Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Loki in Lughnasa

A few weeks ago, when Tom Hiddleston's erotic reading of Tennessee Williams' The Seven Descents of Myrtle came up in a prostitution-related post, I mentioned Hiddleston-portrayed Marvel Comics character Loki. The Norse god Loki, I said, sometimes has female characteristics, and is the mother of several offspring.

I got curious about the details of this story, so I turned to my trusty Hamilton's Mythology. It mentioned Loki's part in the death of the beloved god Balder, but says nothing of his children. I then turned to Myths and Folklore by Henry I. Christ, which is the textbook from which I studied mythology as a high school freshman and sophomore, ages ago. It, too, was of limited usefulness. It said, "Although handsome, he was fickle and unreliable. His three offspring were the wolf Fenris, the Midgard serpent, and Hela, or Death." 

Hela is often depicted as half alive and half dead. Hela is the death-goddess, an equivalent of Persephone and Kali. Her Celtic equivalent was Scotia, or Scatha, and Scotland was named after her. Also referred to as Skald in Norse mythology, she had to be appeased with the yearly blood sacrifice of a hero. 

I said Loki is the mother of this weird little brood, but Encyclopedia Mythica says Loki is the father and that their mother is the giantess Angrboda, Loki's mistress. Loki was the mother of the eight-legged colt Sleipnir; he took the form of a mare to distract the stallion Svadilfari, which belonged to a giant who opposed the gods. In doing so, Loki saved Freya from having to marry the giant. 

Then I went to Barbara G. Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Walker writes, "Like many of the oldest gods, Loki was bisexual [in the sense that he was sometimes a male and sometimes a female]. He even succeeded in becoming a mother, though only after he swallowed a woman's heart to acquire the power of birth-giving...Loki's offspring was the eight-legged horse Sleipnir, spirit of death, a symbol of the gallows tree on which Odin rode." 

Walker notes that Loki was sometimes identified as "Logi," or "flame." She associates Loki-as-Logi with Lug (or Lugh), the Celtic god of fire, who was celebrated at Lughnasa/Lughnasadh (Lug's games) on August 1st. Hey, that's tomorrow!

Lug, it seems, is an Irish version of the annually dying and returning god. He's the son of Dagda (the great Irish father-god, equivalent to Odin), but also a reincarnation of Dagda. His mother/lover throughout the incarnation cycle is Tailltiu, the earth-goddess. At her eponymous Irish city, Taillten, the annual fair resulted in temporary marriages that lasted a year and a day. Lughnasa is reminiscent of Beltane - a cross-quarter holiday (the halfway point between a solstice and an equinox) at which a stage of the harvest is celebrated with symbolic acts of human fertility - i.e. sex, and not necessarily with one's usual partner. 

However you celebrate Lughnasa - bread and blueberries are traditional symbols of this stage of the Northern Hemisphere's harvest season - have a great one!


Gul Omean said...


I coincidently made a list with original sources mentioning Loki's children recently. I saw your post and thougth maybe you could use it too. Here are the English translations I got so far:

Poetic Edda,
http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe15.htm and/or
About the ‘troll-women’ from eating the heart: verse 42 and 43

Poetic Edda, Lokasenna:
http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe10.htm and/or
About the children borne living underground: verse 23
About unidentified children: verse 33

Proze Edda,
About Sleipnir: p. 53-p. 55
About his children with Sigyn (Vali, Narfi) and Angrboda (Hell, Fenris, Jormungandr): p. 42 and p. 77

It might be worth looking into other translations, they differ greatly.

Erin O'Riordan said...

Thank you so much! What a wonderful resource!