Loki, the Bellows, and Hot Air

The Snaptun stone is a hearth stone that was found in 1950 on a Danish beach, though the soapstone from which it was carved originated elsewhere in Scandinavia. It was most likely made around 1000 AD, and has two holes drilled into it that allow the user to insert the tip of a bellows into the front and pump air out of the top. This protects the bellows from the heat of the flame.

Now, we (by which I mean “everyone invested in knowing what this artifact is”) are reasonably sure that this is an image of Loki judging by the stitched mouth. I could absolutely do without the Dick Dastardly mustache, but it is what it is.

The idea that the Snaptun stone portrays Loki makes sense, especially given that there is an established connection between Loki’s lip scars and the working of bellows to keep a flame sufficiently hot in the Skáldskapármal. Namely, that Loki attempts to manipulate the outcome of his wager by sabotaging the dwarf working the bellows, and is punished by having his mouth sewn shut for doing so:

Then Sindre placed iron in the furnace, and requested Brok to work the bellows, adding that otherwise all would be worthless. Now the fly lighted between his eyes and stung his eye-lids, and as the blood ran down into his eyes so that he could not see, he let go of the bellows just for a moment and drove the fly away with his hands. Then the smith came back and said that all that lay in the furnace came near being entirely spoiled. Thereupon he took a hammer out of the furnace.


Then Loke offered to ransom his head. The dwarf answered saying there was no hope for him on that score. Take me, then! said Loke; but when the dwarf was to seize him Loke was far away, for he had the shoes with which he could run through the air and over the sea. Then the dwarf requested Thor to seize him, and he did so. Now the dwarf wanted to cut the head off Loke, but Loke said that the head was his, but not the neck. Then the dwarf took thread and a knife and wanted to pierce holes in Loke’s lips, so as to sew his mouth together, but the knife would not cut. Then said he, it would be better if he had his brother’s awl, (Note from me: Or his brother is the awl, if you ask Dr. Crawford) the awl and as soon as he named it the awl was there and it pierced Loke’s lips. Now Brok sewed Loke’s mouth together, and broke off the thread at the end of the sewing. The thread with which the mouth of Loke was sewed together is called Vartare (a strap).

The existence of the Snaptun stone is, for many, evidence of a link between Loki and fire. I’ve read Axel Olrik’s essay on the fire connection. (Mind, he pre-dates the rediscovery of the stone.) I’ve read Eldar Heide’s “Ash Lad” essay. I’ve read Dagulf Loptsson’s “Sacramental Fire” theories. I’m currently working through Stephen Grundy’s God in Flames, God in Fetters. But I’ve also read Jan de Vries’s The Problem of Loki, so I disagree, for a few reasons.

Continue reading Loki, the Bellows, and Hot Air

For Jörð

Mín móðir hon er sum ein blóma
Hon er sum eitt livandi træ.

My mother, she is like a flower,
she is like a living tree.

– From “Mín móðir,” by Eivør.

Jörð does a lot for us.

She has given us the land we stand on. The water we drink, the plants and animals we eat, or bring into our homes to care for because we find them charming. All of this comes from her.

Even in our houses intended to buffer us from nature–built from the wood and stone, glass, and petroleum-derived plastic she provides–we strive to bring her in. We throw open our windows. We stop to smell and collect flowers, keeping them in vases made from sand-derived glass and dirt-derived ceramics. We seek out hiking trails and camping trips, buy little chunks of shiny rocks and metal mined from underground to adorn our bodies, and look forward to lying in the grass once the weather warms up and the winter thaw dries out.

When we die, Óðinn or Freyja or Hel take care of our spirits. But Jörð takes care of our bodies. She turns us into something new.

We love and admire her, even if we don’t realize it. Everything we have comes from her. I think as humans, we also fear her. But I suspect that this is why she is Thor’s mother. He softens the forces of nature. He protects us if we need it.

We owe her so much, and I hope we will someday manage to repay that debt. For her benefit, as well as our own.

A (Bus) Token of Appreciation

So I mentioned how (I’m pretty sure) local landvættir gave me bus tokens one time. That probably warrants a story, even if it’s just to illustrate how much flailing and guessing and silliness is involved in religion.

I was at a music festival and was inevitably under the influence, because that’s…just what you do at a music festival. I was the kind of Under The Influence that demands buying a chili cheese dog. I’m not naming the intoxicant or verifying any guesses, but that should be enough to guess. Gotta maintain plausible deniability, yanno?

The land this festival is on is a really nice place to wander through in the off-season, when it’s a hay farm. I suspect that, despite how trashed the place gets, the landvaettir feed off of all the loose energy, spilled food and drink, etc. that all the hippies leave in their wake. It seems like leaves start falling off the trees the day everyone packs up and goes home, even though it’s only halfway through August. But it feels nice to be there year-round, so I’m really fond of the spirits that represent it.

Which is why I pick up trash if I’m in the area. Hence, also, why the owners don’t mind me wandering through. Who else is going to be that enthusiastic about retrieving shrew skulls?

So, wandering up to the food stall, very much not sober, I tried to be a responsible person and count out my money in advance, down to the cent. But when trying to hand over my change, I ended up dropping a ton of it into the grass.

It was super late at night, the lighting was terrible, and the ground was so saturated that I had no hope of recovering my change without being caked in mud. And, being as not-sober as I was, I didn’t feel like I stood a chance at recovering any of it.

“Well,” I said. “I’ll let the Landvættir have it” and bought my chili cheese dog with a bunch of paper bills.

And then forgot about the loose change entirely, because chili cheese dog.

The next day, while walking the long way down the festival grounds (which are basically a small vale) to reach the correct entry gate, I saw something glinting in the grass by the bridge that connects the two fields.

I certainly have some magpie tendencies, given that my first thought was “shiny!” I assumed it was a small puddle, since it tends to be a very soggy field, but upon parting the grass to investigate, I found a bus token.

It was for Philly’s mass transit system, which meant at the time it was worth about $1.80. I had dropped far less money than that into the grass the night before, but I figure now it might have been intended as both a thank-you for loose change and for visiting regularly. I knew it was extremely rude not to accept something from the Landvættir, so I gratefully put it in my pocket.

There are thousands of reasons it would have been there. But nobody else noticed it, and the timing was odd enough that assuming it was meant for me seems reasonable.

That bus token has remained in a special spot for safekeeping, and unspent. It will never be spent. Unlike a crowded trip on the Market-Frankford Line, that token is special.

The Merit of Teachable Moments

When I was on a plane to Texas, I was seated next to a very chatty seventeen year old. In between randomly making assumptions about substance use (I’m generally sober, thank you), and incorrectly guessing my age by ten years (to be fair, nobody cards me) she asked me what I was reading. Or trying to read, really. Because she was that chatty.

I told her I was reading a translation of the Poetic Edda. Since nobody who isn’t Heathen or super into mythology to begin with knows what “Edda” refers to, I explained that this is one of the main sources of Norse mythology. She still didn’t know what that meant, so I said, “well you know, like, stories about Odin and Thor and Loki and them.”

That finally clicked for her, and I scrambled to specify “it’s not like the Marvel movies, though. This is a religious thing for me.”

Her response was “wait, you can do that? That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard!”

By disclosing my practice, I had achieved two things:

  1. Challenged the idea that pagan religions are dead, non-existent or inferior.
  2. Challenged the stigma surrounding Heathenry as base and hateful, because I was peacefully sitting on a plane and making the effort to educate somebody.

Visibility of pagan practices is important. I believe in the gods and teachable moments.

This idea that our faiths and our gods are dead leads to a lot of things. People assume nobody has a personal or cultural investment in these deities and their stories. And then they assume it is therefore okay to take these and bend them to their own wills. This leads to miseducation, insulting portrayals, and exploitation by people with a malicious agenda.

Because the general population assumes we don’t even exist, they don’t know enough to separate assumptions from actual practice, and those who are only vaguely aware don’t have the background knowledge necessary to differentiate extremists with an ahistorical agenda, from decent human beings who actually value the gods and the good we can all do for each other.

I’m not saying to go screaming it from the roof tops. It is not always prudent or even safe to open up about your practices, but doing so has a positive effect when it’s well-timed. I used to hide my hammer because I thought it was more “polite” to do that. I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable, knowing that this symbol has been bastardized for the past 80-odd years.

But I realized I was missing out on valuable opportunities to let people ask questions if they recognized it. I was allowing the face of my religion to be the louder and more dangerous contingent. I now make a point of being really, really obviously Heathen while being a decent human being. It shouldn’t be a big deal. In a better world, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But we’re not in that world yet.

There’s a wide variety of tactics available, and I know there are some that work better for other people. Setting a good example and being open to questions is what I’m capable of at the moment, so that is what I do.

Setting precedents is important.

This Post is Sort of About My Hair

Back in 2014, I gave Loki my hair. It was going to be covered and not cut, dyed or otherwise altered for a fixed period of six months–equinox to equinox.

And I…never really took it back. It was mine the following spring, and I threw some red hair dye on it, but there was a shift in my mentality. I hadn’t bothered to bleach it beforehand, because I didn’t want to damage it.

This was abnormal, for me.

For a long time, my hair was just this tedious, scratchy nonsense that needed constant trimming, bleaching, coloring, combing, and especially constant washing, because it’s stick-straight. I treated my hair like garbage. Up to and including buzzing it off, because I lost my patience while trimming my bangs.

Oh yeah, there were Sinead O’Connor jokes for a while.

But I like it, now. I like how an act of servitude granted me an outward symbol of liberty and good health. I like braiding it, or rolling it up and fastening it with handmade hair sticks that sit on the shrine.

Most of all, I like how I have a constant mark of devotion that goes everywhere with me.

External Holiness is not really A Thing™ in Heathenry. Especially recon Heathenry. The only historically or mythologically proven example we have is the wearing of Mjölnir pendants, which increased after Christian contact. More multireligious contact begat more signalling of faith. But I digress.

I digress a lot.

I don’t think a lack of historical basis should be a deal breaker when it comes to showing devotion through our bodies. If doing something harmless (or minimally harmful) to our bodies make our gods happy, and is acceptable to us…why not? These are things that take effort, and in the case of body mods, cause brief pain and long-term changes in appearance. (Tattoos and piercings are decorative, carefully inflicted wounds after all.) Growing out my hair, and now planning to grow it to its terminal length, is a long term and high maintenance show of devotion.

But if I’m lucky, it won’t be dragging on the floor. No amount of ecstasy and devotion is going to make me tolerate dirty leaves in my hair.

Is April Fool’s a Norse Holiday?

In the modern age, some Heathens use the first day of April as a day specifically honoring Loki. This would seem to originate from the day’s associations with practical jokes, and with Loki’s reputation as a trickster. This holiday, however, has even more ancient origins—and in fact comes from the Norse.

The origin of April Fools was a festival called Prettarsdagr1 which took place during the month Einmánuður, the earlier part of which is roughly equivalent to late March and early April in the Gregorian calendar. We have recently discovered the first written account of the festival by an Irish cleric during the year 969 CE2. Archaeological records, however, have turned up rune stones using the Elder Futhark alphabet which suggest this tradition may have taken place as early as 420 CE.3

Some aspects of the Prettarsdagr festival included communal drinking, blots to Loki4 and flytings. Historians believe the emphasis on flyting originates from the aggression common to sleep-deprived humans, caused by the circadian rhythm readjusting to the presence of increased sunlight5. This is in keeping with the social function of flyting in Old Norse societies, in which they are used as a substitute for physical altercations in order to resolve conflict.

Apparent influence of the Norse Prettarsdagr festival on other cultures is evident in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in which the Nun’s Priest’s Tale describes a rooster named Chauntecleer who is haunted by dreams of his eventual death by a fox—an obvious symbol of Loki6. We can see here a parallel with “Baldrs Draumar,” wherein Baldr is plagued by dreams of his impending death7. In Snorri’s prose version, Baldr is eventually killed by a sprig of mistletoe brought to the blind Hodr by Loki. In Chaucer’s derivation, the mistletoe is replaced by cabbage in which the fox hides. This tale is the first recorded instance in the English language explicitly stating a connection between “32 March” (April 1st) and deception.8

Partly due to the conversion effort in Scandinavia, these rituals began to be divorced from their pagan origins. As more of the Norse officially became Christian, flytings gave way to humorous tales employing increasingly complex wordplay performed in the courts of kings9. One such example would be the poem on which Snorri’s account of Loki’s eating contest with Logi in the hall of Utgarda-Loki is derived10. We see a continuation of the “deception” motif in Utgarda-Loki’s disguising of fire, thought, age and the Midgard Serpent as seemingly innocuous persons and animals, who outstrip Loki, Thor and Thjalfi at every turn.

Rubber chickens may even be a holdover of the Prettarsdagr festival and the deception in “Baldrs Draumar” through the lens of Chaucer11. The rubber chicken has its origins in the performances of court jesters during the renaissance12—the descendants of increasingly humorous court skalds. Chicken carcasses were widely available and were often used in tandem with inflated pigs’ bladders as mock-weapons during performances. There is one such account of a Swedish clown as late as 1900 who used food during his performances to mock the decadence of the upper classes—including a dead chicken.

As of 1900, however, this connection had surely been forgotten.

Now, of course, April Fool’s Day is a day set aside for harmless practical jokes. In modern-day Sweden, for example, many newspapers will print exactly one fabricated story.

Kind of like this post. Check the first letter of each paragraph.

April Fool’s does not have any Norse origins, or even an analogous festival in the original Heathen practice. There is no Prettarsdagr. We still do not have compelling evidence of a cult of worship for Loki. April Fool’s as a blot day for Loki is an entirely modern invention.

But it’s also Easter, so here’s all the Easter Eggs:

  1. A word I literally made up for this post. It would, however, roughly translate to "day of tricks."
  2. Though the Vikings and the Irish would have already been in contact at this time, we have no such documents. I just wanted a year with 69 in it.
  3. Runestones did exist at this time, but they were mostly gravestones. And it's the weed number.
  4. Again, no proven cult of Loki. Therefore, no historical blots to Loki.
  5. Flyting might have been used as a substitute for physical violence, but it has nothing to do with a made up holiday or the transition into spring. The Norse didn't need an excuse for flyting.
  6. The association of foxes with deception originates separately. Foxes were never associated with Loki until very recently, and this association is entirely unsupported by the lore and historical evidence.
  7. There is no parallel. This is an extremely common plot--Chauntecleer even reflects on how common this plot is within the story.
  8. This one's actually true. Canterbury Tales legitimately is the earliest known English attestation of April 1 being linked to trickery.
  9. Flyting officially existed until the 1500s, but ritualized insult poetry never went away. (Rap battles are, in a sense, much like flyting.) There's no reason this would have happened as a result of the conversion, because flyting was not a distinctly pagan practice.
  10. We don't know nearly enough about this story to make these kinds of claims.
  11. LOL no.
  12. Actually likely to be true...but weird.