30-Days of Devotion for Loki: Day 16

Question: How do you think Loki represents the values of his pantheon and cultural origins? 

It’s impossible to know what the gods hold as their own values, but the cultural values of the ancient Northmen definitely give us some insight. Most of the Teutonic people operated through what is known today as an honor culture, which introduces a dichotomy of honor vs. shame in the day-to-day actions of a person’s life.

To act with honor meant to hold frith, to offer hospitality where it was due, and to seek blood revenge when an insult was offered. To fail to do any of these things meant shame for the person who failed to do them, and, by default, shame for the rest of the family to whom the person belonged.

The Teutonic peoples did not view family members as separate from themselves. The actions of each person in the family were, therefore, the acts of every member. If one family member acted outside the bounds of honor, it brought shame onto the entire family, as that one dishonorable act had, in essence, been committed by the entire family.

That is, perhaps, the reason that blood revenge was so prominent among the ancient Northmen. To insult one person was to insult an entire clan, and then that entire clan had to defend its honor or bleed shame for the duration of the clan line. There was no in-between, and the only way to staunch the flow of honor was to staunch the flow of blood from the family who had first offered insult.

When viewing Ragnorak using this cultural lens, it is clear to see that the binding of Loki and his subsequent bringing about of Ragnarok can serve as a metaphor for the honor of the clan. Loki, in a drunken stupor, insults every god present at the feast portrayed in the Lokasenna.

The gods cannot let the insults go, as the insults damage the wyrd of the entire Aesir tribe, and so they are forced to exact revenge upon him. Since, however, he is a member himself of the clan, they cannot outright kill him. The killing of kin was one of the two cardinal sins of the ancient Norse – the other was breaking an oath – and so they could not kill Loki, as doing so would permanently damage the wyrd of the clan.

They did, however, change Narvi into a wolf who, being an animal and unaware of what he was doing, tore his brother Vali into pieces. Vali’s entrails were then used to bind Loki. The Aesir sidestep the problem of killing kin by turning a person into a wolf and standing by as Narvi tears into his brother.

While the Aesir manage to avoid, in a rather odd way, the edict against kin-killing, Loki witnesses this atrocious act, and it is his rage and need for vengeance that allows him to keep fighting against his bonds and eventually free himself, bringing Ragnarok. In a very literal and cultural sense, Loki is the embodiment of the virtue of vengeance. He brings the destruction of the gods for the insult the Aesir leveled against him by instigating the death of two of his children.

There are other ways that Loki represents the cultural values of the Norse, but the virtue of vengeance was one of the foremost – if not the most prominent – of the virtues that the Teutonic people were required to hold. An insult could only be met with bloodshed – to do otherwise was to risk the complete destruction of the wyrd of your family.

Note: The information about the Teutonic cultures came from Gronbech’s “The Culture of the Teutons” – both volumes. It is an essential read for any Heathen. 

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