Lokasenna – The Flyting of Loki

The Lokasenna (unknown author) is an interesting window into the cultural world of ancient Norse mythology taken from a series of Icelandic writings called  the “Poetic Edda”  (13th century) in that it showcases all of the discouraged behaviour of that culture from over a thousand years ago.  Perhaps the most interesting fact is that none of the insults given are denied or explained away – save for attacks on Freyr’s honour and Loki’s insults of Thor, which go ignored. By giving examples of the ways not to act in Norse society, the Lokasenna gives post modernist readers a glimpse into the values of Norse society from the eyes an unknown author some 1000 years ago. Some of the values put forth by Loki and the other gods and goddess revolved around gender roles and activities associated with women. Others, of course, deal with martial values dictating conduct in battle. Some are home and marital values, chief of which is fidelity and several issues related to it. The Lokasenna shows that the main values of the Norse society deal with gender, marital, and martial expectations.

The Norse valued their gender roles – especially their masculinity – very highly. Events that would result in the loss of a man card (or the medieval equivalent) were the default attack among all the gods present. For example, Loki accuses Odin of “weaving magic and making spells like a witch”. If a male witch was a respectable position in Norse society, Loki would not have used it as an insult. Odin likely gets around this by being the Allfather and being able to do whatever he wants, but none of the other gods show any interest in practicing sorcery. That career choice was always left to the women, such as Frigg, Freya or Gefion. Men are not excluded from making prophetic warnings but making a living from it is not socially acceptable when they could be out hunting or fighting in a war.

One of Loki’s favorite taunts during the myth is accusing the men of – specifically the older, more respected males – is doing women’s work. He recounts the time Njord spent as a ‘hostage’ to women. Despite getting a son (Freyr) out of the arrangement, Loki at the least considered it an insult to Njord’s masculinity. In response, the gods are quick to reference the times Loki has borne children. It was not respectable – or even naturally possible – for men to give birth: that was “a woman’s lot”. Njord empathizes this when he calls Loki “the vile god who bairns hath borne”. Despite being a culture well known today for their extra-marital activities and making off with foreign women, the Lokasenna shows them to be more conservative than the stereotype suggests. In a culture where men left the house and all their possessions to the women and went off to battle, it was the unspoken standard that a woman not sleep around in her husband’s absence. This was to prevent him from living with the fear that his children might not be his, and breaking the bond of trust between a husband and a wife. In a culture where men would be gone – like Thor – for unspecified long periods of time, such trust was necessary to keeping society intact. No man wants to return home successful or not from the battlefield to find another man has been performing his spousal duties in his absence.

Going back to Loki’s favoured insults, his standard slander of the goddesses is that they are whores. Adultery is his most popular insult likely because – same as today – it is so widespread and hard to disprove. Sif slyly tries to outsmart Loki by pointing out that no one has witnessed her being unfaithful to her husband Thor. Loki is equally as crafty and acknowledges her claim… then suggests that she has slept with him. As Loki and Sif (perhaps Thor) would be the only ones who knew of the infidelity, there is little Sif can do to protest her innocence. Earlier in the myth Loki says that Frigg, Odin’s wife, has slept with both of his brothers while being married to Odin. Poor Tyr is slandered when Loki ‘reveals’ that he had a son with Tyr’s wife, and that he not only did not know about it but received no compensation for such a crime.

“Draptu á vétt sem völur” is often mis-quoted and in the wrong context by those who are not really familiar with exactly what a heathen senna is or the politics prevalent at that time against homosexuality from Christian clerics. Making wild claims that this small account as proof positive that “drums” were used in seiðr praxis is akin to saying that all the goddesses were whores based on such writings? “Now we can return to Loki’s derogatory remarks about Óðinn, which includes a possible reference to drumming. STRÖMBÄCK (1935) has thoroughly examined the words “draptu á vétt sem völur” and has come to the conclusion that Loki is referring to Óðinn’s shamanic drumming practice. ‘Draptu á’ comes from the expression ‘aðdrepa á’, and means ‘to knock or beat’ and vétt, which can mean otherworldy being, can be related to vitki (in the next line), but also means “lid” or “shield” (STRÖMBÄCK, 1935, 24; PÁLSSON, 1997,98; MAGNUSSON, 1989); we also know that lids were used among the Sámis as drums. Whether the drumming in this instance was a part of a seið practice or some other form of fjölkynngi (Old Norse means powerful sorcery) we do not know, but the words völur clearly mean “as völvur do”.

When you consider the many shaman drums found in Northern Europe with the Sami tribes,  it makes redundant the argument that all the Norse drums simply vanished or rotted away. Neo shamanism and profile neurosis remains the main culprit behind this misdirection of our ways and will remain so until we dare to challenge their status quo of twisting historical Seiðr Praxis  . Ask them what are your sources for this practice and if your protagonist goes silent or quote you that Lokessana quote “Draptu á vétt sem völur”, you will now be empowered with the correct answer of “inconclusive” and that Eddic Lore contrary to what many misled Asatruers believe is not lore at all but prose preserved by a Christian priest.

Conclusion: Semantics inconclusive and in plain language not necessarily a “drum” . Could also mean a lid or a shield. Rememember the account in Ibn Fadlan’s Risala:
“The men began to bang their shields with the sticks so that her screams could not be heard and so terrify the other slave-girls, who would not, then, seek to die with their masters. Six men entered the pavilion and all had intercourse with the slave-girl.They laid her down beside her master and two of them took hold of her feet, two her hands. The crone called the “Angel of Death”placed a rope around her neck in such a way that the ends crossed one another and handed it to two <of the men> to pull on it. She advanced with a broad-bladed dagger and began to thrust it in and out between her ribs, now here, now there, while the two men throttled her with the rope until she died”

Final comment: Another serious mistake made by modern Asatruers is that Snorri Sturlusson preserved the lore. He did not!  Snorri also wrote politically but he preserved the Prose not the lore. The distinctions are oceans apart. The Edda is not the lore. Snorri’s literacy works were in fact the Prose Edda (not the Poetic Edda) and the Heimskringla. Please note however that several unknown poets arguably before the Christian era had their hands on those oral traditions to finally put to manuscript the Poetic Edda, not Snorri. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s