Loki’s Runes According to the Vernacular

Has anyone noticed the rather tiresome way that some people in various online groups and fora flat-out claim that “Loki’s rune is <X>”, or “Loki’s rune is <Y>”? Well, I have multiple times, and I don’t think I like it a whole lot. Not only is there seldom any consensus, but there’s also the fact that such claims are simply… let’s say they’re anything but certain. People who make it their business to lecture newcomers inquiring “is there a rune associated with Loki?”, would do well to be up-front and honest about it.

The first thing you should keep in mind is: we don’t really know what the runes were used for, apart from writing. There is some consensus among runologists that they were part of magical practice; however, the runes as a means of divination is almost certainly modern invention. The commonly known rune meanings that are used as the basis for such divination are partly derived from the rune poems, and partly constructed “by experience” of the people using them so.

The rune poems — that is the Old English, Old Norwegian and Old Icelandic poems that describe the runes — are most commonly assumed to have served as mnemonic devices; however, the similarity between them invites the conclusion that they conserved some cultural ideas and prototypes. In turn, that is probably what most modern authors use to define “the meanings of the runes”.

You see by my use of scare quotes and cautious phrasing that I am anything but sure how well our use of the runes today is founded in historical practice. Likewise, I’m personally very skeptical of simple associations of runes with Deities — while some seem very obvious (e.g., the Tiwaz rune and its association with the God Tyr), mappings of this sort are all but guaranteed to oversimplify and tend to reduce a Deity’s reception to just one aspect. And if there’s one thing Loki in particular has been sufficiently subject to to last a lifetime it’s oversimplification.

Furthermore, the rune association with the Deities usually concern the so-called elder Futhark runes, a runic “alphabet” that was already extinct and replaced by the younger a.k.a. the Viking Futhark during the time that reconstructionists usually base their practice on. In consequence, it is extremely unlikely that historical heathens used those specific runes, even in the unlikely case that they had fixed runes associated with their Deities.

TL;DR Big Disclaimer warning for lack of historic foundation

All that being said, using runic associations is not in any way wrong or dangerous, at least not any more so than working with Deities and working with runes is in its own right. I mentioned above that there is no consensus regarding runes to represent Loki. While it is true that there is no single rune everybody prefers — and neither need there be one — modern worshippers of Loki have adopted a couple of (elder Futhark) runes to represent Him in their practice. These runes are (in no particular order): Kenaz, Dagaz, and Hagalaz.

The Kenaz Rune

I think this is the most problematic of the three of them, so I’ll start there. Both the Norwegian and the Icelandic rune poems link the Kenaz rune to the meaning of “disease”, “ulcer”, “fever” and “child death”. Only the Old English poem links Kenaz to the meaning of “torch”.

Because Loki is attested exclusively in Scandinavian sources — barring some, extremely poorly founded, speculation over the middle German word Logaþore — the Old Norwegian and Old Icelandic rune poems should probably be given precedence. This is not what modern practitioners do. Instead, they interpret Kenaz as “torch” and link that to Loki, which is incidentally the problematic aspect of Kenaz in that context.

It’s problematic because Loki does not have a major association with fire. Loki is not, contrary to outdated scholarship, the Norse God of fire — that association came about through, frankly, crappy scholarship and botched etymological analyses by one Jakob Grimm (whom a significant number of reconstructionist Heathens hate with a passion, including myself).

So, if Loki has no primary connection to fire, why use a rune with the (questionable due to its origin) meaning of “torch”? At this point, one might object among other things, that the star Sirius’ name “Lokabrenna” in Icelandic translates as “Loki’s torch”; however, the translation “torch” is only one of several alternatives, with “conflagration” being by far the more common option. Furthermore, the moniker Lokabrenna is part of later folk tradition, and it is unclear whether there was any connection between the star Sirius and Loki before medieval times. Although it might sound cool to us today — hey “Loki’s torch, look at that, isn’t that awesome?” — when it came into usage, it was by no means meant as a compliment or anything positive. Rather, it was linked to medieval conceptions of the Christian Apocalypse, and thereby served to put Loki in the context of demonic activity.

What I’ve seen used fairly popularly, is an eclectic mix of the meanings “torch” and “disease” on a metaphorical level — that is, “cleansing fire”, “fever”, etc.  Even though of course the synthesis of these two meanings is strictly modern, the imagery conveyed by it is pretty straightforward. And, in my experience — which many Loki-worshippers can probably attest to — it’s quite apt. In practice, Loki is rather notorious among worshippers for driving a hard bargain when things are festering.

The Hagalaz Rune

Hagalaz is a lot more straightforward than Kenaz. It refers to hail (as in, the precipitation), which is attested in all three rune poems. (There’s also something about the creation of the world and sickness of serpents but I really don’t get that part either, and I doubt it has any bearing on the discussion of Hagalaz to represent Loki).

At any rate, when used to represent Loki, the Hagalaz rune — in accordance with its connection to hail — refers to sudden, usually devastating events. By using this rune, modern practitioners refer to Loki’s aspect as a bringer of cataclysmic change. Now, I know that “Bringer of Change” is a fairly popular reception of Loki, and to a degree, I even agree with it; the kenning “sagna hrœrir” for Loki — that is, “mover of stories” fits nicely into the mold of “bringer of change”, and it’s one of my personal favourite kennings for Loki. But I also think that “Bringer of Change” is often severely misinterpreted.

My personal opinion is that the “cataclysmic” part is essential to the rune, but not as much to the God. The association with cataclysm is based on Loki’s alleged role in the Ragnarök… and that’s been subject to enough debates to fill several dissertations. As with so many things regarding Norse Mythology, it’s not at all clear-cut what Loki even does when the time comes. What can be said with certainty is that nowhere in the Mythology is it implied that Loki is the one who brings about the Ragnarok. Hence, I’m skeptical of the importance of “cataclysm” for Loki. I guess it works for Him, but I’m anything but sure it characterises Him.

The Dagaz Rune

The Dagaz Rune is not attested in either the Norwegian nor the Icelandic rune poem. In the Old English poem, it is linked to the meaning of “day” and “dawn”.

If used to represent Loki, however, the corresponding rune meaning, “Liminality”, is only indirectly linked with the meanings “day” or “dawn”. Originally ascribed to this rune by Stephen Flowers a.k.a. Edred Thorsson (read: NOT an unproblematic personnage so caution advised), the meaning “liminality” seems to be based on the shape of the rune, which is that of a double axe.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the symbol is one of “polarity” and “duality”. This is in accordance (if not explicitly stated) with the meanings of “day” and “dawn” in so far as dawn marked the middle of the day in heathen times; according to mythology night (Nott) precedes day (Dagr — by giving birth to him), placing dawn at the mid point that unites day and night — or separates them, depending on your perspective.

When used to represent Loki, the Dagaz rune refers to the uniting of opposites, the middle, and the in-between. One of Loki’s attested kenningar is “miðjungr”, that is “Being of the middle”. I like that kenning, because it recognises Loki’s position between Gods and giants, as well as other opposites (such as male and female). In light of that, Dagaz is my personal favourite — if we need a rune to represent Loki in the first place — even though it is not attested in the Scandinavian rune poems, and even though the meaning “liminality” isn’t all that obviously linked to the rune.

Next to Kenaz, Hagalaz and Dagaz, sometimes Berkano and Thurisaz are suggested. The Old Norwegian poem mentions Loki in the verse for Berkano, but it’s the only poem to do so; furthermore, the mention seems to be for the sake of rhyming… so it’s really not intuitive to use Berkano. As for Thurisaz, this rune places Loki deep in the Jotnar fold and thus, ignores the fact that He is nevertheless only ever referred to as an Áss (singular of Æsir) in the whole of the extant myths. There is no evidence that Loki was regarded mainly as a Jotun, but much evidence to the contrary, so I personally think Thurisaz isn’t a good choice to represent Him either.

All that being said: there isn’t any kind of “official Loki rune”. But if you want one, then perhaps the above thoughts are helpful to make a choice that fits your personal practice.

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About Myriad

Myriad Hallaug Lokadís
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5 Responses to Loki’s Runes According to the Vernacular

  1. moonfire2012 says:

    This discussion makes me think of a few points such as mistakenly thinking of Loki as a god of fire though Ive seen Him as a man shaped fire elemental at times. I have heard of these other runes associated with Loki and had dreams where He has worn the ehwaz rune inverted. But I agree why would there be runes associated with Him that have erroneous or only loose connections?

    • Myriad says:

      I think none of the rune associations are set in stone. They’re not Deity-made, but human-made, and of course they’re prone to error. That being said, if you want runes to represent Loki or a different Deity in your practice, I’m not saying it’s all bullshit (although I’m not sure what purpose would be served) — all I’m saying is that in order to make a good choice, it helps to know what kinds of meanings/energies are attached to each rune, and where they clash or don’t clash with the Deity in question. As for Ehwaz, either upright or upside-down: I don’t think it’s any worse-fitting than any of the more popular choices. In fact, I think it’s intriguing.

      In my personal opinion, a single rune to represent a whole Deity is not going to happen. Perhaps a combination might serve better, or not even that… but at the end of the day, I am still unclear about why one would want either one or more than one rune to represent a Deity. But that’s just me…

  2. Raven says:

    What is your feeling on “Os”? To me, that was specifically attributed to Loki. It looks like this: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f0/Rune-Os.png

    • Myriad says:

      I’m not sure.. I haven’t worked with the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc at all, so my knowledge of these runes is basically non-existent, sorry. I don’t know with regard to Loki, either, except that if push comes to shove, He does tend to be a very oral Being. Ahem. And He certainly has a way with words as an instrument. But then, so do a whole array of others, not least Oðinn…

  3. Re:Hagalaz/Hagal and “the creation of the world and sickness of serpents but I really don’t get that part either,” yeah. Wow. Some of the rune poems make me do this kind of thing: o_O . . . because I have /no idea/ where those concepts came from or what they ever meant.

    Over time, I’ve come to see Hagal’s meaning as less “cataclysmic” change (though it -can- be) and more often a less terrible disruption – a storm that sweeps through and sucks, but not a total Ragnarok-type situation. Looking strictly at the hailstorm aspect, while hail can terribly destructive, it leaves something behind to nourish future growth – which seems much more akin to how Loki often functions in people’s lives than “cataclysm.”

    I don’t recall running into “liminality” at all studying Dagaz (Daeg), though I can see how that makes sense (I may need to go pull out some books, since I’m done with my meditation on that one and don’t think I’m banned from outside resources any more); when I think of this in association with Loki, it is due to the “breakthrough” or “dawning of the light” meanings. (And it’s been top of my list of “runes that remind me of Loki,” with Hagal in close second – and Ken a sort of grudging third, though when I pull Ken, it very often DOES end up meaning something like “Loki was here” in the context of my reading – and my “preferred” choices never have.)

    (I do feel a bit odd worshiping Norse deities and using the Anglo-Saxon runes, but having no other A-S aspect to my practice – but no one’s complaining, other than my sense of aesthetics and tidiness.)

    I’ve found it useful to have associations between various runes and various deities/other beings, but I think due to both the complexities of the runes and the deities/others, there’s not ever going to be a simple one-to-one correspondence, and that’s appropriate, even if some of Them do tend to have -that one rune- that will show up in a reading to indicate that Person specifically. And even if they don’t end up serving as calling cards in a reading, analysis of how they do (or don’t) have something to do with a deity can be a good way to study both the rune and the deity – it’s been one of the things I’ve done in my own studies, looking at what the implications are for the rune, if So-and-So is associated with it.

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