Surprising no one, I did not care for Karl E.H. Seigfried’s recent Wild Hunt article on Loki.
From the start of the article he sets up a divide, stating:
For a thousand years, poets and scholars have seen Loki as a troubling figure who brings harm to the community of which he is a part. Today, there are many lovers of Norse mythology and practitioners of Pagan religions who view him as a positive figure, and even one deserving of veneration and worship.
His dividing line here is an appeal to authority and an appeal to tradition. He then goes on later to say:
At times, his most devoted worship seems to shade into a form of mono- or henotheism. I have met practitioners whose devotion to Loki and disdain for the other Norse gods seems quite far removed from a diverse polytheism.
So many strawfolks already set up. It is what makes his next statement seem so disingenuous.
There is no reason to challenge the importance that Loki has for so many people around the world, whether it manifests in pop culture fandom or intense religious devotion.
Except that is exactly what he does. He does the same thing when he quotes Tolkien’s dislike of allegory and then proceeds to dive whole-hog into one of his own in four parts, connecting Trump and Loki. He states that his writing is one of applicability, in line with Tolkien, rather than an allegory.
Trump is not Loki or Odin. The way the Seigfried tries to hook the narratives he has built around Trump into Loki is hamfisted at best, and lazy at worst. He builds up his defenses in pieces prior to the four part attack on Trump and Loki, namely in saying:
I do not believe that we should reconstruct every aspect of ancient worldviews situated in a time and place of normalized slavery, entrenched homophobia, and celebrated violence. I do not believe that it is even possible to reconstruct the detailed internal worldviews of a plurality of peoples who left behind no second-level theological discourse.
That said, I am bothered by approaches to myth that brush aside any elements of ancient sources that readers don’t like or find problematic as “Christian influenced.” Academics and practitioners alike are guilty of this rhetorical turn
Again, I do not deny the personal meaning that many find in Loki. I simply can’t follow them to a place where the sources of our knowledge are read in ways that sometimes seem parallel to conspiracy theorist readings of today’s news stories.
He states that we cannot reconstruct the worldview of ancient Heathen cultures due to a lack of resources and then casts doubt on readings of the texts in which Loki is looked at in a positive light, connecting these readings of myth to conspiracy theories. Without applying prudence to reading what myths and legends we do have we are doing ourselves and those who follow us a disservice. Understanding as best as we can that Snorri had biases both from his Christian upbringing and the influence of Classical literature available to him and applying them to a reading of his sources means we are engaging in discernment, discernment we would be reasonable to assume whether we are reading a source on ancient Scandinavian/German myths, a translation, or modern retellings that can carry the biases of the original scribes or translators.
Painting Trump as Loki in this way brings Loki down to Trump’s level as a human. Loki is not human. He is part of the Aesir and a Jotun. He is a Being worthy of worship and reverence. Trump, being neither part of my ancestry nor of any cultus I pay homage to, is not. Casting one’s views of Trump in Loki’s mythological light obfuscates the myth, and one could accuse Seigfried of no small amount of cherry-picking in his mythologizing.
Calling the first section “Objectifier of women”, Seigfried did not include in his first of the four parts casting Trump and Loki togther that Thjazi instigates the means by which he extracts the oath from Loki to bring him Idunna. It is little wonder that Loki does not mention it to the Aesir until They come to Him. The last time something went wrong the Aesir threaten to torture or kill Loki unless He fixed the issue at hand, such as the giant working on Asgard’s walls almost winning the wager of the Sun and Moon as well as Freya’s hand in marriage. Loki pushed for the Jotun to be allowed to work with his horse Svaldilfari, so the Gods put the blame on Him and threatened to torture and kill Him if He did not fix the situation. They do the same when They figure out He lured away Idunna and is why They are aging due to Her no longer harvesting the apples that keep Them young. Not only does Loki fix the situation, returning Idunna to the Aesir at great risk to Himself, He helps the Aesir eliminate Thjazi’s threat when the Jotun is burnt at the walls, and gain Skadi as an ally by making Her laugh. In each situation where He is threatened with torture and death He more than makes up for His shortcomings, perceived or not, gaining the Gods great gifts and allies.
Loki is not objectifying Idunna. Both Loki and Idunna are used by Thjazi when he extracts Loki’s oath, and while She is in Thjazi’s hands. She is part of the Aesir, and They need Her service of keeping the fruit that keeps the Gods young. So, Her rescuer brings Her back. It’s a poor myth to start with in comparing Loki to Trump. It seems to me that Seigfried shaved off every edge in Loki’s favor in order for to try to make this myth fit his Trump-shaped hole. Having read through his article more than a few times, it seems he did so with every myth he refers to.
I am obviously biased in the favor of both Odin and Loki, but it is not my point here to pretend like neither God did not do horrible things in the myths we have. Rather, my objections lie in applying Trump to Loki. Trump is Trump, Loki is Loki, and Odin is Odin.
We can take lessons from our myths without mythologizing our politicians. It is an ugly precedent to set. We have enough issues with mythologized history, such as Thanksgiving being taught in schools as though it was a dinner to which Natives and the Pilgrims sat down respectfully across from one another as equals, or that Washington ‘could not tell a lie’. Painting Lincoln as ‘the Great Liberator’ while ignoring that he was the one who ordered the hanging of 38 Dakota who were captured fighting back against the settlers that had broken treaties with them after enduring privation and starvation. That great lie, Manifest Destiny. We have enough obfuscation in the way of reading about history that we do not have need of more of it by conflating our religions’ myths with our modern political realities, especially as poorly as Karl E.H. Seigried does here.
It certainly does not provide more understanding to President Trump’s life, election, and administration to frame political and economic realities in the same realm as myths either by allegory or by applicability of mythological stories. If you want to understand how candidate Trump rose to power and won the election you need to look at, among many things, economics, politics, and history. To my mind it would certainly be more enlightening to understand President Trump’s election into the Oval Office through the lens of history via Spengler, Toynbee, or through similar lenses looking at bigger arcs in history, and how paradigms change through economic, political, and social pressures.
Skepticism and eyes raise when Christians point to a politician and apply the label of Antichrist. I think one of our own doing the same with Trump and crying “Loki!” should receive the same response.
21 thoughts on “Loki is Not Trump (Neither is Odin)”
Very much agreed.
While the “myth as metaphor” interpretation does not exhaust the possibilities, nor does it encapsulate the “purpose” of myths generally, nonetheless it can be useful from time to time, and in the present case, it might be useful as well. The anti-allegorization of that article, and yet then the application of it to strict latter-day political allegory (while not even giving due respect to all of the events or symbolism present in the original myth, which means that it is no longer truly allegory!) is a HUGE mistake. To take any myth as a literal thing which happened rather than as a metaphorical, human-centered construction through metaphor of something which can reveal the character of particular Deities and their relationships with one another and the wider cosmos is just a gigantic mistake. No, Zeus doesn’t seem pleasant with all of His raping of mortals, nymphs, and Goddesses, but that entire edifice exists on a level that has little to do with actual cultus in the ancient world, and likewise now.
For someone who repeatedly bally-hoo’ed his graduation from U of Chicago Divinity School, he seems to be making a freshman community college remedial level mistake with all of this…
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I took the article as the author trying to discuss how bad Trump is without coming out and saying that. Loki was the vehicle to do that. I believe that his interpretations about Loki stem from his need to paint both with a broad brush.
My interpretation of Trump is that he is like Moby Dick, the Great White Whale. A primal force that destroys the status quo. And like Ahab, everyone is obsessed with him.
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This author, in spite of his degree, does not understand (a) The inherent purpose of chaos in the world and a God that represents it within a pantheon (b) The inherent impiety of using Loki merely as a device to criticize Trump.
If there is anything to notice from a remote comparison of Trump and Loki in their respective realms, it is that (regardless of people’s opinions of them) both have a certain purpose in the larger order of things and did not arise in a vacuum. The author unfortunately uses linear and dualistic thinking in a matter that requires cyclical and pluralistic understanding. I don’t like Trump, but I understand him, his purpose, how he came and why.
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I am fine with criticizing whoever the sitting President of the United States of America is. I’m fine with a critical eye on the myths of Loki. I’m fine with folks *not liking Loki and not worshiping Him*.
I can’t abide the torrent of garbage that was Seigfried’s article on a God I hold dear which cherry-picks His role in lore and His meaning to so many while simultaneously painting His worshipers in the absolute worst light and spreading all of this over a wide platform.
Yup, right here with all of your points, Melas.
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Just as a further idea, not entirely apropos to the above, but still, given my own devotional commitments, one that struck me as superlatively idiotic when I heard it last May.
While at Kalamazoo, the topic of Hadrian came up at one point during a game night (and I don’t think I even raised the issue!). An idiot-know-it-all (alas, academia is full of these) then had this lovely contribution to the conversation: “Why would anyone be interested in the Roman Empire’s version of Donald Trump?” I then went on to notify this idiot that the current U.S. President and the Divine Hadrian are about as far apart from one another in character and temperament as can be imagined…Hadrian even at the worst excesses of some of what he’s been accused of still has advantages over the current President in that he actually did military service and was good at it, was superlatively intelligent and talented in many fields, and was a pious person in every respect, to say the least! I also pointed out that the reasons for building the wall in Britain were entirely different than those that the President suggested, and the question of “paying for it” was entirely different as well…
But, the idiocy of some people making these types of comparisons. The God-Kings of Mesopotamia, including Gilgamesh building the walls of Uruk, have nothing on the current President’s narcissism and self-obsessed ego, alas…
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Using Presidents as comparison points in reference to ancient societies does neither the ancient society nor our modern one much in the way of credit. Comparing Divine Kings, Emperors, and other monarchs or chieftains to presidents denies the central processes by which a person becomes one vs the other, and it obfuscates both history and contemporary politics in the bargain. Only in the barest of touches do comparisons really make sense, namely if we are talking about leadership roles or what policy changes may impact what in a very broad sense.
It would be no different than someone trying to cast the Gracchi as Occupy Wall Street types. Yes, we can see how populist rhetoric was used and abused by the brothers and by those who came after them, but dammit the situation they were in is utterly different due to economics, time, history, etc. Taking lessons from history is one thing but trying to always analogize and allegorize takes away a better understanding of the history and our present moment. Letting them sit side-by-side, acknowledging the differences, can reveal deeper truths and applicable understanding to our own modern situations if we just *let them!*
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Thank you. This is great. One of the dangers in Seigfried’s article is his call to religious bigotry (against Loki and Lokeans) contained in his last two paragraphs. His bio for the article previously referred to a period as “president” of an “interfaith dialogue” group while he was at school. He has since removed it–perhaps because when I blogged my rebuttal I pointed out that his hit piece on Loki and Lokeans violates the principles of such dialogue. Also, calls for discrimination against a religious group not acceptable ethically acceptable for anyone working as a chaplain, which he had also claimed then removed. Thanks again for your post!
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I don’t think we all have to go along. I’m fine with folks not liking Loki or Loki worshipers. I’m fine with folks being uncomfortable with Him, unnerved by Him, wary of Him. I’m of the same mind in regards to Odin. Not everyone is going to get along with every God, and not everyone should feel they have to. Seigfried crossed the line when he painted all of us the same, when he laid down what amounts to an ill-informed screed against our God and by extension, to us as Loki worshipers. So I’m right there with you.
That was definitely the biggest problem I had with his piece. The insinuation that Lokeans would automatically resort to death threats? That was way past uncalled for, and I’m glad you added your voice to the list of people willing to step up and call him out for his disrespect.
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Sorry, can’t seem to remove the redundant “acceptable” from the above.
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If you’d like I could take it out?
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Your last paragraph reminded me of the people who said Obama was the AntiChrist.
I’m also reminded of the equally troubling tendency for people to equate gods they like with political leaders they like. There’s a certain segment of Evangelical Christians who believe their god made Trump president.
When George W. Bush was president and first starting the Iraq War, I was on a Heathen message board where someone posted something about how Odin was pushing Bush into war, and a lot of the regulars there seemed to be in favor of the war, and implied that Odin was in favor of the war too.
Now, on my blog I have compared Jon Stewart (of the Daily Show) wish Loki, and David Bowie with Loki, but I think things get a little troubling when people start comparing presidents and other political leaders with gods; that’s just a bit more serious than comparing them with comedians or musicians.
Saying that Obama is the AntiChrist or Trump is like Loki (when you obviously hate Loki) makes it easy for you to say that everything they do is pure evil. Likewise, saying that Bush or Trump are being divinely guided by benevolent deities means you should accept everything they do without question. And that can have life-or-death consequences.
Presidents and other human leaders are HUMANS. Bush and Obama and Trump all became president because of how our government works, and how it works was all decided on by the HUMANS who wrote the Constitution.
Our culture got rid of divinely appointed kings a long time ago, and I think that was a good move on our part. Instead we decided that we should choose our own leaders, and that puts the responsibility squarely on US to choose someone who will do a good job. If we don’t choose wisely, it’s not the gods’ fault or their job to bail us out of our own mess.
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I don’t think Trump is Loki! (Or Odin, or Thor. 🙄)
I DO like it when people – writers and artists – make comparisons between old mythologies and contemporary politics, though ! It’s just that this Seigfried guy does it in a very clumsy way…