Loki Laufeyjarson; trickster, shapeshifter, and the cause of—and solution to—Asgard’s greatest troubles. Famously known for his cunning and tricky nature, Loki is a Norse god who enjoys global popularity in not just entertainment media, but also amongst Norse Pagan spiritual circles. That’s right—Loki is still worshipped as a god in many parts of the world, including in the Nordic-Scandinavian countries from which he originates.
While Loki himself is an old god, the term “Lokean Practice” is very new. Originating in North America sometime in the 1990’s, it is used to describe a form of neo-pagan practice that focuses on Loki and sometimes his family. People who follow this practice may call themselves Lokeans.
The specifics of this term, how it came about, and how Lokean practice is done, requires understanding the history of this deity and what he’s all about. So without further ado, it’s time we dive into a very important question…
Who is Loki Laufeyjarson?
Anyone who’s seen any Marvel movies are likely familiar with Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki. He’s a dashing, suave, and villainous figure constantly at odds with his brother Thor and the heroes of the world. If this is the Loki you’re familiar with, you may be surprised to learn this characterization is very different from the deity he’s inspired by.
Long before Christianity was brought to far-flung regions of Northern Europe, a group of societies collectively known as the Norse people venerated gods, ancestors, and spirits of the land and man-made dwellings. One of these figures was Loki, who began as a domestic spirit before developing into a full-fledged deity.
Loki Laufeyjarson is a clever, charismatic god known for his schemes and trickery. He’s a renowned shapeshifter who can turn into any sort of animal or person, and is known for regularly and willfully switching his gender. Like most tricksters, Loki’s actions are often morally ambiguous and highly transgressive, designed to push boundaries and test the status quo. He causes problems for the gods but also leaves them off better than before…after he’s cleaned up his mess, of course.
Stories about Loki can be found in Scandinavian oral tradition as well as many ancient texts found throughout Northern Europe. While Christianity became the dominant religion in Scandinavian countries, the stories of the gods were preserved and passed down from generation to generation. They and the Norse gods have found new life in neo-pagan movements all across the world within the past century.
Loki in the Modern-Day World
Loki is popular pretty much everywhere Norse Heathenry is practiced, including the Americas and different European countries. He’s taken on new roles as well as maintaining his old ones in modern times:
Trickster and Shapeshifter
Loki is still very much regarded as the same sneaky trickster and shapeshifter the old Norse took him for. His nature as a trickster doesn’t make him malicious by default, but some people might find his energy overwhelming. Like house parties, some people may enjoy Loki’s energy while others won’t.
Subversion and deception are also still both part of Loki’s nature. Though he may be a god, Loki is like the rest of the Norse gods in that he isn’t a paragon of morality or virtuous behavior. But like the rest of the Norse gods, he’s known for benefiting those he likes and those who like him in turn.
Due to Loki’s frequent and voluntary gender-switching in Norse mythology, modern-day Heathens and Lokeans consider Loki to be a genderqueer deity. He’s very popular amongst LGBTQ+ Norse pagans around the world for this reason…especially in Iceland, according to the Icelanders I’ve spoken to. Some pagans may refer to Loki with pronouns other than “he” out of respect for his gender-nonconformity, especially if he doesn’t always appear as a male deity to them.
Loki’s genderqueer nature is well-attested in many stories. Historically, this trait was considered “ragr,” which was a derogatory term for a feminine, submissive man. Today, Loki’s gender-nonconformity is something celebrated amongst Heathens.
Mover and Change-Maker
Loki is seen as an instigator of change. Many devotees of his have stories about how Loki got them out of stagnant and unfulfilling situations, simply by changing things up in their lives or by calling things into question. This has given Loki a reputation of being a “chaos” deity, which is neither wholly accurate nor inaccurate. Loki’s methods follow the same “house party” logic as the rest of him does: Whether someone finds him chaotic or exciting depends on the person. One thing’s for sure though—he’s certainly never boring!
So what is a ‘Lokean’?
As mentioned earlier, a Lokean is someone who works with, worships, and/or venerates the Norse god Loki, typically as a main deity. The term “Lokean” has two uses. The first describes patronage to Loki similar to saying “Lokisman” or “Odinswoman”, while the second implies a subcultural identity distinct from Heathenry. For this reason, not everyone who works with Loki may identify with the term Lokean or Lokean Heathen, and may opt to use “Heathen” or “Norse Pagan” instead.
The word “Lokean” originates in North America, growing out of controversy, superstition, and queerphobia sometime in the 1990’s.* Lokispeople were excluded from Heathen spaces and a division in the community occurred as a result. Whether “Lokean” was created by this division, or was simply propagated by it, is hard to say. Either way, it became something of its own identity as the years went by.
Because its identity was separated from Heathenry in such a way, not all Lokeans think of themselves as Heathens; some may be Wiccan Lokeans, agnostic Lokeans, Left-hand Path Lokeans, or may otherwise work with Loki in a non-Heathen context. Lokean practice is unique in that it intersects with Heathenry at varying degrees.
What does Lokean Practice Look Like?
The only needed component of Lokean practice is Loki, so it can be whatever a Lokean would like it to be. Generally it’s marked by very typical staples of neo-Paganism, such as deity-work, offerings, holiday observances, and even creating an altar or sacred space for him. But again, this is all up to the practitioner and there’s no right or wrong way to venerate Loki. The purpose of this spiritual practice is to foster a relationship with Loki that feels fulfilling, so everything about it can and should be tailored to your needs.
Communicating with Loki
I address the essentials of Spirit & Deity Work here. This is a guide to a hard polytheistic approach deity-work. It can be applied to any god or goddess, but I wrote it to answer a question I get quite often: How do I work with Loki?
In Norse Paganism—and Lokean practice by extension—the gods aren’t mysterious and distant beings, nor are they only available to us after long-time dedication. We can interact with gods on a one-to-one basis without the need for mediators. Additionally, the relationships Lokeans form with Loki can be as various as the relationships that we have with each other. It doesn’t need to look a specific way to be genuine, nor does it need to have a Lord/Servant dynamic.
Reading through the Spirit & Deity Work guide will give you an understanding of how to foster a relationship with Loki.
Altars and Offerings
Building an altar for Loki means carving out a space to serve as a place for him in your living environment. An altar can be large or small, plain or elaborate, prominent or subtle. Altars are not necessary to work with Loki, nor is he going to be upset if you can’t build one. If anything, this concept of “creating a space” for Loki doesn’t even have to be physical; the largest space I personally have for Loki is in my art and creative endeavors. It’s up to you to decide what feels right for you in your practice.
Offering food and beverages to deities, including Loki, is also a process with a lot of variation. Some people choose to leave a bit of food on the altar before throwing it out or consuming it, while others eat offerings to give to deities. The purpose of the offering is to build further relations. Loki is a known food-lover so it’s hard to go wrong with him.
In pagan practice, devotional acts are used to build a relationship with a deity, as opposed to being something that glorifies a deity. Deity work is a collaboration, not a duty of servitude, so devotional acts are not meant to feel difficult, sacrificial, or obligatory, unless that is something you personally want and need in your practice.
We can think of devotional acts similar to how we give gifts and do favors for each other, in that we do so out of appreciation and affection. Many Lokeans will consider acts of personal health a devotional act, since Loki wants his human friends to be happy and well. Other devotional acts can include creative endeavors such as art, music, and writing.
Q: “I heard Loki is not actually a deity because he wasn’t historically worshiped. Is that true?”
It’s true that we have no evidence of any formal Loki-worship in pre-Christian Scandinavia, which tells us he was likely not considered to be a god…at that time.
One of the biggest arguments against Loki’s god-hood is the fact that, unlike other deities, there are no places named after him in Northern Europe. But all that really tells us is the Norse people had finished naming their places by the time Loki became a deity.
What was Loki before he was a deity? Evidence suggests he was a domestic spirit of sorts who lived by or beneath the best part of the house—the hearth. He was similar to a nisse or tomte in this manner, causing mischief and pranks and generally being involved with the everyday lives of everyday people. The Norse people venerated spirits and ancestors as well as deities, so even though Loki wasn’t always a deity to them, he was viewed as an important part of reality to the Norse people.
So important, in fact, they decided to tell stories of Loki interacting with the Norse gods, which were then immortalized in manuscripts after Christianization. Tales about Loki continued in oral traditions long after Scandinavia’s Christian conversion, reflected in folk sayings and ballads like Lokka Þattur. He had squeezed himself into godhood at the last minute.
The Heathens I’ve spoken to in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Iceland have all said to me that Loki is considered a deity amongst them, and that it isn’t even a question. So yes, Loki didn’t used to be a deity…but that can be said about any Norse god at some point in time. No matter what he was in the past, he’s certainly a full-fledged deity now.
Q: “How similar is the god Loki to Marvel’s Loki?”
Not as similar as they seem at first glance. Stan Lee, the creator of the Thor comics, took many liberties with his characterization of the Norse gods and wasn’t trying to capture a culturally Heathen understanding of them by any means. Most of his inspiration came from Arthurian Legend rather than the Norse stories themselves.
Lee modeled his version of Thor off of a young King Arthur, and the hammer Mjölnir off of the sword Excalibur. It was only sensible that Lee’s adversary for Thor, Loki, would be modeled after Arthur’s downfall: Mordred Pendragon, the king’s bastard son. In later Arthurian legend, Mordred is depicted as a power-hungry traitor desperately trying to get his father to acknowledge him as the rightful heir to the throne, and, failing that, waging war against him. Mordred is sometimes portrayed as the manipulated tool of his mother, Morgause, who is a much more powerful nemesis of Arthur’s. It’s no coincidence that Marvel Loki’s characterization is nearly identical to Mordred’s, both in his desires and how he’s easily manipulated by powerful enemies.
The deity Loki doesn’t have the motivations or insecurities seen in Marvel’s Loki; characters like Jack Sparrow, Betelgeuse, and Bugs Bunny personally remind me more of the god Loki than Marvel’s Loki does. Nevertheless, plenty of Lokeans enjoy both the god and the character, if for different reasons.
* This whole issue has its roots in two problems. The first, American Heathenry is largely styled after Christianity, complete with dogmas, denominations, and “us vs. them” narratives. The second, American Heathenry intersects heavily with white nationalism and racial-purity ideologies; this is known as Folkish Heathenry. Deeming jötunn-worship taboo created a convenient, religiously-sanctioned justification for shutting out Heathens who belong to marginalized classes, many of which identify with Loki and his kin. It also enforces a familiar “us vs. them” narrative many Americans have experienced with Christianity.
We now have the luxury of communicating with Heathens from Europe, thanks to the internet, and now know this taboo is purely an American fabrication.