Slippery as a salmon, quick as an electric eel, Loki is the fire god, who hides in the water of the moon and of the earth. He is the light falling into the astral depths, the starry monad which becomes 'hidden' in man, too much mixed, becoming the evil genius. Sly Loki is the clever trickster of the gods. In the earliest myths he was a benefactor, generous and supportive of good rather than evil. The old tale of a peasant couple who prayed for help in protecting their son from the marauding giant Skrymir testifies to that. They called upon Odin and Hoenir in turn to save the boy's life, but to no avail. Their attempts to conceal him in a cornfield and in the down of a swan were foiled by the hideous Skrymir's unerring sense of the boy's presence. Loki found a way to save him, but not by simply devising a better hiding place. When invoked, Loki set about the task with gusto and placed the lad in the tiniest egg of a flounder's roe. Following his voracious intent, Skrymir flew in a boat to the very spot and dropped his line into the sea. In no time he caught the flounder and began pressing out each egg, but the alert and dextrous Loki snatched the one containing the boy and told him to spring lightly over the sand when they reached the shore. In hot pursuit, Skrymir sprang after the lad, only to be bogged down in the drifts by his own enormous weight and slain by Loki's sword.
That humans would turn to Loki for help, confident of his goodwill and readiness to assist them, is balanced in this ancient tale with the element of cunning which is so typical of his later adventures. Loki is mixed and mysterious, and gradually comes to disclose many darker sides of his nature, aspects partly attributable, perhaps, to his peculiar ancestry and association with giants, dwarfs and elemental entities of other sorts. Snorri's description of him is revealing:
Loki's father, Fárbauti, was Bergelmir, the giant who escaped the deluge in a boat. His mother's name, Laufey or Nál, refers to a leafy isle or a ship, suitably corresponding to the means of surviving a great flood. The etymology of Loki's name suggests other traits not so readily discerned. Lóka or lúka means 'to lock', 'to close' or 'to conclude', whilst lokker is cognate with the Danish lokka and lokke, which mean 'to entice' or 'allure'. Added to these associations is logi, the word for 'flame' which is cognate with the Gothic liuhan ('to shine'), the Anglo-Saxon lecht and the English light' as well as lód, the word for 'fire' which, in German, means 'to blaze'. Called Loptr, Loki's name refers to the aerial, the Middle Gothic for which is luftus, the German lit ft, from which English takes its expressions for lofty' and 'aloft'. The complex ideas suggested by these etymological clues are clearly reflected in Loki's many-sided nature, but they do not readily sort themselves out into a coherent picture. The traitor as well as friend of the gods is cunning in his disguises and does not reveal himself so readily to the proddings and propaedeutics of pedantic investigation. Loki's darker side evolves from the roles of a cunning adviser and a false, traitorous comrade, to that of a murderer of all that is pure and innocent, holy and righteous. He became the blasphemer of the Ases, their evil conscience, and he will finally help to bring about universal destruction. But his is not a uniformly hell-bent career. Some of the funniest and cleverest episodes in the Nordic myths are instigated by his outrageous antics, and it seems that he has some part to play in most of them without ever falling into a completely predictable role.
As he was apt to brag when in a pinch, Loki is the brother of Odin, his alter ego in the sense that Typhon is to Osiris or Ahriman to Ormazd. This is a symbolical way of indicating a fire and light god, one aspect of which has fallen to become the destructive fire, a liuhan or lux identifiable with Lucifer as Satan. As Loki's day was Saturday, he readily came to be confounded with Saturn and Satan by Christian converts. For them, this fitted in all too easily with the notion of evil at the time of the creation of man, for it was Loki as Lodurr who gave the senses which have been so widely and erroneously believed to be the source of evil desires. But is Loki himself the cause of evil? He surely often acts as the tempter who makes the innocent fall into sin, and he throws the brand into the house in which he himself would be burnt along with the guilty and the good, like one who welcomes destruction with the desire to annihilate the entire cosmos along with himself – a grandiose-seeming evil. Snorri, however, depicts Loki as mischievous rather than evil, even though he admits he is strongly connected with giants and spawned the most appalling children.
An interesting correspondence can be seen between Loki and Duryodhana if one traces back the Eddie myths to a common Indo-European source and sees the Mahabharata as an epic synthesis of older and more fundamental themes. Like Duryodhana, who uses the blind Dhritarashtra in order to further his evil designs, Loki uses the blind Hodur to kill the noble Balder. In this act he fulfils a great and fatal misfortune, but is he merely acting as the agent of its expression? Perhaps Loki can best be seen as the Trickster, one who is astute to the highest degree, intelligent and amoral, who loves mischief for amusement as much as for harm, and who, even in the killing of Balder, is simply carried away by the desire to create confusion and remove a source of envy, rather than by a premeditated intent to destroy goodness. After all, one who is notorious as a lowly thief and who seasons his boldest exploits with strong dashes of pure cowardice is not the sort one would call an arch demon – or is he?
The characteristics of the Trickster (shared by all such figures wherever they are found in the mythical traditions of the world) are greediness, selfishness, treachery and an ability to change shape at will. They are comic figures who are often disgusting but manage somehow to acquire the aura of a cultural hero, even a provider of light and fire (as in the case of the American Indian Raven). They may act in the guise of a wild male or female shaman, or be closely identified with a droll creator god. In many traditions the Trickster appears to be a parody of the creator god, one whose schemes often go awry. So well does Loki fulfil these specifications that we might wonder if he isn't a sort of Odin in reverse, a shadow brother of the Alfader, who acts as a chthonic figure connecting the world of creation by fits and flights with the world of death. This supposition is strengthened by the fact that he is closely affiliated with Surtur and the sons of Muspelheim, who will play a key role in the ultimate destruction of the world by fire during Ragnarok, when Loki will steer the ship of death bearing them into battle against the gods. It is also strengthened by the link between him and his children. By his long-suffering and lawful wife Sigyn he had two sons of no great fame. But by the giantess Angrboda (whose name means 'Bringer of Anguish') he fathered three offspring: the horrible Fenrir wolf who would kill the gods Tyr and Odin at Ragnarok, the hideous Hel who receives in her gloomy domain all those rejected in Valhalla, and Jörmungandr, the world serpent in whose coils all humanity is caught. These latter children certainly have more to do with death than with life, and seem to be in league with the Frost Giants who continually threaten the ordered world with chaos and non-being, rather than with the Aesirs. Indeed, when one considers all his links with their age-old enemies, it is remarkable that Loki is identified as a member of the Aesirs at all.
In an eating contest at Utgard-Loki's hall, Loki became the rival of Logi, the element of fire. Comparing him with Logi, one might see Loki as the giver of fire's warmth, thus identifying him as the god of the household fire, which he seems to have been originally. But just as Loki has been associated with the earliest trinity of Kari (air), Ögir (water) and, Logi (fire), and with the creation of man, the triad Odin, Hoenir and Loki, it is more than likely that his many-faceted nature plays rival to itself in the two guises of Loki and Logi, overseen by another of his aspects called Utgard-Loki, lord of the Jötunheim hall. As already stated, Loki also substitutes for Lodurr in endowing humanity with warmth and enlivening the senses. Both their names relate to fire, and their overlapping identity places Loki in an intimate juxtaposition to Heimdal, whom some claim to be Lodurr himself. As the bearer of beneficent fire and light, Heimdal is the Nordic Prometheus, the eternal enemy of the destructive fire of Loki. At Ragnarok the two will perish in their struggle with one another, Heimdal to be the last of all the gods to die. But if Heimdal is similar to Prometheus, so too is Loki and even the Christian Satan, both of whom were chained down in a rocky gloom to endure the terrible punishment of having fallen.
Perhaps the key to unravelling these contradictory similarities lies in making a simple distinction between giving the spiritual impetus of life to otherwise dead (and, therefore, non-existent) senses and actually entering into the awakened experience of the enlivened senses. But the lines separating the fires of spiritual descent are very fine and it is hard to see where one fire leaves off and the other begins. In Utgard-Loki they gestate a form of hideous physical and moral evil, the same evil found in Loki in a seductive and seemingly beautiful form. Utgard-Loki is a Loki of the outer regions, a huge giant of great cunning and deceptive magic. He lies bound, as it were, in the midst of darkness in a cold and corrupt land. As everything moves into an ever-darkening age, Loki's allegiances become clearer, and he seems to relapse into this tethered and terrifying giant who will one day break loose as a barbarous force, causing far more than mere mischief.
When Loki's evil children were born in Jötunheim, Alfader (Odin) turned away in disgust. The other gods were alarmed, and together with Odin they met in counsel at Urd's well, where the Norn Urd said, "Their mother is evil", to which Verdandi added, "But their father is worse." And Skuld concluded, "Expect them to harm you and endanger you. They will be in at the kill." The outraged Odin commanded the Aesirs to bring the dreadful offspring, together with their father, before him in Asgard. They came, bursting with indignation. Hel grew huge as evil flashed threateningly from her eyes, and Jörmungandr reared up, emitting a venomous foam. The gods shrank back but Odin seized them both and buried them far out of Asgard into immeasurable space. Hel sank for nine days, past rocks, morasses and the fathomless ice, down into Niflheim, where she was to rule over the dead in her kingdom called Hel. But Jörmungandr fell into the vast ocean flowing around Midgard, where she would writhe and grow until she touched her own tail with her ugly mouth. There she would stay until the hour struck when she would rise up and help to bring about the destruction of worlds.
Fenrir then began to howl and great Tyr bore him away from Asgard to the cliffs sloping towards Midgard, in which realm he would be bound until Ragnarok. Loki, seeing all this, slipped away to scheme more mischief, whilst Surtur threatened Asgard with flashes of heat from his flaming sword. Odin turned to the assembled Aesirs and said, "The spirit of prophecy has come upon me, and I foresee that the monsters whose power we have broken for the present will one day join the Destroyer and fight against us." His words reveal that he, as Alfader, understands the inevitability of evil as well as of complex cycles in the manifest world. He not only represents an ordered cosmos, but is aware of its temporal nature. Even as he hurls the evil children into space and joins the other gods in the protection of Asgard, he acknowledges Loki as his brother, as part of the cosmic design.
Once established upon her throne, Hel began her rule in Hel and Niflheim, where those not accepted in the company of heroes must go. Her hall there is called Misery, her food Hunger, her knife Greed, her man Idleness, her maid Sloth, her threshold Ruin, her bed Sorrow, her curtains Conflagration, her land Corpse-strand, wherein a domain is set aside for assassins and perjurers whose roof is coiled with serpents spitting their foul venom on those below. There also is Hvergelmir, Roaring Cauldron, wherein Nidhogg devours the corpses of the evil, and Garn, the monstrous dog, gnashes at new arrivals. There Balder found a gorgeous hall of deceptive joy for the good and merely deluded. In the midst of all this, Hel sits as queen of the dead, stern of aspect and pale as a corpse. She knows no mercy, for she has never felt the warming rays of the sun. Her voice is hollow, a monotonous monotone, and her edicts are unalterable. In travelling to her domain, the dead go through dark, deep valleys where they can see nothing. Wearing their helskór ('death shoes'), they cross torrents and bridges and the icy river Gjoll, ever moving northward and downward until they come to an iron wall.
Snorri said that wicked men go to Hel and thence to Niflheim ('Misty Her), that they die from one to the other. In fact, one of the roots of Yggdrasill stretches to Hel, incorporating it firmly into the system of the World Tree. In ancient times men looked calmly upon life and death and worshipped Hel as an aspect of mother earth, the author of both death and rebirth. But when men began to distinguish between the spiritual and the corporeal life, Hel came to be seen as the ruler and judge of the dead, and this dark and terrible offspring of Loki was relegated exclusively to the ninth world.
The fact that the heroic dead received a resting place apart gave a reason to bondsmen, who willingly followed their masters onto the funeral pyre in the hope of being lifted into Valhalla, to act as servants after death. But the two realms need not be seen merely as a means of separating the common sheep from the individual goats. The idea of the dead going to Valhalla or Hel can be interpreted in terms of the soul passing, in its refined, spiritualized vesture, to the former place, and the body, along with the grosser astral vestures, to the latter. Each individual thus yields a lesser or greater degree of his being to one or the other resting place, depending upon the life led on earth and the nature of its end, a life and death enormously influenced by the principles and moral standards perceived to be characterized in the nature of manifest divinity or, as in the case of the Norsemen, in the nature of the gods. The example of a progressively tarnished deity, a mischief-maker who paints himself in ever darker hues, both mirrors and modifies the progress of humanity, acting like a two-way mirror. The struggle for good, seen as noble and real, has more and more to compete with the vastly entertaining diversions provided by this imp of an inverted cultural hero. The gods themselves fell into sin when they broke their word to Hrímthurse, but it was through following Loki's cunning advice that they did so. By this treachery and magic, they too set a negative example for all the worlds to follow and for man to imitate whilst thronging the road to Hel in thickening ranks.
Exemplar of cunning, of cowardly, mischievous and evil ways, Loki was responsible for the theft of Sif's golden hair, for which Thor grabbed him by the throat until his eyes almost popped from his head. It was he who gave, in simultaneously fearful and swaggering recompense, the dwarf-manufactured prizes of Gungnir and Skidbladnir, along with a new head of hair, and who, boasting of the powers of his dwarfs, won the contest with Sindri through trickery, producing Gullin-bursti, the Draupnir ring and Thor's hammer. Gifts to the gods? Yes. But always at the cost of their further involvement in wrongdoing and lies. When Loki betrayed Idunna and her apples of eternal youth to the storm giant Thiassi, the Ase's hair and cheeks soon lost their colour. Discovering Loki's treachery, they in their wrath forced him to rescue her in the guise of a falcon. Carrying Idunna as a nut clasped in his beak, Loki raced through the air from Jötunheim to Asgard with Thiassi hot on his tail in the form of an eagle. The gods waited anxiously for his return and lit a bonfire just as the eagle swooped over their wall. This consumed the monstrous abductor, but the giant had a daughter named Skadi, whose intense desire for revenge had then to be met and placated.
Thus the gods were drawn ever forward into thickening complexities of mischief and compromise, with Loki aiding and abetting the process at every juncture. In doing this, he endlessly altered his form, exercising his power of metamorphosis, the gift of the shape-changer identifying him closely with the Trickster. In the form of the mare who lured away the stallion belonging to Hrímthurse, he gave birth to Odin's steed, and as a mosquito he made possible the theft of Freya's necklace. As a falcon he retrieved Thor's hammer which, as a fly, he had caused its maker to foreshorten at one end. As a fire, a bear and a seal he sought to outwit the formidable Thor, as a giantess he condemned Balder to Hel, and as a salmon he tried to hide from the final wrath of the gods. He is continually active, flying about everywhere, stirring things up in the guise of male or female, monster or flea, paragon of beauty and charm or steel-hearted harbinger of cruelty and death.
Though elusive and often disguised, Loki's power to do harm is formidable. One well may question whether his heartless killing of Balder was not a deliberate act designed to further the influence of evil in the nine worlds. The murder of the untainted and noble Balder and his subsequent forced sojourn in Hel find once more a parallel in Duryodhana's use of Dhritarashtra to banish the Pandavas (led by the untainted and noble Yudhishthira) into the wilds of the forest for many long years. This theme of the deliberate killing or banishing of the representative of good by the representative of evil is traceable in many Indo-European traditions, and if one uses Duryodhana and others of his type as guides in estimating the extent of evil intent, Loki's theocidal act appears to be similarly premeditated. This kind of villainy has an obsessive stamp to it. The perpetrator is driven by his nature to stir up evil effects. Not content merely to perform harmful and disruptive deeds, Loki is compelled to brag about them, even rub the victims' noses in them. In Lokassena (the Flying or Wranglings of Loki), Loki is depicted as he rounds out a career of malevolence, overwhelming the gods with stingingly sarcastic remarks, attacking each of their foibles all the more lethally because his diatribes have some basis in truth. To Odin he said, "You never knew how to settle battles among men, and you have given the victory many times to the ones who should not have been granted it." He criticizes each of the Aesirs for failures peculiar to his or her own special domain, and he cruelly says to Frigg, "I was the cause that never again will you see your son Balder ride to your hall." When his outrages became intolerable, the gods gathered at Aegir's banquet turned upon him with a vengeance to exact a final punishment. But cunning Loki slipped away to live in hiding, continually on the lockout, feeling no pricks of conscience but only fear of revenge.
Loki secreted himself in a hut, where he sat before the fire musing on his plight. Playing with a length of twine, lost in fearful thoughts of punishment, he automatically fashioned a net with mesh so fine that not even the smallest fish could escape it. Suddenly he heard his pursuers approaching. Leaping up, he threw the net into the fire and ran down the hill leading from his door to the water below, where he concealed himself in the shape of a salmon. But nothing escaped Odin's omniscient eye, and Loki was spotted as he swam amongst the other denizens of the deep. Of the pursuing gods, the first to enter the abandoned hut was Kvasir, the wisest of their ranks. He peered around the room, his eyes resting on the almost lifeless fire, until he perceived in the ashes the pattern of the net Loki had made. He then understood its significance and what he and his fellow Ases must do. Soon they were all engrossed in fashioning a wide net, which they took down to the watery torrents, where the air boiled in ivory frosts and the noise deafened the ears. They began to drag the pools and falls, the cascades and grinding maelstroms. Loki hid and glided before them and leapt up straight over their net, but the slippery one was surrounded by the web of his own design and in the end he was caught. His captors took him to a dismal cave, where they bound him with the entrails of one of his and Sigyn's lawful sons. Upon the points of three sharp rocks they bound him whilst Skadi fixed a vile snake to a stalactite above his head so that its venom would drip straight into his face. Loki's fate is hauntingly described in prose borrowed from the Lokassena:
Though prevented from committing further mischief, the pervasive effect of Loki persists. He is the fire in water, flowing in the stream of the good as the corrupting element. Like Odin, his brother, who is also a shape-changer, he pervades the whole of Nature, adapting his form to whatever circumstances he finds himself in, like a virus in the body which masquerades in appearance and function as the cell it has replaced. Loki in his primary form may be bound and punished until Ragnarok, but in his numberless other possible forms, he is ever with us. There was once a Golden Age, but Time brought an end to it, ushering in the cycles so carefully monitored by the gods and so ominously finalized by Loki's offspring. But Loki was never content to let these cycles run their course. He displayed an urgency in propagating disruption and inversions of the natural order of things, and through his pervasive insemination of the astral worlds he continues to multiply. His ubiquity is well characterized by his audacious persistence, his obsessive inclination to continue along his destructive course no matter what the consequences.
When the gods were gathered at Aegir's banquet, Loki was seized with jealous hatred for an Ase upon whom all were lavishing praise. Despite the fact that every hall in Asgard is part of a hallowed world, Loki committed the ultimate desecration and slew, then and there, the object of his envy. Though the gods were horrified, he managed to slip away and even had the temerity to return later in the evening. He swaggered up to the servant at the door and vowed that he would "fill their hearts with hatred and grief, and mix venom with their ale". He boldly insinuated himself into their company and reminded Odin of the early days when they had blended their blood and when Odin would not have dreamt of tasting beer unless it had been offered to both of them. Odin accepted Loki's claim and ordered his son to bring him drink. In no time Loki began to bite the hand that fed him, verbally attacking each god and goddess in turn as each spoke up either to stop him or to attempt to placate him. As soon as one spoke, he mowed down the speaker with a terrible mouthful of abuse. He was persistently warned to shut up because he was spelling out his own doom, but he would not cease. Even as he was told about phases of his terrible punishment (known to Odin from the prophecy of the Volvas), he would not stop. Amazingly, the Ases patiently continued to threaten and appease him. Sif even gave him a drink in the hope that he would at least find her sinless, but he only traded poison for balm and relentlessly drove the assembly towards the brink of his punishment. One gathers in this story a sense of the persistence of evil, its scatter-shot pervasiveness and its inevitability. The gods seem almost powerless to do anything but hear Loki out, and he seems undeterrable as he leads them towards the events which will result someday in their destruction.
Is evil thus inevitable? Is it part and parcel of an inescapable duality essential to manifestation? The birth of cosmos and the evolution of life were predicated upon the "breaking asunder of primordial, manifested UNITY" into plurality, yielding the maya of form – the realm of duality and contrast, good and evil. Thus evil tears itself loose from unity and assumes an independent position in opposition to it. Loki might be seen as separating out from Odin and coming to pervade Nature on his own, enlivening with fire those principles making up the lower quaternary and acting as the endlessly separative evil genius which springs into self-conscious existence in man. This suggests that evil is a fact of existence, one which, as Solzhenitsyn poetically observed, coexists with the good in the heart of every individual. This also suggests that anything separative – change, shape-changing, differentiation and involution itself – are inherently evil. One might try to imagine a dynamic goodness, an order of flexible beneficence overbrooded by multifaceted gods capable of infusing every possible twist of action and form with their pervasive virtue, but such a picture does not square with what we know about the cosmos or about human nature. Perhaps, as Buddha taught, evil is immanent in the illusions created by matter. This does not place the burden of its origin upon matter itself, but rather upon the illusions which issue from form, change and transformation, the hallmark qualities belonging to Loki. Buddha said that these are necessary evils in a dualistic world, evils through which a Sage can extract the reality of a deeper homogeneity. This does not imply that such a Sage sees through form, change and transformation by merely deciding that these things are illusory, but that he or she has penetrated to the core of the source of illusion. It is not adequate simply to assert that the world is an illusion, because the perception of this may itself be rooted in the subtlest form of ideation participating in matter and illusion. Paul the Apostle wrote, "Unto the pure all things are pure", but does this mean that the pure exist in that homogeneity which lies beyond evil? If they exist in our world, do they not exist in an atmosphere of evil?
Occultism teaches that the spirit can return to the original homogeneity of the primordial essence "only through the addition of the fruitage of Karma", arriving as a conscious deity "removed but one degree from the absolute ALL". If the journey leading to such unity requires repeated experience in the karmic realm, then even the pure must necessarily participate in evil. For the world is most certainly the arena of the karmic realm wherein evil is generated by the ever-increasing fragmentation of homogeneous matter as it enters forms and becomes more differentiated, even as the forms become more physically perfect. It is thus that evil comes to possess numberless hydra heads, popping up like Loki everywhere, inescapable, unstoppable, on the plane where fragmentation prevails.
Some may come to think that if evil is immanent in illusions, then evil itself must be an illusion. However, one who clings to this idea and hopes that evil can be banished simply by refusing to admit its role in the scheme of things is denying the fact of the very duality that enables us to experience self-conscious awareness. On the other hand, a crippling pessimism can arise if one sees evil (and good) as real whilst maintaining an ignorance of the operations of karma and the nature of soul evolution. It is necessary to begin with the fact that one is experiencing oneself in the world, that there is that in one which is capable of perceiving this fact and imagining that the world and the evil in it may be an illusion. It is clear that, relative to the mind weighing the question of illusion or reality, the world, as well as the evil or good in it, is illusive. One then questions why one is in the world and how the evil and good perceived by the mind to be within oneself are relevant to the answer. Are they illusions? Or does one need to treat them as relative realities which must be acknowledged and responsibly dealt with in the larger process of returning to the original homogeneity, to the light of the Real outside the cave?
The shadowy spark of the light of the Real in the cave is Loki's fire, whose reflecting glow provides definition for the forms gallivanting before it. It is his fire that makes the forms visible to those chained in the cave. Without it there would be no perceptible objects around which the captive audience could conjure generations of illusions. Starting with simple forms thus made visible, the mind is capable of spinning entire tapestries of impressions, theories, hopes, fears, likes and dislikes leading to passionately held opinions, religions, laws and scientific dogmas. Is there inherent evil in this? Is there intrinsic separation, fragmentation, transformation, contrast and ever-increasing duality? In the coexistence of these qualities with goodness, order, community and knowledge, can we not see Loki adventuring with the gods, betraying them and assisting them with alternating hands? When this condition prevails, when the bulk of humanity is immersed in the 'reality' of shadowy forms, it can be said that Loki is "too much mixed in man", too much fallen into the lower human vestures, enlivening them and lending them a sense of separate identity.
Loki is thus the fire of mind fallen too much into the world, and his wild pursuit of destruction can be interpreted as a sort of death-wish on the part of one who knows the source of his flame and desperately desires to stop the world in order to get back to it. Even when he was possessed with the fear of being caught by the vengeful Aesirs, he strove towards a conclusion (lóka), weaving the net of his own terrible punishment and death. In man one sees many tragic echoes of this behaviour. Individuals who have permitted a powerful identification with the external, shadowy and ever-changing aspects of themselves enter into a stream wherein the fire in the water is so blended that it is impossible any longer to discern the original spark of universal ideation. Instead, the ideas garnered are heavily diluted and water-logged with massive molecules of prejudice and myriad separative notions which further contaminate the mind. Embarked upon such a career, the inner soul of the individual is not immediately deadened, and its persistent promptings pose an unbearable reminder of the depths to which they have fallen. To escape this agony, they rush faster along the shadowy stream, sinking deeper and deeper into its 'reality', trading it for what they once knew, until all they can do is continue in their flying course, knowing in their inmost heart that they have failed, and await the end. If they become adept in manipulating the elements in the shadows and begin to take a perverse pleasure in rebuffing a buried higher truth, they may then become like the Trickster. Facile in changing their position and form with the fluctuating tides of fortune, they may strive to postpone the end, becoming clever in their arguments and hard to outwit, even as they weave their own net in which karma will entrap them.
Just as Loki drew the gods further and further into complexity, so he does with man. But the gods, through Odin, have knowledge of the source of fire, not just its multiplying sparks. Their foibles relate to the world of good and evil, wherein they participate in the cosmic drama. But their allegiance to a higher wisdom never weakens. When they are drawn into complexity, they lend their mighty forces to the involutionary process culminating in man. When man is drawn into needless complexity, he brings the fiery power of his mind to bear upon it. If the fire is fuelled by perception garnered through the senses, the complexities will lead him further and further into identification with external things, external ideas and realities. This may often be rationalized in terms of rejecting what appear to be the arduously challenging paradoxes of the spiritual struggle in favour of the seemingly simple and straightforward variables of 'normal' life in the shadowy stream. To avoid this tragic, age-old delusion, it is necessary to nurture the fire of the mind with the unfailing steadfastness of Heimdal, who never abandons his guardianship of Bifrost (the antaskaranic bridge), and to gather fuel from ever deeper recesses within the heart of one's innermost Self. "Mistrust thy senses; they are false." Mistrust the eyes, the ears and all that they tell the brain. And, above all, mistrust the mind that relies upon this fuel for its formulation of truth and reality.
Loki gave the fire of life to the senses – the flighty, sometimes lofty-seeming, enticing, glamorous and exciting fire of intelligence bound by the limiting scope and inclinations of the senses. He represents the fire of mind fallen and therefore keeps close company with both the gods who sustain a reflection of the universal source of mind in the world and the elemental forces of matter which threaten to overwhelm it. In man, the brothers Loki and Odin meet at Heimdal's bridge. The fires they bring to the battle that will take place there are of the same essence, but the evil lies in the illusions fostered in the mind that has repeatedly given greater support to the visible flame of Loki than to its invisible solar source. Thus Loki is not the cause of evil, for even as he exists in our own minds, he can be seen for what he is: a necessary aspect of manifestation, a demon capable of murdering the goodness of a greater, unchanging Truth – only if we let him. His attempts to bring down the house, disturb and act as the Destroyer are evil – not because destruction and death are evil in themselves, but because to them, as part of a natural process, he has lent the desire, hatred, anger and passion of a sense-bound mind, a mind not isolated from us in a being called Loki, but a mind for which we are responsible, which is ours and which we have the power to control. Cunning, cowardice, deceit, betrayal, cruelty, half truths, inverted truths, the limitations of time and the horrors of Hel all belong to this mind which is ours, which we have earned as part of an old and heavy karmic legacy. It is up to us to purify this mind, to take the quick-witted intelligence of Loki and put it to faithful work on behalf of the god within. In the end, our only evil and the only evil of the world is the failure to do this.