Schrödinger’s God

loki-meme

A colleague posted this image on facebook and it got me thinking and I’m going to share some of those thoughts with you now. The statement in the image implies that since at some point Loki was bound, He cannot now be an active part of the pantheon. The corollary to that of course calls into question the integrity and veracity of those who claim devotion to Him. That’s what this meme is clearly stating.

Loki is a polarizing figure in contemporary Norse and Germanic traditions. Some denominations venerate Him, some don’t, some excoriate Him, and some will pour out offerings to Him when Odin is given offerings but only because of a single line from the Lokasenna.(1) They pour them out, but they don’t like it. I think it fair to say that no other commonly recognized God evokes such strong feelings (one way or another) as this one. (2)

Assuming however, that because Loki was once bound, that He is always bound, or that in being bound, He loses His capacity to act in our world is a bit problematic from a theological point of view. It makes for nice apologetics for those who detest His veneration and want an excuse to mock those who hold Him dear, but theologically it doesn’t quite hold up.

Firstly, to make the assumption described in the photo is to assume that the Gods are bound by substance, corporeality, and temporality in exactly the same way that we as human beings are bound.(3) We know that the Gods are outside of these things because They created them, existing before these substantive things ever were. This is all the more so if Loki and Loðúrr are indeed the same Being. While not all Gods may have been involved in that particular moment of fixing the materiality (and by extension temporality) of the worlds, there are Three Who were: Odin, Vili, and Vé or Odin, Hoenir, and Loðúrr, the latter of Whom I hold with the skalds to be Loki. If temporality then has no hold on Them, in the way that it does for us as human beings, if Their nature as Holy Powers is by necessity different from ours (which I’m going to assume for sake of this discussion it is. If you want a proof, I can play Anselm later), then it follows that Loki, like Schrödinger’s Cat can be at once bound and unbound. Time would not be a mitigating factor here.

That is the key to something called ‘mythic time.’ Perhaps part of Loki is always bound as part of Odin is always hanging on Yggdrasil –but here we veer into the realm of Mystery. He is bound and not bound. Loki devotee Kenaz Filan says, “For me the binding of Loki is one of the greatest sacred Mysteries of our cultus, and Sigyn’s loyalty to Her spouse one of the greatest examples of piety the Nine Worlds has ever seen. It’s not something to be joked about.” (4)

In the Eddas, Snorri, writing as a Christian two centuries after conversion carefully euhemerized the Gods. In other words, he presented the stories he was telling as though the main figure, the Gods, were at one ancient time, people. He stripped the sacred from our tales because he was not Heathen. He was writing a guide for poets who were, having been Christian for two hundred years, forgetting the meaning of the various kennings employed in Norse poetry. He was not a devout man and though we owe him a debt for preserving what he did, it would have been better had we never been exposed to Christianity in the first place. We have fragments of what was once invariably complex and nuanced body of regional practices. Snorri reduced our Gods to human. Why are we so eager to do the same? Mythic time is not our time. The Gods are not people.(5)

Nor are our stories morality plays. So much of medieval Christian literature served as morality plays for the listeners, readers, or viewers. That is not the case with our sacred stories. They were never intended to be taken as a guide to life or to inculcate values.(6) They were intended to teach us something about the Gods. They were keys to the Mysteries of the Gods.

Loki is, whether some Heathens like it or not, a key figure in our cosmology. He is a catalyst – the enemy of entropy. He is a helper to the Gods, essential in acquiring for Them Their primary attributes (Odin’s spear, Thor’s hammer, Freyr’s boat, etc.). If He is indeed, as the skalds maintain, Loðúrr, then He likewise has a powerful cosmological role in re-ifying creation within our mythos again and again and again. He carries the holy, the numinous into our world and along the rainbow bridge to all the worlds, traveling with Thor, Protector of Midgard. Given the strength with which His cultus has grown over the past decade, across denominations, even across religious boundaries, it may be that the question of whether or not He is still bound, is effectively moot. Res ipsa loquitur.

Notes:

  1. Lokasenna, stanza 9.
  2. To the point that some Heathens even question whether or not He is a God. The most common refrain along this line of thinking is “He’s nowhere called a God, He’s a Jotun!” Actually, for those who need a reference from the surviving skaldic materials, Loki is actually referred as ‘Ás’ in Gylfaginning, chapter 20. (The cry then goes up from some Heathens, ‘well, Snorri didn’t mean that!” And thus interpreting out of the material all the inconvenient facts that would make your religion something other than polytheistic Protestantism begins. * sarcasm *) Ás of course, refers to a member of the dominant pantheon of the Norse, the Aesir. We could say that it means ‘god’ but that’s not exactly its primary translation (there are other words in Old Norse that one could use for that). It implies one of the holy Powers, specifically one associated in some way with the Aesir, that tribe of Gods responsible for ordering the cosmos.

Of course the question of the difference between a Jotun and a God is a curious one. The Jotnar were the primal divine race. Until the moment Odin and His brothers decided to create the worlds, the beings that sprang from Ymir’s body were Jotnar. At no point in the surviving creation story is there a single moment where suddenly some of them are transformed from Jotun to Ás’…unless it be the moment that Odin and His brothers (of Whom Loki may be one – more on that in a moment) decided to slaughter Their ancient kinsman Ymir to create the worlds. That is the only defining period in the creation epic where differentiation occurs. Suddenly these three Gods Odin (frenzy), Vili (conscious will or desire) and Vé (the numinous, the holy) decide to act in a way that transforms everything that comes after. If ‘Aesir’ refers specifically to a clan of Powers focused in some way on creating and maintaining cosmic order (and there’s enough in the surviving myths that scholars like Dumezil certainly thought so), then membership into this clan might be somewhat mutable (all Aesir having begun as Jotnar perhaps?) and we likewise know that there are other clans of Gods like the Vanir, Whose cosmological focus is different. One wonders at the mutability of membership in these divine clans.

In the creation story, Vili and Vé are sometimes called Hoenir and Loðúrr. The identification of Loki with Loðúrr is not universally accepted but there is skaldic evidence. As Dagulf Loptson notes in his article here:


Völuspá 18


Þrymlur I-III 21

“The identification of Loki as Loðúrr is one that has been highly debated, though in reality becomes perfectly blatant if one reads the Icelandic rímr, which are epic ballads from the 14th century. One of these ballads, Þrymlur (which was written roughly between CE 1300-1400) follows the same basic storyline as Þrymskviða. Both stories are an account of how Þórr’s hammer Mjöllnir was stolen by the giant Þrymr, who demands Freyja as his bride in exchange for it. Þórr is then persuaded to disguise himself as Freyja in order to reclaim his hammer, and Loki accompanies him disguised as his bridesmaid. In the Þrymlur account of the story, Loki is directly referred to by Þrymr as “Lóður” when he comes to visit him.”

  1. It is also to assume that we possess the full canon of sacred stories. We know that we do not. We likewise know that the stories we do possess were, to one degree or another, Christianized. This has been an ongoing problem within Heathenry. Because most of us grow up in religions bound by “scripture,” I think there’s an instinctive desire to have the same type of written authority and written legitimacy in our polytheisms. It doesn’t work that way though and for our ancestors never worked that way. One may use the lore to provide something of a scaffolding for one’s practice, to keep one from going off the rails (see here or here) but to assign it the authority of the Bible or Koran is stupid, anachronistic, and ultimately deleterious to the traditions. It is a source of information, information that must be carefully picked apart and analyzed. It is not the word of the Gods.
  2. We don’t, I think, see the Gods interfering with and specifically undoing the work of another God. That would be a violation of Their sphere of influence, a breach of cosmic order. The question may be thus raised of how much of Loki’s power to act is bound when He undergoes this ordeal, as well as for how long. In Greek mythos we have one story of Apollo violating cosmic order to avenge His son. He is banished and has to serve a mortal for a specific period of time. The banishment and service is temporary however which raises the question of the imbalance that might be created by permanently binding a God’s power, as well as the question of whether or not such a thing is even possible for the Gods to do.
  3. To reify Snorri is the equivalent of treating some fanfiction on tumblr authored by someone who can’t tell the difference between a marvel character and a Norse God as scripture; or let me correct that, perhaps it’s better to say the equivalent of treating Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” as scripture since Snorri did , unlike most on tumblr, have talent.
  4. Almost without exception in polytheistic cultures that role was taken by philosophy. We don’t know what type of philosophies the Northlands would have developed, had they been left unmolested by Christianity. But we do have the examples of Greece and Rome, as well as the Celts with their Druidic class, not to mention Indian traditions, that point to a differentiation between religion which is about relating to the Gods, and wisdom traditions like philosophy which are about developing oneself as decent human beings. There’s no reason to think that the Norse, amongst all the extant IE traditions, would have differed in this regard.

 

 

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Posted on February 22, 2017, in Heathenry, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Another one I’ve heard: Loki is bound and cannot communicate with His devotees — yet paying homage to Loki is dangerous and bad things happen when you invite Him into your life. So which is it? Is Loki bound till Ragnarok or is He free? I happen to agree with your assessment: Loki is not bound by time in the same manner we are. But I’ve noticed his detractors have turned him into a Satan figure, a Shadow to which every evil thing is attributed and which all insults are true even if mutually contradictory.

    Whatever feelings our ancestors might have had about evil Wights, they didn’t go out of their way to mock them. They were far more likely to leave those names unspoken. To mock Angrboda was to risk drawing the Mother of Death’s attention: to piss on Surt’s volcano was to challenge Surt’s authority. (And if anyone is thinking “I have the Gods to protect me:” remember all those times when Odin stepped in to save somebody whose mouth wrote a check his ass couldn’t cash? Me neither). I’m not entirely sure what the person who created this meme, or those who repost it, are hoping to accomplish. If you believe in the Powers, then you presumably believe in their adversaries and understand that the opponents of Gods are dangerous to man. And if you don’t believe in their adversaries I have to wonder how much credence you place in tales of Gods.

    Liked by 3 people

    • i have to say, i’ve never known the Gods to step in when it was our own impiety that got us into a fix. I could be wrong. There could be examples, but I ‘ve neither read nor seen them.

      and your first paragraph, really highlights the fundamental lack of logic inherent in the fundamentalist Christians er…i mean Heathen’s perspective.

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  2. Then there is “the Lore.” That term presupposes first some kind of universally accepted pantheon across northern Europe, which was of course not the case. (IIRC the Germanic tribes held Tyr, not Odin, to be King of the Gods while in Denmark that offices was held by the Lord Ing and his sister/wife the Lady, otherwise known as Freyr and Freyja). When most American Heathens say “the Lore” they mean Snorri Sturluson. Which means that they privilege the account of a 12th/13th century Icelandic Christian and treat it as Gospel even though Sturluson never intended it for that use. I get why they do it: Sturluson is one of the best surviving sources we have for those myths and stories and they really want and need that link to their ancestral traditions. And of course Monotheism has always privileged “religions of the Book” and many take for granted that any religion worth its salt has sacred scriptures.

    The problem is that our ancestors had no sacred scriptures. They had traditional ways of serving the Gods passed down orally within the family and the community: most of those, unfortunately, are probably irrevocably lost. But those Gods are still here and we can still reach out to Them. Sturluson is important insofar as he helps us toward that goal. History and academic study is important insofar as it helps us better understand what those Gods meant to our ancestors. But in the end our ancestors didn’t worship History or Tradition or Study, they worshipped Gods. And if we’re going to follow in their footsteps we have to do the same.

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  3. thetinfoilhatsociety

    I think it’s because of the baggage that many of those who worship Loki bring to the heathen table. Psych issues that stem at their core from pure selfishness, lack of maturity and failure to take responsibility is one thing that I can point to in many Loki worshippers that I am familiar with. Endless whining about how the world is evil, the govt is evil, the police are evil, life is unfair, poor me, etc…without ever once taking any responsibility whatsoever to make any of it better. Oh, and the drug use that those I am familiar with indulge in to their own destruction. Meth is not a pretty thing. Neither is self medication with oxycodone. OR marijuana when it’s to the extreme.

    And yes, I’ve lost friendly acquaintances who were Loki worshippers over JUST THESE THINGS. What could have become friendship was lost over pure immaturity, selfishness, and lack of responsibility.

    What Loki may have been at one time is in large part lost. I do think Loki brings uncomfortable truths to those who don’t want to hear them, he punctures hubris (IE Lokasenna for example). I also think that what he’s become to many who worship him now is a travesty and a huge disservice. Maybe if I knew more mature, thoughtful, productive members of society who were Loki worshippers, in the flesh, I would think differently.

    I’m quite of two minds about Loki worship.

    Liked by 1 person

    • when i want a model for a contemporary devotee of Loki, I look to my adopted mom. I do not look at the trash coming out of tumblr, etc. There are many passionate, very devout contemporary devotees…and then there are those who can’t tell fiction from religion, the sock puppets in their heads from Gods, and tv from reality. ymmv. i think the confused stand out more in our communities, because A) our communities are small and B) we are more dependent on social media for connection (given how geographically spread out we are).

      I also think we need to think long and hard before ascribing our own poor impulse control, poor behavior, and lack of discipline to a God. Loki did not actually make you do it, you’re just an ass.

      Liked by 5 people

    • Black Metal Valkyrie

      That sounds really cool. It might make sense to pray to both to Loki and Pietas because they can both help us be better devotees in Their own ways.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think that, since most of us frown on mixing Pantheons, one could pray to Sigyn for that purpose. 🙂

        but i highly encourage devotion to Pietas in general….

        Liked by 1 person

      • Black Metal Valkyrie

        So is the proper thing to do to worship a God or Gods from one pantheon at one time and different ones at another? Bc I know a lot of people from one tradition will sometimes honour deities of another.

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      • To answer your question, Valkyrie, I’m a tri-traditionalist myself. My pantheon consists of Greek, Norse and Egyptian. I try to honor those Gods according to the rules and traditions they come from. Having said that though, there is a Greco-Egyptian form of worship modeled after the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt, when the Greek Pharaohs reigned. And when in doubt, perform a divination asking the Gods if it’s ok.

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  4. He’s hardly the only deity to be in multiple states at the same time- it happens in multiple pantheons. There are even treatises within the Catholic Church about how their Christ is simultaneously crucified eternally (thus eternally paying for the continuously sinful state of humanity) and risen eternally (thus eternally and simultaneously triumphant over sin and death)… it’s not a unique concept.

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  5. When Loki comes around, I always ask him, “Okay, what lesson is here to be learned today so I don’t have to make a fool of myself?” because those seem to be the holy lessons he brings. He has made me laugh, especially at myself, and I am grateful for his way of tricking me out of moods of self-importance.

    I am grateful to you for this blog. I am relatively new to the Norse pantheon, and have not read all the eddas yet, so I did not know that Loki and Lodhurr are considered by some to be the same being, but it makes too much sense, as close as Loki is to Odin, and I futher like this, because it makes Odin uncle to my beloved Hela.

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  6. Black Metal Valkyrie

    Yes and while they (Middle Ages Christians) did their little morality plays they were in their actions quite uncivilized compared to most ancient civilizations that came before them, destroying the idea of linear progress. Very closeminded, very dogmatic, burned lots of innocent people alive and otherwise persecuted them for being a bit different, had a large part of their economy based on execution “innovations” and stupid beliefs about not bathing being healthy not seen in any other time period etc.

    I think the demonization of Loki comes down to Christian cultural overculture contamination and these devotees are stupid to not see what is blatantly obvious since these people damn well know how extensive monotheistic brainwashing is, even for people raised irreligiously. Loki is not a symbol of all that is wrong with the world or some great Ultimate Evil. The events of Ragnarok; including that whose which lead to its Coming, are inevitable in Norse cosmology if I’m not mistaken so I don’t think it is valuable or useful to blame Fate on Loki.

    The point of the Aesir is to enforce universal law but just because they punished Loki to keep in line with Their purpose doesn’t mean that it should effect how we view Him. To do so would be hubristic and impious. Funny how people who express such sentiments tend to be the same folk who deny the value of spiritual cleansing.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. In Runelore, at one point Edred Thorrsen says that Woden, Villi and Ve brought the gifts of Breath, Will, and that which is Holy, and that also Lodurr is another name for Ve, so if that translation follows through, then Loki stands for that which is holy, and he shows us that which comes between us and holiness, whether it is my behavior or the hypocrisy of the Aesir (I read something about that at a dinner they had and forgot my reference point, sorry). I believe that whatever a person’s religion, at least in my own practice, I always want to be in right relationship with my God/desses and so I welcome Loki’s input on that account. It is not always comfortable, but then it is seldom comfortable when one’s cherished ideas or beliefs do not hold up within right relationship. So it demands a willingness from me to be open to that anyway.

    Then there is that other point, as you say the Aesir uphold universal law, but there is that within an individual that at times must stand up for a truth of their conscience that breaks with that idea a group is holding. Loki also seems to me to represent that. I know it is not the Norse culture, but sometimes he seems to me to be akin to the American Indian idea of Heyoka, the sacred clown or trickster who shows the face of things people don’t always want to see. I value that.

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  8. I have one small niggle with one of your statements above: namely, “The Gods are not people.”

    I agree, the Deities are not “human” (unless They happened to be, as in some cases, e.g. Antinous!), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not “people,” as in “persons.” Personhood and all that it implies is essential to both animism and polytheism, I’d argue, because it then requires one to take into consideration that personhood and all it implies–including individual agency, volition, and so forth–when dealing with these other-than-human persons. It is why, as a polytheist, I have to consider the personhood of the Deities above and before my own personhood’s individual requirements on many occasions, and so forth…

    The confusion that many humans, including some who might be reading your blog, over thinking “people” means “person” rather than meaning “human persons” might be a matter for their confusion. I suspect you agree with the paragraph above, but because not all readers are able to make some of those distinctions, more precise language might be more effective.

    Or, perhaps not! 😉

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    • PSVL what a great question! I read it when I was about to head into a class this morning and I’ve been chomping at the bit to respond all afternoon! Lol.

      To begin, let’s leave aside Deities like Antinous or Jesus or any other Deity that was at one time human and Who was deified after death. They are a special category (perhaps the exception that proves the rule). Let’s set Them aside for the purposes of this conversation.

      You wrote, “I agree, the Deities are not “human” … but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not “people,” as in “persons.” Personhood and all that it implies is essential to both animism and polytheism, I’d argue, because it then requires one to take into consideration that personhood and all it implies–including individual agency, volition, and so forth–when dealing with these other-than-human persons. It is why, as a polytheist, I have to consider the personhood of the Deities above and before my own personhood’s individual requirements on many occasions, and so forth…

      The confusion that many humans, including some who might be reading your blog, over thinking “people” means “person” rather than meaning “human persons” might be a matter for their confusion. I suspect you agree with the paragraph above, but because not all readers are able to make some of those distinctions, more precise language might be more effective.”

      I re-quoted almost your entire comment here because wordpress can be a bit of a pain when it comes to tracking who is responding to whom.

      Person, according to the dictionary is defined as:

      1.a human being, whether an adult or child.
      2. a human being as distinguished from an animal or a thing.
      3. an individual human being who likes or prefers something specified(used in combination): i.e. I’ve never been a cat person.
      4. Sociology. an individual human being, especially with reference to his or her social relationships and behavioral patterns as conditioned by the culture.
      5. Philosophy. a self-conscious or rational being.
      6.the actual self or individual personality of a human being.
      7.the body of a living human being, sometimes including the clothesbeing worn:

      The only one of these definitions that could possibly fit for a Deity is number five and you have to admit that this is not how the majority of readers are going to interpret that term. I would even question whether or not definition five is too limiting to be adequately applied to one of the Holy Powers. Here is my reasoning:

      “Personhood,” as these definitions largely attest, is too bound up in the minds of people with human beings. A person is, for most people, consciously or not, going to be taken to refer to a human. That, the philosophical definition notwithstanding, is problematic.

      If one has an unconscious sense of ‘person’ as ‘human,’ which I posit we all do, then it is but a small step to equating the Gods with humans. From there, one can all too easily begin ascribing human emotions, motivations, and agendas to Them…to Beings that are not and (save for the exceptions noted at the beginning of my response) never have been human. We begin assuming and expecting that the Holy Powers will reduce Themselves to our level, will respond as we would respond, will share our temporal concerns and partisanships. That is a hop, skip, and a jump away from –again, consciously or not—seeing them as our equals, or us as Their equals. It makes it far too easy to reduce Them.

      The Gods do have Being and volition, and agency. They have distinct personalities. As much as I detest the overuse of the term in contemporary politics, I might even say ‘identity,’ but I wouldn’t say they are ‘people.’ That is too informal. It is too human. Is it possible now to have personhood without being a person?

      It’s complicated because I think we want Them to be people. We want Them to be relatable and They can be…when They choose to put on human guise. The seeming, however, is not Their Being. Despite the identity and volition and agency, the Being-ness and uniqueness They’re Forces. I wouldn’t use “person” (not without a hell of a lot of qualifiers and probably not even then) because it has the potential to elide too much of the essential difference between us and Them.

      (looked up ‘person’ here for this response: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/person?s=t)

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      • Fair enough.

        The use of “personhood” in academic discussions of animism in particular, in the sense that personhood extends to lots of things that are not human (including animals and plants, various spirits, water and mountains and rocks via their spirits, and various objects that non-animists would call “inanimate” but which aren’t if one is an animist! and so forth), is relatively common these days. While I agree that most of the definitions you cited for “person” don’t really apply for Deities in polytheism (other than #5, and that one only tangentially), remember as well that the academic definitions of a great number of words don’t necessarily appear in those sorts of dictionaries…theological or philosophical nuance won’t be found in most dictionaries that aren’t specialized, as you know.

        I think it is useful, insofar as it ascribes certain qualities that we–as an overculture, influenced as we have been by anti-materialist, world-denying, and hegemonic monotheistic religious notions–tend to exclusively associate with humans, like volition and agency and individual personality and even identity, to a wider category of beings in the world and the cosmos, including Deities. It does not have to carry with it the notion that, therefore, the Deities (or other non-corporeal beings like Ancestors, Land Spirits, totem animals, etc.) are equal to or exactly like us in every way, or that we are like them. The alternative to something being “personal” (as in “possessing personhood”) is, of course, being “impersonal,” and I don’t think that very many Deities are wholly impersonal–They may have some more impersonal manifestations or aspects or dimensions to Their overall characters, but in order to have any kind of relationship with a divine being of any sort, some element of personhood needs to exist, I think. That’s the crux, I think, and the essential part of personhood in this equation. Whether it is “true” on an existential level or not for the Deities (as your discussion of Their wearing of human-like guises acknowledges), I’d argue that for us, who are human, the understanding of “personhood” in this wider sense (but without the equalizing dimension of it that you mentioned) is at least a step toward being able to relate with Deities on a more mature and nuanced level, rather than as “mere symbols” and so forth (which I think we’ve all had enough of…if we happen to be polytheists!). No, it’s not the end-all and be-all, but it’s a step in the right direction, and may be as good a notion as any for us when we’re operating on the human level, which all polytheists that I know of are at present–we can do no other, since we aren’t Deities.

        Perhaps “individuality” might be something that a wider variety of people would understand better in this discussion…but that also has its problems, given that almost every Deity I know of does not operate as an individual only, strictly speaking…They’ve always got their friends, family, lovers, and adversaries (amongst other possibilities!) Whom one often finds popping up when we’ve entered into relationships with Them properly, etc. But anyway…

        It’s a question of semantics, ultimately…and I don’t mean “it’s pointless and arbitrary and thus you decide what works best for yourself,” but instead “what precise meaning are we ascribing to the terms we’re using?” 😉

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  9. Another thought provoking post, Galina.

    As I see it, the Powers, not contained to material bodes as we are, may be free agents in space-time. Einstein has showed us that moving in space means moving in time, and vice versa. If we set aside our perception of time being linear, but instead view it as the fourth dimension of existence it actually is, we can fathom quite easily how Loki could be both bound and unbound. Indeed even mortals such as ourselves exist as our own past, present and future simultaneously. Our limited existence necessitates our linear view of time, but the Powers may not be restricted to this, their view of space-time and the nature of the universe must be truly unfathomable to creatures such as us.

    On the subject of Loki being “evil”, am I the only one getting really tired of this (apparently) uniquely middle-eastern concept (Zoroastrians seeming to be the earliest to define a good/evil dichotomy) infiltrating every spiritual and secular paradigm? In my opinion good and evil are fallacies, and the goodness/badness of actions, events and people are purely subjective. Powers like Loki who challenge authority and break the rules are simply agents of change we find uncomfortable. Our discomfort does not make the agents or the changes evil.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. black metal valkyrie, it depends on your approach. 🙂 I tend to find it makes me be more respectful of what each family of Deities want if i keep Them separate. Plus, each pantheon tends to want different protocols.

    but some very devout Pagans don’t separate Them. I’d look to what your tradition typically does.

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  11. PSVL, (i have to respond here, wordpress isn’t allowing me to respond directly to your comment)

    You wrote, “The use of “personhood” in academic discussions of animism in particular, in the sense that personhood extends to lots of things that are not human (including animals and plants, various spirits, water and mountains and rocks via their spirits, and various objects that non-animists would call “inanimate” but which aren’t if one is an animist! and so forth), is relatively common these days.”

    Yes, I realize it’s academic usage and I object to it. I disagree with it as an academic. What academics get wrong about polytheism and animism could fill a library. I think it elides the essential question of “godhood,” whatever that is, and frankly, I suspect that’s exactly the point of the usage. Does a Being have to possess ‘personhood’ in order to be reverenced? I instead prefer “being” or ‘being-ness’ which isn’t quite grammatical but gets the job done, because let’s face it, we are not dealing with a community that is trained in the nuances of theological thought. If we are going to lead them in this restoration, or whatever it is that we’re doing, then I think that just as Cicero did when introducing philosophy to the Romans and Tertullian when co-opting religious terms for Christians (horrible comparison I know!), we need to be both astute and careful, to look at the weight our terms have for people brought up in this culture, and weigh that against bad habits that people also have (such as desperately wanting to humanize the Gods and maybe that’s not a bad habit so much as a desperate cry for connection…)

    You wrote, “I think it is useful, insofar as it ascribes certain qualities that we–as an overculture, influenced as we have been by anti-materialist, world-denying, and hegemonic monotheistic religious notions–tend to exclusively associate with humans, like volition and agency and individual personality and even identity, to a wider category of beings in the world and the cosmos, including Deities.”

    I think monotheism gives its God plenty of volition and agency, identity and personality….often to the exclusion of ascribing the same things to human beings (I think also part of the challenge when dealing with Christianity is that it isn’t any one thing. From its inception there were different Christianities and the way it engaged with culture changed with the advent of modernity – as you know!).

    You wrote, “It does not have to carry with it the notion that, therefore, the Deities (or other non-corporeal beings like Ancestors, Land Spirits, totem animals, etc.) are equal to or exactly like us in every way, or that we are like them.”

    It doesn’t have to, but it will. I think we have an obligation to be extremely, scrupulously careful to avoid language that will encourage that elision.

    You wrote, “The alternative to something being “personal” (as in “possessing personhood”) is, of course, being “impersonal,” and I don’t think that very many Deities are wholly impersonal–They may have some more impersonal manifestations or aspects or dimensions to Their overall characters, but in order to have any kind of relationship with a divine being of any sort, some element of personhood needs to exist, I think. That’s the crux, I think, and the essential part of personhood in this equation.”

    I disagree. They do not need to mimic humanity in order for our senses to be overwhelmed by Their presence, and in order for us to begin the devotional process. I think it’s a grace and blessing when They take on ‘personhood’ or human form, but I think we need to be very, very careful that we do not mistake the image for the reality.

    To demand that the Gods placate our humanity ludicrous. To expect that They will replicate ‘personhood’ for our comfort or for any other reason is to idolize humanity. No, no, and no.

    You can have veneration of a God, a mountain, a tree, an [insert type of entity here] without having to give it human form. Further, I think doing so edges very close to disrespect.

    You wrote, “Whether it is “true” on an existential level or not for the Deities (as your discussion of Their wearing of human-like guises acknowledges), I’d argue that for us, who are human, the understanding of “personhood” in this wider sense (but without the equalizing dimension of it that you mentioned) is at least a step toward being able to relate with Deities on a more mature and nuanced level, rather than as “mere symbols” and so forth (which I think we’ve all had enough of…if we happen to be polytheists!). No, it’s not the end-all and be-all, but it’s a step in the right direction, and may be as good a notion as any for us when we’re operating on the human level, which all polytheists that I know of are at present–we can do no other, since we aren’t Deities.”

    And I would say that such a thing is a crutch. We should be working as devout polytheists to overcome our human limitations with respect to veneration, not expecting the Gods to cater to them. And veneration should not be dependent on how well or poorly we relate to a Holy Power. It is an act that is good and just and right in and of itself, so our comfort shouldn’t really be relevant.

    This is, by the way, one of the reasons that I object so strongly to the Christian redefinition of the Roman word ‘pietas,’ from duty to the Gods, spirits, community, etc. to “love of God.” Because really, whether or not we feel ‘love’ at any given moment, should not have any impact on whether or not we engage in right action, i.e. our duty.

    It is far more mature, to put aside our demands that the Gods cater to our notions of “personhood” and instead challenge ourselves to approach Them as They are, with the terror and awe, fear and trembling that may entail. That does not negate a devout, intimate devotional relationship but as with anything, it takes work including the work of challenging our desires, limitations, and pushing ourselves to move beyond the lowest common denominator of our humanity. I think when we prioritize ‘personhood,” it allows us to obsess about inessentials like gender, race, political affiliation, etc. .. all the stuff that’s going to fall away from us when we die.

    More to the point, the more we emphasize that humanity, the more room there is for reduction, for viewing the Gods as little more than powerful humans. Then you get loki wives of tumblr, or worse you get the fucking idiots that think the Gods support their every political whim. Sorry, but I don’t think Odin is an anarcho-communist. I really don’t think Odin gives a fuck save that I suspect He’s more than willing to use whatever nonsense we want to toss up. ‘personhood’ allows us to draw not just meaning, but comparison with the Gods and it also makes our own personhood the most important part of us and that’s not the way it ought to be. It makes our ‘personhood’ the gold standard.

    You wrote, “Perhaps “individuality” might be something that a wider variety of people would understand better in this discussion…but that also has its problems, given that almost every Deity I know of does not operate as an individual only, strictly speaking…They’ve always got their friends, family, lovers, and adversaries (amongst other possibilities!) Whom one often finds popping up when we’ve entered into relationships with Them properly, etc. But anyway…”

    I was explaining this to someone recently: the Gods are tribal…it’s a relational network, but of Powers, not people.

    You wrote, “ It’s a question of semantics, ultimately…and I don’t mean “it’s pointless and arbitrary and thus you decide what works best for yourself,” but instead “what precise meaning are we ascribing to the terms we’re using?” ;)”

    Yes, it is a question of semantics and semantics are important otherwise we could just let any atheist or humanist or non theist claim to be polytheists and it wouldn’t matter. But it does matter. Language matters. It is the first boundary of the territory that we are claiming for our Gods.

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    • Thank you for continuing this discussion.

      I think a large part of what we’re running into here is that I’m understanding some of these things in a different way than you are, and we probably won’t be able to come to an agreement on the definitions of terms and their attendant understandings in a forum like this…which is fine, no big deal. It might be worth trying on one further matter, though, which I think is both interesting and potentially important.

      The part that I think I’m finding the largest disagreement over (while still affirming the basic validity of your statement at the same time!) is this:

      It is far more mature, to put aside our demands that the Gods cater to our notions of “personhood” and instead challenge ourselves to approach Them as They are, with the terror and awe, fear and trembling that may entail. That does not negate a devout, intimate devotional relationship but as with anything, it takes work including the work of challenging our desires, limitations, and pushing ourselves to move beyond the lowest common denominator of our humanity.

      I don’t disagree over the basic point you’re making there (and throughout your replies). Where I find the falling down, though, is over the matter of being able to move beyond our own humanity…and if that is part of the equation, then there’s a difficulty in what you’ve argued, and which then means we can’t ignore the odd exceptions like Antinous and so forth where the being-ness of Deities is concerned. If humans are not Deities and are not on the same level of being-ness as Them, and are therefore not comparable and we don’t “work with” the Deities and so on (as you’ve argued before, and which I agree with), then the fact of the matter is no matter what we do, and no matter how much we come into contact with the holy awe of the being-ness of the Deities (whether there is any definition of “personhood” there or not), we never get over the fact that we’re still human, and even functioning at the most optimal, outer limits of human experience, it’s still human experience in human lives with human limitations.

      No matter how much I might have worked with a dog, got it to understand my verbal commands or gestures, got it habituated to my own routines for its food and defecation, and in other ways have domesticated it, and even if I thus regard it as having some degree of personhood which can be respected and accounted for (e.g. sometimes a dog just needs to be a dog and needs to pull endlessly on a sock or chase a stick, etc.), that dog is still a dog and never becomes a human being. While we are alive and are devoted to Deities, we never transcend our humanity, and thus we cannot ever encounter the Deities–while we are alive–as anything other than what we are, which is humans; we can be better devotees, more mature, more receptive, more experienced, and so forth, but we’re still human at the end of the day. Being able to recognize holy awe, being shaken and panting in a moment of holy terror, and so forth is not beyond human capacities to experience–it may not be what some people prefer, and in fact it may be something some people actively try to avoid (even amongst devoted polytheists!), but it’s not beyond our capacities to encounter; and it is by no means easy and does not “come naturally,” but it can and does happen and is possible. It may not be common, and indeed it does require us to move beyond what the lowest common denominator of “being human” is for most people, but it’s no “less human” (nor “more human”!) to experience those things and be in those mystical states than it is to be a schlub who only watches reality TV and thinks of nothing but their next pizza stop and thoughtless sex.

      If we do argue that going beyond that typical and common range of human experience does push us beyond the realm of the strictly human, then that would probably indicate that in our humanity is the seeds of something greater, up to and including divinity, which is what cases of apotheosis then force us to confront as possibilities. And for some people, the very idea of that is not something to aspire towards and to feed our anthropocentric triumphalist biases and hubris, but instead something to shit one’s pants over, because it entails an entirely different realm of responsibility that most people can’t fathom that is far scarier than anything that seems appealing about the prospect of having even the limited power of a minor Deity (which is far greater than the greatest power any living human has ever had, and a greater range of knowledge, agency, etc.).

      It isn’t that things which aren’t like one another can’t relate to one another (which is what I was suggesting with the “personhood” connection, i.e. the shared element of relationality between vastly different forms of being can be understood as “personhood”…but you’ve argued against that understanding, which is fine!)–each of those things would be best served relating to one another as is appropriate for the being-ness of each one, which I think both of us agree on. It’s that just as the Deities do not become human by relating to humans, likewise humans still aren’t anything other than human even in their greatest moments of relating to Deities. (Unless they are…which then raises other questions and brings in the issue of apotheosis again, etc.!)

      Certainly, because I have a close relationship with a Deity Who underwent this process, and also with a number of Hero/ines who also did (but to a level appropriate to Hero/ines rather than Deities, of course!), my views on these matters are slightly different. If we have these capacities for apotheosis as humans, then the limitations of our human existence and its range of experiences are not to be denigrated while we are human, even in the face of the largest and most cosmic of Deities that leave us convulsing in a pile of our own vomit and piss. If we lack that ability and it is actually not remotely intrinsic to humans, but we can still relate to Deities, then the best we can do while we’re human is to be as useful and productive as possible as humans while alive, because we will never be able to do otherwise. That’s the main point I’m making here: we are human and we have limitations, and even if the Deities don’t always cater to those limitations (especially the lowest levels of those limitations), They still have to deal with us in ways that we can perceive and through which we can build relationships of whatever sort. It’s kind of the “tree falling in the woods” problem: if the Deities simply dealt with humans as if we were something other-than-human, we wouldn’t even be able to know They exist at all.

      Or something. 😉

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      • we’re not going to reach agreement. It comes down to whether one wants to prioritize and even reify one’s humanity as the defining locus for engagement or move beyond that. i think we are meant to move beyond it. I certainly think we are meant to move beyond its ephemeral tethers when coming to our Gods. but i’ve written about this before — if i can find the article tomorrow, I’ll post it here.

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      • No, we’re probably not going to reach any sort of agreement on this through this particular medium.

        It doesn’t have to do with prioritizing the human, though…it’s simply a matter of recognizing it is there. A recognition of it doesn’t mean one is focused on it, or that one is a humanist, or that the Deities are any less Themselves because of that recognition; it does not detract from the Deities to say that They are involved with humans, I think, which would mean They are no less for doing so, and (I’d argue, and I think you’d agree) that we are the better for that. But ignoring it is also not ideal, and will only lead to all sorts of problems the less one acknowledges it–it doesn’t have to be a huge public recognition ceremony, so to speak, just a mere awareness that it is there in the back of one’s mind amidst whatever one is doing, which will then easily account for why it is we cannot know the Deities in Their fulness, why some of what we experience with the Deities is only minimally comprehensible in the moment, or leaves us gibbering and shivering in the corner, etc.

        It’s literally drawing attention to the elephant in the room, which isn’t going away and is still going to be there whether one recognizes it or not. In my view, it shouldn’t be a problem to do that if one doesn’t think that one’s human-ness, i.e. the very basic nature of our being as humans, is a bad thing. It’s neither good nor bad to be human, it simply “is.” I’m reminded of the Roman triumph, and the slave appointed to say to the returning general “Remember you are mortal” amidst all of the adulations and being honored nearly on the level of a Deity.

        There’s also the whole matter of, for example, Zeus being known as the “Father of Gods and men,” and likewise the Orphic anthropogony that says human origins are partially divine, and all of the Orphic lamellae that say that initiates have become divine, etc. If those things are the case (amongst many other possibilities), then our humanity and our mortality–for all its flaws–does contain the seeds of divinity within it (“a kid, I fell into milk”), and thus in even attempting to move beyond it (as you’ve emphasized), that recognition has to be there, not in an “equalizing humans with Deities” fashion, but in simply recognizing that these two classes or states of being-ness that are involved are not mutually exclusive. As a result, then when oneself and one’s Deities are balancing the algebraic equation, so to speak, of human relationships with Deities, then the human element must be added/subtracted as appropriate to each side of the equation, and that can’t happen unless one acknowledges it is there.

        In any case, I do thank you for engaging in this conversation. Our differences in opinion do not require agreement, but I do think we are obliged to fully understand why they are there, insofar as it is possible in this particular medium. The differences may come down to the fact that the Deities with Whom I have engaged most closely are so vastly different than the sorts you’ve had your primary relationships with, and part of the Deities I’ve engaged with’s functions are to attempt to mediate between what is human and what is divine, not by negating the differences (which is a mistake that I think both of us agree upon), but by coming to a fuller understanding of what the differences are, and then determining what must be added or subtracted (or multiplied or divided, for that matter!) to make any attempt at bridging those distances.

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  12. PSVL:

    You wrote, “It doesn’t have to do with prioritizing the human, though…it’s simply a matter of recognizing it is there.”

    And here again we disagree. I think it’s precisely a matter of prioritizing the human, of prioritizing our humanity as not just an ad hoc but even necessary lens through which everything, including our perception of the Gods must be filtered. I disagree with that.

    You wrote: “A recognition of it doesn’t mean one is focused on it, or that one is a humanist, or that the Deities are any less Themselves because of that recognition; it does not detract from the Deities to say that They are involved with humans, I think, which would mean They are no less for doing so, and (I’d argue, and I think you’d agree) that we are the better for that.”

    But you are, as I read it, advocating far more than simply recognizing that our humanity exists. Yes, it exists. And what we do with it, how we develop it, how we obsess over parts of it, and how we inevitably hold it up as the height of evolution all combines to make it an inadequate (to say the least) means by which we engage with our Gods. While it is inevitable that we must engage as a human being to a Power – our position in the cosmic hierarchy for instance would point to that inevitability—it does not imply that we should be satisfied with that, that we should constantly bring the locus of that devotion back to “but I’m human” or the human perspective. There are elements about engaging with the Gods that transcend the limitations of corporeality and should transcend that, and that can shatter our identities as human beings into glistening fragments and that’s good and terrifying and holy. To cling to our small identities as human beings, means that we all too often yield the larger identity as devotee. I am not a human being when I engage with Odin, PSVL, I am not a woman, I am fire in the mouth of my God. There are levels of devotion that render irrelevant our corporeal status because the soul is not comprised of those things by which we categorize ourselves as humans and in the end, it is the soul that the Gods snatch up.

    You wrote: “But ignoring it is also not ideal, and will only lead to all sorts of problems the less one acknowledges it–it doesn’t have to be a huge public recognition ceremony, so to speak, just a mere awareness that it is there in the back of one’s mind amidst whatever one is doing, which will then easily account for why it is we cannot know the Deities in Their fulness, why some of what we experience with the Deities is only minimally comprehensible in the moment, or leaves us gibbering and shivering in the corner, etc.”

    No one is saying ignore it. Deal with it in the appropriate sphere: the human sphere. Craft rituals that sanctify, acknowledge, and elevate one’s humanity, one’s growth, one’s connection with one’s tribe, tradition, and Gods acknowledging that humanity it flows from the Gods, is in many respects a gift of the Gods. But do so in the right time and space. Doing so can be tremendously healing but don’t let that be the sum total of engagement, the only locus by which one does engage, and the only shade and mirror by which one will acknowledge the Gods. If everything always comes back to our humanity then we are in deed prioritizing that state of being, which while it may define our experience here of the human world, is in the end transient.

    You wrote: “It’s literally drawing attention to the elephant in the room, which isn’t going away and is still going to be there whether one recognizes it or not. In my view, it shouldn’t be a problem to do that if one doesn’t think that one’s human-ness, i.e. the very basic nature of our being as humans, is a bad thing. It’s neither good nor bad to be human, it simply “is.” I’m reminded of the Roman triumph, and the slave appointed to say to the returning general “Remember you are mortal” amidst all of the adulations and being honored nearly on the level of a Deity.”

    I never said being human was ‘bad.’ It’s not bad. It simply is—there we agree. ^_^. But it can be an unfortunate tether. I can’t help but thinking about a disagreement last year where some tumblr people were objecting to one of Hephaestos’ by names: Lame. He is the “Lame God.” It hurt their feelings. They felt it was ablest because they were translating and engaging with that through their own human experience and because they were doing so, the end result was an attempt to strip a God of one of His primary and most powerful attributes. When our humanity is the only border for our experience of the Gods, we make ourselves and Them small.

    You wrote, “There’s also the whole matter of, for example, Zeus being known as the “Father of Gods and men,” and likewise the Orphic anthropogony that says human origins are partially divine, and all of the Orphic lamellae that say that initiates have become divine, etc. If those things are the case (amongst many other possibilities), then our humanity and our mortality–for all its flaws–does contain the seeds of divinity within it (“a kid, I fell into milk”), and thus in even attempting to move beyond it (as you’ve emphasized), that recognition has to be there, not in an “equalizing humans with Deities” fashion, but in simply recognizing that these two classes or states of being-ness that are involved are not mutually exclusive. As a result, then when oneself and one’s Deities are balancing the algebraic equation, so to speak, of human relationships with Deities, then the human element must be added/subtracted as appropriate to each side of the equation, and that can’t happen unless one acknowledges it is there.”

    Yes, it may contain the seeds of divinity but for that to be realized, one has to aim a little higher than the human mean (Achilles, Perseus, Herakles, et Al). It’s a starting point, a perfectly valid starting point. Why would one want to stay there? One of the biggest problems with focusing on humanity is that because our Gods are kind and often take on human form, it is so easy to forget that They are not in fact human and that leads to all sorts of trouble (for us, not Them). It is too easy to assume that we and They are of a kind, to mistake the seeming for the reality of the Being. I think instead it is possible to acknowledge one’s humanity (and even to engage in rituals and sacred work where that is part and parcel) while at the same time understanding that whatever else may be true, even when the gods take on human form, They aren’t. The initial question was whether or not Gods were ‘people.’ I stand by my initial comments there. They are Beings but I would never say They were people because whatever else it is, the state of being of being human is one that binds us in ways that They are simply not bound (for those Gods once apotheosized, They are no longer human…I would speculate that Their state of being has changed and perhaps Their very substance….bringing in Gods like Antinous adds a fascinating aspect to this discussion because there you do see the transformation and union of the human with the Divine, but I think that’s a special class of the Beings we call ‘Gods’.)

    You wrote, “The differences may come down to the fact that the Deities with Whom I have engaged most closely are so vastly different than the sorts you’ve had your primary relationships with, and part of the Deities I’ve engaged with’s functions are to attempt to mediate between what is human and what is divine, not by negating the differences (which is a mistake that I think both of us agree upon), but by coming to a fuller understanding of what the differences are, and then determining what must be added or subtracted (or multiplied or divided, for that matter!) to make any attempt at bridging those distances.”

    I suspect the respective Gods that we belong to is going to skew our individual perspectives significantly. I think though that mediating between human and divine is a function not the essential nature of specific Gods…either way, They do remake us. This has been a good discussion.

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  13. Personally. I just think he was never bound to begin with and that Ragnarok was an invention of the Christians.

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    • I think He was bound — we have other accounts in various IE religions of bound Gods or Gods Who have been punished by other Gods. If we say He wasn’t bound, then we remove one of not only His major mysteries, but also Sigyn’s. I just don’t think the binding has anything to do with Ragnarok, which I agree is extremely Christianized. This is a thing though: the lore was never, ever, ever intended to serve as scripture. it’s very Christianized.

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      • If you have time at some stage, Galina, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on what is and is not a result of direct Christian influence in the whole schema of Ragnarok. One can’t usefully deny that such a schema would have been influenced by Christian notions of the Apocalypse/Armageddon, but at the same time, there is enough in terms of eschatological narratives in ancient (Into-) European cultures to suggest that some ideas in this regard are genuine parts of ancient tradition…it’s just a question of how much is innovative (as it were!) and how much is traditional.

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  14. I think what we originally had with ragnarok was a renewable, destruction for cleansing and creation cycle, not the “end of the world’ as such. seriously though, this is not a contested statement in medieval studies: the surviving “lore” as we call it was deeply influenced by christianity. I’m not sure how much HRED goes into it, but I think the Dronkes certainly do. it’s something i intend to eventually cover in my more theological work, but not high on my list.

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    • Indeed, a “final” end is bullshit in every non-monotheist cosmology I’ve ever heard of (and rightly so!).

      As I’ve been working on an eschatology book for a number of months now, and have two academic articles I’m also working on with that focus–one of which I just finished, which touches on Norse stuff!–so, of course, this is of great interest to me, at present as well as generally. Loki and His relatives come up in that, as do They in another thing I’m working on, which I’d be happy to tell you more about privately at some point if you are interested! 😉

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