Faces of Loki 3: The Trickster
For this installment of the Faces of Loki series, I’d like to look at one of the most well known, yet often misunderstood, aspects of Loki. This aspect is his role as Trickster. But what does it mean to be Trickster? This is the part that people often get confused about, if not outright twisted. Many people equate Loki’s trickster side with simple prankster, or even being rude and offensive for the hell of it and just because they can. But, that is not what a trickster is. In mythology, of all types and pantheons, the trickster is a specific archetype playing a specific role. And the same is true for Loki in his role as Trickster. A prank, is a trick or deceitful act committed at another person’s expense for sheer fun or even spite. However, the trickster is a character in myth and lore that does play “tricks”, but for some purpose or eventual benefit. One article about the trickster archetype says of the trickster that “In religious stories his role is very diverse. He is the breaker of taboos. He provides comic relief to a religious myth. And he will pull off elaborate schemes to teach a moral lesson or expose the folly of men” (William Anderson. 2019). These are characteristics that Loki holds in the myths that we’ll explore here.
Looking at the first aspect here of breaking taboos, we see that is something Loki is well known for. Even though he didn’t break many more taboos than other gods, he is still the one most people associate with that. Some could say that Loki fathering “monster” children with Angrboda whereas all the Aesir had more human-like children, was a tad taboo at least for the context of keeping form. There is also the fact that he associated with other Jotun and dwarfs or dark elfs as acquaintances instead of just when needed for business, which for others like the Aesir and Vanir was considered taboo, dangerous, even unsavory. And of course, most notably, is the birth of Sleipnir. Not only does the lore have Loki admittedly sleeping with all genders, but we also see him giving birth. Though some would say this isn’t quite taboo, for the time period of the translators, that was very much taboo. This, along with shapeshifting, was also something not physically possible in nature, which is another factor in the trickster archetype. In the same article mentioned earlier, the author says that most tricksters also try to fly in some way or to leave the worldly plane at least once. We see in the myth of Idun’s kidnapping, that Loki transformed into a bird to go get her back. As for comic relief, as much as I hate to say it, I personally could see his temper with the fire not cooking the meat and hanging from the chest of an eagle as a bit comedic. And of course, there is always the goat. But the most important factor of the trickster is that part about the schemes that prove beneficial later, or that teach and reveal lessons and truths. These are the parts that Loki practically excels in.
As we’ve mentioned in other entries, Loki doesn’t trick just to trick or be mean, or to cause chaos for the sake of stirring the shit pot. They weren’t pointless. Every trick had a reason or positive result. Again, back with Idun. Yes, Loki tricked her into leaving Asgard so the giant could capture her. But, that was to keep an oath he made that saved his life. One thing people often don’t realize though, is that this trick worked because of her own inner faults. She just HAD to see a tree with apples as great as hers. That’s why she went along. Not by force. So whether it be vanity, or at least naivety, it was a personal folly and she did learn a lesson from it. Sif’s hair we mentioned in the past, also resulted in revealed faults AND lead to an eventual benefit. It revealed her doubt that Thor loved her more than he did her hair, and lead to going to the dwarfs to get new hair made, which also lead to Loki coming up with the idea of having them make gifts for all the gods. That too, was a trick that benefited. And in this case, to his detriment. Which is also a trait of the Trickster archetype. We can also look again at Sliepnir, this time as the way Loki transformed into a mare to trick the giant’s stallion into leaving his job to make sure that the gods did not lose their bet and Freya. It was a big trick, it caused him some pain. But it also brought great benefit. The point being here, that all his tricks, even the ones that could be called selfish, resulted in one of these lessons or benefits. And that is the key point of the trickster. Especially one like Loki. Loki is the trickster that pushes us to look at and accept our inner truths, to change what we no longer need in ourselves, to challenge the status quo and powers of oppression, and to use our intellect and cunning to find alternative ways to get through trials and hardships that seem to have no way out. That is what the trickster does. What Loki does. Hail the trickster! Hail Loki !
* Article reference: William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team), “Carl Jung’s Archetype: The Trickster,” in SchoolWorkHelper, 2019, https://schoolworkhelper.net/carl-jungs-archetype-the-trickster/