Articles by Dagulf Loptson

Dagulf Loptson

Dagulf Loptson has been a devotee of Loki for 20 years and counting, following a childhood, love at first sight encounter. Despite his insistence that he was a Heathen, many gods from different traditions have become a part of his life over the years, who he loves and honors with the precarious balance of a trapeze artist. When he's not writing about gods, he's an graphic artist, a professional tattoo/piercing artist, and horror movie junkie. He is the author of "Playing With Fire: An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson", through Asphodel Press.

Evidence of Loki’s Worship?

One of the most pervasive (and unfounded) arguments against Loki’s worship in American Heathenry, is that we have no physical or written evidence to suggest he was ever worshipped in the past. This has often been used as “proof” that he was reviled in Scandinavia, since he was seemingly so hated that nobody would want to worship Loki or name anything after him. However, there is a similar lack of evidence for the worship of Heimdallr, Sif, and many more of the Norse deities. It seems that Loki has been singled out in this long list of deities without evidence of an organized cult, in an attempt to defend his image as a malignant figure in modern Heathenry. However, no hard evidence that Loki was absolutely reviled has ever been presented either, and the idea that Loki never had place-names or people named after him has become such a parroted statement in modern Heathenry, that many people have no longer bothered to question it. For the record, the statement that Loki never had anything or anyone named after him is provably false. Despite these criticisms, I have researched what I consider to be valid evidence to suggest that Loki was an object of worship in Scandinavia, and at the very least was an object of affection as a folk-hero in at least one country.


The Gesta Danorum (“Deeds of the Danes”) was written in the early 13th century by the Danish priest and historian, Saxo Grammaticus. Saxo’s work is composed of 16 books that chart the history of Denmark from prehistoric times to the late 12th century. The object of the book was largely to glorify the Danes.1 Scholars such as Axel Olrik have suggested that Saxo received his knowledge of Scandinavian mythology and folklore largely from Norwegian sources, and much of his information may have been collected by an Icelander who traveled the Norwegian coast.2

Because Snorri and Saxo were writing at approximately the same time, scholars are unsure which one of them should be considered the earliest collection of Norse mythology. It is possible that Snorri was following a purely Icelandic tradition, whereas Saxo primarily relied on sources from continental Scandinavia. It is notable that Loki appears nowhere in Saxo’s account of Baldr’s death, which might reflect the beliefs of Denmark.3

Though both Snorri and Saxo should be regarded as sources for the study of Heathen mythology, Saxo is often overlooked by modern Heathens. Part of the reason for this may be because Snorri is both more easily accessible and more entertaining to read. Perhaps it is for this reason that the strange interlude I’ll be examining first has never been mentioned by modern Heathens or Lokeans in discussions about Loki.

Saxo’s Gesta Danorum provides us with a familiar, yet at the same time unusual image of Loki. In part II of Book VIII, it becomes evident that King Gorm of Denmark is a fervent worshipper of a god he refers to as Útgarða-Loki. According to Saxo, while King Gorm was making a voyage, his ship was buffeted by bad weather and few of his men survived. Gorm’s men began offering sacrifices to appease a multitude of gods, but Gorm prayed to his favored deity, Útgarða-Loki, and received the fair weather he had prayed for.

“…he was tossed by bad weather; his men perished of hunger, and but few survived, so that he began to feel awe in his heart, and fell to making vows to heaven, thinking the gods alone could help him in his extreme need. At last the others besought sundry powers among the gods, and thought they ought to sacrifice to the majesty of diverse deities; but the king, offering both vows and peace offerings to Utgarda-Loki, obtained that fair season of weather for which he prayed.”4

The king finally returned home, took a queen from Sweden, and resigned himself to live a peaceful life from then on. However, near the end of his life, we learn that certain unnamed men persuaded him that his soul was immortal, and he wanted to learn what kind of afterlife he would receive as a result of his zealous worship of Útgarða-Loki. The men in question advised the king to seek out a heavenly oracle, and claimed that Útgarða-Loki must be found and appeased in order to gain a satisfactory answer from him. The enemies of a hero named Thorkill (whose name appears to be derivative of the god Þórr) volunteered him to go on the mission to find Útgarða-Loki, and ironically were sent with Thorkill on the perilous journey.5

Their ship sailed into a sunless place, and after suffering many hardships and nearly starving to death, they saw the twinkle of a fire in the distance. When they reached shore, they came to a cavern guarded by two giants who were feeding the fire, and one of them gave Thorkill directions to reach Útgarða-Loki’s cave. After four days of rowing, Thorkill finally reached the cave of Útgarða-Loki, and found him in a position that closely resembles Snorri’s treatment of Loki in Gylfaginning:

“Then he made others bear a light before him and stooped his body through the narrow jaws of the cavern, where he beheld a number of iron seats among a swarm of gliding serpents. Next there met his eye a sluggish mass of water gently flowing over a sandy bottom. He crossed this and approached a cavern which sloped somewhat more steeply. Again, after this, a foul and gloomy room was disclosed to the visitors, wherein they saw Utgarda-Loki, laden hand and foot with enormous chains. Each of his reeking hairs was as large and stiff as a spear of cornel. Thorkill (his companions lending a hand), in order that his deeds might gain more credit, plucked one of these from the chin of Utgarda-Loki, who suffered it. Straightway such a noisome smell reached the bystanders that they could not breathe without stopping their noses with their mantles. They could scarcely make their way out, and were bespattered by the snakes which darted at them on every side.

Only five of Thorkill’s company embarked with their captain: the poison killed the rest…”6

In Saxo’s Gesta Danorum there is no mention of Loki, but only of Útgarða-Loki, who bears the same name as the mysterious giant Útgarða-Loki from Snorri’s Gylfaginning. However, because Útgarða-Loki is depicted as bound by chains and surrounded by venomous snakes, it is possible that this figure is actually the same Loki as the one in the Eddas, with a slightly different title. It should however be noted that where Snorri places Loki in an imprisoned state because he claims him to be the murderer of Balder, we are given no explanation from Saxo as to why Útgarða-Loki is in his predicament. Scholars such as Oliver Elton and Anna Birgitta Rooth are in agreement that the Útgarða-Loki of Saxo’s account is the same as Loki Laufeyjarson from Snorri’s account. With this in mind, the rest of the account becomes particularly interesting.

Thorkill and his men returned home with the hair plucked from Útgarða-Loki’s face. Upon hearing Thorkill’s account of events, the king’s reaction was surprising.

“He listened eagerly to his recital of everything, till at last, when his own god was named, he could not endure him to be unfavorably judged. For he could not bear to hear Utgarda-Loki reproached with filthiness, and so resented his shameful misfortunes, that his very life could not brook such words, and he yielded it up in the midst of Thorkill’s narrative. Thus, whilst he was so zealous in the worship of a false god, he came to find where the true prison of sorrows really was.”7

This passage is significant for a variety of reasons. First of all, it is obvious that King Gorm had a special devotion to Útgarða-Loki (i.e. Loki?), and when he heard Thorkill’s account he was so upset by the description of his god’s circumstances that he died of grief on the spot. It is also notable that a story of a bound Útgarða-Loki was news to King Gorm, and that apparently he had never heard of this development before. This seems unusual if we are to believe that there was a widespread belief that Loki (or Útgarða-Loki) was imprisoned underground. Thorkill is obviously using this tale to shed an unfavorable light on Gorm’s favorite god, which implies that Útgarða-Loki did not have an unfavorable character to begin with. It is notable that Thorkill is a Christian hero in Saxo’s account, so it isn’t unimaginable that this story demonstrates the negative light that was cast upon Útgarða-Loki (Loki?) in particular with the coming of Christianity. I am also inclined to believe that Saxo didn’t completely fabricate the devotion held by the Danish monarchy to Útgarða-Loki. Útgarða-Loki seems an unlikely candidate for a king’s devotion, and defaming a better known god such as Óðinn or Þórr in this situation would have been more logical if the story were entirely fabricated.

As I have already mentioned, Saxo and Snorri were writing during the same century and it is difficult to tell which of their accounts was written first. This leaves the reader to choose between two logical conclusions:

1. Saxo was not writing about Loki, but was writing about Útgarðr-Loki, who is a separate figure that also appears in Snorri’s account in Gylfaginning. If you agree with this theory, then there is a reasonable doubt that it was Útgarðr-Loki, not Loki Laufeyjarson, who traditionally came to be bound underground, and Snorri either botched his account, purposefully changed it in order to devise a more compelling and cohesive story of Balder’s death and how it tied into the end of the world as imagined in Völuspá; or perhaps the identity of the bound figure differed depending on the region. This would also mean that the obscure giant from Snorri’s account was actually considered a god and an object of worship in Denmark.

2. Saxo was writing about Loki Laufeyjarson and referring to him as Útgarða-Loki. This would mean that there is a record of Loki being worshipped in Denmark (by royalty, no less), which invalidates claims that Loki was never worshiped in antiquity. Due to King Gorm’s surprise at Thorkill’s account, it is also possible that the bound, tortured Loki was a myth which was not originally known by the Danes.

I am more inclined to agree with the second theory, and believe that this account in the Gesta Danorum is an intriguing piece of evidence for Loki’s worship in Heathen times. The fact that he was being worshipped by a king could also signify that Loki was at one time held in much higher esteem than is usually believed, and perhaps he even possessed a cult of his own.

The Nordendorf Fibula

(Nordendorf fibula, public domain image found at Wikimedia Commons:

That there may be evidence for Loki’s worship in Germany has been suggested by the discovery of the Nordendorf fibula (a gilded silver brooch found in Nordendorf, Germany that dates to the beginning of the 7th century). The fibula’s inscription reads:




(Then, at a 180 degree angle from this inscription):


The second and third names on this inscription are self explanatory. “Woden” is the god (aka, Óðinn), while Wigiþonar has been translated to mean “Battle-Þórr”. The first god name has been interpreted by some as an alternative (and perhaps older) version of the name Lóður/Loki. According to Simek, the name Logaþore may be connected to the Old English words: logþor, logþer, logeþer and logðor, all which imply “malicious”, and could be tied to Loki in his trickster guise9. Loki is also a likely suspect for identification with Logaþor, in that he is the only god that appears as the traveling companion of both Óðinn and Þórr.

The last part of the fibula inscription (awaleubwini) is comprised of the female name “Awa” and the male name “Leubwini”, and it is speculated that the purpose of the inscription was a magical one: the three gods are being called upon to bring happiness to the man and the woman10.

A charm that may bear a resemblance to the Nordendorf Fibula was recorded in the 19th century by a clergyman from Lincolnshire, England, who supposedly heard it spoken by an old countrywoman as a boy. This alleged charm is a more enigmatic source that also places Loki, Óðinn and Þórr together in a triad for a blessing:

“Thrice I smites with Holy Crock,
With the mell [hammer] I thrice do knock,
One for god, one for Wod,
And one for Lok.”11

This seems to be a reference to Óðinn, Loki, and Þórr (possibly the god of the hammer). However, the odds that the clergyman correctly remembered this obscure poem that he heard by chance in childhood are rather small. We cannot be certain this small piece of folklore is authentic, but at the very least, we can conclude that even in the 19th century, there remained a link between Óðinn, Þórr, and Loki in the minds of the English populace, and Loki was included in prayers for blessings.

Loki in names of people and places

Many sacred locations in Northern Europe bear the names of gods and goddesses. It is also common for god names to appear as elements in the names of common people, such as “Þórr” as part of many names in Iceland. Many modern Heathens have claimed that Loki doesn’t have any historical people or geographical sites named after him, which apparently proves that he was reviled in his native countries. However, this argument is hardly viable, as there actually were people, places, and even stars that were named after Loki.

Axel Olrik provides a list of Scandinavian names which he believes contain Loki’s name in Loke in the Younger Tradition. In 12th century Northumberland, England, there is a record of a man named Locchi. In Småland, Sweden, Locke has been preserved as a hereditary surname. On a rune stone in Uppland, Sweden, the name “Luki” (Loki?) appears. It has also been traced to the place names Lockbol, Luckabol, Lockesta, and Locastum.11 Jacob Grimm also tells us that there is a giant’s grave in Vestergötland, Sweden, named Lokehall.12

There was also a settler in Norway called Þórbjørn loki, and a man called Þórðr loki.13 Another name for Loki also prominently appears in the biography of Snorri Sturluson. Snorri’s foster-father was named Jón Loptsson (“son of Lopt”), Lopt being one of the most prominent bynames for Loki. Ironically, Lopt, Jón’s father, was a priest from a well-to-do family. It isn’t hard to imagine that at least someone from heathen Scandinavia was granted the name Lopt or Loki. Loki was considered to be the most cunning god of the Norse pantheon, and surely at one time it would have been considered auspicious for a clever man to bear his name.

Though it is a common statement in the Heathen community that Loki has no geographical place names within Scandinavia, there is at least one in the Faroe Islands called Lokkafelli (Loki’s Fell). It is noteworthy that the Faroe Islands are also the country of origin for the folk tale Lokka táttur (or “Loki’s Tale”), which was first recorded in the late 18th century. Loki stars as the hero of this story, who is the only one who is clever enough to rescue a farmer’s son from a giant when Óðinn, Hönir, and Loki are all petitioned to help him. Because of the lateness and obscurity of this poem it seems to have been largely ignored or overlooked in the Heathen community, but it seems uncharacteristic that a mythological figure who was traditionally reviled in Scandinavia would possess a story that casts them as an clever hero. That Loki has a landmark in the Faroe Islands named after him could also demonstrate that Loki received some degree of affection from this populace in particular.

The most famous landmark from heathen Scandinavia that bears Loki’s name is Sirius, the “Dog Star”, was known in Scandinavia as Lokabrenna (“Loki’s Torch”).14 According to the Spanish Aarab At-Tatuschi, this star was an object of worship to the town of Schleswig (Hedeby) in Denmark15. Sirius became known as the Dog Star in Ancient Greece and Rome, as it first appeared on the horizon during what they called the “dog days” of summer. These were the hottest days of summer (falling between early July and early September in the Northern Hemisphere) and the bright star’s close proximity to the sun at dawn was believed to be responsible for the heat. It is thus appropriate that this star was regarded to be the “torch” of the fiery Loki (and before you ask, no, Loki has nothing to do with dogs).

It is interesting that in Denmark, the location of Útgarða-Loki’s worship according to Saxo, there is early testimony for the star Sirius having been worshipped by the Danes. 


Hopefully I have been able to demonstrate that the idea that there is no evidence of Loki-reverence in Scandinavia is little more than a Heathen urban legend. It could be assumed that the theory that Loki is and was a reviled figure has been defended in order to uphold the most popular mythic narrative within modern Heathenry: that of Snorri Sturluson. The insistence that a lack of evidence for an organized cult of Loki somehow proves that he was a hated figure is likewise pure speculation, and can be categorized more as a popular, modern UPG than as a proven fact.


Saxo Grammaticus. The Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus. Tr. Oliver Elton. Forgotten Books, 2008

H.R. Ellis Davidson. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin Books, 1990

Jacob Grimm. Teutonic Mythology: Volume One. Tr. Stallybrass, James Steven. Dover Publications, Inc., NY, 1966

Axel Olrik. Loke in Younger Tradition. Tr. Eli Anker. Saertryk af Danske Studier 1909.

Rudolf Simek. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S Brewer, Cambridge, 2007

Consulate General of Denmark in New York. Factsheet.


1Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North. 23

2Ibid, 29

3Ibid, 33

4Saxo Grammaticus. The Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus. 332

5Ibid, 333

6Ibid, 335

7Ibid, 336

8Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. 191

9Ibid, 191

10Ibid, 236

11Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. (Penguin Books, 1990) 180

12Olrik, Axel. Loke in Younger Tradition.

13Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North. 21-22

14Grimm, Jacob. Teutonic Mythology: Volume One. 242

The Halloween Special: Óðinn is a Scary

Through my years spent in Heathenry, I have noticed a trend regarding Óðinn among young, bright-eyed, busy-tailed new Heathens. Many Heathens tend to see Óðinn as a wise, grandfatherly figure. The kind of guy that would take you fishing and help you sort out all of your life’s troubles with his wry, old man wisdom, before cooking up a few steaks on the grill and telling you the secret to life. Or the kind of guy who selflessly sacrifices himself and everything he holds dear for the dream of a better world. A peaceful world, a world where goodness and honor prevail. Ha! Those poor fools!

The reality is, that despite Óðinn’s modern reputation, back in the day he was seen as a pretty scary dude that, unless you were a poet or an aristocrat, was best left avoided. Óðinn was the god of war, frenzy, and strife. His warriors were the Beserkers (think werewolves), he could summon ghosts from the grave to do his bidding (think zombies), he was the god of hanged men (usually executed criminals), and was considered to be an overall, spooky badass. It is possible that Óðinn’s lack of place-names and absence from human names in certain parts of Scandinavia (such as Iceland) was due to the fear people felt for this God and the death and chaos of war that he sometimes brought with him .1 This has often made me wonder if the reason Óðinn has so many different kennings is because everyone was too scared to say his name! E.O.G Truville-Petre reiterates the fear that people had for Óðinn back in the day, saying:

“We might expect the northern god of war to be noble, valiant, and an example to every soldier, but Óðinn was far from that. According to the sources in which he is most fully described, he was evil and sinister. He delighted especially in fratricidal strife and in conflict between kinsmen.”2

But did Óðinn’s reign of terror stop with the conversion of Scandinavia? Or the beginning of the Enlightenment? Or has he secretly been terrifying us for years through new means? It’s become pretty obvious to me that Óðinn has found his new niche in the horror industry, and if you look closely, you too can see how the guys that have been scaring the piss out of you since childhood were all really just Óðinn all along.

The Creeper

The premise:

The Creeper, featured in Jeepers Creepers (2001), is a winged monster that hunts every 23rd spring for 23 days to feast on human body parts, which then become a part of its own body. He smells his victims through fear, and spends the first movie in the pursuit of a brother and sister on a road trip.

How can you tell he’s Óðinn?

This one is so obvious it hardly even bears mentioning. First of all, the Creeper wears the classic Óðinnic attire, complete with the tattered, wind-blown coat and broad brimmed black hat. Secondly, every time the Creeper is near, large flocks of ravens appear and seem to follow him wherever he goes. If these two giveaways weren’t enough, in the first movie the Creeper spends the duration of the film stalking one of the protagonists, Darry, until he finally captures him and takes what he’s wanted from him the whole time: his eyes. He then takes a peek at us through Darry’s empty eye-socket before the credits roll. Is this a nod to Óðinn’s own sacrifice of his eye at Mimir’s well? Ok Óðinn, we get the point. You’re scary.

Freddy Kreuger

The premise:

Freddy Kreuger, who first appeared in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was a child killer who was captured by the police but escaped prosecution due to a legal technicality. He was then hunted down and cornered by the children’s parents in a boiler room where he used to take his victims. The parents burn him to death, after which he becomes a vengeful spirit who kills teenagers in their dreams.

How can you tell he’s Oðinn?

Though the wide brimmed hat and coy one-liners are a dead give away ( such as “How’s this for a wet dream?” as he’s drowning a teenager in a water bed in Nightmare on Elm Street 4), Freddy´s penchant for child sacrifice is another clue. In Ynglinga Saga, we learn that King Aun of Sweden made a deal with Óðinn to prolong his own life, where every 10 years Aun would sacrifice one of his sons to Óðinn:
“Odin then told him he should go on living as long as he gave him a son every ten years and further gave a name to each of the districts of his land according ot the number of those sons he offered up to Odin.” 3

Aside from this desire for child human sacrifices, we also know from Ynglinga Saga that Óðinn is a seiðr practitioner, which among its many functions grants Óðinn the ability to twist people’s minds and terrify them. Combine this with his kenning Sváfnir (“sleep bringer”), and the whole jig is up. Sorry “Freddy”, you’re not fooling anyone.


The premise

Count Dracula, as imagined by Bram Stoker, is a Transylvanian noble who is actually a centuries old vampire and sorcerer.

How can you tell he’s Óðinn?

First of all, Dracula was inspired by the famous nobleman Vlad the Impaler, who (as his name implies) would impale his victims on stakes. This is reminiscent of Óðinn’s weapon of choice: the spear, not to mention Óðinn was the god of nobles. Dracula also has the power to twist the mind (an old seiðr trick) and has power over creatures of the night, including wolves (Geri and Freki anyone?). We also know from Ynglinga saga, that like Dracula, Óðinn had power over the dead:

“and sometimes he awoke dead men from the earth and sat himself down under men who had been hanged; and se he was called Lord of the Ghosts or the Hanged Men.” 4

Aside from his ability to transform men and women into Vampires and thus awaken the dead, Dracula is of course most famous for his penchant for human blood. According to Grímnismál 19:

“Geri and Freki, tamed to war, he satiates,

the glorious Father of Hosts;

but on wine alone the weapon-magnificent

Odin always lives.”5

Uh huh, sure, I bet that red liquid Óðinn lives off of is “wine”. Nice try Drac. And what about those Valkyries? Don’t maidens that choose dead men seem just a little bit like Dracula’s brides? With this one, Óðinn was hiding in plain sight, disguising himself as a creepy, European nobleman. How original.

So the next time you find yourself trembling at the movie theater, just remember that you’re actually being had by a 4,000 something year-old Germanic deity, which should make the whole experience a little less terrifying. Or does it?

1Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. Greenwood Press, 1975. 69

2Ibid, 51

3 Snorri Sturluson. Heimskringla or The Lives of the Norse Kings. Tr. A.H. Smith. Dover Publications, 1990. 17-18

4Ibid, 5

5The Poetic Edda. Tr. Larrington, Carolyne. Oxford University Press, 2008. 54

A New Place for Loki, Part II

Loki as the Sacramental Fire

Despite the evidence that supports calling Loki a fire god, there is one event in Snorri’s Gylfaginning which many people believe specifically discredits Loki’s identity as such. However, when placed in the proper context, this same event may serve as the key to Loki’s primary function in pre-Christian Germanic culture.

Snorri tells us of an occasion where Þórr and Loki journeyed together to visit Útgarðar (“out-world”), the home of a mysterious entity named Útgarða-Loki (“out-world Loki”). On their journey, they stopped at the house of a peasant and were given lodging there for the night. When dinner time arrived, Þórr took the two goats that pull his chariot and slaughtered them. He skinned them and carefully separated their meat from the bones, instructing the family not to break them. However, the peasant’s son Þjálfi didn’t listen, and broke one of the goat’s thigh bones to get to the marrow. The next day, Þórr blessed the piles of skin and bones with his hammer, and his goats came back to life. However, one of them now had a broken leg where Þjálfi had snapped the bone. Þórr was so angry that he was about to destroy the whole house and the family pleaded with him for mercy. This appeased Þórr’s anger, and in recompense the farmer gave him his son Þjálfi and daughter Röskva as servants.

Interestingly, Hymiskviða in the elder Edda makes a short allusion to this story, and in this account it is Loki who is somehow responsible for the laming of Þórr’s goat:

37. They hadn’t travelled a long distance,
before Hlorriða’s goat lay down
half-dead before them;
The goat’s bones were lamed,
this crafty Loki had caused.

With their new servants in tow, Þórr and Loki (after a series of misadventures) eventually reach Útgarða-Loki’s castle. Considering the laws of hospitality that were paramount in Norse culture, Útgarða-Loki gives them an extremely rude welcome. He doesn’t offer them any food or drink, but tells the travelers that no one who doesn’t have a superior skill is allowed to stay there. As Loki has been refused the hospitality he should have received, he gets food through the back door, so to speak, by claiming that nobody can eat faster than he can, “I know a feat that I am quite prepared to have a go at, that there is no one inside here who can eat his food quicker than I.”

Then Utgarda-Loki replies, “That is a feat if you can perform it, and we must try out these feats.” He calls down the bench that someone called Logi is to come out on to the floor and compete with Loki. Then a trencher is fetched and brought in on to the floor of the hall and filled with meat. Loki sits down at one end and Logi at the other, and each eats as quickly as he can and they meet in the middle of the trencher. Loki has eaten all the meat off the bones, but Logi has eaten all the meat and the bones too and also the trencher, and it seems to everyone now that Loki has lost the contest.

Þjálfi and Þórr compete in their own contests, and Þórr has the same degree of success as Loki. The next day, Útgarða-Loki reveals that the gods were only bested because he used illusions to fool them.

“The first was the one that Loki engaged in. He was very hungry and ate fast, but the one who is called Logi [flame], was wildfire, and it burned the trencher just as quickly as the meat.”1

Many people have taken this to mean that there is a clear distinction between Loki and wildfire, and therefore Loki was himself not a fire deity. However what many people have neglected to recognize is (as I have already established) wildfire was not considered the same thing as sacramental fire.2 The most obvious clue to the kind of fire Loki represents is in the bones that he doesn’t eat. There were many transformations in the funeral rites of Scandinavia as the Bronze Age gave away to the Iron Age. In the Bronze Age, cremation was the primary form of funerary practice in Scandinavia and Europe, and the rituals involved were very specific. In Bronze Age Scandinavia, the bones were not damaged in the cremation fire, but were carefully removed from the pyre after burning and washed before they were placed in an urn. They would then be buried, and a howe of some kind was often built over the site. This careful removal of bones from ashes could have symbolized the freeing of the spirit from the ties of the earth.3 The cremation fire was thus the doorway through which the spirits of the dead would be released from the physical world into the realm of the spirits.

It wasn’t until the Iron Age that the body and the grave goods were burned indiscriminately together on the pyre with no attempt to separate the bones from the rest of the debris. This may signify that the symbolic significance of separating the bones was forgotten or no longer represented the religious beliefs of the Iron Age. In the 10thand 11th centuries, cremation was beginning to lose popularity in Scandinavia in favor of lavish inhumation rituals, which were perhaps imitations of those performed by the Catholic Church. The practice of cremation continued in the North until Christianity (which opposed cremation practices) was so firmly established that inhumation became the universal custom.4

Due to the pointed way in which Loki doesn’t consume the bones in Snorri’s account, it is my belief that in antiquity Loki (like Agni) was regarded to be the personification of the fire of cremation and sacrifice. In Snorri’s story, Loki represents the holy fire of cremation that separates bones from flesh, which competes against Logi, who personifies the mundane wildfire that indiscriminately eats whatever is laid in its path.

Just as the sacramental fire of Agni is born from wood and heaven (sunlight or lightning), Loki is born from lightning (Fárbauti) and wood (Laufey/Nál). Both gods also have a strong association with the thunder and lightning god of their respective traditions. Agni travels with Indra, the Vedic god of thunder and lightning, in a chariot drawn by rams, where Loki and Þórr travel together in a chariot drawn by goats. Both pairs of gods were (usually) considered close friends, and Agni and Indra were often honored together. A parallel between Loki/Þórr and Agni/Indra can also be seen in Balakanda-Ramayana, where Indra is rendered a eunuch and he enlists the help of his friend Agni to regain his testicles. Agni obliges and prays to the manes (the ancestors), who help him to replace Indra’s testicles with those of a sacrificial goat. This myth obviously parallels the story of Loki helping Þórr to regain his manhood/hammer in Þrymskviða. The fact that sacred fire was born from the heavens (in the form of lightning) signifies that this fire was seen by early man as having divine origins and being set apart from mundane fire, and may account for the strong association that gods like Loki and Agni have with gods of thunder and lightning and always accompany them.

In the Vedic tradition, Agni specifically represents the fire of cremation and sacrifice. In the Vedic religion, the dead went to the realm of Yama (etymologically cognate to the Norse Ymir) who was the first mortal to die and subsequently became the king of the underworld. For this reason, the common people were typically inhumed. Nobles and priests, on the other hand, were placed on a funeral pyre as an offering received by Agni, who would then carry them (as he carried the offerings to the gods) into the heavens to become godlike. Horses, weapons, and servants were sent along with the nobility, and a wife who willingly entered the funeral pyre with her husband was giving proof of her noble character.5 It is obvious that the Scandinavians shared a similar custom, as these same elements (including the willing suicide of a wife) are all found in the account of Baldr’s funeral in Húsdrápa.

If Loki, like Agni, originally had a major role in funeral rites, this would certainly account for his conspicuous connection to both fire and the world of the dead. The name alternate name for Loki’s mother Laufey,“Nál”, may be related to the Old Norse word nár meaning “corpse”. This word is also at the root of Naglfar, the ship of the dead which Loki captains in Völuspá6. Naglfar itself may be representative of the famous funerary ships from Iron Age Scandinavia, on which nobility (including Baldr) were burned along with their possessions. That Loki should captain this ship is highly appropriate if he is the personification of the cremation fire, which literally “rides” on funeral ships during the time of cremation. It is also notable that Loki’s daughter Hel is the goddess of death, and some speculate that the name of his child, Narfi, is also etymologically connected to the word nár.38 It is also Loki who gives birth to Sleipnir, whose eight legs, according to H.R. Ellis Davidson, may be symbolic of the legs of the four bearers of a funeral bier7

Loki’s close relationship to Óðinn is further accentuated when viewed through the lens of cremation practices. In Ynglinga saga, Snorri tells us that it was Óðinn who first instituted cremation among the Æsir.

“Odin set in his land the laws which had formerly been upheld by the Asa folks; thus, he bade that they burn all the dead and bear their possessions on the fire-bale with them. He said that every man should come to Valhall with such riches as he had with him on the fire-bale and that each should use what he himself had buried in the earth.”8

Like Óðinn, the Hindu Shiva is the ruler of the funeral pyre and his assistant Agni is the personification of the fire itself. As the cult of Shiva grew, he often assimilated the deities and customs of older cults, until he himself is referred to as Agni on occasion. While Shiva is the god of cremation, Agni is the cremation fire, the instrument of Shiva and the gateway of the dead. It is possible that as Agni works in the service of Shiva in the rites of cremation, this same association was made between Óðinn (the lord of the hosts of the dead) and Loki (the gateway through which the dead travel).

H.R. Ellis Davidson suggests that some kind of ritual cannibalism may have accompanied Bronze Age cremation rituals. In “King Bjorn’s Howe” at Uppsala the burnt remains of a man were lying in a tree coffin inside a barrow, and outside the coffin were the unburnt bones of at least three adults. One of the human bones was split lengthwise as though to extract the marrow. The suggestion that these human sacrifices were eaten is strengthened by another discovery in Sweden in a peat bog. Two artificial pools which were originally enclosed with sharpened stakes were found to be holding the bones of many animals and at least four humans. Only parts of the larger animals were found, suggesting that the rest (including the humans) were consumed at a sacrificial meal. The human skeletons were not complete, and were mixed indiscriminately with the animal bones. Bronze Age rock engravings that were found near this site suggest that this ritual occurred in the same period.9

Though it may be coincidental, these findings sound eerily like the account in Hymiskviða and Gylfaginning, where Loki encourages the splitting of bones in order to extract marrow. If Loki has a connection to these funerary rites, then his association with cannibalism certainly would have tainted later opinions of his character.

Further evidence for Loki as a god of cremation lies within his compelling kenning “Gammleið”, meaning “vulture’s path”. There has very little explanation as to why the vulture, as apposed to any other kind of aerial creature, has been chosen in this kenning, especially since Loki typically takes the form of a fly or a falcon. I personally feel that vulture might be associated with Loki for the same reason we see it associated with Agni. Like the cremation fire, the vulture picks away the putrid and rotting flesh from pure, clean bone. This can be interpreted as the spirit being removed from the earthly flesh, releasing the soul of the dead from the physical world. It can also be interpreted as the ego being torn away from the “bare bones” of our being. In the Vedic fire ritual called the Agnicayana, an altar to Agni is constructed out of mud-bricks in the likeness of a bird of prey. This particular bird is credited with having carried fire to humans, and is the origin of the myth of the phoenix that cremates and resurrects itself.10 Because the altar-bird has a short tail and long, broad, un-tapered wings, Indologist Frits Staal (who extensively studied the Agnicayana in 1975) believes that the bird being depicted is a vulture, as this is the only kind of bird in existence with these specific physical characteristics.11 The Griffon Vulture is a likely candidate. It nests in Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia. the Vedic ritual of the Agnicayana includes the literal embodiment of Agni as fire. Remarkably, it is the world’s oldest surviving ritual.12 The Agnicayana lasts for twelve intensive days. Prior to this a wooden temple is built on the outdoor ritual site, and within it a large clay altar in the shape of a vulture in flight. Many offerings to the gods are burned on this altar, including animal sacrifices. During this portion of the ritual, a sacrificial pole is erected, to which is tied a he-goat that is later sacrificed to empower Agni.13 On the last day of the Agnicayana, the entire ritual structure is set on fire as the final offering to Agni, leaving no trace of what was once a quite large, wooden temple.

A similar practice of sacrificing a goat on a pole in honor of the star Sirius was recorded in Denmark by the Spanish Arab At-Tatuschi during the second half of the 900’s. Incidentally, the most famous landmark from heathen Scandinavia that bears Loki’s name isn’t a place, but a star: Sirius, the “Dog Star”, was known in Scandinavia as Lokabrenna (“Loki’s Torch”).14 Due to Loki’s association with Sirius, a travel account by the Spanish Arab At-Tatuschi may be relevant to the question of Loki’s worship. This story comes from the second half of the 900’s, when At-Tartschi was visiting Schleswig (Hedeby, Danmark).

Scheleswig (Hedeby) is a very large town at the extreme end of the world ocean. In its interior one finds fresh water sources. The inhabitants worship Sirius, except for a minority of Christians who have a church of their own there. They celebrate a feast at which all get together to honor their god and eat and drink. He who slaughters a sacrificial animal puts up poles at the door to his courtyard and impales the animal on them, be it a piece of cattle, a ram, billygoat or pig so that his neighbors will be aware that he is making a sacrifice in honor of his god.”15

If like Agni, Loki was also the recipient of the sacrifice of a goat tied to a pole, this may shed some light on the unusual story recorded in Skáldskaparmál in which Loki ties a goat to his genitals (I.e his “pole”) in order to make Skaði, the goddess of winter, laugh. The star Sirius rises on the horizon beginning around July 24th, so perhaps this ritual would have been enacted to honor the time when Sirius (Loki’s torch) would rise, bringing with it the full heat of summer to melt the remnants of winter, and this story was actually a dim memory of one of his own cult practices.

If my hypothesis is correct, this could also shed light on the Loki’s role as the messenger who carries gifts to the gods, as he does in Skáldskaparmál when he brings gifts to Óðinn, Þórr, and Freyr from the world of the dwarves. This could also explain, that while Loki may not have had an organized cult in the same way that Þórr or Óðinn did, he still has a prominent role in Norse cosmology. Loki, like Agni, may have been seen as the messenger/vehicle through which all of the gods received their sacrifices, as opposed to being strictly a solitary receiver of offerings in his own right.

Interpreting Loki as the personification of sacramental fire also leads to an interesting interpretation of his wife, Sigyn. In Þórsdrápa, Loki is given the kenning Farmr Arma Galdrs Hapts, meaning the arm-burden (husband) of the galdr fetter/deity (“fetter”, being a kenning for “god” or “goddess” in Skaldskarpamál)16. It is possible that the identification of the gods with fetters is related to a practice of the Semnones recorded by Tacitus:

Another form of reverence marks the grove as well: no one enters it unless bound with a chain, as an inferior being, outwardly acknowledging the power of the divinity. If they happen to fall down, they are not permitted to get up on their feet again: they roll out along the ground.”17

As the personage referred to in this latter kenning seems to be Sigyn, it implies that she was a goddess who was somehow connected to the art of galdr (i.e magical song). Rudolf Simek suggests that because Sigyn is named as Loki’s wife in Haustlöng (therefore, as early as the 9th century) she probably belonged to a Germanic pantheon of earlier times, where she was presumably worshiped as a goddess in her own right.18

Sigyn is most famously remembered for her role at the end of Lokasenna, which is also described in Gylfaginning and in Völuspá 35, where after Loki is bound, she holds a bowl over Loki to catch the venom that is dripping into his face. As with many aspects of Loki’s mythos, I have often wondered if the image of Sigyn holding a bowl over Loki once represented a religious practice, which was later transformed (or misinterpreted) as a story of agony and torment.

I have found an interesting parallel to Sigyn in Vedic mythology in the figure of Svāhā, wife of Agni. Svāhā is the goddess of libations, which are poured out over Agni’s flames to make offerings to the gods. In other words, Agni is the being who carries gifts to the gods, much like Loki himself does in Snorri’s account of the creation of Þórr’s hammer. Svāhā’s name (which means “offering” and “oblation”) is chanted by priests and housewives who cook the daily food as they throw oblations of ghee and rice into Agni’s flames as sacrifices to the gods.19 When viewed in this context, the role of a goddess who holds a bowl over her husband, the sacramental fire, takes on a very different light.

Sigyn’s name implies “victory”. When used in a ritual of oblation, it would have a similar meaning to that of Svāhā. Perhaps the magical songs (galdr) of which Sigyn seems to have been the goddess were actually songs of worship and praise which were sung while pouring offerings to the gods into Loki’s flames. It is therefore possible that the original image of Sigyn holding a bowl over Loki was actually intended to represent Sigyn pouring offerings onto her husband’s earthly manifestation. It may have been after the coming of Christianity that the liquid offerings dripping onto Loki came to be known as “poison”. By permanently binding Loki until the old gods meet their deaths, it’s possible that the Christian authors of this new story intended to block the doorway through which the old gods received their offerings and praise: in other words, starving them.

Aside from his role as the god’s gift-bringer, if we remember that Loki also may have been revealed to be the god of cremation in Snorri’s account of Þórr’s journey to Útgarðar, Loki’s role as the cremation fire could also lend additional meaning to his involvement in both the death of Baldr (at least according to Snorri) and the role he plays in Völuspá‘s vision of Ragnarök. Whether or not Loki should be considered directly responsible for Baldr’s death has been a hotly debated topic that exceeds the purposes of this article. In short, whether you are following Snorri’s account in Gylfaginning or that of Saxo in the Gesta Danorum, it is Hoðr that is actually responsible for Badr’s murder, and in Saxo’s account Loki isn’t even mentioned in relation to Baldr’s death. However, in Lokasenna we hear from Loki’s own lips, not that he murdered Baldr, but that he brought it about that Baldr would no longer return to his hall:

  1. And will you, Frigg, have me tell more
    of my harmful words;
    I am the reason it was determined
    you will never again see
    Baldr riding to his hall.

Taken in the context of Loki as the cremation fire, it could very well be that Loki meant this in the literal sense, as he (as the fire which burned Baldr’s ship) metaphorically separated Baldr from the world of the living:

Then Baldr’s body was carried out on to the ship, and when his wife Nanna Nep’s daughter saw this she collapsed with grief and died. She was carried on to the pyre and it was set fire to.”20

The same logic could be applied to Loki’s role in Ragnarök, when Loki rejoins the Muspilli on Naglfar, the ship of death (or in this case the cremation ship?), and sails forth to burn the world. Like the cremation fire which burns and purifies putrid flesh, Gammleið and his people consume the corpse of Miðgarðr in order to release it from its old structures and allow it to be born anew. Loki is thus the personification of the flames through which the world must be thrust before it can be purified and reborn. But if Loki originally had a prominent role in these funerary rituals, what would have led him to lose his status as a holy entity? More important, in a land where fire often meant the difference between life and death to the common man, why would a god of holy fire be completely demonized by its native people? Since Loki was a deity who I believe was originally responsible for carrying burnt sacrifices to the gods and freeing the souls of the dead via cremation, it is only natural that the Catholic Church would have found him particularly deplorable. The oldest scald to mention Loki was Þjóðólfr of Hvinir, the author of Haustlöng, which was composed sometime in the 9th century.21 At this time, Loki’s devious nature was only lightly touched upon. People only grew more hostile to his image during and after the Scandinavian conversions.

Though it may only be coincidental, it seems significant that during the establishment of Christianity in Europe in the 5th century, cremation was increasingly abandoned. Inhumation was necessary for the resurrection of the body promised to new converts of Christianity. The pagan rituals of burning bodily remains therefore gradually became viewed as heretical. In 789, the Emperor Charlemagne criminalized cremation in the European West, deeming burial to be the only proper Christian custom.22 Among the laws in Leges Saxonum, we find, “If someone cremates a dead person in a pagan rite, and reduces the bones to ashes, he gets the death penalty.”23

It is therefore possible that some of Loki’s demonization began at this time because he may have been the personification of cremation fire. Images of Loki as a giant bound until the god’s doomsday appear in Scandinavia long after the year 789 AD, and this has led me to wonder whether it was Loki or pagan rites of sacrifice and cremation these artists were attempting to bind.

This brings us to our final question: If my hypothesis is correct, where does this place Loki in the context of modern Heathen ritual? In my own practice, this has meant acknowledging Loki’s presence in any sacramental fire used during blót, particularly when fire is used as the vehicle through which the gods receive their sacrifice. A worshipper with close ties to Loki may be asked to create the sacramental fire in his name, which will represent his physical presence on earth as well as the gateway through which the gods will receive their offerings. Sigyn, like Svāhā,, is invoked when these offerings are made and prayers are said for the victory of the gods, the ancestors, and the worshippers. A woman of power may be seen as the embodiment of Sigyn during this ritual, who physically pours or places offerings to the gods into Loki’s flames.

Returning Loki to the function of sacramental fire not only helps to return him to a functional position within his own pantheon, but also helps to rebuild a vital aspect of Heathen worship which has yet to be explored with great depth: that of burnt-offerings. Veistu, hvé senda skal? Do you know how to send?


Snorri Sturluson. Edda. Tr. Anthony Faulkes. Everyman, 1995

Snorri Sturluson. Heimskringla or The Lives of the Norse Kings. Tr. A.H. Smith. Dover Publications, Inc., NY, 1990

Tacitus. Agricola and Germany. Tr. Birley, A.R. Oxford University Press, 2009

The Kalevala: or, Poems of the Kaleva District. Tr. Francis Peabody Magoun Jr., Ed. Elias Lönnrot. Harvard University Press, 1963

Consulate General of Denmark in New York. Factsheet. (accesssed April 25, 2001)

James Chisholm, Grove and Gallows: Greek and Latin Sources for Germanic Heathenism. Runa-Raven Press, TX, 2002

E.O.G. Turville-Petre. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. Greenwood Press, CT, 1975

Douglas J. Davies. Encyclopedia of Cremation. Ed. Davies, Douglas J. and Mates, Lewis H. Ashgate Publishing, VT, 2006

Jan de Vries. The Problem of Loki. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Kirjapainon o.y, Helsinki, 1933

Jacob Grimm. Teutonic Mythology: Volume One. Tr. Stallybrass, James Steven. Dover Publications, Inc., NY, 1966

Jacob Grimm. Teutonic Mythology: Volume Two. Tr. Stallybrass, James Steven. Dover Publications, Inc., NY, 1966

Rudolf Simek. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S Brewer, Cambridge, 2007

Axel Olrik. Loke in Younger Tradition. Tr. Eli Anker. Saertryk af Danske Studier 1909.

H.R. Ellis Davidson. The Road to Hel. Greenwood Press, NY, 1968

H.R. Ellis Davidson. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin Books, 1990

Dumezil, Georges. Archaic Roman Religion: Volume One. Tr. Philip Krapp. The University of Chicago Press, 1970

Frits Staal. Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, Volume One. Motilal Banassidass Publishers, Delhi, 1983

Frits Staal. Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, Volume Two. Motilal Banassidass Publishers, Delhi, 1983

Wolf-Dieter Storl. Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy. Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT, 2004

Sacred Writings vol. 5. Hinduism: The Rig Veda. Tr. Griffith, Ralph T.H. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers PVT. LTD. Quality Paperback Book Club edition, 1992

Anderson, Gunnar. Among trees, bones, and stones: The sacred grove at Lunda. “Old Norse Religion in Long Term Perspectives: origins, changes, and interactions”. Ed. Andrén, Anders, Jennbert, Kristina and Raudvere, Catharina. Nordic Academic Press, 2006

All translations of stanzas from the Elder Edda by Dagulf Loptson.

1 Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. Tr. Faulkes, Anthony. 45

2 Staal, Frits. Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, Volume One. 84

3 Davidson, H.R. Ellis. The Road to Hel. 9-12

4 Ibid, 9-12

5 Storl, Wolf-Dieter. Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy. 178

6 Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. 228

7 Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. 142

8 Sturluson, Snorri. Heimskringla or The Lives of the Norse Kings. 6

9 41. Davidson, H.R. Ellis. The Road to Hel. 14-15

10 Staal, Frits. Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, Volume One. 86

11 Ibid, 89-90

12 Ibid, 89-90

13 Staal, Frits, Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, Volume One

14 Grimm, Jacob. Teutonic Mythology: Volume One. 242

15 Consulate General of Denmark in New York. Factsheet.

16 Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. Tr. Faulkes, Anthony. 88

17 Tacitus. Agricola and Germany. 57

18 Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. 284

19 Storl, Wolf-Dieter. Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy. 155-156

20 Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. Tr. Faulkes, Anthony. 49

21 Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North. 126

22 Davies, Douglas J. Encyclopedia of Cremation. Ed. Davies, Douglas J. and Mates, Lewis H. (Ashgate Publishing, VT, 2006) xvii

23 Chisholm, James. Grove and Gallows, 53

A New Place for Loki, Part I

In stanza 144 of Hávamál, the speaker asks the reader about their knowledge regarding a series of religious ritual steps. The seventh question, “Veistu, hvé senda skal?” (do you know how to send?), which comes right after “Veistu, hvé blóta skal?” (do you know how to sacrifice?) is the topic of this article. The word “senda” in Old Norse means to send something somewhere, sometimes in the context of sending a gift. Its place in the series of questions in stanza 144 suggests, that after something (whether an animal, an object, or a human) has been sacrificed to the gods, the next logical step is to send that gift to the gods. But how does one go about doing that? What is needed to send a sacrifice into the liminal world of thea gods? For the Old Norse people, there seem to have been two primary vehicles: Water (as reflected in the many widespread bog-finds) and Fire. It is the second of these which I believe holds the key to understanding Loki’s function in Old Norse religion, and reveals the constructive role he could be playing in modern Heathen ritual today.

Before I continue, it is important to make a distinction between the sacramental fire I will be speaking about vs mundane fire. In many ancient societies (those of Scandinavia included) there was more than one “species” of fire. The wildfire was not the same entity as the hearth fire or the fire that healed. Just as certain bodies of water and earthly locations were held in high esteem, some fires were holier than others. For example, Grimm describes a ritual which was enacted to create a very specific kind of fire in Germany called the “need fire”. In the ritual of the need-fire, every fire in the village must first be extinguished. Then a flame is kindled by drilling with a wooden roller, and sick cattle and horses are driven through the resulting fire three times in order to cure their illnesses.1 This demonstrates that different kinds of fire with different functions existed in the Germanic world.

In Old Norse literature and archeology, there seems to have been at least three major functions for sacramental fire: purification (as when fire is carried around the perimeter of a new land to purify it in Lándamabók), cremation (as demonstrated in Baldr’s funeral as described in Gylfaginning), and the sending of sacrifices to the gods as burnt offerings. Though the latter has very little evidence in the way of literature, there is a great deal of archeological evidence to suggest that burnt offerings were conducted in the Old Nordic/Germanic religion:

“Burnt offerings in Old Norse religion are a kind of ritual activity that – as far I know – practically unknown in the literary sources. We know very little about whether they were practiced at all, or if so, in what forms. In the archaeological sources, however, the (sometimes) vast systems of hearths that occur, mostly in southern Scandinavia and in continental Europe as well, have been interpreted as remains of cremation offerings. Sometimes these hearth systems are located on conspicuous hilltops or even mountains and the burnt bones that they contain are usually from cattle, sheep/goats and pigs.”2

In Vedic religion (the Indo-European cousin of the traditions of Germany and Scandinavia) sacramental fire is also used in rituals of sacrifice, purification, and cremation and is personified by the god Agni, who is both the messenger of the gods, and symbolically is the “mouth” through which the gods receive their sacrificial offerings:


  1. AGNI, well-kindled, bring the Gods for him

who offers holy gifts.

Worship them, Purifier, Priest.

  1. Son of Thyself, present, O Sage,

our sacrifice to the gods today.

Sweet to the taste that they may feast.

  1. Dear Narasamsa, sweet of tongue, the giver of oblations,

I invoke to this our sacrifice…”3

He is also the fire of cremation that carries the dead to the world of the gods. A closer look at Loki’s mythos reveals a function that mirrors that of Agni in the Vedic tradition, and not only clarifies Loki’s position in the Norse cosmos but also gives larger meaning to pre-Christian Norse fire rituals. But before Loki’s position as the personified sacramental fire can be defended, I first have to make a case for Loki’s association with fire in surviving Norse literature.

Loki as a Fire God

Because there is no primary source that places Loki directly in the role of a fire god, there has been a lot of speculation as to whether this was truly one of his original functions. Many people have discounted this as a possibility entirely, and some scholars barely broach the subject in their studies of Loki. However, there are still many sources which point to Loki’s fiery nature, and when viewed together they greatly strengthen the hypothesis that he is a god associated with fire.

In Völuspá, there are a few stanzas that suggest that Loki may be directly related to the Muspilli: the word now commonly used to describe fire-giants from the world of Múspellheimr, which Snorri describes as a world that is guarded by a fiery being named Surtr (“black”). It is possible that the word “Múspell” was borrowed from continental Germany by the Scandinavians, as “Muspilli” is the title of an Old High German poem from the late 9th Century, and is the name for the Christian end of the world by fire.4 Turville-Petre speculates that it was borrowed and misunderstood by the Scandinavians to mean that it was the name of a fire-demon who would destroy the world.5 “Múspell” is the owner of the ship Naglfar (“nail ship”) and his children are known only as “Múspell’s sons”. However, rather than being a literal personage, “Múspell” could just as easily mean something like “fiery destruction”. Múspellheimr would therefore be the world of fiery destruction, and the “sons of Múspell” are the sons of that world. According to Snorri, come Ragnarök , Surtr will be at the front of the advance against Ásgarðr.

Amid this turmoil the sky will open and from it will ride the sons of Muspell. Surt will ride in front, and both before and behind him there will be burning fire. His sword will be very fine. Light will shine from it more brightly than from the sun. And when they ride over Bifrost it will break, as was said above. Muspell’s lads will advance to the field called Vigrid.6

Snorri also tells us that Surtr is a being who is stationed at the border of Múspellheimr in order to defend it, and seems to be Múspellheimr’s guardian:

There is one called Surt that is stationed there at the frontier to defend the land. He has a flaming sword and at the end of the world he will go and wage war and defeat all the gods and burn the whole world with fire.7

This obviously bears some resemblance to stanza 3:24 of Genesis, in which an angel with a flaming sword guards the gates to paradise, and it’s hard to say whether Surtr guarding Múspellheimr with his fiery sword is a late invention or not.

In Völuspá, there is more than one stanza in which Loki seems to be counted among the Muspilli, and even more significantly as a high ranking force therein. Though Snorri places Surtr at the front of Múspellheimr’s attack, Völuspá names Loki as the captain of Naglfar (the ship which Snorri states is owned by Múspell) who actually leads the fire-giants (including Surtr) from Múspellheimr.

51. A longship ferries from the East,
Muspell’s people are coming
over the waves and Loki steers;
Sons of the giant fare forth
with all of the devourers, [kenning for fire?]
the brother of Býleist travels with them.

The fact that Loki sails the Muspilli to Ásgarðr from Múspellheimr suggests that he himself should be counted as a fire-giant; for according to Snorri, only someone who is native to Múspellheimr is able to enter this world without perishing, which Loki obviously doesn’t since he steers Naglfar from this fiery world.

Then spoke Third. “But first there was the world in the southern region called Muspell. It is bright and hot. That area is flaming and burning and it is impassable for those that are foreigners there and are not native to it.”8

Though many people have presumed Surtr to be the “king” of Múspellheimr, this is never explicitly stated in any source. Rather, the evidence presented by Snorri andVöluspá point to Surtr as the guardian of Múspellheimr, but not necessarily its ruler. As Loki is the only being who is actually described as leading the Muspilli, it is possible that it is Loki, not Surtr, who might be regarded as their leader. Rudolf Simek also tentatively makes this observation.

Loki will be the helmsman of the ship Naglfar according to Völuspá 51 and with this ship the powers of Muspell will cross the sea. It is not certain whether because of this Loki should be seen as their leader.”9

The idea that Loki could be considered Múspellheimr’s ruler may shed some light on Óðinn’s pact of blood-brotherhood with him. Perhaps this bond was not a simple blending of blood between friends, but a blood truce between kings. Njörðr has often been viewed as a king within Vanaheimr, while his son Freyr is the king of Álfheimr. Both of these individuals are brought to live in Ásgarðr as hostages in order to keep peace between their nations. Identifying Loki as a hostage king of Múspellheimr may explain his presence in Asgard, as the Muspilli demonstrate no threat to Ásgarðr until after Loki and his children have been imprisoned, thus breaking the truce between the two nations.

A further connection between Loki and the giants of Múspellheimr can be found in the Eddic poem Svipdagsmál. This story makes mention of a mysterious figure named Sinmara (“pale nightmare”), who is generally believed to be Surtr’s wife. In the course of this poem, Svipdagr asks the giant Fjölsviðr what weapon can kill the rooster Víðófnir who resides in Ásgarðr. Fjölsviðr responds,

26. Lævatein it is called,
and Loptr, knowledgeable in runes, forged it
before Nágrind [the gate of the dead] below;
In an iron chest Sinmara keeps it
and holds it with nine strong locks.

The name of the sword which Loki forges in Helheimr, Lævateinn, literally translates to “damage twig”, which itself is actually a kenning for sword and may not actually be the sword’s name. The fact that Sinmara guards the sword for Loki is interesting, and one might suppose that as she is the guardian of Loki’s sword, her husband Surtr is the guardian of Loki’s realm while he is away in Ásgarðr.

Further evidence for Loki’s power over fire is found in Lokasenna. Once Þórr has sufficiently threatened Loki into leaving Ægir’s hall, at the end of the poem, Loki leaves Ægir with a curse.

65. Ale you brewed, Ægir,
but never again will you hold sumbl;
All of your possessions, that are inside here,
fire will play upon it
and burn you from behind!”

This would be a rather strange curse for Loki to pronounce if he had nothing to do with fire at all, and as Völuspá and Svipdagsmál both imply, many poets of the elder Edda indicate an association between Loki and fire.

Other evidence for Loki as a fire god must be sought outside the elder Edda, and can sometimes be found in the scattered remains from other Indo-European cultures. At both the end of Lokasenna and in Gylfaginning, there is a story in which Loki transforms himself into a salmon in order to escape the wrath of the Æsir; and it is while he is in this form that they eventually capture him. In Snorri’s account, Loki invented a fishing net and burned it when he thought he was about to be discovered. The gods used the pattern of the ashes left behind to make a new net.

After that they went and made themselves a net just like what they saw in the ashes that Loki had made. And when the net was finished the Aesir went to the river and threw the net into the waterfall.”10

When Loki tries to jump over the net and escape, it is Þórr who eventually captures him.

Though it may be tempting to attach an aquatic symbolism to Loki’s salmon form, there are other Indo-European sources which argue otherwise. The 48th magic song from Finnish Kalevala bears a strong resemblance to Snorri’s account, and describes a fish as the vessel for the fire which Ukko (the sky god) lost. Väinämöinen (the hero of the Kalevala) and the people of the Kaleva District join forces to catch the fire-fish, making a flax net in order to capture it. Once captured, the spark escapes and starts to wreck havoc on the landscape. Väinämöinen finally convinces the fire to calm down and come with him to bring fire to the homes of the people, transporting it on a piece of birch bark. Like Loki and Agni (the Vedic personification of sacramental fire), the fire must be captured from the water in which it was hiding in order to become useful to the people again. 11

De Vries suggests that the red color of the salmon may have led to the idea that it is a fish that holds fire, and also points out that there is a Native American legend in which fire is extracted from a red salmon.12 Tales of the salmon as a fiery creature also are found in the Celtic regions. In Ireland, there is a story of a salmon that ate nine hazelnuts that had fallen into the well of wisdom in which it dwelled. It was said that whoever ate the salmon would ingest all of the knowledge in the world. The poet Finn Eces captured the salmon, and instructed his apprentice Fionn mac Cumhaill to cook it for him. As Fionn was cooking the salmon, his thumb was spattered by some of its hot oil. He put his thumb in his mouth to soothe it, and inadvertently swallowed all of the knowledge that the salmon held. In this story, not only are the salmon and fire dimly connected, but so is the Celtic conception that fire is symbolic of knowledge.

Tales of fire trying to hide in water aren’t unique to Europe, and are also found in Vedic mythology. The Vedas tell how fire (Agni) constantly withdraws from men, goes into hiding in water, plants, or other elements, and must be repeatedly recaptured. It is said that Agni has a great fear of death, as his elder brothers had succumbed or disappeared under the weight of their sacrificial function. Agni flees and takes refuge in the water, and the gods must lure him back into sacrificial service by promising him a share of the sacrifice and immortality.13 This clearly resembles Snorri’s tale of the gods having to capture Loki from a river, and also dimly echoes the story in which Loki recaptures Iðunn and restores immortality to the gods.

That Loki should be the inventor of the fish net is also significant, in that this accomplishment is also attributed to other Indo-European fire gods. In Greece, the smith god Hephaestus is credited with inventing the fishing net, with which he captures his wife Aphrodite and Ares in an act of adultery. In Rome, a strange sacrifice was offered to Volcanus, the god of destructive fire. In these sacrifices, the violent opposition between fire and water (possibly also exemplified by Loki and Heimdallr) was expressed through an offering of small live fishes, (in place of human souls) which were thrown into Volcanus’s fire at his temple at the Volcanal14. In India, Agni is also known as the enemy of fish, and as inventor of the fish net Loki himself is an obvious enemy of fish. It is also worth mentioning that the name which Snorri gives to the thong Brokkr uses to sew Loki’s mouth shut (Vatari) is a name for “fish” in the Þulur.15

Aside from this literary evidence, There is a small piece of archeological evidence from around the year 1000 CE, now called the Snaptun Stone, which may be further evidence of Loki’s fiery nature. This somewhat famous image (which has generally been accepted to be Loki) was carved onto a soapstone bellows-guard found on a beach in Jutland, Denmark. The figure has a series of gashes across his lips, and is believe to portray Loki, after his lips had been sewn shut by the dwarf smith Brokkr.

A bellows-guard such as this would have been used to shield a bellows from the heat of the forge, and it’s possible that Snaptun Stone’s creator may have been attempting to enlist Loki’s help in transforming and shaping their metals with his fire, and in this way Loki would have borne a resemblance to another Indo-European forge and fire deity: Hephaestus. As Loki forges a sword in Svipdagsmál, perhaps he once had a stronger association with forges then surviving evidence about him implies.

In addition to the pagan customs surrounding fire that parallel Loki’s lore, we also have post-conversion folk sayings about an entity named Loki or Lokke in Scandinavia. Axel Olrik remarks that many of these traditions support the picture of Loki we have from the Eddas, and it is notable that many of them present him as a being of light and fire.16 Just as the faery gods of Ireland were made the harmless and diminutive “little people”after the Christian conversion, perhaps Loki received similar treatment post-conversion and was transformed into a smaller entity within Scandinavian folk culture. The following is a list of fire-related folk sayings organized according to the region in which Olrik collected them. It should be noted that far from supporting the malicious figure that Loki becomes in Völuspá and consequently at the end of Gylfaginning, these whimsical and even affectionate images of Loki reveal that in the minds of the common people of Scandinavia, Loki was still considered a mostly harmless (albeit somewhat annoying) entity.


Lokke is reaping his oats” Refers to air shimmering with heat or flickering lights.

Lokke drives his goats” Describes the same phenomena.

Lokke the playing man” Describes the sun glimmering off water and creating flickering lights.

Loke drinks water” When sunbeams break through clouds and touch the land or sea.

Lokke watches his goat herd” When heat flutters from the ground like leaping goats.

Sweden and Norway:

Lokje beats his children” When the hearth fire makes a loud, cracking noise.

People in Tlemarken throw the skin from boiled milk into the hearth fire as a sacrifice to Lokje.

In Sweden, a child who loses a tooth throws it into the fire and says: “Locke, give me a bone-tooth for a gold-tooth”.


Lokadaun” or “Lokalykt” Used to refer to a sulfurous odor.

Lokabrenna” Refers to the heat of summer.

Iceland’s association with Loki and the odor of sulfur is extremely relevant to the famous Icelandic hot springs, which actually do smell strongly of sulfur. Icelanders may very well have associated Loki with the fire under the earth that heats the hot springs, as
Völuspá places Loki “under the hvera lundi”, sometimes translated as “cauldron-grove” (I.e the hotsprings):

  1. She saw lying captive under the cauldron groves,
    yearning to do harm,
    someone similar in shape to Loki.

It seems apparent that some memory of Loki as a fiery entity survived in Scandinavia, and this may reflect opinions of him that were held at an earlier time.

Stay tuned for Part II!


Snorri Sturluson. Edda. Tr. Anthony Faulkes. Everyman, 1995

Snorri Sturluson. Heimskringla or The Lives of the Norse Kings. Tr. A.H. Smith. Dover Publications, Inc., NY, 1990

Tacitus. Agricola and Germany. Tr. Birley, A.R. Oxford University Press, 2009

The Kalevala: or, Poems of the Kaleva District. Tr. Francis Peabody Magoun Jr., Ed. Elias Lönnrot. Harvard University Press, 1963

Consulate General of Denmark in New York. Factsheet. (accesssed April 25, 2001)

James Chisholm, Grove and Gallows: Greek and Latin Sources for Germanic Heathenism. Runa-Raven Press, TX, 2002

E.O.G. Turville-Petre. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. Greenwood Press, CT, 1975

Douglas J. Davies. Encyclopedia of Cremation. Ed. Davies, Douglas J. and Mates, Lewis H. Ashgate Publishing, VT, 2006

Jan de Vries. The Problem of Loki. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Kirjapainon o.y, Helsinki, 1933

Jacob Grimm. Teutonic Mythology: Volume One. Tr. Stallybrass, James Steven. Dover Publications, Inc., NY, 1966

Jacob Grimm. Teutonic Mythology: Volume Two. Tr. Stallybrass, James Steven. Dover Publications, Inc., NY, 1966

Rudolf Simek. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S Brewer, Cambridge, 2007

Axel Olrik. Loke in Younger Tradition. Tr. Eli Anker. Saertryk af Danske Studier 1909.

H.R. Ellis Davidson. The Road to Hel. Greenwood Press, NY, 1968

H.R. Ellis Davidson. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin Books, 1990

Dumezil, Georges. Archaic Roman Religion: Volume One. Tr. Philip Krapp. The University of Chicago Press, 1970

Frits Staal. Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, Volume One. Motilal Banassidass Publishers, Delhi, 1983

Frits Staal. Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, Volume Two. Motilal Banassidass Publishers, Delhi, 1983

Wolf-Dieter Storl. Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy. Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT, 2004

Sacred Writings vol. 5. Hinduism: The Rig Veda. Tr. Griffith, Ralph T.H. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers PVT. LTD. Quality Paperback Book Club edition, 1992

Anderson, Gunnar. Among trees, bones, and stones: The sacred grove at Lunda. “Old Norse Religion in Long Term Perspectives: origins, changes, and interactions”. Ed. Andrén, Anders, Jennbert, Kristina and Raudvere, Catharina. Nordic Academic Press, 2006

All translations of stanzas from the Elder Edda by Dagulf Loptson.

1 Grimm, Jacob. Teutonic Mythology: Volume Two. 604

2 Anderson, Gunnar. Among trees, bones, and stones: The sacred grove at Lunda. Old Norse Religion in Long Term Perspectives: origins, changes, and interactions. 197

3 Tr. Griffith, Ralph T.H. Sacred Writings Volume 5. Hinduism: The Rig Veda. 7

4 Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. 224

5 Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North. 284

6 Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. Tr. Faulkes, Anthony. 53-54

7 Ibid, 9

8 Ibid, 9

9 Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology, 223

10 Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. Tr. Faulkes, Anthony 51

11 Kalevala: the Epic Poem of Finland – Volume 02. Ed. Lönnrot, Elias. Tr. Crawford, John Martin. (Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, 2003-2010. Web)

12 De Vries, Jan. The Problem of Loki. (Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Kirjapainon o.y, Helsinki, 1933) 156

13 Staal, Frits, Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, Volume Two. (Motilal Banassidass Publishers, Delhi 1983) 77-78

14 Dumezil, Georges. Archaic Roman Religion: Volume One. Tr. Philip Krapp. (The University of Chicago Press, 1970) 321

15 19. Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. 353

16 Olrik, Axel. Loke in Younger Tradition.