A Random Theory About Útgarða-Loki

Disclaimers are important! So here’s mine. I am not an expert on Norse mythology. I am just a Heathen who moonlights as a big old nerd, and tries to read very old pieces of text until I am very mad about everything and start chugging mead in frustration. (I am inflicting this suffering on myself right now with scans of Computus Runicus.)

ALSO, because I am not an expert, with a robust scholarly background, and I am also not anywhere near old enough to have been around for when Haustlong and the chunk of the Prose Edda about it was written, this should be regarded as a curiosity. I have a post on that, too.

ANYWAY.


In the post about the Snaptun stone I took a guess that the story of Loki/Logi/Útgarða-Loki was originally a poem. Not just because the Prose Edda is Snorri transcribing linear narratives from poems, but because of the sheer amount of alliteration in the use of these names.

We don’t seem to have any traces of this poem beyond the narrative, if it exists. Snorri does not quote stanzas from wherever he is getting this story. So the claim that this is a poem is a logical–but technically unprovable–guess.

I’m going out on a limb that I desperately hope will hold my weight, is what I’m saying.

Útgarða-Loki might not be a name. In fact, I strongly suspect it’s a kenning. It even follows the standard format of genitiveY-nominativeX used in kennings (“Loki of the outer yards,” in this case) to obliquely refer to something that wouldn’t have otherwise fit the style a poet was using.

The thought occurred to me when I was skimming something for another post and noticed kennings such as “ale-Gefjon.” But Ale-Gefjon isn’t literally Gefjon doling out alcohol. It’s Groa. There is no room in this narrative for Gefjon’s actual presence, let alone her doling out ale.

Gefjon’s name is used here as a general placeholder for “woman.”

So I imagine it’s well within the realm of possibility that Loki’s name could have been used similarly. Maybe, just maybe, “Loki” in the potential kenning “Útgarða-Loki” is being used as a placeholder for a Jotunn in general, or a deceiver in general.

Like Loki, Útgarða-Loki weaponizes the neutral. (Fire, thought, age, the sea; whereas Loki weaponizes speech and–depending on source–mistletoe.) He deceives the gods who wander into his territory. His deceit unravels. And in this story, Útgarða-Loki is the driver of conflict and the mover of the narrative. Compare this to the “mover of stories” function that Yvonne S. Bonnetain ascribes to Loki–you can read a translation of the summary here.

He takes on the role that Loki ordinarily fulfills in his tales. But he is a total outsider from the perspective of the gods and the skalds that center their narrative. While Loki is considered somewhat of an outsider, and a transgressor, he is counted among the Aesir and is portrayed as belonging in Asgard. Útgarða-Loki is not.

And he is not Loki, himself. Just similar.

I’m not invoking the overblown and ridiculous innangard-utangard dichotomy, by the way. That concept is a wild misinterpretation of the actual concepts of whether something falls within, our outside of, a given boundary. Usually a fence. A house. A town. Útgarðr can be a little more ~woo~, but mostly just conveys an idea of something being “way over yonder.”

The actual identity of Útgarða-Loki has not been definitively solved. I am nowhere near qualified to definitively solve it–and that’s not how it works, anyway. This is just my two pieces of hacksilver.

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