Dagulf Loptson's Loki: Trickster and Transformer

To put no finer point on it, I found this to be a very tricky review to write. Let me start at the beginning, and get back to that. The newest book in my witchcraft-y library is Dagulf Loptson’s Pagan Portals - Loki: Trickster and Transformer. Only just published in June of 2020, this book is an ‘introductory’ look at the modern worship of the Norse deity Loki, with particular emphasis put on the author’s analysis of unclear roles within Icelandic poet and politician Snorri Sturlusson’s Poetic Edda from the late 12th century.

The deity Loki from Norse Polytheism and mythology has - at least since the dawn of the post-viking era - long been a figure of controversy. Blood brother of the Allfather Odin, husband of Sigyn and father of Jörmungandr, Hel, Fenrir, Sleipnir, Vali and Narfi, there is no denying that if the casual reader were called upon to name a Norse deity, there’s a pretty good chance that Loki would come up. Like most archetypal tricksters, they do not fill one niche within their pantheon, and instead tread a rocky path of their own creation between friend and foe of the rest of the Æsir. While it’s true that without Loki’s silvertongue, Thor would never have got his hands on his famed hammer Mjölnir, it is also true that had Loki not found the weak-spot in Frigga’s protection of her son and tricked Höðr, Baldr would still be alive come Ragnarok. Loki fixes the problems of the Æsir, but they are also often the cause of the same problems and more and even their inclusion amongst the ranks of the Gods ‘others’ them in a sense which - according to Sturlusson - eventually leads to the end of the world.

You may have noticed my use of the gender neutral ‘they’ talking about Loki. This is an example of what the online polytheist communities refers to as ‘Unverified Personal Gnosis’, or UPG. Trickster and Transformer is a book that is chock-full of this; in part because there are no reliable primary sources confirming that Loki was worshiped by pre-Christian Scandinavians. While the book talks about much surviving evidence for Loki within the lore - in the Eddas, famous sagas and other poems - and archaeological finds that are believed to depict Loki - the most famous of which is a mustachioed amulet discovered in Denmark in 2015 - Loptson is left with a gap in our knowledge of Lokean worship that she attempts to fill with her own interpretations and theories. Interspersing retellings of the mythology with information to be gleamed from skaldic work and her own UPG, Loptson talks about her twenty-year worship of Loki and the conclusions she has drawn along the way.

What’s most important is that the fire gets lit. When the fire is going, bow to the fire slightly and say your candle prayer: I light the flame of Loki, both without me and within me. Take a few moments to practice your fire breathing. As you feel the light of Loki’s flames filling your body, take a moment to reach out with your heart and feel his energy…”

Another thing that this book attempts to do is to introduce the idea of actively worshiping Loki through devotional acts. The meat of the book is split into ten chapters, each of which introduce a story and a heiti or byname (both attributed in the Eddas or theorized by the author to refer to Loki) and goes on to discuss what that story can tell us about Loki’s domains, abilities and interactions with their modern followers. At the end of each chapter Loptson walks the reader through a ritual act such as carving a candle or creating prayer beads that concludes the lesson; each of these acts go together and indeed the author suggests that one way to read the book is to go through a chapter a week and complete the exercises as you build up your relationship with and connection to the trickster themself. Were I to say where I think the strength of this book lies, it would be in these exercises. For a new Lokean, the scarcity of written content and the lack of tradition from which to build a reconstructionist worship can be daunting, and until you have gotten to know Loki and found a way to work with them that is best for you, a foundational step-by-step guide is definitely a good place to begin.

I have one issue with this book, however it did not particularly diminish my enjoyment of the text and admittedly this might have been in part because I am not the book’s target audience. I have been a hard polytheist and Lokean for ten years, and in this time I have done my own independent study of historical texts as well as modern scholarly essays. As such, I have a fairly reasonable grasp of what information to be found on Loki comes from historical sources, and which come from commonly shared or personal UPG. I am openly an avid reader of people’s independent relationships with their deities in a modern, eclectic context and could happily scroll through the internet for hours reading about how Lokeans around the world interact with Loki. My work with Loki is as unique as the next person’s and although it overlaps with other people within my community, there are things which only I associate with the deity.

However, I find that despite frequent pauses to clarify where she is writing from personal experience, I do not think this book is clear enough about where ‘fact’ ends and UPG begins. In so much as you can say there is any fact with a deity famous for breaking all of the rules. As a book for beginners, I feel it could stand to be more explicit in separating the two analysis from each other. The divide is at times fuzzy enough that I can see it leading to misunderstandings going forward. But with the lack of material to work with, I found Loptson’s ideas and her solutions to skaldic plotholes to be fascinating and I know I will definitely look at certain stories in a new light going forward. As a genderqueer polytheist and one who also works with Loki, I found that chapters five and seven in particular spoke to me on a personal level. Loptson’s analysis of the imagery in the story of how Loki helped the giant Þjazi to kidnap Iðunn and her apples (and then to rescue her) filled in some narrative gaps in a way that had my inner storyteller nodding in excitement.

So with all of this in mind, would I recommend Trickster and Transformer to my fellow Lokeans? Absolutely yes. It’s a snappy read, with some brilliant rituals and unique angles on the mythology. But I would counsel them to read it primarily as the experience of one writer, and not of Lokeans as a whole. Before adopting UPGs within as your own, compare it to other interpretations. And if you do pick the book up, don’t forget to check out the excellent ‘Recommended Reading’ list that Loptson has compiled at the end! Having read this new book, I am certainly interested enough in the author’s voice to pick up her first book on the trickster.

Dagulf Loptson is, in her own words, a "writer, tattoo artist, witch, and devotional polytheist". Se has been a devotee of Loki and other deities for twenty years, and is the author of a number of books. Read more of her work here at her website, Loki Cult.

A/N: For those of you who have reached the end of this review, and are concerned that I have misgendered the author, I would like to link to this recent post on her blog. Rest assured that I confirmed her choice of pronouns on Facebook before publishing this review.

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