I have been working on this little translation project since last fall, after I finished reading the wonderful book that is Yvonne S. Bonnetain’s Loki: Beweger der Geschichten (engl. roughly Loki: Mover of Stories), which is available as a kindle e-book through amazon.com here. Of course, I immediately went into all my facebook groups and told everybody how much I enjoyed reading that work; a work that was originally submitted as a PhD thesis and then revised and re-published in a more readily available form.
Problem: a lot of people don’t read German. So, predictably (in retrospect), I was asked to summarise it. Given that its original format is a 450 page tome of a dissertation, and given that its subject is Loki, it follows quite naturally that I was just a little overtaxed. A wee bit. So instead, I offered to translate the summary chapter of the book itself, which is what this post contains. However, I have to say that it does not do the book justice; the summary was never meant to stand alone — it presumes that the reader has read the previous 420 pages, and thus reads a little strangely. (plus the fact that German and English don’t translate easily into one another, being two structurally very dissimilar languages).
The reason why I’m posting it nonetheless is that it outlines the argument of a work that I personally consider one of the best books about Loki that have been written, perhaps the best. It is an extensive study of the subject, including results from various fields of research. It is also remarkable — and I know at least one person who will agree — that it was written by a deeply spiritual/religious person whose personal connection with the subject becomes somewhat visible in her afterword.
I’m putting it under a cut for length (10k more words ahead), and hope that there are some who appreciate this.
Translation of the summary of “Loki: Beweger der Geschichten” by Yvonne S. Bonnetain. Translation by Myriad Hallaug Lokadís
I had to break up the sentence structures somewhat, as German tends to produce a lot of very long, nested sentences. I am aware that the resulting average sentence length is still substantially higher than English average; however, I did not want to take too many liberties with the original text. For the sake of online readability, I also inserte a couple of paragraphs.
Bear in mind, too, that I am not a translator; I am fluent in two languages and have a fairly decent grasp on the subtleties of religious concepts and words describing them, in both languages. While that does help, it’s not a substitute for a translation by a trained professional.
And of course: apart from this particular translation, this text does not belong to me. It is the intellectual property of Yvonne S. Bonnetain.
Summary of Results and Afterword
The first main section of this work illustrated that the very base for becoming involved with Loki is a difficult and treacherous terrain; this should be given special attention and deliberation before an attempt at accessing Norse mythology and Loki is made.
The extant sources of Norse mythology are for the most part literary and mostly come from Christian times. The few literary sources that do not date from Christian times, typically fall into the time of the siðaskipti; therefore, they probably already contain Christian influences. The differing ages of the sources — the Eddic poems among them — appear just as much a challenge as a delineation of “the” Norse faith. If religion is defined as an institution, the highly individually shaped Norse faith cannot be captured by the term. The Old Icelandic terms trú “belief” and siðr “custom” are not bound to an institution. There probably was no fixed religious structure, no dogma. In fact, there is evidence for regional, family-based and even individual differences and preferences for varying Deities. The blót constitutes the only “institution” of the religion. Apart from that, customs and conventions of the northern Germanic peoples appear to have been rather flexible. Flexibility ranges from the choice of an individually preferred God (fulltrúi) up to the very reception of the myths that, depending on different sources occasionally could have contradicting outcomes (e.g., the myth of Þórr’s fishing).
A further complication is that we cannot limit ourselves to considering only the faith of continental northern Germanic peoples, as the majority of our sources originates in Iceland. Iceland, in many ways, occupies a special position. Settlers arrived in Iceland often via the British isles. Many of them were already baptised or had undergone the “Primsignie” (a non-binding statement of intent to convert to Christianity that enabled them to trade with both Christians and pre-Christian pagans). They wore the cross or the hammer, sometimes both or a combination of both. Their faith was mixed; partly, they trusted most in their own fortitude and strength (trúa á mátt sinn ok megin), and perhaps less in the Gods. The introduction of Christianity in Iceland was not an act of converting faith, but a vote for social peace which allowed some customs to persist as exceptions: ingestion of horse meat, abandonment of children and private veneration of pre-Christian Gods. The mixed faith of the Icelanders appears to have persisted even after the introduction of Christianity, for which the use of the word goð for Christ is an indication.
Arguably the most substantial among those Icelandic sources of Norse mythology is the Snorra-Edda, which is why the Snorra-Edda was discussed at length. According to the argumentation of this work, the Snorra-Edda cannot be examined without taking into account Snorri’s other works, e.g., the Heimskringla. Furthermore, Snorri’s works must be seen in relation to his ambitions, which, as has been argued, concentrate on two main goals:
- Acquisition and Increase of affluence and influence for his family and himself.
- Preservation and Establishment of the independence of Iceland from Norway.
With Heimskringla, Snorri did not only set a monument for the Norwegian kings and the Norwegian history, but, by integration of pre-Christian tradition, he also founded the history of all Nordic peoples, thus countering the loss of the identity of these peoples. At the same time, he placed subtle emphasis on nuances that, exemplified in their conversion to Christianity, served to establish the superiority of Icelanders over Norwegians, thus backing up his quest for the independence of Iceland from Norway.
Snorri was an educated man, a goði and a strategist, but certainly not a religious sentimentalist. In order to be able to illustrate the history and identity of the Nordic peoples in Heimskringla, he had to integrate pre-Christian substance in a way acceptable to a Christian society. As Heimskringla is a work with a claim to historical accuracy, he could not integrate pre-Christian history, of which mythology as tradition of the Nordic peoples is a part, in a way that would be deemed incomprehensible or shameful by Christian mindsets. That is, he could not have the history of the Ynglingar start with Gods.
From a Christian perspective, they weren’t Gods, but at best demons, which per definition, could not be claimed as a part of the pedigree of the Nordic peoples. Misled humans that adhered to idolatry and were posthumously also worshipped as idols, however, he could very well include in the history of the Nordic peoples. Hence, his account corresponds with Christian approaches such as described in Augustinus’ “De Civitate Dei”, as well as with the far-spread superstitions about the undead (afturgöngur), and the Christian conception of necromancy as described, e.g., by Thomas of Aquin.
The intention of the Snorra-Edda differs from that of the Heimskringla, even if Gylfaginning, similarly to Ynglinga saga is an account of deception. Contrary to Heimskringla, Gylfaginning does not intend to be viewed as an ostensibly historical account, but as a depiction of the mythology that was almost inseparably entwined with skaldic poetry.
Both were to be preserved for a Christian society. To this end, Snorri made use of the complexity of the sources at his disposal in order to newly arrange the myths according to Christianity-influenced understanding, to bring them into causal relation. This was true to scholarship in Snorri’s time, if not so much true to the sources at hand. We do not have any records documenting that the mythological system presented by Snorri held up to scrutiny outside the Snorra-Edda. While Snorri did systemise the myths that, outside of the Snorra-Edda, appeared scattered, he could only encroach upon the mythological substance by means of subtle nuancing, in order to preserve them for the present and future. As an example for such subtle nuancing, the classification of the álfar into ljósálfar and dǫkkálfar was examined to show that even such subtle interference can develop a strong impact. This is not intended to derogate the myth-conserving quality of Snorri’s work unnecessarily, but to remind of the necessity of critically reflecting consideration.
The second main section of this work provided an overview of different interpretations of Loki that are already available. The first chapter comprised a chronological overview, the second an overview of interrelation between different interpretations, and the third chapter presented a number of individual interpretations, barring those that were to be discussed in greater detail in the following chapters.
An array of very different interpretations of Loki were presented and highlighted, e.g., the interpretation as “closer”/”ender” (Ludwig Uhland), demon (Wilhelm Mannhardt, Harald Oscar Schoning), elf (Karl Weinhold, E.J. Gras), kobold (E.J. Gras), personification of fire or ‘fire-nature‘ (Jakob Grimm, Alexander Castrén, Theodor Wisén, Paul Herrmann), a problem (Hilding Celander, Jan de Vries, Folke Ström), riddle (Anne Holtsmark), spider (Anna Birgitta Rooth), spy (W. Stubbs), wolf (Conrad Hofmann) and destroyer (Alexander Castrén), just to name a few examples that were not discussed further in the third main section of this work. Most of these interpretations did not hold up to scrutiny and turned out to be rather doubtful, with only a few being helpful.
The chronological overview of the interpretation of Loki showed his rise regarding the attention he has been attracting from scholars; it demonstrated the emergence of various schools of interpretation and their interaction. Particular focus was put on current research on Loki; however, only few researchers and their main hypotheses were singled out to illustrate the current state of the art in Loki research.
The overview of interrelation between interpretations did not only illustrate the interactions between different interpretations, but also the consequences of these interactions. It was thus shown that some interpretations caused veritable chain reactions, e.g., the attempts to etymologically link Loki and Logi — which led to the nature-myth interpretation of “Logi-Loki” as “fire elf” (Grimm, Weinhold, Wisén, and others), as well as to the interpretation of Loki as “destroyer” (Simrock, Weinhold, Meyer, and others) that was based on it. Similarly, other etymological approaches were geared towards focusing on Loki’s destructive powers — as that of idg. leug “to break” (Julius Pokorny). However, this focus on destructive aspects cannot only be pinned to etymological hypotheses. Further examples are interpretations of Loki as Baldr’s murderer, as Lucifer and “the antagonist”, and as a Deity of death/the dead.
Additionally, the last century in particular has put forward a number of new approaches, e.g., interpretations of Loki as culture hero (Axel Olrik, Jan de Vries) or trickster (Jan de Vries). Especially Dumézil’s psychological and sociological interpretation geared towards structuralism had a lasting impact on research that, sadly, was not always for the better. An example for Dumézil’s partly rather counter-productive influence is given by Jan de Vries, who dismissed some of his own hypotheses in favour of Dumézil’s. During the last decades in particular, Loki research has been characterised by a large number of very dissimilar interpretations that sometimes act from a social or gender-based view.
The third chapter of the second main section concentrated on some individual interpretations, excluding those that were pivotal for the following main sections of this work, and therefore discussed in greater detail there. Thus, interpretations as personification of elements (fire, air, water), as God of vegetation and winter, Áss, elf or demon, a comparison of Loki with Seth and Syrdon, as well as Dumézil’s Idéologie Tripartite were examined.
Loki’s role as “servant” of the “God of thunder” Þórr was challenged just as his interpretation as culture hero and trickster. Additionally, comparisons of Loki with Luc mac Ethnenn and etymological derivations of Loki from lúka were considered. Many of the interpretations examined herein turned out to be untenable or very doubtful.
The third main section of this work concentrated on aspects of Loki’s evolution — both within the mythology and during the course of the centuries. This separation of the intra-mythological and the extra-mythological level constitutes one of the innovations of this work. The two levels, as presented in this work, have not been defined in this form by any researcher before. This way, a differentiated approach to Loki as well as to adjacent fields in Norse mythology are rendered possible. An example of this is the differentiation between intra-mythological and extra-mythological chronology.
The first chapter on Loki’s intra-mythological evolution concentrated on the aspect of Loki’s (ostensible) transformation within the mythology from a friend to an enemy of the Gods. To this end, myths were examined in which Loki is conspicuous for pro-Æsir deeds, as well as those wherein, by contra-Æsir acts, he appears to be an enemy of the Gods.
The discussion has shown, that Loki does not “disguise” himself, that he is not to be interpreted as an enemy of the Gods who only drops the mask towards ragnarǫk. The discussion has shown that the apparent “evolution” of Loki from a friend to an enemy of the Gods is not an act of deception on Loki’s part, but rather a question of the position of the Gods within the mythological “chronology”. An interpretation of Loki as the “enemy” of the Gods therefore falls short, with a tendency to apply particularly to a linear model of the mythology that formed under the influence of Christianity. Besides this linear model, we have to consider a cyclical model within which Loki’s role is not necessarily to be assessed as contra-Æsir.
In the first chapter of the third main section, particular focus was lent to Loki’s part in the death of Baldr. Numerous pieces of evidence were shown that speak against the version of a perfidious murder that was favoured by Sorri. Óðinn’s part in Baldr’s death in particular was challenged. It was shown that Baldr’s death is not, in fact, murder, with Óðinn as a helpless bystander.
The whole “setup” to Baldr’s death that apparently occurs in the midst of a “game”, is reminiscent of an act of ceremony, a sacrifice. More accurately put: a delegation (here, a distinction between blóta and senda is necessary) under the acceptance of Óðinn, or even rather likely, his guidance. There is much evidence for Baldr’s role as a “sacrifice”, e.g., Voluspá (31: Ec sá Baldri, / blóðgom tívor), as well as the kenning heilagr tafn “holy sacrifice” (Húsdrápa 8) for Baldr. A point in favour of Óðinn’s participation in Baldr’s death is his all-famous question to Vafþrúðnir in Vafþrúðnismál (54) (Hvat mælti Oðinn, / áðr á bál stigi, / sjalfr í eyra syni?).
Another is found in the depiction of three figures in a series of three-Gods-bracteates, the most famous of which came from Fakse. On these bracteates, there are three figures that are mostly interpreted as Loki (sometimes Hel), Baldr, and Oðinn. On to most bracteates, Baldr is situated on a pedestal with a cultic pole, a kind of stallr/stalli perhaps, on top of a wooden construction. Egill Skallagrímsson calls Óðinn vinr stalla “friend of altars”. In addition, the killing of Baldr via the mistilteinn is reminiscent of sacrifices to Óðinn, as for example Gautreks saga and Styrbjarnar þáttr Svíakappa describe them.
According to Snorri, Baldr is killed during a þing. The location where it takes place is described as mikill gríðastaðr. It appears hardly likely that in a place like this, a game of shooting and throwing things at Baldr would take place as a mere pastime. Here, an additional level of meaning of the “game” must be considered. The term leikr does not exclusively refer to amusing games (skemmtun) and sports (íþróttir), but extends far beyond that. In Fóstbrœðra saga (2), leikr denominates a ritual — in Laxdoela saga (37), leikr is used as a synonym for seiðr. Likewise, Voluspá (22) makes use of leikr in the sense of a magical action. Eyrbyggja saga (39) uses leikinn as a term for a bewitched/possessed state.
Accordingly, Gefjon’s confession in Lokasenna (21) to Loki (Loftki þat veit, at hann leikinn er ok hann fjorg ǫll fía) can be read in several senses. It is possible that leikinn means Loki’s “playfulness”, but the semantic ambiguity of leikr makes it difficult to limit this passage to that single meaning. Even more so, as “hann fjorg ǫll fía” can be read as both “all the Gods love him” as proposed by von See et al. (1997:416ff.), and the exact opposite “all the Gods hate him”, after Hans Kuhn (1968:55).
According to the discussion conducted in this work, the killing of Baldr seems to have taken place at a venue comparable to a leikvangr or leikvollr — a place where “games” occurred that could also be of the cultic variety. This makes the killing of Baldr seem much like an act of sacrifice or delegation. The delegation of Baldr, according to the discussion in this work, is necessary for the continued existence of the Gods, so that the name Þøkk (Gylfaginning 49) of the giantess (Loki?) who does not weep Baldr out of Hel, is very much justified. Baldr, by way of sacrifice, is sent forth into a new world after ragnarǫk. The grief of the Gods for the loss of Baldr, of vá Valhallar, appears less to be grief for the sake of Baldr, than with regards to their own fate that undoubtedly takes a menacing step towards fulfilment with Baldr’s death.
Loki’s role as ráðbani, according to the line of argument in this work, appears as an innovation by Snorri. The Lokasenna does not give us any evidence that it is linked to Baldr’s “murder”. The admittedly reserved reception — but on no account befitting a murderer — Loki is given speaks against such an assumption. Likewise, the binding of Loki is presented in a causal relation to Baldr’s death exclusively in the Snorra-Edda. According to the argumentation in this work, Loki’s binding appears linked to that of Fenrir and to the ragnarǫk, but does not, in fact, stand in a causal relationship with Baldr’s death. Loki’s interpretation as “murderer” of Baldr, thus, is not tenable according to the argumentation herein.
Likewise, the killing of Baldr needs re-interpretation. The delegation of Baldr supports a cyclical world view according to which an older generation of Gods must make room for a younger one. As argued in this work, the mention of Viðarr, Váli, Móði and Magni in the Vafþrúðnismál also speaks in favour of a cyclical notion. The Voluspá shows a list of inhabitants of the new world that deviates from the above, and therefore seems already to be acting on a Christian time-line. Víðarr and Váli, Móði and Magni had to be excluded from the myth as told by Voluspá, because they would have symbolised a new cycle with no moral difference from the previous one.
Each generation defines a cycle at the end of which it is succeeded by a new generation, similar to the recurring cycle of seasons of the year. Christianity revalued this under moral aspects. It is only under its influence that the characteristics, the achievements and failures of the Gods were morally evaluated, and that the onset of the new generation was re-interpreted as a result of their moral depravation. Consequently, Móði, Magni, Víðarr and Váli had to give way for — in this version — the innocently murdered Baldr, as well as Hoðr and Hœnir in their likewise newly revalued role as “innocent victims”.
After the argumentation in this work, an evolution of the understanding of ragnarǫk can be assumed. Accordingly, the ragnarǫk in pre-Christian understanding carries the traits of a natural process of replacement of an old Generation of a society by a new one (an old cycle by a new one, cf. Vafþrúðnismál). This is comparable to an eternally renewing cycle or an endless spiral — the result is a cyclical model. In Christian, morally discoloured interpretation, this cyclical image changes and yields to a linear model. The linear mythology model that can be seen in some Eddic poems ad especially in Snorri’s Edda, embellishes the ragnarǫk apocalyptically and assigns moral blame to the Gods for their downfall. In this linear model, Loki appears as an enemy of the Gods who demasks himself only towards the end of his career, and therefore falls with them, thus making room for the new world and the Christ-like, returning Baldr.
As was shown by the discussion of Haustlöng, Loki cannot be captured simply as an enemy of the Gods in the cyclical model. An interpretation of Loki as the enemy of the Gods, therefore, is not applicable in a cyclical model of time. The Haustlöng presents an image of Loki that changes from verse to verse. His mention as “friend” (verse 3, 4) is concentrated at the beginning of the poem and is only mentioned in passing later (verse 7). Next to that, noticeably, kenningar begin to manifest that evoke associations with the giants and ragnarǫk.
In summary, it seems viable to read the Haustlöng as a compressed version of Loki’s career; however, that is not the career of a fickle Áss or a giant who only in the end gives in to his whole malice and drops the mask of “friend” so that the true enemy emerges underneath. It is that of a driving force, sagna hrœrir “mover of stories”. The impression of Loki only changes only once the Gods have moved past their apex and each step onwards is equivalent to a step toward ragnarǫk. Only once they realise that their life cycle is nearing its end, the Gods identify Loki as their enemy and try everything to prevent him from steering further towards ragnarǫk. But they cannot stop the course of history, not even by binding Loki.
In the end, he breaks free, as does Fenrir, and he will fulfil his fate and that of the Gods, by delivering them to their end. An end that symbolises the beginning of a new era, which according to Christian interpretation no longer marks only the succession of generations and societies after which the world continues to go on barely altered (this would correspond to a social level of semantics). In Christian interpretation, this end is one that heralds the beginning of a new golden age.
Thus, Loki is to be viewed neither as a friend nor as an enemy of the Gods. The postulate of an intra-mythological evolution of Loki gives reason for doubt. It seems that it is rather the attitude of the Gods towards Loki that evolves, as they can profit more easily from his role as sagna hrœrir “mover of stories” in the beginning than towards the end of their story.
The second chapter of the third main section of this work applied the results of the preceding chapters to the question of Loki’s intra-mythological function. His function is certainly not that of a benefactor, but neither is it that of a destroyer, a murderer, that of the enemy of the Gods, or that of a giant. His actions sometimes take a pro-Æsir and simultaneously contra-giant effect, and sometimes a contra-Æsir and pro-giant one. His function is not subsumed under any “flag”, because Loki the miðjungr “middle one/being of the middle”, does not belong exclusively to either party. Here, too, Loki appears as a driving factor, sagna hrœrir “mover of stories” without whom the development of the history of the Gods would not be possible. This function is in itself “neutral” and remains always the same, whereas only the value assigned to it by the Gods changes depending on their position within their (hi)story.
Based on the results from the first and second part of the third main section of this work, an attempt was made to identify a relative chronology of the myths. To this end, we examined in which myths Loki acts in an apparent pro-Æsir way — and in which he appears contra-Æsir. It stands out that the myths in which Loki appears pro-Æsir — the myths, therefore, that can be counted as taking place within the first half of the Gods’ history — deal with the issue of acquiring items in the broadest sense. The subject matter of these myths appears to be the building and establishment of the society of the Gods. Contrarily, the myths in the second half of the Gods’ history are associated with ragnarǫk and deal with losses rather than gains.
The second half of the third main section of this work (chapters 4 – 5) concentrated on the extra-mythological evolution and function of Loki, establishing an extra-mythological chronology of several myths. Interpretations of Loki as chthonic Deity, demon or devil were questioned.
Interpretations of Loki as a chthonic Deity mostly draw from comparisons of Loki and Óðinn or Útgarðaloki, and from individual myths and theories about Loki’s genealogy. First, Loki’s relationship with Óðinn was examined. Loki and Óðinn conform in many characteristics. Both appear as shapeshifters, and both are masters of deception. Additionally, Óðinn is considered as a magician and master of galdr, who learns the art of seiðr from Freyja. In accordance with this division, the taboos of the Æsir society are delineated. The contact with arts that are part of the opposite category seem to hold the potential of danger. Certain boundaries apparently are not to be crossed, e.g., the boundaries of gender. Here, the difference between Óðinn and Loki becomes apparent. While Óðinn seems to respect this boundary, Loki crosses it, breaks the taboo of gender variability and even gives birth to children in that taboo form, thus becoming guilty of ergi.
The question of the kind of connection between Loki and Útgarðaloki has not been satisfyingly answered so far. Some researchers (e.g., Karl Simrock, Eugen Mogk) nonetheless base their hypotheses of a chthonic character of Loki on the assumption that Útgarðaloki is a hypostasis of Loki. The parallelisation of Útgarðr — and thus Útgarðaloki — with the realm of the dead, however, appears to be very general, and unacceptable in that form. Furthermore, the assumption of a connection of Útgarðaloki with the realm of the dead is not documented by any old Norse source. The attempt to use the comparison between Útgarðaloki and Loki as evidence for Loki’s possible chthonic character cannot draw upon any tangible proof.
Likewise, consulting individual myths to substantiate Loki’s chthonic character is unconvincing. One of the main myths for the argumentation of Loki as a chthonic Deity — namely the cutting of Sif’s hair — appears as the initial point of the acquisition of the Gods’ attributes, and hence cannot be viewed as entirely negative; furthermore, Loki lacks a motive to cut off the hair. Perhaps it could be assumed that there was an evolution of Loki during the siðaskipti that was abetted by Christian influence, creating the figure of Útgarðaloki by increasing demonisation of Loki. Conclusions about Loki and interpretations of Loki, however, appear daring, given the state of the source materials.
Only Loki’s genealogy — and within it, his daughter Hel — has a connection to the realm of the dead and could thus be used to argue for a chthonic character of Loki himself. This Goddess, however — a personification of the realm of the dead, Hel — is probably recent. Derivations from Laufey and Nál, however, turn out rather bold on closer inspection. The interpretation of Laufey “leaf-island” as a poetical synonym for “earth” (=grave) (Anatoly Liberman) appears doubtful. Rudolf Simek (1984:229) points out the possible origin of the name Laufey from *lauf-awiaz “the one rich in leaves”, or got. galaufs “the one who inspires trust”. According to the argumentation in this work, Laufey must be examined with respect to the meaning of trees within Norse mythology. As was shown by the reasoning in the fourth main section of this work, trees are indeed connected to the realm of the dead, but are not to be equated with it.
Similarly, the connection of Nál with the realm of the dead seems flimsy. To reason Nál’s connection to the realm of the dead, it would be necessary to link the name of the dwarf Náli to got. naus “dead person”, and thus interpret the dwarf as a demon of the dead. A possible parallel could be seen in the ship Naglfar. Both those derivations, however, remain dubious, and all the more so because they are not supported on the mythological level.
An interpretation of Loki as a chthonic Deity certainly overshoots the mark. There is certainly some evidence of Loki’s connections with the underworld and also with the realm of the dead; to deduce a chthonic basic character of Loki from them, however, would not only reduce Loki in a way that would not be tenable in its absoluteness, but would also reduce said underworld and realm of the dead. This could also be seen from the discussions in the fourth main section of this work.
Under the title “Loki, the demon”, the fourth chapter of the third main section of this work examined the interpretation of Loki as “demon” within the framework of exploring the extra-mythological evolution of Loki. Before a possible interpretation of Loki as a demon was examined, the meaning of the word “demon” was questioned. It was shown that originally, the word did indeed have a positive significance among the Greeks. This can be seen from, e.g., Hesiod and Empedokles, likewise: Platon. Xenocrates for the first time postulates the existence of evil daimones. Christian authors distinguish between daimones by “angelising” and “demonising”. The positive function as mediators is reserved for the angels, whereas the demons are attributed only negative aspects.
The old Gods are thus, according to the Christian church, demons. Within Catholic theology, “demon” is often treated equally as “devil”, meaning an evil spirit or fallen angel. The discussion of Loki’s denomination as demon can hence not be separated from the discussions of Loki’s identification with Lucifer, the devil, or Satan, as those names already overlap within Christian terminology.
If we reduce the word “demon” to its meaning from Hesiod, Empedokles, Platon and his disciples, there is no justification for calling Loki a demon. Loki does not assign fate to humans, neither does he stand between them and the Gods. In fact, Loki stands between the Gods and the giants, and does contribute to the course of the fate of the Gods; however, Loki is not typically understood in this function in terms of the older, Greek meaning of “demon”, but exclusively in the newer, Christianised interpretation that assigns separate roles to angels and demons. Due to the history of the notion of “demon”, the question of Loki as a demon is immediately followed by the question of a “devilish” Loki.
Comparative research about Loki and Lucifer, the devil, or Evil itself, is primarily drawn from etymological hypotheses, and from questions about Christian influences (i.e., the question whether we can interpret Loki as “originally evil” figure, or one having “become evil” under external influence). Although the first etymological derivations of Loki from Lucifer lack proof, they have nevertheless had a significant impact on subsequent interpretations of Loki.
Eugen Mogk argued, for instance, that Loki had already become a devil-like figure prior to the influence of medieval devil stories. Alois Closs interprets Loki as the villain par excellence. Likewise, Finnur Jónsson views Loki as a character who only waits for the next opportunity to strike again. Jan de Vries, in contrast, puts emphasis on Loki’s pranks that get both him and other Gods into trouble.
In this work, Loki’s ploys and “malicious” deeds are compared to those of other Gods. For instance, Þórr’s behaviour towards Alvíss appears to be sly and hostile. Likewise, Skírnir’s behaviour towards Gerðr could be called malicious. In the Hárbarðsljóð, Óðinn calumniously turns against Þórr and even curses him at the end of the lay. Óðinn in particular seems a more apt devil figure than Loki, which is extensively revisited under “Óðinn as a devil figure”. He was given offerings, and he does not only appear as sly, but even as a traitor.
Using the examples mentioned here, the term “evil” was critically scrutinised and a hypothesis was developed that, within Norse mythology, deeds cannot be separated into “good” and “evil” categories. Rather, the distinction must be made between “useful” and “harmful” deeds, wherein “useful” deeds may very well appear as “evil” according to Christian morality. The category of “Evil” certainly cannot be applied to Loki without reflection. Even if we do divide his deeds into useful and harmful deeds, we’re nowhere closer to the “evil” Loki, as “evil” is a Christian category that isn’t applicable in Norse mythology. The hypothesis of a Loki who was already evil prior to Christian influence therefore takes itself ad absurdum.
As a further “devil figure”, the Midgard serpent taking the place of the Leviathan in Niðrstingningar saga was examined. In the Stockholm book of homilies, a scribe annotated miþgarþsormr atop leviaþan. The myth of fishing for the Midgard serpent seems to have influenced Christian sermon in the manner of a pre-figuration. Accordingly, an insertion describing how Satan transformed into a dragon and made himself so long that he’d come to lie around the whole world, succeeds the fifth chapter of the gospel of Nikodemus.
This is an allusion to Gylfaginning (47), in which it is told that the Midgard serpent encircles the whole land (…Miðgarðsormr, er liggr um lǫnd ǫll). Additionally to the myth of the fishing of the Midgard serpent, the fuzzy delineation between conceptions of the Midgard serpent, of dragons and the biblical conception of the Leviathan and Satan link them together. The Leviathan is depicted sometimes as a crocodile (Hiob 3:8), at times as a snake (Jesaja 27:1) or a dragon (Jesaja 27:1), resembling both the snake in the garden of Eden and the motif of Satan as an “old dragon” or “old serpent” (Revelations 12:9 and 20:2).
Contrary to the Midgard serpent, Loki is never used synonymously with the devil, Satan, etc.; however, a couple of parallels can be pointed out, that have been used by Snorri in particular with virtuosity — moving Loki subtly closer to the devil, or evil and sin.
For example, Loki’s betrayal of Baldr could be compared to that of Judas Iskariot of Jesus. Another parallel is given by the binding of Loki and Satan respectively. Perhaps the most striking parallel between the devil and Loki is the motif of the scapegoat. Seemingly, the “sins” and transgressions by the Gods of taboos are an integral part of the progress of the society of the Gods. To counterbalance, a scapegoat is needed that will temporarily bear the collective guilt, enabling one at least for some time to block out one’s own contribution to taboo infringement. Loki appears to be quite suited and predestined for the role of scapegoat, and ultimately that of a devilish figure. An impact of conceptions of the devil upon Loki seems to be indicated, according to the argumentation herein; however, careful consideration is needed to determine exactly what concepts were incorporated and to what effect.
Chapter 4 of the third main section of this work discussed Loki’s action in Lokasenna as an example of Loki’s “devil-like” role. It was shown that the deeds that are the subject of accusation are indeed not lies. However, the moralistic light in which they are presented appears to be a Christian exaggeration. Therefore, the question of the age of Loki’s role in this poem remains unanswered. Apparently, Lokasenna is a Christian/moralistically exaggerated depiction of isolated episodes and motifs of Norse mythology, that serves to morally re-evaluate the ragnarǫk by painting it as a consequence of the misconduct of the Gods — perhaps even as their deserved punishment. Loki’s role quite resembles that of the devil, as given by Hiob 1:6ff. We may therefore presume that he was used as an agent for the Christian re-interpretation, and that his role therefore may have been a later development under the influence of Christianity.
In contrast to Loki as a “devil figure”, chapter 5 of the third main section of this work singled out Óðinn as a devil figure.
Within Old Norse literature, Óðinn does not only appear as a God of victory, striving for knowledge and a shape-shifting sorcerer, but also as a God that cannot be trusted. In Hákonarmál, Eyvindr Finnsson skáldaspillir has Hákon say about Óðinn that he is illúðigr (ill-meaning), which is only one example of many for Óðinn as Bölverkr (instigator of ill). Even according to medieval demonology, it would be easy to expose Óðinn as a demon or devil — next to Freyr, and other Gods — as he demands offerings (Ynglinga saga).
The Gods offer ár ok friðr; however, according to the Christian view, these are not due to the Gods. The cause of ár ok friðr rather is to be found in the fact that the demons, placated by the offerings, temporarily cease their evil doings, thus enabling God’s gift to unfold (Weber). In summary, Óðinn, contrary to Loki, appears immediately predestined for the role of the devil, who was not yet seen as a radiantly beautiful youth during Snorri’s time.
Obviously, the devil did not yet fascinate; the fascination is a product of the last centuries. Accordingly, Óláfr can confidently repudiate Óðinn (Þu uillda es sizst vera hinn ille Óðinn! “You are the last I would want to be, malicious Óðinn!”).
As was shown in the chapters about Loki’s extra-mythological development, Loki possesses some parallels with the devil. Under the influence of Christianity, in particular, he changes and fills ever more devilish roles. He is the scapegoat, the accuser, “demasks” himself in the end as the enemy of the Gods and murderer of Jesus-like Baldr. Since this face of Loki draws mainly from younger sources, however, one may assume a younger and partly moralising (Lokasenna) development.
Yet, he is no good as a demon according to demonology, because he lacks a cult, demand for sacrifice as well as necromancy. This template matches Gods such as Óðinn and Freyr, but not Loki. It appears that he was rejected as a devil-like figure, due to the lack of parallels to demonology in the Old Norse literature, whereas other figures in Norse mythology (especially Óðinn) came to the fore.
Modern scholars, however, use a different template due to their traditional backgrounds, that include influences by Milton’s conceptions of the young rebel as well as Charles Baudelaire’s beautiful angel. A figure such as Óðinn cannot fulfil this conception. Contrarily, Loki who is depicted as a beautiful and trouble-making Áss in Gylfaginning (33), appears all but predestined to fit this modern idea of a devil figure. While the unequal treatment of Loki and Óðinn in modern scholarship cannot justified, it can by all means be explained.
The 5th chapter of the third main section of this work consequently showed that the extra-mythological function of Loki in the last stage is a Christian function. Loki’s extra-mythological function is that of a devilish seducer and accuser, who helps point out the misconduct of the Gods eventually culminating in the ragnarǫk. In this stage, the ragnarǫk (fate of the Gods) become ragnarǫkr (twilight of the Gods). This enables an alienation from the pre-Christian tradition while at the same time strengthening the Christian identity in demarcation against a pre-figuring pre-Christian background.
Chapter 5 on extra mythological chronology substantiates the hypothesis expressed earlier, that only in syncretistic and Christian times did a moral re-interpretation of the Norse myths take place. This lead, for instance, to the myths being taken from their originally incoherent collective, and driven into a fixed chronological time-line, away from a cyclical world view towards a linear one with fixed beginning and ending. In this world view, all participants were subject to the laws of this material “satanic” world, including the consequence that lack of resistance against temptation and repeated sin would lead into perdition — ragnarǫk(r).
The fourth main section of this work focused on the question of the multi-layered complexity of the Norse mythology. A hypothesis was made that access to any one individual myth could take place on various levels of comprehension, with each level offering one or more accordingly earmarked interpretations.
This necessarily means that there can be on single correct interpretation of a text or a myth. Instead, there is always a multitude of interpretations, which may be, and in the case of myths certainly is, intended.
To argue this hypothesis, four different levels of comprehensions were defined: the literary level, the social level, the pragmatic level, and the inter- and paramundane level. This enumeration certainly was not intended as a complete list. It is especially extendible regarding the selective perception of the myths. The threefold Schriftsinn [lit. “meaning of writ”, I have NO idea how to translate this!] after Origenes, as well as the fourfold Schriftsinn initially postulated by Cassian, and subsequently used by Augustin, Beda, and Hrabanus Maurus may bear resemblance of the framework used in this work, but were not the basis for it. I prefer to speak of “selective perception of different levels of comprehension” instead of “Schriftsinn“, because the text is assigned a “Sinn” [meaning] only by the recipient. The more recipients there are, the more messages/meanings accrue.
The function of different levels of comprehension was then demonstrated per the example of the Skírnismál and the (literary) “love story” between Freyr and Gerðr presented therein. Lotte Motz has shown a possible interpretation of this myth on a social level of comprehension; she interpreted the myth as the subjugation of a female giantess by a male dominant Áss. This work attempted an additional interpretation on the inter- and paramundane level.
Using only few examples, it was possible to identify both lacking differentiation between acting figures, as well as questionable deeds (e.g. seemingly unauthorised actions and decisions of Skírnir at mínum munum) within Skírnismál. Skírnir’s journey, likewise, raises questions. He must ride through a wavering blaze (vafrlogi, German: Waberlohe) and seems to need a special horse for this purpose, comparable to Sleipnir or Sigurðr’s horse.
The dialogue with the shepherd reveals the peril of the journey of Skírnir on the brink between life and death (ertu feigr, / eða ertu framgenginn). Skírnir’s life is limited to (half) a day on this journey (einu dægri / mér var aldr of skapaðr / of allt líf of lagit). On this threshold, he enters Gymir’s garðr and struggles to win Gerðr for himself. The term garðr and the name Gerðr emphasise the character of threshold that this “twilight zone” possesses, in which Skírnir, half living and half moribund, struggles to win Gerðr for Freyr. The boundary between Freyr and his “servant” Skírnir blurs, as was shown in the discussion.
The question is therefore justified: who is this Skírnir who even empties the mugs of old mead served by Gerðr in stanza 37. On an inter- and paramundane level, the impression imposes itself that this figure is only an aspect of Freyr that is sent into the “twilight zone” of Jotunheimr for half a night (42: hálf hýnótt), to establish and reinforce a connection with that world.
The second chapter of the fourth main section discussed another example for the use of an inter- and parmundane level of comprehension in Norse mythology: the role of trees. For this purpose, the focus was initially laid on Yggdrasill. It was shown that Yggdrasill must be seen in relation to Óðinn (Yggr) and the acquisition of knowledge through Óðinn, as well as to Óðinn’s self sacrifice. Yggdrasill is commonly interpreted as “Yggs drasill“, that is, horse of Yggr (=Óðinn); however it is remarkable that the compound Yggdrasill does not use the genitive case of Yggr, i.e., Yggs. Ygg could also simply mean “terrible”/”formidable”, and could perhaps refer to a “tree of terror/gallows”. This would constitute a parallel to the kenningar gálga valdr “ruler of the gallows” (Helgi traust) and gálga farmr “burden of the gallows” (Eyvindr Finnsson skáldaspillir) for Óðinn.
Regardless whether we derive the first component of Yggdrasill from Ygg or from Yggr, in both cases associations with Óðinn are so heavily implied that they cannot be excluded from the word meaning. A comprehension of Yggdrasill as Óðinn’s horse seems to be implied. However, there is an ominous connotation of “gallows”. Another parallel becomes apparent in the conception of Sleipnir in association with the gallows. For example Ynglingatal (22) uses the kenning hárbrjóstr hörva Sleipnir for the gallows. This overlap between tree, horse and gallows can also be substantiated by a textile fragment in the Oseberg find.
Accordingly, Óðinn’s self sacrifice on the tree (Yggdrasill) must be re-evaluated. If, following the argumentation of this work, Yggdrasill is a link between the worlds, then Óðinn’s self sacrifice on the tree must be recognised as a journey into another world. Here, we meet with the parallels to Skírnir’s journey that were already mentioned. To cross the threshold between worlds, according to the discussion of Skírnismál, a special means of transport — a horse in that case — is needed.
As was elaborated, this is a parallel to Óðinn’s ride on Sleipnir to Hel. Whether Yggdrasill is a tree (after Völuspá 19), or a horse associated with a tree (after Völuspá 47 and Grímnismál 35 and 44) is perhaps not as important as the fact that both — the tree and the horse — seem to constitute links/means of transport between the worlds of the living and the dead.
Furthermore, it was argued that the crossing of this threshold holds dangers and opportunities in equal measure, as those journeys not only let one experience future events, but also influence them. Several sources refer to Óðinn acquiring knowledge from the dead. In the Hárbarðsljóð 43ff., the dead are said to dwell in the woods — a parallel to the terminus technicus búa í skógum, to be exiled/banished, as well as to the conception of the völva as forest-dweller in the Hyndluljóð.
Following this argumentation, Loki’s genealogy was examined afresh, with special focus on Fárbauti and Laufey. On a literary level, they can be understood as a giant and a Goddess, whose congress — from which Loki emerges — constitutes a taboo on the social level. If we transfer the discussion of Yggdrasill to Laufey, we’re confronted with the question if a Goddess with that name could have similar characteristics as Yggdrasill, or have a meaning comparable to that of a forest.
It is perhaps possible to recognise another parallel to Óðinn in this. His mother Bestla’s name can mean both “wife” and “bast/bark”. The latter can be seen in association with the mythical dimension of tries, with Óðinn’s self sacrifice on the tree, maybe even with Loki’s binding und Hveralundi. Parallel denominations such as gálga farmr “burden of the gallows” (Eyvindr Finnsson skáldaspillir), Farmaguð “burden-God” (Gylfaginning 20) and Farmatýr “burden-God” (Eyvindr Finnsson skáldaspillir, Háleygjatal 11) for Óðinn, and Sigvinjar arma farmr “burden of Sigyn’s arms” for Loki, speak in favour of such an association.
While Óðinn’s self sacrifice leads to an increase in knowledge, Loki’s binding appears as a parallel to that of Fenrir, which, according to Gylfaginning (51), will be broken at ragnarǫk, when fjotrar allir ok bǫnd brotna ok slitna “all fetters and bindings will break and tear”, and the giants and denizens of Hel will ride against the Gods.
On the inter- and paramundane level, this is one hint of many, to the effect that at ragnarǫk, the boundaries between the worlds will fall and the Gods will be confronted with all those powers that they had until then — as was shown per numerous examples in this work — known to use to their advantage, bind in one way or another (Fenrir, Loki, possibly even the fishing for the Midgard serpent can be seen as an (attempted) binding), or to exclude from their society. At the end of the fate of the Gods, those very powers will prove fatal. Again it is reinforced that the contact with other worlds does not only hold opportunities, but also risks. The journey into other worlds is not only dangerous while it takes place, but continues to be a potential danger after the fact. The fettering by the bǫnd, the “binding Gods”, appears as a double tactic to banish this continuing danger, and to stay or at least delay the ragnarǫk. On the inter- and paramundane level, the ragnarǫk break away from their meaning as a natural cycle and generation shift (this is the social level). Instead, the ragnarǫk seem to carry a warning that all those “giant” and otherworldly powers, if they are used, will one day catch up with the one who uses them.
Here, the question arises if Loki’s binding had already been tied to the ragnarǫk before Christian influence took hold. We will not be able to answer this question conclusively; however, the demonstrated parallels seem to point out that an inspection of its relation to Óðinn’s self sacrifice — his journey on the tree — may be possible. In this case, both of them appear, poetically speaking, as “children of the tree”. Óðinn’s suffering on the tree might be viewed in association with Loki’s father Fárbauti who “sired” Loki on Laufey. Both Gods appear bound — one hanged from the tree (Óðinn), the other chained und Hveralundi (Loki).
It is possible that both embark on an inner (shamanic) journey for more knowledge, perhaps even hoping to manipulate the future. This interpretation borders on speculation, however several indications have been presented in this work that argue in favour of the possibility of such an interpretation. If we connect this interpretation with the argumentation conducted in this work that the ragnarǫk originally had the meaning of a change of generations, it is possible to view the causal link between Loki’s binding and the ragnarǫk as a late development. Only on the level of those later developments, the ragnarǫk appear as ragnarǫkr “twilight of the Gods” and deserved doom brought about by the demons they used themselves.
Chapter 2 of the fourth main section pursued the possible meaning of the placement of the Jormungandr, on the basis of the myth of Þórr’s haul in the ocean. Parallels between the Midgard serpent as Jormungandr and the gandir were pointed out, that further led to parallels between the Midgard serpent and the Fenris-wolf. According to the discussion herein, the common translations “monster” for gandr, and “great monster” for Jormungandr seem to be a little hasty.
Instead, a much more complex meaning is to be assumed that includes associations with magical actions and entities, and that assigns magical attributes to both the Fenris-wolf and the Midgard serpent. The argumentation of the fourth main section of this work allows to postulate that both Fenrir and the Midgard serpent can be viewed as gandir in the sense of entities that can establish (magical) connections between worlds. It was shown that interpretations of the Midgard serpent, the Fenris-wolf, as well as other “powers of chaos” as “monsters” are located on a Christian level of comprehension that runs in parallel to that indicated in Niðrstigningar saga and does not reach far enough.
It would certainly be more appropriate to speak of a “potency” instead of “chaos”. This potency of course not only holds a useful potential. To use it is also dangerous, and a world that draws from this power will in the end be destroyed again by it. Thus, the benefit of that potency turns into its own opposite towards the end of the fate of the Gods, leading to the downfall of the Gods and their world. The Gods cannot prevent this downfall; it is not only given to them by fate, but even immanent in their own system.
It was further shown that Snorri’s depiction of the myth about Þórr’s haul took the age of the giant and the youth of Þórr literally, creating a myth of shape-shifting that probably had not existed before Snorri in that form. The meaning of the age of the giant either escaped Snorri completely, or — more likely — was ignored by him in favour of a stronger accentuation of the giants as the Gods’ opponents. Probably, Snorri also recognised the age of the giants as unreconcilable with the Christian view of creation at the hands of God.
The fourth main section of this work identified various interpretations of Loki on the different levels of comprehension, in line with previously conducted argumentation.
Thus, on both the literary and the functional-literary level, Loki appears as a driving factor (sagna hrœrir “mover of stories”). On the social level, his development delineates the boundaries of the social community, and the risks inherent in transgression. On a pragmatic-cultic level, no function of Loki himself can be substantiated; however, the same is not true about the attributes surrounding him, e.g., the gandir. On the inter- and paramundane level, Loki appears indeed as a/the miðjungr “being of the middle”, and mediator between the Gods and those other worlds.
Thus, his initial depiction as a friend, and later as an enemy of the Gods reflects the relationship of the Gods with other worlds, that are initially seen with an emphasis on their usefulness. Because the fate of the Gods is laid out cyclically, this usefulness, on passing the apex, turns into harmfulness. That way, the example of Loki, too, shows not only the constructive, but also the threatening potential of those other worlds.
Although Christian influences on Loki have been discussed previously in this work, the fourth main section once more shows them in condensed form. The discussion carried out in this work once more shows how carelessly an interpretation through the goggles of modern ideology can be made — and how ill-conceived and uncritical it can turn out to be on second sight. Loki, therefore, is neither an “evil entity” nor a “devil”. The later sources in particular, most of all Lokasenna, seem to have used him in devil-like roles, illustrating with his help the transgressions of the Gods and re-evaluate the ragnarǫk as their morally justified downfall.
The aim of this work was to not try and force Loki into any categories, but to demonstrate that we need to drop the expectation of a single correct interpretation of Loki in favour of a multitude of possible interpretations on various, very different levels of comprehension. Norse mythology, in its extant form, appears self-contradictory.
This work will however have sufficiently shown that this very contradiction can be partly traced to the fact that we view it through a very specific, modern lens. We think in categories and systems too willingly. This thinking strategy however does not do the Norse mythology justice. The mythological sources are not ambivalent without reason. A certain variance, ambivalence, overlapping as well as abounding grey zones are very much intentional; they must be included in any study of Norse mythology. They are not a flaw, but an integral part of Norse mythology.
However, this work has also shown that another percentage of its contradictions must be accounted for as Christian influence, with an onset so early that it is almost impossible to separate it from the “pre-Christian substrate”. Indeed, Norse mythology appears as a rather flexible “building” that has time and again been modified and expanded throughout the course of centuries. Therefore, we need to acknowledge its flexibility, adaptation and adaptability as a main characteristic. It escapes our modern attempts at categorisation and does not suffer gladly being broken down into comprehensible and categorisable bits and pieces. But it is that very ambivalence that makes it so vivid.
Accordingly, there is no simple answer to the question of an interpretation of Loki. This work does not conclude with the postulate that Loki is this or that thing — apart from a possible key to understanding the complexity of Norse myth, of course — but rather with the challenge to work out one’s own access to this dazzling figure of Norse mythology. This can happen on a deeply individual level. If this individual level is more inclined towards the social level, then primarily those traits of Loki will be recognised that fall out of line with social contract. If the individual is inclined to the Christian level, Loki’s most prominent characteristics will appear as those that have parallels in Christian tradition, etc.
Any approach that can be substantiated by evidence and sources can be seen as potentially correct, according to this work, so long as it is not seen as the only correct access. In fact, it should then be viewed as potentially incorrect, because it would contradict the flexibility of the mythology. Thus, this work does not end with a categorisation of Loki but with the demonstration of many different possibilities to access and interpret him, that we, as scholars should see as our obligation.
The north-Germanic God Loki is, in many ways, an exceptional figure — not least regarding the extent of his investigation. I did not count the articles, books and book sections that I have rounded up for this work. A rough estimate of about 600 different sources seems to be just about right, among which the oldest secondary source is dated from the 17th century (Gerhard Johann Vossius: De Theologia Gentili et Physiologia Christiana, Amsterdam 1641).
Studying only the history of research into a figure such as Loki is already a challenge that will demonstrate in vivid detail just how much every scholar is a child of their time. Often, the research and its result is a unique documentation of its respective time. Today, no scholar would attempt to interpret the whole body of the Norse mythology as nature-myth. But in the same way, it is possible that researchers in 50 or 100 years will be puzzled by today’s interpretations.
Thus, it appears that the perspective from which we view Norse mythology occasionally reveals more about the society affecting us, than about the object of study. On the one hand, at least, this tells us that sources from times that are unimaginable to us, are still speaking to us. However, that does not mean we necessarily understand them according to the original intent. For this reason, we do not only have to question our sources critically, but also the “instruments” and categories we use to approach the sources. This way, we can at least avoid gross negligence, even though we cannot ever categorically exclude it.
One example for such gross negligence is the interpretation of Loki as “Evil” or “Devil”. During the years that I have spent researching Loki, speaking to other Old Norse scholars about Loki, I have encountered this interpretation conspicuously often. I can still remember the first time that a researcher vehemently argued this position with me, and also that this vehemence left me completely speechless. Intuitively, I felt that the question of Loki’s “devilish” character, or rather my arguing against it, sparked something more in my dialogue partner than what was warranted by their scholarly zeal. I had touched a sore spot and, arguing against Loki’s devilish character, possibly unknowingly bumped into the ethical convictions of my conversation partner.
Even today I am still convinced that we all can only see few of the many possible — and maybe necessary — perspectives, and should accordingly be open to new perspectives. Even those sounding completely absurd at first glance, are often well worth our consideration; more yet, we owe it to our self-identification as researchers to challenge our own convictions time and again. That is the only way we can, with clear conscience, avoid imposing on our subject a shape that is more concerned with us than with the subject of our research.
During the years of work for this publication that I originally submitted as a PhD thesis, this principle led me into quite a series of turbulences that made challenge my hypotheses and often revise them. Nonetheless, of course, this work is not free from subjective patterns and categories that will contradict the patterns and categories of other scholars, thus appearing to them as a misinterpretation. I know, however, that I remained faithful to my principle of critical questioning and double-checking to the very end, that I pondered options in all conscience, and that I arrived at conclusions that appear to me, at this moment, to be potentially correct and plausible.
This work will not only have shown that there are many different approaches to Norse mythology and to a figure such as Loki, but also, that we may not limit ourselves to only one approach. The sources often appear self-contradictory, and our intellect, being trained to analyse and categorise, rejects this ambivalence. What we see as contradiction, on closer examination reveals itself to be an intentional, even an integral part of the myths. In my opinion the fact that not every action takes place on the stage that is ostensibly offered to us, is the very allure Norse mythology holds.