Loki and Christ: A Scrutiny of Their Similarities

copyright 1999 by Carol Robe

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Much has been written about Loki and Christ, though usually not in the same place. After all, Loki usually counts as one of the gods defeated by Christianity, and the victors rarely write that much about the defeated, preferring to vaunt themselves--and what they do write about those they supplant is usually propaganda. Because of the usurpers' tales, Loki often gets compared to Satan. Strangely enough, such a fate has happened to many other gods which were overtaken by Christians, such as Hades. Reducing someone else's deity to a demon seems to be part of the christianizing process, at least if the god in question has any connection to fire or trickery. However, such propaganda does not alter what lies at the heart of any of these usurped deities. In the case of Loki, a comparison to Christ should prove more enlightening than the usual parallels.

Consider the basic behavior of both Loki and Christ. What did they do? Loki wandered about with the other gods, perhaps because of the parties, and causing all kinds of troubles: losing Idun's apples, getting them back--which led to a marriage between giants and gods (Sturluson 97-8, Davidson 39), cutting off Sif's blond hair, getting the dwarves to make her new hair from real gold (Sturluson 108, Davidson 42). The other gods got so nervous about Loki that they didn't even want him at their table (Lokasenna). Christ, of course, being in human form, didn't join such elevated company. Instead, he dealt with humans, telling them that the old laws they'd followed really weren't that important. In fact, Jesus openly said he'd come to set people against one another (Matt. 10:35-6). Certainly, the local authorities didn't want Christ around either! When he refused to stop his preaching, they eventually crucified him. So what does that make both Loki and Christ? Rabblerousers! Both of them took more or less settled conditions and disrupted them. Furthermore, their disruptions usually led to better things in the end. If Sif's hair hadn't been cut off, Loki wouldn't have needed to gotten the dwarves to make her new hair, rather more of a treasure. If Jesus hadn't come to cause trouble, he wouldn't told his stories and done things like driving the merchants out of the temple (Mark 11:15-8), much less been promising an eternal life of the spirit.

Loki and Christ's methods share more than such a simple outline, of course. Both of them tend to be rather indirect. Loki freely promised his head to the dwarves for making the gods' treasures, for instance, but since he hadn't agreed they could have his neck, the dwarves couldn't collect (Sturluson 109-110, Davidson 42-3). Jesus didn't answer yes or no, but spoke in parables and statements which could be interpreted more than one way, like the famous lines about giving Caesar what's his, but also giving god what he was owed (Luke 20:25). Anyone who didn't stop and think carefully about what either of them were saying could be deeply confused, easily to their own detriment. Both Loki and Christ's words would require careful attention to figure out their underlying meaning, something which they both used to their advantage, Loki, to keep his head, Jesus, to keep from getting turned in by spies.

The above is by no means the end of all the similarities. Consider the ends of Loki and Christ: what happened to them when they finally went too far and outraged the authorities? They were tortured. Loki, being a god, survived his pinioning under a venomous snake (Davidson 37). Jesus, only being the son of a god or in human form, didn't survive his crucifixion (Matt. 27:50). So, since neither Loki nor Christ would give in and abandon their ways, they were punished by the authorities, something which also speaks of their stubbornness.

carving Does it end there? No, not at all. Even though Loki and Christ were tortured with intent to end their rabblerousing forever, both managed to come back help create a better future. Loki did not die until Ragnarok when he battled with the giants against the gods, fought Heimdall, and apparently died in the climactic battle that destroyed the existing world and created a new, fresh and better world (Sturluson 89-90, Davidson 37-8). Perhaps the giants managed to free Loki from his bonds, or perhaps he discovered some clever trick to free himself. Jesus, on the other hand, apparently decided that he didn't like being dead because he came back to life after three days, but that must have been a letdown since he took off to heaven shortly thereafter (Mark 16:4-20). Christ also is supposed to come back again, coincidentally with the end of the world, when his lot triumphs on judgment day and the world ends. Even the ends of the stories are similar, except, of course, that Ragnarok ends with the creation of a brave new world while the second coming only ends with destruction, reward for the good, and punishment for the wicked--a continuation of heaven and hell, but not of life.

Of course, good stories never end, and neither do the similarities between Loki and Christ. Both of them are rather contradictory. Loki, on the one hand, causes trouble, but on the other hand, his trouble produces more good. Even pinning down Loki at all can be difficult: What is he? Clown, trickster, god, giant? Was he a late addition to the sagas, added for comic relief? A fire god or a water god or a giant from the dead? (Davidson 176- 182). Given how little information remains, it's impossible to tell for certain. Theoretically, Jesus is easier to pin down: he is supposed to stand for peace, virtue, love, and all that kind of thing. So, why is he come to earth to pit brother against brother (Matt. 10:35-6)? Why is he causing trouble and riot and saying he didn't come to bring peace but a sword (Matt. 10:34)? Here, admittedly, the contradictions cross, Loki causing trouble which leads to good, Christ standing for good so he can bring trouble. Yet the basic paradoxes remain.

Their followers continue to embody these contradictions. Lokeans tend to be tolerant enough to welcome someone who openly disbelieves in Loki onto their mailing list, without making any attempt to convert or harass. Teasing, of course, one has to expect! Can anyone imagine such a thing happening on a christian mailing list? Dedicated to trouble, Lokeans seem to find some measure of balance which allows them to stand on their own. Christians, with their wonderful beliefs in peace and love and turning the other cheek, have historically caused a great deal of laughter and horror, such as the Spanish Inquisition. Often, in fact, Christianity has served as an excuse for such endeavors as slavery, because, of course, capturing people and forcing them to say they were Christian would eventually save their souls, regardless of how bad their life was. Souls being eternal and life being but transitory, a bad life paled by comparison with the chance to reach heaven after death. Even today, some Christians value the sanctity of human life, even unborn life, so much that they're happy to kill for it. So, trouble leads to tolerance, and tolerance leads to trouble. It is a curious dichotomy that both groups share.

Clearly, Loki and Christ compare well together, do they not? Isn't it astonishing how much they're alike? Does this make Loki a Christ figure? As likely, Jesus might be some kind of distorted Loki figure. Due to the scarcity of records about Loki and the reliance on oral tradition, it's probably impossible to tell which came first. (1)

Works Cited

Davidson, H. R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. 1964. London: Penguin, 1990. (2)

ďLokasennaĒ The ďLoki CultĒ Web Page. Al Billings, comp. 1 June 1999. (3)

New Life: Living New Testament Paraphrased: A Thought for Thought Translation. 1971. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1981. (4)

Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. trans. Jean I. Young. 1954. Los Angeles: U of California P, 1984. (5)

End Notes

1. Of course, Iím utterly serious here. (6) We all know how easily things can be equated, and how much everything is all the same. After all, apples and oranges, the two fruits, are practically identical, arenít they? Besides being fruit, theyíre both edible and juicy, both have seeds in the center, both store well--the list goes on and on. Naturally, two deities from completely different cultures and backgrounds can be virtually the same. A few similarities have to be enough to declare a pair of things alike, right? Itís completely normal and expected to take something from one place and fit it into the mold of another. People do it all the time. (7)
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2. Lissa recommended H.R. Ellis Davidson to me, in particular this book. In the original draft of this paper, most of the citations about Loki were from this book, but that didnít seem right, particularly when my other sources arrived, so I rewrote it to add more. After all, we all know how having more sources makes a paper look more scholarly and professional.
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3. Oddly enough, this was the one source besides Davidson to pop into my head in the original draft. Iíd found it and read it a week or so ago, when I was going through Loki links and looking around. However, I donít know anything about the person who put the site up or the translator! I have no idea how accurate this translation of the ďLokasennaĒ is.
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4. I donít think this is a very good edition of the Bible. However, it happened to be the only one I had, a gift from a student. Somehow, I donít think she expected me to use it to write something about Loki and Christ. If she had, Iím sure she would have expected something rather different.
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5. Here, we get to the Sturluson, which as I understand matters, is basically considered canonical. However, I know absolutely nothing about Jean I. Young, the translator. This book simply happened to be the first copy I could get my hands on. Neither the introduction nor the translatorís forward gave me much insight into the translator.
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6. Of course, this essay has to be totally serious. Look! Itís got several sources, with citations and documentation, and even end notes! Isnít that the sign of a serious paper?
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7. Yes, certainly people try to fit deities and other aspects from one culture into another, but it works just as well as using Canadian coins in the states. You may get away with it for awhile, but the coins arenít the same and it really doesnít work well. It probably is true that humans are very much alike and have similar needs and wants, but similarity does not mean sameness. Apples and oranges may both be fruits, but theyíre not actually the same. Neither are gods of different traditions. Trying to force something from one culture into a mold of another generally leads to making a pale mockery of the original, as well as taking away a lot of the original meaning.

Similarities can be useful, certainly. However, they arenít the end of the story. Too many people seem to take the easy route, see a few similar details, and assume the rest of the story is also the same. Worse yet, a few details taken one way can lead to traditions, which too often go unquestioned and unexamined, like this whole business of Loki being considered the Nordic version of the Christian devil, when there are probably at least as many similarities between Loki and Christ, if not more.

So how serious am I here? Of course, as I said earlier, Iím completely serious (See note 6), except, of course, that Iím not serious at all. Nevertheless, even in mockery, thereís a thread of truth. Unfortunately, these days, people seem to take mockery far too seriously. Iíve never taught Swiftís ďA Modest ProposalĒ without having half the class think he really meant that the Irish should raise children for the English to eat. Because of the way so many people want to take everything at face value, I thought I should add something at the end here for those who missed the joke. (8)
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8. The original version of this essay gave it all away in the last paragraph, and turned everything serious, but I thought about it, and decided that this way was much more fun for me. As long as I'm having fun poking fun at stuff, why not mock academic writing a bit too?

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