Trickster gods occur in many cultures and often demonstrate a certain gender and/or sexual fluidity. For today’s post I will concentrate on one: Norse trickster Loki.
Loki practices forms of magic which, in Norse culture, mark him as effeminate. He’s also a gender-bending shapeshifter, as demonstrated in the following tale….
Following the war between the Æsir and Vanir, the wall surrounding Asgard needs rebuilding. However, none of the gods feel like undertaking the work themselves. One day a stranger arrives. He requests an audience with the Æsir and offers to complete the work for them. He promises to complete the work in eighteen months, so long as the gods will then grant him Freyja as his wife, along with the sun and the moon. Freyja is none too happy with the arrangement, so Odin refuses the offer. However, Loki urges them to consider it carefully before they reject it completely, so Odin asks the builder to let them confer in private.
Once they are alone, Loki suggests granting the builder six months in which to finish, claiming the fellow could never complete in time and therefore Freyja, the sun, and the moon will be safe, and they will get part of the wall built for free. They put the suggestion to the builder, stating he must finish the work alone. The builder prevaricates but finally agrees, providing he may have use of his stallion, Svaðilfari. The agreement made, the builder is guaranteed safe conduct throughout the realm and starts work.
However, it is soon clear that something is amiss. The work proceeds too fast. Thanks to the amazing strength of his stallion, who hauls the rock each night, the builder is likely to complete the wall within the stated time frame. The Æsir watch anxiously until only three days remain, at which point the gateway is the final section yet unfinished. Aghast, Odin calls a meeting. As one, the gods and goddesses accuse Loki as being the cause of their forthcoming woes. They tell him he must thwart the builder or pay with his life.
That night, as the builder leads Svaðilfari to the quarry, Loki takes the form of a mare. Springing into the stallion’s path, the mare prances about before him. Svaðilfari is captivated, and when the mare disappears into the forest, Svaðilfari breaks his reins and races after her, leaving the builder to curse.
Loki keeps Svaðilfari occupied the whole night, and the next morning it is clear the builder will not finish the work in time. At this realisation, the builder discards his disguise and reveals himself to be a giant. The rest of the Æsir immediately send for Thor, who dispatches the giant with his hammer, Mjölnir.
As for Loki, he returns several months later leading a small colt with eight legs, named Sleipnir. He offers the horse to Odin as a gift, claiming him to be the greatest of his kind.
A large number of Lokeans do identify within the LGBT spectrum since Loki’s fluidity can be seen as an acceptance of their own differences. With Loki, as with all tricksters, sex and sexuality play a large role in his makeup. Tricksters are, by nature, fairly promiscuous. Loki has sons by his consort, Sigyn, a son to whom he gave birth himself (as we have already seen), and three offspring by the giantess Angrboða: Fenrir, the wolf, Jörmungandr, the world serpent, and Hel, later made ruler of the realm of Helheimr. These latter three also demonstrate both the acceptance of diversity and the fear of it. But that’s a story for another day. 🙂
What are your thoughts on the figure of the Trickster in relation to gender and sexuality? Do you have any favourite Trickster tales?