Eldar Heide

It seems that there were two Lokis. One was a vätte ‘domestic spirit’ living under

or by the fireplace, helping farmers with the farm work and attracting wealth

to the farm. The other, the mythical character, was very different but still

derived from the vätte, and many Loki myths allude to the vätte. The vätte Loki is

most easily seen in late traditions, but there are strong reasons to believe that he

existed in medieval traditions, too. Factors within the late corpus and its relation

to other late material indicate ancientness, and essential parts of it can be anchored

to medieval material. Still, this vätte Loki is hard to accept because he is so different

from Loki in the Old Norse (ON) myths. However, in the late traditions we also

find Loki as the fairy tale character the Ash Lad, who largely overlaps with the

mythological Loki. This may have been the case in the Middle Ages as well,

although the two probably were never identical

Pg 63

The predominant Scandinavian term for the Ash Lad

— Oskefis(en)~Ask(e)fis(en) — also refers to a vätte under the fireplace, manipulating

the fire. Hence, both Loki and the Ash Lad are both vättes under the fireplace

and narrative characters. This parallelism makes it problematic to reject the vätte

Loki. The connection between the narrative characters and the vätte appears to be

found in their youths by the fireside. Because the Ash Lad stayed near the fireplace

and tended the fire, he was given the vätte’s name. In the same way, Loki may have

been given the vätte’s name Loki because of a childhood as a lazy ‘mummy’s boy’

by the fireplace. Sadly, we have very limited information about the mythological

Loki’s early days, but some Loki myths support this image. The overlap between

the narrative characters Loki and the Ash Lad and the abundant information on

the latter can help us understand Loki’s role in the mythology. For both characters,

it seems that there is no real contradiction between their beneficial and destructive

sides because both aspects derive from the characters’ being essentially ‘semiotherworlders’.

Because of this, accepting them into the establishment amounts to

opening it to a Trojan horse and thus implies its downfall. But this is inescapable

because they, for the same reason, are the only ones capable of bringing absolutely

necessary objects and persons from the otherworld. Their association with the vätte

under the fireplace makes them ideal as links to the otherworld.

In the majority of the myths about Loki, he provides the gods with priceless treasures

from the otherworld; thus, he is one of the most beneficial of the gods. But

he also engages in all kinds of tricks and both begets and gives birth to enemies of

the gods, and he sides with the giants at Ragnaro3k. This ambiguity and the limited

information about his background make Loki an unsolved problem, in spite of

more than a century of intense research.

There is a substantial amount recorded from the

seventeenth to the twentieth centuries mentioning the name Loki or the common

noun loki. Since the interwar period, most scholars have rejected such material as

a source for pre-Christian Scandinavian beliefs, but this rejection is now in retreat.

Pg 64

Late Loki traditions may have preserved ancient relics, and there are ways to

validate the information. However, no one has been able to make the late Loki fit

together with his ON counterpart in a cohesive interpretation.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, several theories of Loki relied

heavily on contemporary popular beliefs. I will begin with a brief overview of

these.1 The largest study is that of Celander (1911, 1914).2 He discussed the

mainland Scandinavian traditions about Lokke3~Luki~Luku~Loke, which seem

to be the same name as the ON Loki. The variants with the stem vowel -u- lack

a-mutation because they are eastern (cf. Swedish udde, Norwegian/Danish odde);

the proto-Germanic root is *luk-. Celander argued that Loki basically is a vätte,

which is Celander’s analytic term (Swedish, masculine; definite singular Vätten)

for the supernatural helpers and providers at the farms, modest in appearance but

surprisingly effective, known as Tomten or Tuftekallen ‘the man of the house lot’,

vättarna ‘the sprites’, Kullebonden ‘the farmer in the hill’, ellefolk ‘elf people’,

Nissen, and so forth. Sometimes the accounts tell of an individual, male or female,

, and other times a collective.

Celander had two arguments. First, the traditions of Loki are always variants

of vätte traditions. Here are a few of Celander’s examples. In Denmark and

southern Sweden, heat hazes, especially above newly ploughed or harrowed fields

in spring, are attributed to the flock of Lokke (or ‘Lokke driving his flock’ — sheep

or goats, sometimes pigs) and to the flock of Kullebonden, Bjærgmanden ‘the man

in the hill’, along with similar figures (Celander 1911, 53–57; Rooth 1961,

198–99; cf. Schoonderbeek 1996; in many variants the heat haze is ‘Lokke sowing

Pg 65

oats’: Olrik 1909, 71).4 A further example appears in Jutland: when the birds shed

their feathers, one might say that they ‘går i Lokkis arri’, which in all probability

means ‘end up in (are caught in?) Lokki’s harrow’.5 This corresponds to the fact

that, according to southern Swedish folklore, Lokke helped the farmers harrow the

fields in spring (Rooth 1961, 198), and it can be explained, Celander points out,

if Lokke was a vätte because the Vätten was believed to cause the birds’ and animals’

loss of feathers, wool, and fur (Celander 1911, 59–60, Setesdal and Västergötland;

also Luf M5821, 2 and Luf M6442, 5–6, Småland). Another example is that in

many parts of Sweden and Norway people attributed the crackling or whistling of

a fire, or the sudden flare of a fire from the embers, or the blowing of ash, to the

Vätten — he was blowing on the ashes or the fire, or spanking his children, causing

them to scream (= the crackling/whistling).6 In Telemark, Norway, as Celander

points out, some of these phenomena were attributed to Loke. He gives the example

of Setesdal, next to Telemark, in which small ‘sacrifices’ of food were made to

the Vätten in the fire (vetti, feminine definite); and in Telemark itself, the recipient

of this was Loke (Celander 1911, 47, 49; Skar 1903–16, III, 27). This is related to

a common custom throughout south-eastern Sweden and the Swedish-speaking

Pg 66

areas east of the Baltic: milk teeth are thrown into the fire during the recitation of

a rhyme that addresses Lokke~Luku~Luki~Nokk(e) (Vendell 1904–06, 559; Olrik

1909, 78; Celander 1911, 47; Levander and Björklund 1961–, vol., 1412): ‘Locke,

Locke, gif mig en bentand! | Här har du en guld-tand’ (Hyltén-Cavallius 1863–68,

I, 235) (Lokke, Lokke, give me a gold-tooth | Here you have a gold tooth).

Celander’s second argument was that this Loki in the fireplace in Swedish

Finland was explicitly identified with Vätten (Tontn = Tomten; Celander 1911,

50). The basis for Celander’s work was provided by Olrik, who presented most of

the late Loki traditions in two articles (1908; 1909). Olrik argued that Loki was

originally a ‘flame / light spirit’ (cf. Olrik and Ellekilde 1926, 261) because of his

connection with the fireplace and heat hazes, and the etymological identification

of Loki with logi ‘a flame’, which was then widely accepted (Grimm 1953, I,

199–200; Kock 1899). Celander rejected this theory. Sacrifices to Loki in the

fireplace do not necessarily mean that Loki is the fire, just that he (and his people)

live under or by the fireplace.7 This understanding is supported by the richer

evidence of the Vätten: sacrifices may be deposited in the corners of the fireplace,

not necessarily in the fire, and when the Vätten is blowing on the embers and the

fire flares up again, the Vätten clearly is not the fire, even if he is closely connected

to it (Celander 1911, 52; 1914, 76)

Several scholars (von der Leyen 1899, 32–46; Celander 1911, 108–09; Mo

1916, 121; Holtsmark 1962, 88; Henriksen 1966, 148) have pointed out striking

similarities between Loki, both in the ON texts and the late material (Olrik 1908),

and the Ash Lad of the fairy tales and sagas: Kolbít(u)r (ON, Icelandic), Øskufísur~

Øskudólgur (Faroese), Oskefis(en), Ask(e)fis(en) (Norwegian, Danish, Swedish); Low

German Aschenpuster, High German Aschenputtel — or Askeladden, which today

is the standard name in Norway, where this character is a national hero (> English

Ash Lad). This name was rare in the popular traditions but was preferred by the

collector Asbjørnsen because Oskefis(en) may mean both ‘the Ash Blower’ (cf. Icelandic

físibelgur m. ‘bellows’) and ‘the Ash Fart’, and hence sounded too vulgar for

nineteenth-century readers. The Ash Lad is, as his (nick)names suggest, typically

the youngest of three brothers, a work-shy, idle, dirty boy from a poor family,

Pg 67

always sitting at home poking and blowing on the fire (e.g. ‘Gullslottet som hang i

lufta’, Asbjørnsen and Moe 1965, II, 248; see further § 4.1). Traditionally, the act of

tending the fire — putting on wood, poking the fire, and blowing to keep it alive —

was considered work of low status and often the responsibility of a young child or

another person considered unfit for more demanding tasks. The Ash Lad is often the

favourite of his mother and supported by her, but is regarded by others as a disgrace

to his family because he refuses to take part in manly work. Eventually, however,

he surprises and comes out ahead of everyone because of his cleverness; efficient,

low-status handling of problems; and/or unexpected courage. In the end, the king

must give him the princess and (half) the kingdom because he passes impossible

tests, or he gains a fortune by outsmarting and killing a troll (§§ 4.1.1 and 4.2).

By contrast with Celander, Rooth’s (1961) point of departure was the Old

Swedish and modern Swedish dialect meaning ‘spider, daddy-long-legs (i.e. members

of the family Opiliones)’ of Lokke~Luki; the Swedish word lokkanät ‘cobweb’,

literally ‘web of lokke’; and Faroese parallels for these: Lokkanet is the term for ‘cobwebs’,

while lokki~grindalokki~grindalokkur is a term for the spider-like daddylong-

legs/crane fly (i.e. members of the family Tipulidae). (The distinction

between Araneae, Opiliones, and Tipulidae was only introduced by modern entomology.)

As cobwebs resemble fishnets both in appearance and function (and may

have given the idea for the fishnet), Rooth linked this to the ON myth where Loki

invents the fishnet (see § 4.1.2). She adopted the theory that Loki is a trickster

(from de Vries 1933) and linked it to Native American traditions where the spider

along with other animals such as the raven, the mink, and the rabbit are tricksters

(Rooth 1961, 194–210, 245–48). She concluded that ‘spider […] was the original

meaning of […] the god Loki’ (246).

None of these theories is given much support today, for several reasons:

1. Scholars who put emphasis on late material rarely explained why we should

trust it to provide information about ancient times. This is a fundamental

methodological failure, which in the interwar period led to a general rejection

of late material in studies of Old Scandinavian religion. The main argument was

that after a millennium of Christianity, it would be so corrupted that it could

be of no use (Heide 2009).

2. Loki in the late traditions is quite different from Loki in the ON myths, and

this has not been explained in a convincing way.

3. The late material differs substantially internally.

4. The theories that rely on the late material differ greatly as well.

5. Rooth’s use of late material presupposes an implausible ethnographic analogy.

6. The similarities between the Ash Lad and Loki are not discussed, just noted.

Pg 68

7. The most widespread form of the name Loki in late traditions has a geminate

k: Lokki. No plausible explanation of this has been given,8 so it is not obvious

that it is the same word.

I address these problems in what follows.


In Faroese the geminate form Lokki undoubtedly refers to the ON god. In the

ballad Lokkatáttur (Hammershaimb 1851, I, 140), Lokki appears with Óðin and

Hønir in a triad, as in some ON myths (Simek 2006, 199), and Lokki in the fairy

tale Risin og Lokki has much in common with the ON god (§ 4.1.3) . The geminate

form Lokke also occurs in a Danish saying that reflects the ON Loki, first attested

from the seventeenth century: ‘to carry Lokke’s letters’ means ‘to secretly inform

against, accuse, slander’,9 and ‘to listen to Lokke’s fairy tales/fibs’ means ‘to listen

to lies/fibs’ (‘at høre på Lokkens eventyr’, Olrik 1909, 71, 78). This corresponds

to the ON Loki’s role as rógberi ásanna ‘slanderer/accuser of the gods’ (Gylfaginning

19), as in the Eddic poem Lokasenna (§ 3.4). (The ‘carrying of letters’ may

be a metaphor for ‘spreading information in a covert way’.) Lokke is also Loki’s

name in the Swedish and Danish versions of the ballad derived from Þrymskviða

(Tor af Havsgård / Torsvisan), first attested in the sixteenth century (Olrik 1909,

76; Bugge and Moe 1897, 16–26, 91). As we can see, in several cases the geminate

form is indisputably connected to the Old Scandinavian god.

Conversely, forms

with a single k are found in many of the late traditions that are seen as irrelevant to

the god: Loke, Luki, Luku(r) in Telemark, Dalarna (Sweden), and parts of Swedish

Finland.10 The alternation k : kk is present throughout the entire complex of the

Germanic root *luk- and the parallel *hnuk-, and it can be explained linguistically,

Pg 69

as I will demonstrate in a separate article. It is difficult to escape the conclusion

that Lokke and similar forms are the same word/name as ON Loki.


I consider all the studies of the late evidence for Loki as useful. Olrik’s collection

of the late material is invaluable, although I agree with Celander’s rejection of the

identification of Loki and fire. It was based upon the idea that mythology in

general refers to natural phenomena, which was abandoned a century ago. The etymological

argument for the identification is doubtful, and I can see no other clear

argument for it. Kock (1899) relied on the ON expression fara sem lok yfir akra.

But lok/Loki in this expression can hardly mean ‘fire’ (§ 4.1.2), and Loki is obviously

not the fire when he loses the eating contest against fire in Gylfaginning 29.

As Celander pointed out (see § 3.1), the late material’s connection between Loki

and fire does not imply an identification, but rather an association, which fits with

the Vätten.

Rooth’s work is valuable because it takes Loki’s spider connection seriously —

it should not be ignored simply because it seems odd. But the idea that Loki the

trickster is derived from the spider seems to have no foundation in Northern European

traditions. However, the spider Loki can be seen as a subsection of Celander’s

vätte Loki (which Olrik 1911, 584 considered, although he rejected Celander’s

theory). In several parts of the Germanic-speaking area, cobwebs were believed to

be made by the vättes (vättar, elves, dwarves), and many of the beliefs attributed to

the Vätten are also attributed to lok(k)e~luki in the sense of ‘spiders, daddy-longlegs’:

they — and their cobwebs — were believed to bring luck or wealth to the

home or farm, and to help the farmers with herding and harvesting, exactly like the


Another correspondence is found in the general belief that the vättes did

not appear in anthropomorphic shape (during the day) but as all kinds of animals:

toads, grass snakes, other small animals, and in some traditions spiders and daddylong-

legs are referred to as vättes. A fundamental connection also seems to exist

between the word loki and cobwebs and fishnets (§ 4.1.2). There are strong reasons

to believe that at least some of these elements are ancient. I will elaborate on this

in a separate article.

I support Celander’s connection of the late Loki with the Vätten. It is evidenced

firmly in Celander’s thesis, and I have collected a considerable amount of material

that points in the same direction, such as the notions connected to spiders/daddylong-


Pg 70

Vätten but would like to adjust it. Celander (1911, 27–45) makes no distinction

between the Tomten, Nissen, Gardvorden, and other such terms, on the one hand,

and the Vätten or vättes, on the other. This is understandable. Landtman (1922,

9–10) remarked that it is nearly impossible to distinguish between them, but still

points out three significant differences. First, the traditions accentuate that the

vättes (de underjordiska, underbyggare = Northern Swedish vitterfolket, Norwegian

hulderfolket, de(i) underjordiske, Danish underjordsfolket, etc.) live under the ground

or buildings, whereas the tomtes typically live in the buildings. Second, whereas the

tomtes are frequently described in the accounts — as anthropomorphic beings —

the traditions rarely give information about the (true) appearance of the vättes

(which coincides with their ability to appear in various shapes). Third, the vättes

are more hostile and dangerous than the tomtes. They do help and protect the people

of the farm, but are easily offended and turn against them. I would like to add

that the vättes tend to have a more independent life, with their own farms and livestock

underground, whereas the Tomten is part of the human farm. Loki in late

tradition more closely corresponds to a vätte. For the sake of simplicity I use terms

that refer to a single male, but the sources equally often refer to a single female or

a collective. The term Vätten is not unproblematic, as it is a taboo term covering

one or more underlying terms, and literally means ‘something very small’. De Vries

(1933, 234) claims, to undermine Celander’s theory, that the term vätte in late

tradition is applied to more or less any group of beings, but this is not the case. It

is quite consistently used as an alternative term to underbyggare and similar terms

(which are themselves taboo terms), and it is difficult to find a better term.

Celander’s connection of Loki with the Vätten living under or by the fireplace,

manipulating the fire, can be made substantially stronger today. The identification

of Lokke with the Tomten is now also known from Småland (ULMA 4537,

Sunnerbo), and the attributing of the crackling and whistling of the fire to Loki

(Luki) from Dalarna,11 in addition to Telemark. In the Faroe Islands, a lokkalogi

‘fire of Lokki’ refers to ‘the first flame from a newly lit fire’ ( Jacobsen and Matras

1961, 262). This makes sense if Lok(k)i was a vätte like the one mentioned in note

6, or an Ostrobothnian Lokk(e) (Nokk(e)) in the fireplace, identified with Vätten

(above). This type of Loki has been adopted into adjacent Finnish areas:12 Lukki

is a haltija ‘vätte’ living by the fireplace (Ostrobothnia, SKS KRA KT167, 7;

Pg 71

KT180, 80), generally believed to tend the fire (Haavio 1942, 217–18). Thus, we

seem to find (reflections of) Loki as a vätte living under or by the fireplace in four

isolated areas: the Faroes, Telemark (Norway), Dalarna (Sweden), and Ostrobothnia

(Finland). As these areas have always been isolated from each other, it is

unlikely that this is the result of borrowing; rather, it is a relic of an ancient, common

tradition, preserved only in these areas, which are among Scandinavia’s most

conservative. This seems to be confirmed by the Viking-Age hearth stone from

Snaptun in Denmark (§ 4.1.2).

Other aspects of the Finnish Lukki support the interpretation of Loki as a vätte.

In charms against rickets (riisi), Lukki is mentioned among the causers of this

disease (Setälä 1912, 352). Children with rickets were believed to be swapped vätte

children ((bort)bytingar, changelings; Reichborn-Kjennerud 1928–47, I, 9, 51, 55,

II, 97, 100), so if Lukki caused rickets, he would be a vätte

The tradition of throwing milk teeth to Lokke/Luki points in the same direction.

It supports the impression of Loki as a vätte living under or by the fireplace,

and the distribution of the tradition indicates that it is old. It is known from southeastern

Sweden (Scania, Blekinge, Småland, Närke, Västmanland, Dalarna),

Swedish Finland, and Swedish Estonia, in eastern areas sometimes with the variant

nokk(e) (Celander 1911, 23, 47; Levander and Björklund 1961–, vol., 1412;

ULMA 7612, 37). But it is also recorded in interior eastern Jutland (Ring near

Silkeborg), addressing Lokkemand (Ellekilde and Tang Kristensen 1923, 105), and

interior eastern Norway near Hamar, addressing Lokke.13 Accordingly, this tradition

is found in one large area in the south and east of the Swedish-speaking area

and in two isolated ‘islands’ to the west and north of this. It is unlikely that these

‘islands’ represent late influence from Sweden. Fairy tales and other narratives

spread easily, partly because they can be adapted to local conditions. In this case,

however, we are referring to a fixed ritual connected with a specific name (Lokke).

To establish this in a foreign country takes a great deal more. It can occur, for

example in immigrant societies like the United States in the nineteenth century,

where new traditions were formed through a mixture of various immigrant traditions.

But the societies in question here are ancient, stable, conservative, without

major immigration from the area where the tradition is most widely attested. If in

spite of this the tradition did spread once, it is unlikely that it would happen twice

Pg 72


Again, the traditions where Loki appears as a vätte are most easily

explained as scattered relics of an ancient common tradition

The alternative fate of milk teeth supports the connection with Vätten. In Germany,

the Baltic countries, and Scotland, and elsewhere in mainland Scandinavia, the

teeth are normally given to ‘Mouse’ in the fire. In Scandinavia this is accompanied

with the above-mentioned rhyme, addressing ‘Mouse’ instead of Lokke~Luki.14

Von Negelein (1900, 292), Christiansen (1913), and de Vries (1933, 230) have

independently suggested that this is because mice living in the house were taken to

be appearances of domestic spirits. I can add that this idea is attested (Grundtvig

1944, 212; Reichborn-Kjennerud 1928–47, I, 189), and that other small animals

associated with the house or its hearth were understood in the same way. In Estonia,

the house cricket (Acheta domesticus) was addressed with the rhyme when a

tooth was deposited near the oven (Christiansen 1913; Loorits 1949–57, I, 59, II,

58), because the house cricket was understood in this way, as in Norway and other

places, where people sometimes fed the house crickets (Jonassen 1989, 6). The logic

behind this is that house crickets lived in cracks in the chimney or in other warm

places near the fireplace.

The alternative approaches to the disposal of teeth support

the idea that the receiver was a domestic spirit: they could be dropped into cracks

in the floor (while the rhyme was read to ‘Mouse’, e.g. Luf M2197, 25, Luf 2176,

17, Småland) — which corresponds with the vättes revealing themselves by light

through those cracks (see note 6) — or under the bed (Olrik and Ellekilde 1926,

262) or in cracks in the walls of the house (Árni Óla 1964, 191, Iceland). In

Swedish Finland, the receiver of the teeth varies between Lokk(e)/Nokk(e) (most

common) and Tomten/Tomtegubben~Gubbtomten~Gubben, both in Ostrobothnia

and in Nyland (Landtman 1919, 727–29; Forsblom 1927, vol., 155–59),

which are, of course, domestic spirits, more or less the same as the Vätten.

The vättes could also show themselves as weak lights elsewhere in the house (see

note 6), and they were believed to be the cause of mystical light phenomena (Luf

M3022, 14, Scania; Luf M2885, 84). Thus, petrified fossilized belemnites, resembling

candles, were known as ‘vätte candles’ in southernmost Sweden and Denmark.

Such notions may be the key to an unexplained Loki tradition: when the sun shines

Pg 73

into a puddle and is reflected onto a wall, the spot of light on the wall — a solkatt

in (standard) Swedish — is referred to as Lokke lejemand on Zealand (Olrik 1909,

70) and as a luki in Dalarna (Levander and Björklund 1961–, vol., 1412). In Småland,

a reflection from the fire on objects (especially inside a room) traditionally

was referred to as the Bovätten15 (‘the Vätten of the farm’). Such a reflection is a

solkatt, inside a room and with light from the fire rather than the sun. Thus,

luki~Lokke lejemand ‘reflected spot of light’ is easily explained if Luki~Lokke used

to be a vätte. Again the occurrences appear to be ‘isolated relic islands’, indicating

antiquity, as it is difficult to explain the connection from borrowing in recent


The same logic can be used for other elements of the late Loki traditions: In

Iceland and the southernmost Danish islands Loki is associated with tangles that

appear when sewing or spinning, but in such differing forms that the one can

hardly have been borrowed from the other. This tangle-Loki can easily be explained

from the Vätten (see § 4.1.2).

The saying ‘Lokke sowing oats’ — a variant of ‘Lokke driving his flock’ (§ 3.1)

— is another example. It is known from Jutland (Schoonderbeek 1996) and the

southern Danish islands (Fyn, Lolland/Falster; DFS 1906/23; Tholle 1936, 135)

and from places that never had much contact with this area: eastern central

Småland (ULMA 1654: 2, p. 3, Uppvidinge) and Stange near Hamar in eastern

Norway (Hagen 1922, 6, 66; Visted 1923, 328). In this case it seems that antiquity

can be confirmed by Old Icelandic texts (§ 4.1.2).

Antiquity is also indicated by the fact that although we find many of the same

or similar elements in different ‘relic islands’ of the Loki tradition, they are combined

in varying ways. An incomplete overview: in Iceland we find Loki as the

causer of tangles and as the trickster in narratives (§§ 4.1.2 and 4.1.1); in the Faroes

as the trickster and the ‘spider’ and possibly the Vätten under the fireplace (§§ 4.1.1

and 3.3); in Telemark as the food-receiving vätte under the fireplace and as the

trickster (§ 3.3 and Olrik 1909, 81); in the Hamar area as the oat-sower and the

receiver of milk teeth under the fireplace; in Dalarna as the tooth-receiving and

fire-manipulating vätte under the fireplace, the ‘spider’, and the trickster (§ 4.1.1). In


southern and eastern Sweden we find the receiver of milk teeth under the fireplace

and the spider; in Småland and Scania the same, along with the goat- or sheep-herder

or oat-sower; in Småland the Vätten as Tomten; in the southernmost Danish islands

the goat- or sheep-herder and tangle-causer, as also in Jutland, where in addition the

Vätten is the oat-sower and the receiver of milk teeth under the fireplace; in

Swedish Finland the receiver of milk teeth under the fireplace, the Vätten as Tomten,

and the spider. This distribution of elements would be surprising if the Loki traditions

resulted from spreading in recent times. In that case they should be far more

uniform. We are observing what we should expect from ‘relic islands’ that stem

from an ancient, common Scandinavian tradition: the elements are preserved sporadically

— some in small areas far apart, others in larger, continuous areas; some

are found throughout the larger areas, others only in parts of them, and so forth.

Finally, antiquity is indicated by the existence of an eastern variant

Nokk(e)~nokk(e) in Swedish Finland, Swedish Estonia, and south-eastern Sweden

down to Scania (Olrik 1909, 79; Celander 1911, 22–23), referring to the Vätten

living by the fireplace (Finland), to the receiver of milk teeth thrown into the fire

(most of the area), and spiders/Opiliones (most of the area, Celander 1911, 22–23).

In Denmark, Nakke refers to the slandering Loki (§ 3.2). The variant with an initial

n- has been viewed as a problem but should not be, because the variants are

distributed in roughly the same way as lykill (western Scandinavia) and nøkkel

(eastern mainland Scandinavia, recently spread to most of the mainland), meaning

‘a key’. Formally, nokke corresponds to nøkkel as loki~lokke to lykill. The former are

reflections of the Germanic root *hnuk-, whereas the latter are reflections of the

Germanic root *luk-. These roots are semantically close to each other; both essentially

refer to something shaped like a hook or loop (the earliest keys were hooks,

cf. Nál in § 4.1.2 and a forthcoming article on these etymologies). Thus, lykill and

nøkkel, and loki and nokke, are different ways of expressing the same idea. For reasons

unknown, *hnuk- dominated in some meanings in eastern Scandinavia, while

*luk- expressed these meanings in the west. This means that Nokke is an eastern

variant and not a corruption.

This again suggests that the traditions

connected to these names/terms also have an ancient basis, not only those that

happened to be recorded in Old Icelandic manuscripts.

As we can see, there are many reasons to believe that the late traditions of a vätte

Loki are the remnants of an ancient, common Scandinavian tradition. (I have mentioned

at least twenty here.) Some of them may prove invalid, and sceptics may

reject individual points. Nevertheless, a pattern exists, formed by the coalescence

Pg 75

of many indications. How could so many (parts of) traditions be corrupted in the

same way, independently throughout most of Scandinavia? This could be comprehensible

if the result conformed to a known, major force of influence. For example,

if the late Loki everywhere resembled the Christian devil (see de Vries 1933, 233,

246), that would stem from the Christian demonization of the pagan gods. But the

vätte Loki cannot be the result of Christian influence, nor can I recall any other

post-conversion trend that could explain him. On the contrary, he is sometimes

found eschewing strong trends. In most of Norway, the whistling and crackling in

the fire is attributed to Eldbjørg, Eldmora, or Eldgrim,16 and in Sweden commonly

to Askfis(en) (Ordbok över Sveriges dialekter 1991–2000, III, 173). These names are

examples of Eskerød’s traditionsdominanter ‘tradition dominants’ (1947, 79–82,

117, 132), that is, the characters who supplant others and come to dominate the

traditions. Loki, as the cause of the sounds in the fire, should be replaced by these

standard names, but in Telemark and Dalarna, despite this pressure, Loke~Luki

persisted until the twentieth century. Thus, Loki is the lectio difficilior of the tradition

(Heide 2009, 365). The very fact that the name is present indicates that it is

a remnant of something ancient rather than a corruption. The same may be said

of Lokke as the recipient of milk teeth in eastern Norway and in Jutland. To my

knowledge, ‘Mouse’ is the recipient everywhere else in Norway and Denmark, as

in most of Sweden.

There are strong and numerous reasons to posit that the vätte Loki existed in

medieval traditions. However, he is very different from Loki in the ON myths, and

therefore difficult to accept. But there is one more major aspect of the late Loki:

his overlap with the Ash Lad (§ 3.1), who is called Lok(k)i in two fairy tales. One

is the Faroese Risin og Lokki ‘The Giant and Lokki’ (Jakobsen 1898–1901, vol.,

265–67), in Norway known as Oskeladden som kappåt med trollet, in Sweden as

Krama vatten ur en sten.17 The second is the Icelandic Lokalygi ‘Lie of Loki’, also

widely known, in Norway as Oskeladden som fekk prinsessa til å løgste seg.

Pg 76

(1908, 197–98, 206; cf. de Vries 1933, 240) argues that the name Lok(k)i in these

fairy tales is a corruption. But there are six major reasons to assume the opposite.

First, the myths of Loki contain a great number of motifs that are later found in

Ash Lad fairy tales (§ 4.1.1). Second, Loki’s traits in these fairy tales match those

of Loki in the myths. A discussion of Risin og Lokki follows in § 4.1.3. In Lokalygi

and the versions of it, Loki/the Ash Lad play a similar role to Loki in Lokasenna

and Þórsdrápa, which remarks that Loki was a tremendous liar (‘drjúgr var Loptr

at ljúga’).18 In the fairy tale a certain king is so gullible that no one can make him

say ‘That’s a lie!’. He promises his daughter to the man who is capable of achieving

this — which turns out to be none other than Loki/the Ash Lad. In variants it is

the princess or a farmer who make this promise or a bet.19 Loki/the Ash Lad tells

spectacularly improbable stories, but not until he includes the king/queen/

princess/farmer in a shameful situation does the victim say ‘That’s a lie!’. This

corresponds with the mythological Loki’s role as rógberi ásanna ‘slanderer/accuser

of the gods’ (§ 3.2). Third, Loki as the name of the fairy tale character is supported

by the term lokalygi ‘enormous lie’, literally ‘lie of Loki’ (Sigfús Blöndal 1920, 1039

/ 305), which seems to derive from this fairy tale (cf. § 3.2 with note 9). Fourth,

there is a connection between the name Loki and the Ash Lad in mainland Scandinavia,

too. In Dalarna, luki can also mean ‘a boy lounging about although he is too

grown up to do so; a loafer’ — a fitting description of the Ash Lad before he leaves

home.20 This meaning of luki can hardly be a loan from Iceland or the Faroes; it is

rather a relic of a common Scandinavian tradition preserved in Dalarna’s ‘culture

freezer’, as on the Atlantic islands. This is supported by the fact that this meaning

of luki seems closely connected to the following: ‘A rowdy, a person who is up to

tricks/pranks’ (‘ställer till med galenskaper’),21 which would be an apt description

of the mythological Loki. Fifth, the trend from the conversion onwards was that

Loki was forgotten (although quite a bit of material associated with him has

survived). Why, in the course of this process, would the name Loki be introduced

Pg 77

into stories? Why would it spread during the retreat? Sixth, if someone were to

change the name of the hero in an Ash Lad fairy tale, we should expect that it be

replaced with the most common name (cf. Eskerød’s ‘tradition dominants’

mentioned in § 3.3). In Faroese, this is Øskudólgur, and in Icelandic it is Kolbítur.

Accordingly, Lok(k)i occurs in Ash Lad fairy tales despite a pressure to conform

and is thus the lectio difficilior. Taking all these points together, it seems probable

that the name Loki has been associated with Ash Lad fairy tales for a very long

time. Accordingly, both Loki’s vätte connection and his Ash Lad connection

probably are ancient.

Loki’s overlap with the Ash Lad may provide a bridge between the vätte Loki and

the mythical Loki and thus make it easier to accept the former. The vätte Loki is

closely associated with the fireplace, as we saw in §§ 3.1 and 3.3: he lives under the

fireplace and manipulates the fire, and whistling and crackling sounds in the fire

are attributed to Loki spanking his children. The same can be said of the Ash Lad.

In mainland Scandinavia, the most common name of the fairy tale character by far

is Oskefis(en)~Ask(e)fis(en). As pointed out by Mo (1916), this word also refers to

a vätte living in the fire(place), causing whistling or crackling, or spitting that

makes the fire flare up or the ashes blow.22

This other meaning of Oskefisen implies that both Loki and Oskefisen have a

double meaning. Both names refer to distinctly different beings: (1) a vätte living

Pg 78

under or in the fireplace, manipulating the fire; or (2) a trickster in narratives

(myths and/or fairy tales). Oskefisen is not identical with Loki in either of the

above forms. In (1), Oskefisen has a much narrower realm than Loki, restricted to

the association with the fireplace. I know of no example of Oskefisen helping the

farmers, herding their flocks, etc. Even so, in principle the same duality is found in

both Loki and Oskefisen. This parallel makes it problematic to reject the vätte

Loki. Rather, we should try to understand the duality.

Form (2) above is very different from form (1). The Loki who is staying with

the gods and the Ash Lad who comes to the king clearly are not vättes. Even so,

there must be a link between (2) and (1). This appears to be found in the childhoods

of the characters. In the case of the fairy-tale character this seems clear because

virtually all of his names reflect his intimate connection with the fire(place)

as a child: Oskefis(en) ‘Ash Fart / Ash Blower’, Tyrihans ‘Firewood John’, Kolbít(

u)r ‘Coal biter’, Øskudólgur ‘Ash Fool’, Aschenpuster ‘Ash Blower’, and so on.

The same can be seen from a third meaning of oskefis: ‘the youngest son of the

family, sitting by the fire and poking and blowing on it’ (see note 22; cf. § 3.1). The

fairy-tale character clearly derives from this role, which makes sense because the

lazy ‘mummy’s boy’ by the fireplace, tending the fire for his mother instead of

doing proper men’s work, is an appropriate starting-point for a fairy-tale character

who turns everything upside-down: the outsider who prefers effeminate, low-status

approaches and maintains contact with outcasts, yet cuts ahead of everyone and

threatens or overthrows the establishment — the trickster, if you like (§ 4.2). We

can thus refine the above points. The Ash Lad is (1) a vätte living under the fireplace,

manipulating the fire, and (2) a fairy-tale human character, initially (a) a lazy

‘mummy’s boy’ by the fireplace, manipulating the fire similar to the Vätten, then

(b) a trickster in narratives.

The role overlap between oskefis (1) and (2) does not indicate which of them

is primary, but it is most likely form (1) because this more easily explains the part

-fis. It seems that the Germanic verb *fīsan- could mean both ‘to blow’ and ‘to fart’.

Oskefis (2) could be explained by the blowing of the young boy to maintain the fire.

But the term oskefis is also found in West Germanic languages — High German

(Aschenfister), Dutch (asch(e)vijster), and Middle English (Askefise: Torp 1919,

479; Kurath and others 1956–2007, vol., 423) — in which apparently only the

meaning ‘to fart’ is known (Torp 1919, 479; Bjorvand and Lindeman 2000, 224).

Thus, the term oskefis seems to derive from the meaning ‘to fart’. The young boy

certainly does not fart into the fire, but the ‘farting’ could suitably refer to the

whistling sound made when steam escapes from burning green wood, which was

Pg 79

said to be caused by the Vätten. This is the phenomenon most frequently mentioned

in connection with the common noun oskefis in the dictionaries.

Now I turn to Loki. Because of the extensive overlap between Oskefisen and

Loki, we should expect that Loki (2) was derived from Loki (1) in the same way as

Oskefisen (2) was from Oskefisen (1). In that case, I suggest that the Loki of the

myths carried the Vätten’s name Loki because in his childhood he stayed near the

fireplace and tended the fire, and thus overlapped with the Vätten and was therefore

given the Vätten’s name Loki. In this case another argument indicates that

form (1) is primary: Loki (2) shares his role as surprisingly being the best of providers

with Loki (1), the Vätten, and this is one of the Vätten’s fundamental

characteristics, at the same time as the Vätten is a more fundamental character than

the Loki of myth. Thus, it is very unlikely that this characteristic of the Vätten’s

derives from the mythological character. But it would make very good sense if the

creation of the surprising super-provider in the myths was inspired by the surprising

super-provider vätte. (This order should be regarded as schematic. Both ‘stages’

of Loki probably existed side by side long before our earliest sources.) The outlined

understanding requires that Loki be all of the following: (1) a vätte living under the

fireplace, tending the fire, believed to bring luck (= wealth) to the farm, and

therefore given sacrifices; and (2) a mythological, anthropomorphic being, initially

(a) a lazy mummy’s boy by the fireplace, overlapping with the Vätten, and then

(b) a trickster living with the gods.

This model would explain the relationship between the two distinctly different

Lokis, and it would illuminate the Loki we meet in the myths. A lazy childhood by

the fireplace in the middle of the female realm is an ‘inverted’ background that

would fit him equally well as the Ash Lad in the fairy tales; and if he derives from

the Vätten, no wonder he is the best of providers. The problem is that we have very

little information about the mythological Loki’s early days. However, thus far we

have seen all these phases of Loki in the late material:

1. The Vätten under the fireplace in §§ 3.1 and 3.3.

2a. The young, lazy boy in § 3.4 — luki in Dalarna — and towards the end of

§ 4.1.3, by implication in the beginning of the fairy tales where the Ash Lad is

called Loki. (The childhood is omitted, as is often the case in Ash Lad fairy tales

because it was known to the audience.)

2b. The narrative character in § 3.4.

I argue below that not only is 2b found in the medieval material, but 1 and 2a as

well. I will also give further documentation of the overlap between the Ash Lad and

Loki in the 2b form. The order of the discussion is 2b, 1, and 2a.

Pg 80

The following is a comparison of Loki of the myths and the Ash Lad of the fairy

tales (cf. §§ 3.1 and 3.4).23 The Ash Lad does not belong at the king’s court, and

something similar seems to be the case with Loki at Óðinn’s court. The Ash Lad

definitely comes from ‘the other’, relative to the king and the court. He is lowborn,

as underlined by his dirty and ragged appearance, and he is an outcast even

at home. Regarding Loki’s initial connection with the gods we have no information,

but it seems weaker than for most other gods, although according to Lokasenna

9, he and Óðinn became blood brothers in primeval times. Snorri counts him

among the gods (Gylfaginning 11, 19), but Loki’s father seems to be a giant, and he

has strong connections with the giants and the otherworld in general. He is on

friendly terms with all kinds of otherworldly beings, and he begets monsters, and

sides with the giants at Ragnaro3k

Both Loki and the Ash Lad are the court’s best providers and reproviders. From

dwarves and giants Loki brings priceless treasures, belongings, and tools, and he returns

the goddess Iðunn and her apples of eternal youth to the gods, along with

Þórr’s hammer (Schjødt 1981; see § 4.1.2 below). The Ash Lad keeps more of the

treasures himself, but he, too, is an important provider for the royal family. The

seemingly impossible tests that he has to pass in order to gain the princess often win

the king his kidnapped daughter or son24 or treasures or magic possessions from a

giant.25 In one tale the Ash Lad turns into a falcon to achieve these treasures (Asbjørnsen

and Moe 1965, II, 233), similarly to Loki when he rescues Iðunn and when

he prepares for the rescue of Þórr’s hammer. In this same fairy tale the Ash Lad flies

to a distant place because of his curiosity and gets caught as a falcon while sitting and

watching, like Loki in the Geirrøðr myth (Skáldskaparmál 27). On another occasion,

the Ash Lad brings the king a magic ship made by a crooked, old, miserable man,

similarly to Loki bringing Freyr Skíðblaðnir from dwarves.26 In other stories the Ash

Lad trades magic objects acquired elsewhere with the queen or princess(es).27

Pg 81

Both the Ash Lad and Loki succeed because of their superior intellect, often by

outsmarting giants,28 and Loki is explicitly said to be slyer than others.29 One aspect

of this is his tolerance for what others consider low-status and humiliating, often

feminine, roles. Loki even assumes female shape and gives birth,30 considered for

men among the most detestable of acts, according to ON ideology (Meulengracht

Sørensen 1983). The Ash Lad is not equally pronounced in this way, but he too

carries an association with the feminine and often applies low-status approaches.

The feminine/unmanly is clearest before he leaves home when he dwells by the

fireplace, in the centre of the female realm, neglecting masculine responsibilities.

His mother in many cases is the only one who loves him and takes care of him.31

This is reflected in the Swedish Ash Lad term kärringgrisen ‘the fat favourite

(literally ‘pig’) of the house mistress’ for the Ash Lad (Rietz 1862–67, 139) and the

Norwegian Smørbukk ‘butter he-goat’ (Asbjørnsen and Moe 1965, II, 99). In the

Icelandic tradition the Ash Lad’s mother provides him with the weapon that leads

to his success, sometimes a poker or a sword she has used as a poker (see note 31).

Often the Ash Lad only has a mother (e.g. ‘De tre kongsdøtre i berget det blå’,

Asbjørnsen and Moe 1965, II, 11; ‘Enkesønnen’, ibid., I, 218; Skar 1903–16, VI,

65). The Ash Lad continues his non-masculine or low-status approach after leaving

home. Often all or most of his helpers are women;32 he works as a service boy for

kitchen maids;33 he accepts being a driver and servant for his brothers, and starves

outside while they are served like kings (Høgset and Asbjørnsen 1996, 112–15);

he picks up scraps;34 or he accepts as his crew all kinds of strange characters

(‘Askeladden og de gode hjelperne’, Asbjørnsen and Moe 1965, II, 360–70).

Pg 82

Such kindness towards outcasts is another aspect of the Ash Lad’s success-giving

intellect; he helps hags and ogresses, poor, miserable, old people, or animals that he

meets in the wilderness.35 The mythological Loki has a good relationship with

similar creatures. He begets children with the ogress Angrboða (Schjødt 1981, 51),

at Ragnaro3k, he sides with the giants (Gylfaginning 37–38), and it appears that the

dwarves give him for free the spear Gungnir, Sif’s golden hair, and the ship

Skíðblaðnir (§ 4.1.2; Skáldskaparmál 44)

Both the Ash Lad and Loki belong to a triad — the Ash Lad with his brothers,

Loki with Óðinn and Hø´nir in both the Þjazi myth (see below) and the Andvari

myth (Skáldskaparmál 47), and in the Faroese ballad Lokkatáttur (§ 3.2). Unlike

Loki, the other gods are not low-achievers, but they do have a passive and subordinate

role in these myths, making Loki the main character, and Lokkatáttur follows

the same pattern as the fairy tales: the others fail before Lokki succeeds.

In the preserved ON accounts, Loki’s similarity with the Ash Lad reaches its

peak in Sörla þáttr (Guðbrandur Vigfusson and Unger 1860, 275–76 — as pointed

out by Celander 1911, 108). Loki is small, comes to Óðinn, becomes his errand

boy, and has to solve all kinds of difficult tasks such as stealing Freyja’s necklace

from her locked house. As this is considered impossible, Loki’s enviers enjoy themselves.

36 But Loki succeeds by turning into a fly and creeping through a narrow

hole. The Ash Lad does the same, in the shape of an ant, to get into the locked-up

residence of a kidnapped princess.37

Pg 83

Von der Leyen (1899, 33, 37) points out that

Loki’s being stuck to the eagle and his making Skaði laugh correspond to the fairy

tale best known as ‘Die goldene Gans’ (Germany) and ‘Tyrihans som fekk

kongsdottera til å le’ (Norway),39 in which the Ash Lad makes the princess laugh

by dragging a row of people stuck to a supernatural bird past. Lindow (1990) draws

attention to a variant (from Telemark, Bødker and others 1957, 29–30) with an

‘indecency’ similar to that of the myth, making it resemble Loki’s approach quite

closely. I would add the censored fairy tales where the Ash Lad, similar to Loki,

uses his penis as a literal pulling tool when attracting girls and the princess.40


Loki and the Ash Lad differ in some significant ways. The latter receives sympathy,

the former not. The Ash Lad does no harm, but Loki certainly does when

he brings enemies of the gods into the world, making problems for the gods, and

when he sides with the giants at Ragnaro3k. To be sure, in several myths Loki is a

problem-solver, but he often causes those problems himself (Schjødt 1981, 53–54).

To a great extent, however, these differences result from genre differences. The

fairy tales are told from the perspective of the lower tiers of society, viewing the

king as an antagonist. Consequently, overthrowing the establishment by bringing

the king to his knees, becoming king, and marrying the princess are praiseworthy

acts, even if achieved with the help of hags and ogresses. On the other hand, when

the giants try to achieve similar things in the myths (Clunies Ross 1994, 107–27)

they are enemies because the myths are told from the perspective of King Óðinn

and his court. As Loki sides with the giants at Ragnaro3k, and helps them or other

non-gods prior to that, he is in the wrong, no matter how many favours he does for

the gods. This will be discussed more fully in § 4.2.

The similarities between the Loki of myth and the fairy-tale Ash Lad may be

summed up in this way: both are tricksters who turn things upside-down — in

their approaches as well as in their results. They oppose the conventional, prefer

Pg 84

effeminate, low-status approaches, and maintain contact with outcasts; they are

unwanted outsiders who are in a class of their own as providers, reproviders, and

problem-solvers; and in the end they (help) overthrow the establishment. Loki is

not identical with the Ash Lad, but they overlap to a great degree and probably

derive from related ideas. The significance of this is discussed in § 4.2

My proposal is that the mythological Loki derives from the Vätten who lives

under the fireplace and helps the farmers. If the vätte Loki is that old, we should

also find reflections of him in the ON texts when looking specifically for him and

not just for a member of Óðinn’s court. I believe we do. There seem to be attestations

of the vätte Loki in non-mythological ON texts, and there seem to be ‘echoes’

of or allusions to the vätte Loki in the mythological material. One has already been

mentioned: Loki’s role as a provider, which is the most common Loki motif in the

myths (Schjødt 1981; § 4.1.1), probably is inspired by Vätten (§ 4.1).

In Lokasenna 23, Óðinn accuses Loki of having been ‘eight winters below the

ground, being a woman, milking cows [or being a milk cow and a woman], giving

birth to children’. This does not reflect Loki’s life among the gods; it occurred in

primeval times (st. 25). But it fits as an ‘echo’ of his alter ego: the vätte Loki, who

lives under the fireplace or other places underground (cf. how the phrase ‘below the

ground’ designates a dwarf’s dwelling-place under a boulder in Alvíssmál 3). The

effeminate tasks fit with the vättes because even male vättes do female tasks in the

popular traditions (Feilberg 1918, 55–57, 66; Müller-Bergström 1938–41,

1057–58). If a vätte was the basis for the mythological Loki, it would be fitting to

say that this was something in Loki’s past. (In that case, the ‘eight winters’ should

be understood as ‘a long time’; see von See and others 1997, 427.) A parallel example

is found in Fjo3 lsvinnsmál 26. (The view that this poem is a late pastiche is

unfounded; see Heide 1997.) It relates how Loki (Loptr) obtained the magical

weapon Lævateinn:

He got hold of it somewhere down in the earth.

He gerði rúinn = rúði the weapon, ‘tore it off’, like tearing the wool or fur from

an animal (rýja Fritzner 1883–96, III, 141).

This wording has been considered so irregular that most editors have changed it.

However, the phrase is part of a myth that seems to parallel the Baldr myth (Heide

1997, esp. 162–73), in which the corresponding point is nearly synonymous, and

nearly as conspicuous: Loki sleit upp ‘tore up’ the mistletoe (Gylfaginning 33). This

parallel makes it problematic to reject gerði rúinn, and it becomes less conspicuous

Pg 85

if the background of the mythological Loki was a vätte, because they were believed

to tear off the animals’ feathers, wool, and fur (§ 3.1), and to live underground.41


suggests that lok is a corruption of Loki, caused by a collision of palatals in this fixed

expression, and that the meaning is ‘fire’ (cf. the identification loki and logi, § 3.1).

This emendation can now be confirmed. Sem Loki yfir akra is attested in the

fourteenth-century (H)ectors saga (Loth 1962, 117–18) but was left out of the

dictionaries and thus of the discussions. There is nothing irregular about the loss

of the -i because in unstressed words like fyrir and yfir, unrounding (to firir and

ifir) had already occurred by the thirteenth century. Accordingly, in the pronunciation

of sem Loki ifir akra, the i-s would melt together completely, and in a fixed

expression like this the pronunciation form could easily be ‘lexicalized’ even in

writing. This can be compared to ON sá ek > sák (preserved in poetry) and Modern

Icelandic ofan í > oní (frequent in writing in spite of the norm). A parallel fixed

expression is Icelandic ganga á vonarvöl > ganga vonarvöl ‘be brought to beggary’

(Halldór Halldórsson 1954, 55).

However, there is no evidence that Loki could be identified with the fire (§ 3.3),

and the meaning ‘fire’ does not fit with the context of the passages. Fundinn Noregr

(Guðni Jónsson 1954a, 89) relates that King Nórr wins a battle, and then ‘allt fólk

fell þar eða flýði, en Nórr ok hans menn gengu yfir sem lok yfir akra’ (all the people

were killed there or fled and Nórr and his men walked over like *Loki over the



41 This understanding could shed light on Loki’s mother’s name, Laufey ‘foliage island’, which

is unexplained (Simek 2006, 242–43). The basis for this could be the concept of a worldrepresenting

island in the ocean with a tree in the middle. Such concepts are well known from

Finnic traditions (Straubergs 1957), and the ON island name Algrø´nn ‘all green’ (Hárbarðsljóð 16)

is often understood in the same way (von See and others 1997, 194; Nordberg 2003, 131). Barrey

‘conifer island’ and Lyngvi ‘the heath-y one’ (Simek 2006, 44, 259) may be parallels. The vätte Loki

could be understood as a ‘son of the earth’. The name Nál is discussed below.)

Pg 86

In all these passages, ganga sem (*)Loki yfir akra refers to situations

where powerful combatants are driving groups of inferior men ahead of them.

It does not refer to the destruction of enemy land.42 Thus, nothing supports the

meaning ‘fire’. The same can be said of ‘weeds’ — they do not drive anyone ahead

of them and do not even spread from one side of the field to the other, but rather

pop up randomly. In addition, the understanding ‘weed’ presupposes the form lok,

which itself seems to be a corruption: in Modern Icelandic this saying has turned

into ganga sem logi yfir akra, literally meaning ‘go like a flame across the fields’ and

in practice meaning ‘to ruin’ (Sigfús Blöndal 1920, 510). Apparently, sem lok yfir

akra did not make sense, and a folk-etymological alteration was therefore needed.43

However, the driving in the saying ‘walking like Loki over the fields’ fits very

well with the vätte Loki seen in the heat haze (§ 3.1). He is driving his herd of sheep

or goats ahead of him, and he is most often seen over the ploughed and/or harrowed

fields, ON akrar. In the ON saying, Loki is driving fleeing or fearful men

while walking, and in ON, such men were frequently compared to (fleeing) goats

(Fritzner 1883–96, I, 574) or a herd of (fleeing) sheep (e.g. Kölbing 1878, ch. 25).

It would thus be appropriate to compare warriors chasing other warriors with the

vätte Loki driving his sheep or goats over the akrar. The early corruption of the

saying that we seem to observe in Icelandic tradition may stem from Iceland’s

natural conditions: akrar were small and few, and in the cool and moist climate,

the heat haze would not have been seen often.

Both the vätte Loki under the fireplace and his ‘echo’ in the mythological Loki

can probably be seen on the Viking-Age hearth stone from Snaptun, Denmark,

shown in Figure 1, from a smithy.

Pg 87

In this myth, Loki is associated with stitched-up lips, smithing,

and blowing into the hearth with the help of bellows — the elements of the

Snaptun stone. Therefore, Gísli Gestsson (1961) suggests that the Snaptun face

depicts Loki, which seems plausible because the lips clearly are stitched up — as

clearly as possible on a 2.5 cm wide mouth carved in stone. Glob (1959, 73) understood

the lips as stitched before anyone mentioned Loki. In addition, ‘stitched-up

lips combined with hearth bellows blowing’ is an extremely specific motif. However,

in this myth, Loki does not pull the bellows or blow into the hearth, as the

face on the Snaptun stone does. On the contrary, Loki tries to stop the blowing,

and the stitched-up mouth on the stone would not have been able to blow at all.

Depicting Loki on a hearth stone is only natural as a reference to the Loki who is

a variant of Vätten living under the fireplace, blowing on the ashes to make them

flare up again, and manipulating the fire in other ways (§ 3.1, cf. § 4.1). Therefore,

the Snaptun stone seems to anchor those sides of Loki in the Viking Age. The

stitched-up lips, on the other hand, only match the mythological Loki’s encounter

Pg 88

with Brokkr. Accordingly, the Snaptun stone seems to refer simultaneously to the

mythological Loki and the vätte Loki.

The vätte Loki can also help us understand the myth of Loki inventing the

fishnet in Gylfaginining 36.


gods reconstruct the fishnet from the ashes and with it they catch Loki in the river,

pulling it with their hands. Rooth (1961) explained the meaning ‘spider/daddylong-

legs’ of lokke~lokki~loke~luki from this myth (§ 3.1) but regrettably based it

upon a far-fetched analogy. Had she checked northern European traditions more

closely, she would have found a more plausible link between Loki’s fishnet and

cobwebs. The fishnet invention is not isolated. In the myths, Loki is strikingly

associated with fishing and hunting (as Olrik 1911, 569, pointed out), partly with

the help of nets. In the introduction to Reginsmál, Loki catches the dwarf Andvari

in a fish shape with a net. In Skáldskaparmál 47, Loki catches an otter and a fish.

In the Estonian version of the myth of the theft of Þórr’s hammer, Loki’s cognate

is a fisherman who catches the thief in a net (Anderson 1940, 72–73; Þrymskviða;

Heide 2006, 292–94). Fishing seems to be a speciality of Loki’s in the Faroese

Lokkatáttur, too (Hammershaimb 1851, I, 140), and in the Shetland Islands,

Lokki’s lines refers to a thread-like seaweed used for fishing (Jakobsen 1928, 521;

Pratt 1853, 124–25; Marine Botany 1861, 26). Cobwebs and spiders are widely

associated with good luck in fishing (e.g. SKS KRA KT 175, 82, lukki (Opiliones),

Finland). The appearance of many cobwebs in the grass when you go to the sea in

the morning means that you will catch many fish (Celander 1914, 85–86; ULMA

18067, Gotland; ULMA 8788, 8, Södermanland). Fishermen would add cobwebs

to the bark concoction used to preserve fishnets in order to ‘get as many fish as the

spider in the cobweb’ (SKS KRA KT 148, 114, Finland). The spider is referred to

as a fisherman ‘rowing’ up and down his silk threads. The former notions/practices

are recorded around the Baltic Sea, the latter in western Norway and Iceland.44

Pg 89

Taken together this strongly indicates that a medieval audience

would have seen Loki inventing the fishnet as an ‘echo’ of the vätte Loki. The fact

that he sat by the fireplace while doing this would not have discouraged this

association. One could object that the connection between cobwebs and fishing

luck is not attested from the Middle Ages. But as so little of this kind of lore was

written down, when we find such notions in recent times in Iceland and western

Norway and around the Baltic it seems easiest to understand this as ‘relic islands’

of a previously contiguous area.

Loki brought the gods many magical and sought-after objects, but his only

invention was the fishnet. Why the fishnet? And why was it not invented by some

other god? I suggest that this is because from ancient times Loki was intimately

associated with (the forming of) knots and loops on threads, of which fishnets are

made. In Icelandic tradition, when a knot or tangle appeared on a thread during

sewing or spinning, Loki was blamed, and a threatening verse about his family was

pronounced during the disentangling (see below). Essential to the understanding

of this is the Icelandic and Shetland English (from ON) loki m. ‘a knot or tangle

(on a thread)’ (Sigfús Blöndal 1920, 511; Jakobsen 1928, 521, lokki), or ‘a hard

knot with a loop out from it, on a twisted thread’ (Sarpur, no. 7758, p. 18, Iceland).

The Icelandic custom reflects how this appellative could be personified and identified

with Loki. A Danish saying first attested in the seventeenth century seems

to reflect the same idea: when something in a yarn or the like became tangled,

making it useless, people would say, ‘Lokke gets something to fix his pants with’45

— which appears to mean that Lokke caused the tangles in order to obtain repair

material.46 If so, the Danish tradition blames Loki for tangles on threads as well (or

Pg 90

at least connects Loki with them). An Icelandic saying implies the related idea that

Loki himself was a loki: if one licks the end of a thread in order to thread a needle,

one ‘licks Loki’s backside’ (Sigfús Blöndal 1920, 511). This presupposes a threading

of the needle with a folded thread (which is a common technique), because only

then would the licked part correspond to the backside of a person. A folded thread

is a lykkja, which comes close to a loki both etymologically (*luk- > lykkja and loki)

and semantically — lykkja is used synonymously with loki in a nineteenth-century

account of the loki/tangle verse (Guðni Jónsson 1954b, 189). The (shape of a) loop

is essential to the root *luk- and hence to the etymology of Loki, as I will demonstrate

in a later article.

As we can see, there is quite a bit of evidence that Loki in premodern society

was thought to be the causer of knots/tangles/loops, or himself a knot/tangle/loop.

Hence, it is natural that Loki is the inventor of the fishnet, which consists of loops

and knots, and that the word loki (lokke, lokki, loke, luki) is a term for makers of

cobwebs: spiders and the like.

However, this knot(-maker) Loki does not fit with the mythological, Old

Icelandic evidence, although one could say that the mythological Loki causes metaphorical

tangles on the Æsir’s thread. But the knot(-maker) Loki makes good sense

as a reflection of the vätte Loki. The making of unwanted lokis (tangles) fits with

the Vätten because tangling the thread of spinning or sewing women belonged to

what the Vätten would do when angered,47 alongside halting his deliveries of

resources to the farm, overturning kettles on the fireplace, and so on (Feilberg

1918, 23, 26); and the giving of tangles to Lokke in Danish tradition corresponds

to sacrifices to the Vätten (see note 46). The making of desirable lokis (the fishnet)

also fits because the vättes often helped humans with activities such as spinning and

carding (von Sydow 1935, 138; Celander 1914, 81; Feilberg 1918, 55–57, 66;

Müller-Bergström 1938–41, 1057–58). At the same time, Loki the knot-maker

Pg 91

(helping or revenging) seems to be embodied in the knots. This vätte Loki is

‘echoed’ in the myth of Loki and the fishnet.

It is unlikely that Loki’s association with knots is a late corruption. The Danish

and Icelandic traditions about Loki and tangles are most easily explained as relics

of a common Old Scandinavian tradition because they are too different to have

been borrowed from each other. In addition, Loki’s knot and loop association

seems to be anchored in the Middle Ages by the myth of the fishnet invention, and

by the name Nál ‘a needle’ of Loki’s mother (Gylfaginning 19; Skáldskaparmál 24;

Guðbrandur Vigfusson and Unger 1860, 275; cf. note 41). This name is unexplained,

but late Icelandic information exists for it (cf. Heide 2009, 363). The verse

for the disentangling of knots caused by Loki is as follows:

Styr heitir hann faðir þinn.

Skónál heitir hún móðir þín,

þau skulu bæði stinga í rassinn á þér,

ef þu ferð ekki upp af þræðinum. (Guðni Jónsson 1954b, 189)

[Spearhead your father is called. Shoe needle your mother is called. They should both prick

you in the arse if you will not leave the thread.]

In one version Loki’s mother is called just Nál ‘a needle’, as in the Old Icelandic

accounts.48 The idea could be that knots are caused by the work of needles; they

‘come from’ needles (whether by mistake, or deliberately, as with making nets). But

there is another possibility, namely the widespread link between needles and

motherhood: one should never give a woman a needle without the thread in it

because this would cause her to never have children (Scotland, MacCulloch 1936,

255); or a woman should never let someone else thread the needle for her because

that would give her difficult deliveries (Sweden, ULMA 10071, 37). In both cases

there apparently is an idea of the thread as the baby and the needle as the mother.

This makes sense because the needle is a natural symbol of women and their traditional

work, and the eye of the needle has a shape suggestive of the female genitals.

This corresponds to the comparison between threading a needle and sexual intercourse,

which is widespread.49 If we now keep in mind that the licked folded thread

is Loki / a loki, he is literally ‘born’ from the eye of the Nál when it is threaded. The

name Nál, like the fishnet invention myth, anchors Loki’s association with

Pg 92

knots/loops in the Middle Ages. Both are mentioned in Snorri’s Edda, so this

association was apparently well established before c. 1220, which is also indicated

by the etymology

It seems to be a pattern

in the Loki myths that his opponents turn his own specialities against him — possibly

because turning everything upside-down is characteristic of him (§ 4.1.1). The

smithy myth provides another example: the stitching up of Loki’s mouth seems incomprehensible

in Snorri’s account but makes good sense against the background

of the vätte Loki: what Brokkr does is to block Loki’s speciality (or his alter-ego

vätte’s speciality) of blowing on the embers to stimulate the fire. Earlier in the

myth, Loki’s opponents turn this speciality against him, when the smith accentuates

the importance of blowing on the embers, thereby forcing Loki to attack the

blower. Another example can be found in the myth about the cooking pit, in which

Loki is the most active of the gods (end of § 4.1.1). A medieval audience would

probably see the halted cooking as an ironic allusion to the vätte Loki because in

the popular traditions, the Vätten, if not satisfied, would, for example, stop food

from being cooked, beer from yeasting, or cream from turning to butter (Feilberg

1918, 22–23, 26; Skar 1903–16, III, 27–29). These notions probably have ancient

roots because they are intimately connected with ancient ways of subsistence and

cannot be derived from Christianity.

No ON myth speaks directly of a Loki corresponding to the Ash Lad in his

youth: a lazy mummy’s boy sitting by the fireplace, tending the fire. But there is

indirect evidence, suggested by the Faroese fairy tale Risin og Lokki (Jakobsen

1898–1901, I, 265–67). A giant hires a boy called Lokki as a farmhand, but Lokki

tricks him into doing all the work himself (cf. §§ 3.4 and 4.1.1). They slaughter an

ox for lunch and, when the kettle starts to boil, the fat begins to float on top. The

giant divides it with a line across the kettle; each is to have the fat on his side, and

Pg 93

each takes a piece of bread to stick into it. Lokki pours water into the fire on his

side, to stop the boiling there, and makes the giant put more wood under the kettle

on his side, and all the fat drifts over to Lokki. When the meat is done they put it

in a trough, and the giant asks Lokki to divide the meat. Lokki puts the bones in

one portion and the meat in the other one, but spreads a big, fat piece over the

bones. The giant grabs for the fat portion, and Lokki is happy, but the giant is

sullen because he gets too little. At night, Lokki kills and plunders the giant. The

focal point of this story is parallelled by two ON myths. One is the encounter

between Þjazi on the one hand and Loki, Óðinn, and Hø´nir on the other summarized

in § 4.1.1, where Loki attacks Þjazi because he takes more than Loki is

willing to allow. The other is the eating contest in Útgarða-Loki’s residence: the

competitors eat from either end of a trough full of meat, and Loki eats half of it but

loses because his competitor turns out to be the wildfire, which ‘eats’ the bones and

the trough as well (Gylfaginning 29). In all these stories Loki is associated with fireplaces

and cooked meat and tries to get more than his share and/or deny the giants

their share. This is clearest in the Útgarða-Loki myth: the eating contest is Loki’s

suggestion, so he is apparently especially suited for the task, like Þjalfi for the run

and Þórr for the drinking, lifting, and wrestling. This appears to be confirmed by

the Icelandic term lokastjörnur (f. pl.). Literally meaning ‘Loki’s stars’, it refers to

the drops of melted fat in soup (Sigfús Blöndal 1920, 305). This term seems to be

a petrified reflection of the Loki role we see in Risin og Lokki, also reflected in the

Þjazi and Útgarða-Loki myths: the spoilt boy very familiar with the fireplace and

the manipulation of the fire — the kärringgris (see § 4.1.1)

Pg 94

The Old Icelandic texts do provide support for the image of Loki as a parallel

to the Ash Lad even in his youth. Why is it not explicit? We have to keep in mind

that only part of the thirteenth-century Icelandic mythological corpus has been

handed down to us. Manuscripts were lost, and only a selection of material was

written down in the first place. What was not considered important enough was

summarized or left out. In the case of Loki’s background (and childhood?) we happen

to know of two examples of this. One is the name Nál. We can see from what

survived in Iceland and Denmark until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

(§ 4.1.2) that there was a tradition around this, but not a word of it has reached us

in written accounts from the Middle Ages. The other example is Snorri’s omission

of Loki’s effeminate activities underground in primeval times, alluded to in

Lokasenna 23 (§ 4.1.2) — and perhaps of background information that would have

made that more comprehensible? Given the tradition of an underground (vätte)

Loki that has survived until modern times (§ 3.3, cf. § 4.1.2), it is probable that

Snorri had such information. He may have excluded it because his space was limited

and he wanted to tell of the gods. If so, what Loki did before he came to the

gods may not have been important enough. It may also have been considered unnecessary

to write down this information because everyone knew it. Actually, this

part is often left out even in the Ash Lad fairy tales (e.g. Asbjørnsen and Moe 1965,

I, 246, II, 75, 162, III, 317). The name ‘Ash Lad’ (or variants of it) apparently is

enough to give the background. In the versions where the Ash Lad is called Lok(k)i

(§ 3.4), the introduction is also left out. It is possible that when told, the myths of

Loki sometimes contained an introduction about Loki’s childhood by the fireside,

sometimes not, as in the Ash Lad (and Loki) fairy tales. But to judge from the Ash

Lad parallel, there would not have been separate myths of Loki’s childhood.

Pg 95

Why does the king let the Ash Lad into the establishment? In many fairy tales

the king promises his daughter and (half) the kingdom to the man capable of

achieving something he desperately wants. Usually it is having his daughter(s) or

son(s) saved from a troll,51 but it may be different things, like defeating an army

(‘Enkesønnen’, Asbjørnsen and Moe 1965, I, 218), or obtaining a ship that can sail

on both land and sea (‘Askeladden og de gode hjelperne’, ibid., II, 360) or other

treasures or magic objects.52 The Ash Lad solves the problem, but the king refuses

to keep his promise. He invents another test, and a third (obtaining more treasures

or advantages), before he finally gives in. It is understandable that the king is unwilling

to accept as his son-in-law and successor on the throne a dirty, ragged, poor,

low-born boy who is comfortable with effeminacy and humiliation and who is

supported by oddballs and hags, and animals from the wilderness (§ 4.1.2). Accepting

the Ash Lad amounts to a revolution. So why does the king still promise this

unacceptable person the impossible reward? For this, there are two reasons: the

king desperately wants to retrieve his child or the treasure(s), and he rules out the

possibility that an unpromising character like the Ash Lad can achieve this. But, as

it turns out, not only is the Ash Lad capable of doing this, he is the only one who

is. The reason for this is, paradoxically, precisely the fact that he is a loser — the

fact that he is and does the reverse of the other candidates. He succeeds because he

is a negation of the conventional, patriarchal, hierarchic, and snobbish establishment

(§ 4.1.1). This contrast with the competitors is a key point in the fairy tales.

The explanation of this inverted logic can be found in the nature of the tasks. The

desired persons or objects are located in what may loosely be designated as the

otherworld (typically with a troll or ogress living at the world’s end), or the desired

results can only be achieved with the guidance of beings that come from there (typically

hags and the like encountered in the wilderness) and (magic) tools/objects

that they provide. This means, for three interlinked reasons, that only a person like

the Ash Lad can do it. First, the otherworld is a place beyond society and civilization;

thus, only a person belonging to the margins of society and civilization has

access to the border. Second, the otherworld is in most cultures to a greater or

lesser degree imagined as the inversion of this world. In the clearest cases people are

left-handed, wear their clothes inside-out, or walk backwards and upside-down, or

rivers flow upstream (Holmberg 1925; cf. Heide 2011).

Accordingly, only an

Pg 96

inverted person can go to the otherworld, one who negates the norms of this

society. Third, only a person resembling otherworldly beings can make friends with

them and in doing so obtain their help and magical objects. The Ash Lad is a ‘semiotherworlder’

and thus a mediator or ‘bridge’ between this world and the otherworld.

This is what makes the Ash Lad indispensable to the establishment, and it

is what makes him unacceptable. One has to let him in, but he is a Trojan horse, so

this implies the establishment’s suicide.

If we transfer this model of understanding to the mythological Loki, it makes

good sense. In fact, several scholars have identified him as essentially a mediator

between the gods and the giants (Haugen 1967; Meletinskij 1973a, 1973b, 76;

Schjødt 1981, 76–84). Schjødt’s understanding of Loki in particular comes close

to my understanding of the Ash Lad: Loki’s norm-breaking nature gives him his

abilities; he essentially is a mediator of opposites (Schjødt 1981, 83), and the gods

accept him because they benefit greatly from him in the short term, even though

he is disastrous in the long term. Schjødt reminds us that Loki helps the gods in

critical situations and is the one who provides or re-equips them with most of the

valuables that they obtain from the otherworld. Loki may even be decisive for the

main gods’ distinguishing traits: Loki provided and re-equipped Þórr with his

hammer, which represents his physical power, and it may have been Óðinn’s

mingling of blood with Loki (§ 4.1.1) that gave Óðinn his transgressive abilities,

giving him knowledge and thus intellectual power (Schjødt 1981, 56–57, 83).

Schjødt (1981, 84) concludes that Loki’s role is to represent the deterioration of

the society caused by the reconciliation of opposites that should not be reconciled.

However, why bother about the Ash Lad and the late material if this can be

seen from the ON texts alone? Even a confirmation based upon different material

is valuable because Schjødt’s understanding is not universally accepted, and in my

opinion, the late material can also adjust and supplement this understanding. First

the adjustment. For the king in the Ash Lad fairy tales, there is no way of obtaining

only the treasures. The overthrowing of his regime is the other side of the coin,

although he does not understand this initially. If we can transfer this to the mythology,

it counts against the understanding that the opposites should not be reconciled

and everything would have gone fine if this had not happened. The founding

and development of the gods’ society requires the exploitation of the dwarfs and

giants, and hence a reconciliation of the fundamental opposites — although this

eventually leads to disaster. If we turn to other ON myths, the idea that there is no

such thing as a free lunch is clear. Meulengracht Sørensen (1977) and Steinsland

(1991, esp. 231) have demonstrated this pattern in several literary genres: new,

powerful breeds are created by the sexual amalgamation of gods and giants and

Pg 97

therefore contain tremendous tensions that often lead to a tragic fate. Mundal

(2001, 206) has drawn attention to a group of myths where the gods give away

invaluable objects or properties to the giants in order to build their society: Óðinn

trades one of his eyes for knowledge, the gods’ guard Heimdallr pawns his hearing,

and the war god Týr sacrifices his right hand to have the monster wolf Fenrir

bound. Freyr’s sacrifice of his sword to get the giantess Gerðr (Skírnismál, Lokasenna

42, Vo3 luspá 52) falls into the same pattern. These losses give short-term gains

but weaken the gods. I hope these examples are enough to make this point: it seems

that in order to build their society the gods must accept losses or disadvantages that

prove fatal. This pattern may confirm the understanding of Loki that can be

derived from the Ash Lad fairy tales: a contradiction between Loki’s beneficial and

damaging sides does not really exist, because they both reflect his intermediate

status, or — from the establishment’s point of view — his perversion. Loki, like the

Ash Lad, is a bridge to the otherworld because he is himself a semi-otherworlder,

and as such he is both indispensable and unacceptable. He makes invaluable contributions

to society, but allowing him into it means opening it to otherworldly

powers. Loki’s siding with the giants at Ragnaro3k follows from his closeness to the

otherworldly powers, which also makes him so beneficial to the Æsir that they

cannot do without him. There is no such thing as a single-sided coin.

Then the supplement. In the fairy tales, why is the mummy’s boy by the fireplace

chosen as the bridge to the otherworld, rather than some other character? I

can see two reasons: first, he is situated in the midst of the female realm, and the

feminine is a form of inversion when seen from the view of the patriarchal establishment;

second, the fireplace was conceived of as a passage to the otherworld both

in the Middle Ages and later.53 This was probably because the vättes, who were the

closest and most significant otherworldly beings for the people of the farm, often

lived under the fireplace and/or received sacrifices there. Accordingly, the person

‘stationed’ by the fireplace was in a good position to make contact with the vättes

and the rest of the otherworld. This close association is reflected in the reference

of the term oskefis to both the Vätten and the human tending the fire (§ 4.1). As we

have seen (§ 4.1.3), the mythological Loki also has a connection with the fireplace,

although his unpromising youth is less certain or comprehensive — and he, too,

seems to derive from the notions of the Vätten living under the fireplace (§ 4.1). It

would make good sense if this background was one of the factors in Loki’s role as

a link to the otherworld

Pg 98

I studied Old Scandinavian religion for almost ten years before I realized that late

material referring to the gods exists. After it was rejected in the interwar period,

this material was rarely mentioned, although folklorists like Strömbäck and Almqvist

continued to use other post-medieval material in studies of other forms of

early Scandinavian cultural history. During recent years, however, we have seen a

trend towards making more use of post-medieval material in all kinds of studies.

This may lead to substantial progress in the field of Old Scandinavian religion, as

our biggest problem is a lack of information. Large amounts of material are waiting

to be reinstated — and to be discovered in archives. The present study is an example

of how post-medieval material can be used in combination with medieval

material. It provides examples of how we can extract probable information about

ancient times from late material and of how such information can shed light on

enigmatic ON text passages or names and thus reveal unnoticed patterns. The

study is based upon a few methodological principles, which I will try to account for

here (cf. Heide 2009), taking the Loki example as my point of departure. The

essential idea is that we need all the information that we can get; we cannot afford

to reject certain types of information a priori.

We should take into consideration all the material that contains the name/

word Loki/loki. This word/name does not occur randomly: all its attestations

must be connected, closely or remotely, to the old Loki/loki. In some cases it

may be hard to see the connection, but that does not allow us to ignore occurrences.

Some forms clearly are distorted; for example, Luki in Dalarna sometimes

has been changed to Lussi ‘Lucia’, and in Scania and Jutland to Lukas

‘Luke’ (and sometimes further to Markus ‘Mark’ because of the time of the

year), or the variant Nokke has been changed to Noak ‘Noah’ (§ 3.3; Olrik 1909,

72, 75; Luf M1325, 9, M13165, 2, M13285, 9, M13134, 29). But even these

forms should be explained. The insistence on accounting for all the evidence

can help us break out of our presuppositions and guide us in our choices: the

interpretation that can account for the most material should be preferred. This

requires that all the material be included, because otherwise the choice of interpretation

will be less reliable. The research on Loki is illustrative of this. Most

Pg 99

interpretations would have been changed and many ruled out if measured

against the total corpus of Loki attestations. I outlined this reasoning in Heide

2009 and 2006 (8–15) and will discuss it in depth in an anthology from the

conference ‘New Focus on Retrospective Methods’, held in Bergen in 2010.

• When a motif or passage is hard to understand, we should seek, even in late or

comparative material, additional information that might throw light on it. For

example, when we do not understand how Loki in late Scandinavian tradition

can be a vätte under the fireplace when he clearly is something different in the

ON myths, we should investigate notions connected to the fireplace throughout

northern Europe to have a wider picture. This is what uncovered the possible

‘Ash Lad bridge’ between the vätte Loki and the mythological Loki in the

present study. It is a variant of the humanistic interpretative approach. Regrettably,

in studies of Old Scandinavian religion, a source-critic paradigm has

severely limited it for generations.

• We should try to use the understanding achieved through the late material as

a key to the ON material. Does the ON material make sense (in a new way) if

we look upon it this way (cf. Schjødt 2000, 38)? Examples of this are the reasoning

in §§ 4.1.3 and 4.2, where I apply the understanding gained by the

analysis of the Ash Lad to the mythological Loki. The patterns that I arrive at

existed in the ON material but were invisible until the key pieces to the puzzle

were introduced from the late material. When pieces of late material fit

together in this way with early material, revealing an unnoticed picture, one

may say that this picture anchors the pieces of late material in the past. The late

pieces must be consistent with older, more reliable material. If not, this may

indicate that they are corrupt, and we should be sceptical. But, as the case of

Loki demonstrates, we should not give up too early on finding a model that

they fit into.

• A substantial competence in etymology and in the history and dialects of the

Scandinavian languages is a great advantage in studies of Old Scandinavian

religion, especially when making use of post-medieval material. For example, it

is decisive that we are able to determine whether Loki, lokke, and luki are different

words or forms of the same word.

• We should not accept any information uncritically. Many traditions have

changed a lot over the centuries, so only elements of the late material can be

assumed to reflect pre-Christian beliefs or practices. But there are many ways

to sift out such pieces of information, as exemplified in §§ 3.3 and 3.4. Another

problem is fake information. But my experience is that fabrications or unconscious

bookish contaminations are rare, and I believe that in most cases it is

Pg 100

possible or easy to expose them. In Lund’s folklore archive I came across a

manuscript giving rich information about Loki in the tradition from Småland,

also including information about Þórr and Óðinn and the relationship between

these three (Luf 2915, 34–37). However, the information was not found anywhere

else in the popular traditions, but conformed to Snorri’s Edda, so it was

not difficult to see through it. In most cases, a material’s authenticity is confirmed

by its correspondence with other, independent material, or by its deviation

from bookish presentations. Still, in spite of all possible precautions, the

reliability of information from late traditions is low (as a source to ancient

times), so we need many and independent pieces of such information pointing

in the same direction, forming a pattern, before we can place any trust in them.

• Many demand that one always take the context of a certain piece of information

into careful consideration. I agree that this is decisive when studying one

or a few sources or passages in depth, for example, to understand the ideology

behind them. One should always keep context in mind and sort out problematic

cases. But when endeavouring to use late material in reconstructions of

ancient times, it is more important to collect and combine as many pieces of

information as possible. Contextual uncertainty is like other reasons for a low

reliability of information: the more pieces that point in the same direction, the

less uncertain is the combined picture.

Pg 101

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