A Very Queer Theological Reflection
There’s been a whole lot of Norse themed popular culture in the last few years: fiction books, graphic novels, artwork, statuary, not to mention a big dollop in the interlocked MCU and the preceding and ongoing comics and graphic novels. Roleplayers, cosplayers, geeks, authors, bloggers and the general public are now aware of Norse mythology, Norse stories, characters, events and words such as Ragnarok, Mjolnir and Bifrost. Pop culture has cheerfully plonked on the plastic horned helmet and leaned hard into the Early Middle Ages. Gods are familiar in name and imagery to many more than those who still revere and follow them: Thor, Odin, Frigg, Sif, Heimdall, and of course, Loki.
As an inclusive modern heathen, awareness of Loki is impossible to avoid. Appearing in the lore as a complex figure offering help and harm, diplomacy and violence in turn and together, undertaking challenging tasks and completing them with an unclear purpose and a feeling of laughing invincibility: who are they exactly? Responsible for getting the gods into and out of trouble, often by causing more: gaining mighty gifts from the dwarves by a plot that starts with them cutting off the hair of a goddess, kidnapping another only to be charged with their rescue, aiding throwing a dart which arguably begins the downfall and sailing the Ship of Nails into battle accompanied by their own children against Asgard, making a giantess laugh on her wedding day by use of a goat and a rope and so averting vengeance, dressing as a handmaiden to help get a stolen Mjolnir back to Thor, bound by the entrails of their own son to a rock as punishment: their deeds and words are a balance of extremes. They’re difficult to categorise wholly and completely as entirely beneficent or maleficent, as for every deed one way, there’s an equal and opposite that can be argued against. Due to this complex and often divisive nature, for modern inclusive heathens there are logistical issues from the start: when greeting the gods at the opening of a ritual do you hail them or no? Include or ignore? Some groups openly welcome and celebrate followers of Laufeyson, others put a ban on even mentioning the name in online posts or comments, and Eir help you if you hail Loki in sumbel when there’s an explicit agreement not to. Loki offers the lens of polarisation: an outsider within, a deity… or maybe closer to a giant, known to have been a seal, salmon, milkmaid, fly, mare, male, female… made from Marmite, intensity and spite, for when Loki does something in the myth cycle, it’s guaranteed to be memorable and you’ll either love it or hate it.
It’s only recently that I’ve started developing my own relationship with Loki. As a queer heathen
Lofn is all good as one for blessing relationships that would be seen as forbidden or discouraged, but Loki… Ah, there’s someone who embodies what it’s like to be shunned, insulted, treated as lesser, cast out, tolerated but never celebrated. Someone who is used for their skills, but not accepted for who they are whole and complete. Someone who is capable of change, potential and being the literal embodiment of a third or not-binary way. Someone who is recognised as needed but not wanted. Having experienced homophobia, discrimination and bullying based on my queerness, I think that’s why I feel a resonance.
Recently I’ve had the pleasure of deepening my theological reflection on who I understand Loki to be through reading Norse myth reinterpretations, such as Joanne Harris The Gospel of Loki, Cat Rector’s The Goddess of Nothing at All, and Genevieve Gornichec’s The Witchs Heart. Harris tells the tale through yours truly, The Goddess of Nothing at All sees Loki through Sigyn’s eyes, and The Witch’s Heart through the voice and life of Angrabotha. In each there is a very different Loki presented to the reader: Rector’s Loki is fragile, flawed and increasingly angry hiding desperation and fear, Gornichec’s begins as enigmatic, self-cutting scalpel sharp wit, Harris, shows them as curious and controlled, twisting the familiar narrative through their own lens. In each there is vulnerability, a being bruised by others and reacting to their experiences. In some cases lashing out with a deserved flyting or seeking rightful revenge, in some cases hiding, retreating, responding with bargining, pleading, shouting, righteous or desperate or both at once. These depictions of Loki show a being illuminated in complex fragments of a whole, and that’s not even getting into the Marvel depiction of Loki in their first show season. Here again was an outsider inside, displaced and belonging, vulnerable and brittle-strong, self-sacrificing and selfish, moving from instinctive self-destruction through connecting to acceptance, with a literal embodiment of different aspects being able to begin tentatively communicating and starting to accept each other as the season progressed.
Each of these interpretations offers something new to a heathen and non-heathen mindset: a new way to view, appreciate and connect to someone who is both and neither, needed but not wanted, bruised and vulnerable, and yet a risk, glittering dangerous in the dark, inviting us to speak to our own discarded and bruised parts of self, to communicate with those parts previously shunned and using anger as a distancing shield for loss and fear. There’s a lot that we can reflect on through Loki’s belonging and experience, and perhaps using modern fiction and re-tellings is a way to gain new realisations about these gods and ourselves. Harris’ Loki desires connection, as does Rectors: to belong, to be accepted whole, to have a place, and maybe that’s something we can also relate to, not only for those who describe themselves as heathens, but as human beings.
About the Author
Hail and well met, I’m Suzanne, and I’m the author of Gytha in Jeans. Over the last twenty several years, I have been learning about, communicating with, and sharing knowledge about the Gods in the Heathen faith. My study has been partly academic in the obtaining of a Masters degree in European Historical Archaeology, with a focus on the Scandinavian World, but also tempered with many hours of personal study, prayer, and service to my community. I continue to be a strong supporter of the local pagan and interfaith communities.
I have delivered workshops, and lectures on various aspects of Heathenism over many years, specialising in discourse on Heathen ethics and oracular runes. I was invited to speak at the 2018 Conference of Heathen Women, presenting a paper on queer Heathenry, and am Gytha to Chesterfield Heathens.
Additionally, I have performed public blot and ritual for the pagan community, together with private ceremonies such as handfastings and namings. Since January 2017, I have co-hosted the Frithcast podcast together with my wife, looking at modern heathenism – with a good dollop of queer humour and geekery thrown in.
The Heathen faith is detailed in historical sources, but it is a modern faith. My faith is valid to me now: I can look at the past for evidence of interactions, but I don’t hold that identical interactions are the only ones that someone can, or should, experience.
You are welcome to ask me heathen related stuff: if I don’t know it, I’ll do my best to find out! You are also welcome to contact me to enquire about bookings as a celebrant. I’m on Facebook, Twitter @GythaInJeans, or available by email gythainjeans(at)gmail.com.