Loki and Women

This post is based on and inspired by Sati’s wonderful post about Seth and Women (in German).

Loki, the “Unmanly” Man

If you worship Loki — especially if you’re female while doing so — you’ll quickly be finding yourself battling prejudice based on the clichéd immature, hormone-driven teenager; or alternatively, the clichéd oversexed while underfucked aging single woman. According to cliché, you only have the hots for a particular part of Loki’s — the part that you usually find roughly in the middle of the male body, to be precise. If you stop to think about it, however, this is rather odd: in fact as far as we know from extant sources, Loki and His sexuality are not as clear-cut for Him to easily lend themselves interpretation as a sex symbol.

Imagine a time and culture where ergi — that is, the accusation of unmanliness and cowardice, that is always accompanied by an accusation of passive homosexuality — was one of the worst imaginable insults. In fact this insult was so bad as to merit laws being passed against calling another man argr [1, 2]. In the midst of all this, imagine Loki strutting about His myths almost provocatively clad in pink. Today, during a time where there are non-classical ideals of maleness, and where at the very least the fantasy of male homosexuality can be attractive to women, Loki and His nonchalance regarding His own maleness can certainly generate a strong attraction. However one shouldn’t forget that this is a purely modern interpretation of the myths. There’s nothing wrong about that at all: luckily (in this case one has to say), times change, and so do conceptions of morality and sexuality. Still: around the first turn of millennia, when the major part of the extant lore was created, Loki’s ergi wouldn’t exactly have short-listed Him for “most attractive God of the Pantheon”.

One is thus quite justified to speak of Loki as an unmanly, maybe even an unmanned man. Without even a token of protest, Loki dons women’s clothes when Thor’s stolen hammer needs bringing back (Thrymskviða). When some wall-building needs putting to halt, Loki turns Himself into a mare in heat, is mounted by Svaðilfari, upon which He gives birth to Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged steed (Gylfaginning 42). And that is not Loki’s only pregnancy: another time, having found it half-cooked in a fire, He eats the heart of a woman, whereupon He gets pregnant again (though this time apparently in male form) (Hyndluljóð 41). Several times Loki takes the shape of women — be it in order to milk cows beneath the earth [or giving milk Himself], in an episode that can be read as an allusion ot yet another pregnancy (Lokasenna 23)… or in order to find out the secret of the mistletoe from Frigga (Gylfaginning 49), or, notoriously, in order to refuse His tears to Baldr and force Him to stay in Helheim (also Gylfaginning 49).

Loki’s laisser-faire when dealing with His own manliness may well find its mythic apex when He engages in a game of tug-of-war with a bearded goat. Therein, one end of the rope is tied to the goat’s beard, while the other end is tied to Loki’s testes (his balls, man, his balls). He does all that for the sole purpose of eliciting a laugh from the giant’s daughter Skaði (Skáldskaparmál). Whether this act is symbolic of an actual castration may be as it is; however, it is certain that it is Loki’s ritualistic emasculation, and therefore disempowerment. He is literally paraded around, and a thorough reading of the myth will make it clear that it pains Him. A common modern interpretation as mere slapstick is incongruous. And Skaði has yet another part to play in terms of Loki’s disempowerment.

Loki und Idunn - John Bauer

Loki und Idunn – John Bauer

More subtly, but not less effectively, Loki is portrayed as weak and cowardly in other parts of the lore: He is abused, humiliated and tortured several times in His myth, both by giants and by Æsir (Gylfaginning 50, Skaldskaparmál 18, 35, Haustlöng, Lokasenna [in the prose frame], among others). Unlike “manly” Gods, though, He does not endure it in silence or grows into a kind of superior strength that would allow Him to kill or defeat His tormentors — which would be more Thor’s style, really. But Loki? Loki breaks under it, consistently. Cornered like this, time and again He gets Himself involved in trades that save Him, but instead endanger other Gods and Goddesses (e.g., Iðunn in Haustlöng, Skaldskaparmál ).

Loki is certainly lustful and sensual — but He does not control His lust or senses; instead He is time and again controlled by them. By way of them, He loses both bodily and moral integrity. All in all, that doesn’t exactly make Him the most desirable of the Gods… at least not as far as the attempt of a historically informed interpretation is concerned.

Loki and Goddesses

Sif by SceithAilm on DeviantArt

Sif by SceithAilm on DeviantArt

Despite all those obvious demonstrations of unmanliness, Loki is in fact quite popular with the mythical women. He has numerous liaisons with Goddesses, among them Sif, Freyja, Tyr’s unnamed wife, and Skaði… (Lokasenna, Harbarðsljóð). Unanimously however, neither Loki Himself nor the Goddesses seem to ascribe those affairs much significance. What makes Loki attractive to the Goddesses may be the subject of some speculation.

Loki’s relationships to Goddesses that are not simply affairs are of more interest. On the giantess Angrboða, Loki sires — more or less well-attested — the Fenriswolf, the Midgard serpent, and Hel (Gylfaginning, Þórsdrápa, Skaldskaparmál, Hyndluljóð). To be honest, I do not want to go into much detail about Angrboða and the significance She has or doesn’t have. I’m not the right person to do that. In any case though, it must be noted that Loki’s children by Angrboða are both important and powerful.

Most important, however, is Loki’s wife Sigyn. In the whole of the extant sources, She is the only one who is Loki’s woman in the sense of marriage. While it is a popular opinion held in some circles today that Angrboða is Loki’s (first) wife, that notion is incorrect. Sigyn is Loki’s only wife in the myths, and She is of immeasurable importance to Him. There is sadly almost nothing about Sigyn Herself in the lore: apart from Her name, the fact that She’s Loki’s wife, Her role during His ordeal in the cave, and an obscure kenning (Þórsdrápa) that cannot even be applied to Her with certainty, we know nothing about Sigyn. Sigyn bears Loki two children, Váli and Narfi — although in the case of Váli, there is some uncertainty whether his being attested as Loki’s son is a case of mistaken identity [3]. Loki’s sons by Sigyn are especially tragic. Although there is nothing whatsoever “wrong” or dangerous about them, they’re (both!) cruelly destroyed by the other Gods.

Last but not least, the woman whose heart Loki eats (to the effect of His pregnancy) also presents an interesting case. A popular speculative notion is that the heart is that of the thrice-burned yet still living Gullveig. It is speculative in so far as the passage in Hyndluljóð does not name the woman. However, it makes sense to identify her and Gullveig due to several reasons: First, the heart’s location in the fire could be an allusion to the burning of Gullveig. Second, Loki’s consumption of the heart creates the line of troll-women. The word used in the lore, flagð, is slightly obscure, but it is commonly translated as troll-women, which again is in direct association with trolldomr, a sort of magical practice. The connection to Gullveig can then be established via Heiðr, who is commonly believed to be another Gullveig’s incarnation, and who also practices and teaches magic. (Cleasby-Vigfússon also lists a saying “opt eru flögð í fögru skinni”, oft is a witch under a fair skin, which links flagð to witchcraft directly.)

From these observations, there are two conclusions to be drawn explicitly. First: Loki’s sexuality — in so far as it does not serve the sole purpose of satisfying lust — is very well and obviously fertile. In this (among other things), Loki differs from trickster Deities whose sexuality is generally about quenching appetite, and is otherwise barren.

Second, but more interestingly, it must be noted that Loki’s offspring in all cases where He is identified as a parent with certainty, come after their respective mother. The characteristics of Loki’s children are determined by their mothers: Angrboða bears Him strong, but dangerous offspring. Sigyn’s children, accordingly, are completely “acceptable” and socialised in the Aesir’s society. Gullveig’s children are, like Herself, female, magical, and independent. These observations allow the conclusion that Loki’s women have some innate dominance, which is in accordance with my previous remarks about Loki as the “unmanly” man. Loki is not ruled by His women, but they do appear dominantly vis-à-vis Him and exert significant influence on His dealings as a man.

Therefore, it does not surprise that it is a woman, Skaði, who takes a key role in Loki’s ultimate disempowerment. It is She who fastens the venom-dripping snake above Loki’s head when He is captured and bound. The word used for venom, eitr, is itself in direct connection to nið — calumny (Völuspá 56) — which itself is historically closely linked to ergi, as mentioned above.

Loki and Human Women

The subject of Loki’s dealings with human women is at the same time simple, and quite complex. It is simple because there is no attestation whatsoever that Loki had dealings with human women (or men) in the first place. For other Gods such as Freyr or Ríg (Heimdallr), there is more material to that effect. Furthermore, it is also simple because Loki had no cult — therefore the question of wife-priestesses doesn’t even figure.

Yet Loki continues to exert strong attraction on human women, which, to a significant part, is directed at His specific performative masculitity. Loki may not have had a cult in the past, but today that is certainly no longer true.

Who enters into the discourse about sexuality with Loki, will be met with a God who is sexually assertive, inviting, and adventurous. It is near impossible to evade His sexuality. Loki as a man is incredibly present, self-confident, eager to show(!), but without ever taking Himself and His maleness 100% seriously. Perhaps it is exactly this playful attitude towards maleness that makes Him attractive to human women. This attraction, of course, only comes into effect during modern times. More and more, the “grey area” between gender identifications is being (re)discovered; the phenomenon of slash fan fiction — male homoerotica written by women for women, between characters otherwise perceived as heterosexual — has long since arrived in the mainstream. It signifies a discourse about typically male and female roles that is projected into equality and therefore disconnected from the influence of “pre-gendered” narratives.

Loki as the God of Slash? Why not, I ask. Nobody in the Norse pantheon embodies fluid sexuality, and as shown above, relationships with strong, even dominant female figures, quite like the matronym-bearing Loki does.

Loki and I

That Loki acts sexually around His worshippers is more the rule than the exception. Loki’s energy is contagious and catalytic. It is not rare that He makes use of His sexuality and that of His followers to suit His purposes. When I first met Loki, I, too, was presented an extensive sample of His sensual, lustful and hedonistic side. (And of course I did sample… ahem!)

And although sexuality retains its importance in my relationship with Loki, I quickly learned that it is not a primary carrier of meaning. Loki is luxuriant with it, but to draw conclusions from it to the effect of relationship depth, is an error.

To find meaningful closeness to Loki as a woman, can never be based on sexuality alone. He is demanding and uncompromisingly trains one to be self-contained — in all venues of life. He forces me to take responsibility, even where it hurts. He does not stand for me to enter into social dependencies, even if it means I’m often alone.

The real art and challenge is to find devotion exactly from that self-contained state. Devotion out of dependency, addiction even, is of little worth to Him. He demands devotion from me, but it must always be devotion from a place of strength, and it must be no less than absolute.

Literature and Links

[1] Folke Ström: Nið, ergi, and Old Norse moral attitudes. London, Viking Society 1974

[2] Freyia Völundarhúsins: A Womb by Magic — Transcending Gender, Transcending Realities

[3] Rudolf Simek: Lexikon der germanischen Mythologie. Stuttgart, Kröner 2006

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About Myriad

Myriad Hallaug Lokadís
This entry was posted in Loki, Research and Background and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Loki and Women

  1. Miaërowyn says:

    Reblogged this on The Forest Witch and commented:
    This is such an excellent article!

  2. We Bring The Fire says:

    Reblogged this on We Bring The Fire.

  3. ladyimbrium says:

    Much easier. Thank you for the translation!

  4. ladyimbrium says:

    Reblogged this on Lady Imbrium's Holocron and commented:
    I attempted to read the original but it beat me. Thankfully, Myriad has provided a translation!
    Loki, somehow simultaneously the God of “I do what/who I want” AND “I am so completely myself that you can’t harm me no matter how much you hurt me.”

  5. Reblogged this on Ironwood Witch and commented:
    Some fascinating thoughts on Loki and his relationships with women!

  6. KitDuBhran says:

    This was a very informative, and very well-written article. And I love the very last paragraph. Because I do what he says, and I was just thinking about how it might be considered servitude or slavery or weakness, and coming to it from a place of strength is so perfect a way to explain how our relationship works.

  7. Pingback: Loki and women from Weaving the Net | Leiptr

  8. stormraven says:

    Thanks for the translation of this terrific article! I reblogged it on Leiptr :D

  9. Crow Girl says:

    I only now find this article, a year later . Nonetheless I must comment, just to say that “Loki, God of slash” delights me beyond words! This essay is a keeper, thank you for it.

    • Myriad says:

      Thank you for your kind comment, I’m very glad you liked the article (and that it still gets read)! Sorry for my late reply though, I haven’t been online much these past months…

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