Long story short, when the Europeans navigated along and settled in the African continent, they came across native religions, which were then taken to America via the slave trade. Ògún, Osun or Yémojá, these are African gods worshipped throughout today’s American continent under variations of their names. Another one of those deities is Eshu, whom the Europeans saw as the devil. Well, they considered any non-Christian god the devil, but Eshu was so in a particular fashion. Why? Because He’s a trickster, a prankster, indecent, playful, astute, sly, provocative and sensual. He basically ticks almost all of the satanic boxes. Yet Eshu is an African god of crossroads, movement and communication, which is why He’s often given the first offerings in African-Brazilian ceremonies, so that all other offerings flow and reach the other Gods. And this is no surprise if you think that He’s… well, a trickster.
See, tricksters are usually subversive figures. They’re transgressors who have the ability to move freely through geographical, social, moral and even sexual boundaries. That’s why sometimes they’re also deities of creativity, because they excel at thinking outside the box and breaking with the routine. It’s creative chaos, baby. They make things move, make things flow. Idleness is not their thing, movement is! Fluidity, an offshoot of which is slyness, is the cornerstone of the trickster. Because what is fluid is not fixed and can therefore assume whatever shape is necessary to get things done, to get things going. And that’s what Eshu is: movement, fluidity, creative chaos. That’s also the case with Hermes, the divine messenger, god of trade and thievery, inventor, prankster, father of Hermaphroditus, the one who can enter and leave the Underworld freely. And that’s also the case with Loki, the trickster who often travels from one world to another, the bringer of gifts via chaotic pranks, father and also mother.
Why am I writing this? Because too many modern heathens do to Loki what Europeans did to Eshu: they equate Him with the devil! Which is ironic, since one would expect polytheists to be a lot more open-minded and avoid the simplistic view of good against evil that is so common in monotheism. But though ironic, this is not unexpected. For one, because many modern heathens had a Christian upbringing or live in a society where Christian philosophy is pervasive. And secondly, because too many Norse polytheists take the Eddas at face value; even worst, some will read them like a Bible. And that’s just wrong! Plain and simply wrong! As wrong as saying Loki is evil and should not be worshiped.
The thing about knowing how Europeans saw Eshu is that it gives you a clue as to how Norse Christians saw Loki. How could a sly prankster who does not conform to social norms on morality and sexuality be anything but a Satan-like figure? How could He not be confused, identified or influenced by tales about the Christian devil? And as such, how could He be anything but the devilish enemy of the Gods in the eddic poems or Snorri’s work? Ever wondered why his binding until the end of the world resembles that of Satan?
If by now you’re thinking that the Eddas contain genuine pagan myths and therefore what they say are pagan views on Loki, think again! What we know as the Poetic Edda and Snorra Edda were written roughly two hundred years after Scandinavia became officially Christian. The tales they contain are certainly rooted in pagan traditions, but the form those narratives have today were fixed no earlier than the 1200s. This means that what we have are stories that were transmitted during two hundred years of Christian dominance. They were told at a time when monotheistic theology was preached at every mass, people prayed to the Christian god on a daily basis and organized their lives around Christian thinking and practice. By the time the Eddas we have today were written down, this would have been going on for two hundred years or more. And every time a story is told, it is adapted by its narrator. Not sure about that? Then go ahead and open your copy of the Poetic Edda: the two poems on Helgi Hundingsbani are essentially two versions of the same tale; the lays on Sigurd’s adventures do not match entirely with the narrative of the slightly later Völsunga saga (and Carolyne Larrigton’s notes make that abundantly clear); Grimnismál speaks simultaneously of one hart eating from Yggdrasill’s branches (stanza 35) and four such animals (stanza 33), suggesting that either there were different traditions or that someone added an innovating stanza without eliminating the older version. These things happen because tales are fluid. They’re fluid when committed to writing and even more so when committed to memory by word of mouth. Every time they’re told, two things happen: one is conservation, in that the narrator is not creating a brand new story, but passing down an old one; but the other is innovation, in that by telling the story, one opens it to influences and changes by the narrator or his audience. And after two hundred years of that process in a Christian context, don’t expect the myths to be accurate renderings of pre-Christian tales. The Eddas are not an Old Norse Bible! They are fragments of pagan traditions that were last transmitted and adapted by Christian authors roughly two centuries after Scandinavia’s official conversion. They contain multiple pagan elements, yes, because conservation is one of the dynamics in the passing down of traditional stories. But there’s also innovation in them, a lot of it derived from Christian thinking and classical traditions. They’re not accurate accounts of the Gods’ deeds and most certainly not Their word!
So to claim that Loki is a devil or evil being unworthy of worship because of what the Eddas say is as ridiculous as claiming that Eshu should not be worshipped because Christians saw Him as the devil. Both gods were reinterpreted from a Christian perspective, which naturally painted them in very dark tones. Know your sources, people! And by that I’m not saying you should memorize them so you can quote them like Evangelicals often quote the Bible (though that is a useful tool). When I say you should know your sources, I mean you should keep in mind when, where and who wrote them. Time, place and the author’s beliefs are not indifferent: they shape what is written. Imagine what two hundred years or more of that in a Christian society must have done to the Norse pagan trickster.