditative, ecstatic, or otherwise deeply meaningful experience doesn’t “fit” within an established spiritual or religious canon. And since this blog contains some of my own “UPGs,” you will understand that I have a major bias against such outright dismissal.
Not that discernment and critical thinking aren’t good things to bring into this arena, but honestly, how in the world would anyone else have been able to “verify” the quality and content of my “spontaneous combustion” experience or the meaning of some of my most powerful lucid dreams? How would someone be able to “verify” yours?
Aside from the meaning that an individual attaches to a personal gnosis, I suggest that the only context for “evaluating” so-called “UPGs” is through a socio-cultural-religious lens that incorporates anthropological and religious studies as well as a broad knowledge of sacred literature and historical accounts of mystic experiences combined with an account of what happened to the person during the specific incident.
Some people also use “PCPG” which stands for “peer-corroborated personal gnosis” in which information and narratives are vetted by comparing independent accounts from several people which might convey similar “information.” Raven Kaldera explains PCPG as a way to assessing personal accounts and experiences inJotunbok: Working with the Giants of the Northern Tradition (pp. 3-6).
An interesting book which I need to re-read is The Woman in the Shaman’s Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine, by Barbara Tedlock, Ph.D. (an anthropologist). (Here is The Occult Book Review on YouTube.) Tedlock’s book surveys an array of cultures and practices, but with regard to this blog, I am remembering that the book contains a discussion of how women (and female-identified people) are historically and culturally more likely to be “self-initiates” (Tedlock calls them “inspirational” shamans — having UPG experiences!) and/or hereditary shamans, linked with a family tradition. In other sorts of spiritual traditions, cis-gendered men tend to be initiated within an institution or a mystery school. (I am guessing that people who are gendered beyond binary, including those with multiple genders, were probably also often self-initiates.)
Tedlock writes: “Shamanism as a practice, however, has rarely become a formal social institution. Almost everywhere, shamanism was in the past and still is today a set of local activities and perspectives, rather than an ethnic or national institution” (p. 20). She suggests we consider “shamanic activities and perspectives” rather than “‘shamanism’ as an ideology or institution” (p. 20).
Common perspectives include perceptions of “vital energy,” “a web of life,” various “levels” of reality and the ability to journey to and through them, and “extraordinary forces, entities, or beings whose behavior in an alternative reality affects individuals and events in our ordinary world” (pp. 20-21).
According to Tedlock, shamanic activities may include forms of divination, trance work, healing, ritual ingestion of special substances, rituals, meditation, dreaming, waking dreams and visions, spirit journeys, spirit possession, gender shifting, erotic ecstasy, spirit “marriages,” chanting, and other ways of pursuing knowledge and serving the community.
These activities are ancient. And in addition to the above activities labeled as “shamanic” in Tedlock’s book, people have fasted, prayed, had ritual energetic sex, danced, ritualized pain, worked magic, focused on yantras or other sacred art, and done many other practices in pursuit of spiritual connection and transcendence, with and without concern for verification.
In addition to environmental toxins, other factors that could contribute to a UPG might include: side effects of prescription medications; recreational drug and alcohol use (not associated with esoteric ritual); “mental health” history; and even physiological or medical conditions such as electrolyte imbalances. As a teenager in the 60s, I had two experiences of nirvana on LSD, and while the effects of these two enlightenment episodes were emphemeral (compared to the life-changing impact of non-drug related UPGs I’ve written about this blog), they did seem quite “real” at the time. So I get how intentional or unintentional use of “entheogens” can work. I don’t believe that the existence of any of the above factors necessarily negates the value of the UPG either.
Given that some spiritual traditions include meditation on a “yantra” (geometric representation of a deity) or actual image of a deity or spiritual being as a way to gain spiritual advancement and attributes, I note with pleasure the role that pop culture can play in creating ecstatic experiences for fans of superheroes and antagonists, such as Marvel Loki. This video of the actor, Tom Hiddleston, appearing as Loki at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con, is a great example of a witty and vibrant invocation of an mythic figure with a growing following. I would not be surprised to learn that at least one fan “saw god” during this brief appearance! It’s no secret that persistent focus on a beloved “movie idol,” pop star, or character might very well create states similar to religious ecstasy and a longing for connection that can sometimes get out of hand for both fan and “star.” As a hypnotist, I often counsel my clients to practice self-hypnosis and/or listen to recordings to create robust neural pathways to support the changes they want. Spiritual practices are also ways of creating robust neural connections. Like the meditative focus on the tiny dot in the middle of the Ganesha yantra above, ecstatic or devotional focus on representations of deities (pop culture or otherwise) can also create experiences of personal gnosis.
So I suggest that it would interesting to know if a person’s experience of “personal gnosis” included any of the above elements. This could provide a better context for understanding and for also legitimizing the phenomena in general. (Remembering however that spontaneous experiences can also occur and transform a person’s life.)
What say all of you? If you’re a fellow traveller, please get in touch.