In the Chalion fantasy novels by Lois McMaster Bujold, there are two sides in a religious schism known as the Quadrenes and the Quintarians. The two sides fight over territory, but in their wars there is also vicious religious violence. The Quadrenes acknowledge four gods, and the Quintarians honor five. The five gods are the Father of Winter, Mother of Summer, Daughter of Spring, Son of Autumn, and the Bastard. The Bastard is half god and half demon, rules demons and entropy, has gay and lesbian priests, and his attention can be a disaster out of season even to those who worship him. The Quadrenes say he is not a god, but an evil enemy of the gods.
If you haven’t guessed by now that I’m about to talk about Loki, you’ve been looking at a completely different internet than me. Which is entirely possible, because one of the problems with today’s internet community is that everyone is subject to predictive algorithms that show you more of what artificial intelligences think you like and less of what they think you don’t like, splitting communities into smaller and smaller splinters with no access to news and opinion from other perspectives. That’s true of politically biased news, it’s true of health advice, it’s true of advertisements for clothes, cars, and cats, and it’s true of the developing split in the heathen community between those who acknowledge Loki as a god and those who would not drink a beer with those who do.
My perspective is that of a heathen who became an Asatruar before Loki’s godhood was controversial. It is also that of someone who was the manager of a heathen forum in the days before Google and Amazon and Wikipedia, and who saw pretty much every controversy within heathendom play out on the MSN Group I managed, so I was familiar with the all the common arguments. Before the age of the personalized internet, there was only one big divide between heathens, and that was universalist versus folkish. The only hate word was “racist.”
People who were known to be racists were kicked out of gatherings both in person and on the net. No respectable group would allow them into their festivals or into sumbel or other ritual space. The folkish groups had hair triggers over this topic. A folkish festival would kick out a whole campful of people if one of their members made a white power gesture. Heathenry was policing itself, drawing a firm line between itself and the racist groups that might be involved in criminal, gang, or terrorist activity, and pretty much everyone I knew in all types of heathenry from Asatru to Theod and from universalist to folkish agreed that was the way it should be. That was the way that we became a legitimate religion in the eyes of the law. It was an inherently political issue, and it mattered because of real-world consequences to our freedom of religion and freedom of speech and assembly.
There were other divisive topics. There were arguments between reconstructionists versus modernists, and Unitarians versus hard polytheists, and believers versus archetypalists, and so on, just as there are today, but those divisions remained in the realm of lively debate and did not generally result in the shunning of individuals or groups over the disagreement. Suddenly seeing a new hate word develop in heathen forums for another type of heathens has been a shock. “Rokkrtru” was not even a word as recently as when I wrote my book, Asatru For Beginners, and that began as the faq file of the MSN Asatru Group, so it was barely more than a decade ago.
We are becoming the Quadrenes and the Quintarians. Those who do not acknowledge Loki as a god are calling those who do “rokkrtru,” meaning worshipper of giants, which has developed into a fighting word about as polite as “ergi.” Those who do acknowledge him are starting to call themselves “Lokeans.” There are people who actually refer to themselves as rokkatru, but there are also people who call themselves queer, ni**er, and other terms one could use to start a fight. Even if people use the terms themselves within their own community, the words are still fighting words.
Heathendom is become a land divided by one god, rather than united by our common gods, just like the people in the fantasy book. I want to see that trend reversed while we can still come back together. I don’t want to see us split over an issue that is purely about religious observance.
This is not the same kind of issue as the split between religious heathenry and white supremacy. I don’t know of anyone who wants the groups with criminal ties back, although I know of many groups that do prison outreach in an attempt to win individuals away from the gangs and turn them into proper heathens.
This is more like the split between two denominations of Protestants. It’s a religious difference, not a political one. It isn’t about criminal gangs. It isn’t about becoming officially recognized by the US government to get religious freedom in the army. It isn’t about getting our symbols like the Thorshammar and runes recognized as religious symbols rather than illegal gang signs. It’s purely about differences between heathens over religious belief and ritual.
People are starting to align themselves with one side or the other. Those who don’t acknowledge Loki as a god, saying instead he is a giant and an enemy of the gods, are taking a stand against those who count him among the gods in the same way that heathenry took a stand against racism. It has become an absolute test, with those who fail thrown out of ceremonies. Heathen forums and groups are tossing out or chasing away people who honor Loki with the same zeal with which we toss out racists.
Is this really who we want to be? Do we want to be the Quadrenes and the Quintarians? Do we want to be religious purists who all read the same mythology and quote the same lore and follow the news of the same archeological discoveries with more than academic interest and sacrifice to the same gods but one, and hate each other?
Peace is a choice. We can choose to be at peace with people we disagree with, over religion, or economics, or anything else. The USA and the USSR never nuked each other. Even though each side believed the other was bent on world domination and conquest. With that as a model for choosing peace, can we not choose peace over the issue of to whom to raise a toast?
I have not touched on the actual lore and academic arguments about Loki in this article; it’s thoroughly documented elsewhere. Although I could go on at length about how, yes, calling on Loki is playing with fire, and fire can burn down your house and kill your family and your little dog too, but civilization in the snow-covered far north would not have lasted very long if everyone was too afraid of fire to have it in their houses.
In the Chalion novels, to handle demons, call on the demon god. In the fairy tale and folk tale tradition that lasted well after the age of conversion, Loki was remembered as a helpful god as late as 1822 when Lokka Tattur was first collected and published. Lokka Tattur is a Faroese poem in which a farmer successfully called on Loki to solve his giant problem. That’s far from the only evidence that he was once regarded as benevolent towards humanity. It’s also far from the only evidence that he was once seen as a being of equal standing with Odin and Hodur.
That is not even the point. It would be cool if everyone could just chill out about Loki, but Loki himself isn’t even the real issue here for me. The issue is that I wish everyone could just chill out about Lokeans. Argue with them, yes, if you enjoy a good debate over the lore, but don’t tell them they aren’t real heathens and should go find a different religion, don’t tell them that they’re the heathen equivalent of Satanists, don’t call them names and tell them they’re evil enemies of mankind and the gods and their ways ought to be banned. I don’t think that serves either the gods or our community very well. Can’t we all just get along? Like we used to do?
[Erin Lale is the Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books. Her writing and publishing career began in 1985. She has an extensive list of published nonfiction, fiction, poetry, etc. In the print era she was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine and owned The Science Fiction Store, and she publishes the shared world Time Yarns.]