All heathens know the story of Balder’s dream and his subsequent demise, but to make sure everyone’s on the same page, I’ll summarize. The story goes that Balder, the most beautiful of the gods, starts to have troubling dreams about his death. He tells his mother, Frigga, about the dreams, and she grows worried because Balder’s dreams are prophetic. So she travels around the world, extracting oaths from all living things not to cause harm to befall her son. Once those oaths have been extracted, the Aesir begin to throw weapons made of all types of materials at Balder, and none of the weapons harm them. This annoys Loki, who shape-shifts and learns from Frigga herself that she has not extracted an oath from mistletoe because she believed the plant to be too young. At once, Loki finds a sprig of mistletoe and goes to Hod, who isn’t participating in the festivities. When Loki asks Hod why he doesn’t throw anything at Balder, Hod’s response is that he doesn’t have anything to throw, and besides, he’s blind. So Loki gives him the mistletoe sprig, guides his hand, and Hod’s weapon causes Balder’s death.
Now, nearly every heathen interpretation I’ve read of this myth turns Loki into the bad guy. It seems like a lot of people want Loki to be evil, but I don’t think Loki is evil. I think he is an agent of change and the god of catalysts. I’ve discussed the idea of Loki as catalyst before, but I think it’s more than that. I have been reading a book called “Trickster Makes This World” by Lewis Hyde (and you should check it out, it’s fascinating), and Hyde suggests that this myth is something else entirely.
According to Hyde, Loki is trying to keep change alive, and he is annoyed by Frigga’s attempts to stop it. In a way, it becomes a battle between the conventional and the unconventional. Balder’s dreams prophesy his own death – his fate is foretold, his death is ascertained. Frigga takes it into her own hands to try and prevent that fate. She attempts to cheat death; she attempts to prevent change from happening. Loki, as the agent of change, the god who relies on accidents, happenstance, and chance in order to continue existing himself (as he could not exist outside the realm of change, being the embodiment of change), cannot let Frigga’s actions stand. So, he investigates and finds a way to re-introduce change.
This is the first interpretation of Loki’s role in the Balder story that has made perfect sense to me because it highlights two opposite forces, and Loki tends to walk the boundaries that fall between opposites. He’s a troublemaker, yet a problem solver. A god, yet a giant. An adult, yet a child. A man, yet a woman. He is the personification of the in-between. He is the rebel that fits into society just enough to not get thrown out, but he is also the god who introduces change into that society. Loki is the god that gets the wall around Asgard built, which keeps the gods safe from the giants, yet he is also the god that steals Idun and her apples away from Asgard and introduces the concept of aging to the gods.
Loki is a trickster, and tricksters aren’t inherently evil. People forget that the Eddas were written by a Christian who did not believe in the Norse gods – a man who was also trying to suggest Christianity was a better and smarter way of life and belief. When we remember that the writer of the Eddas was a Christian with his own agenda, we can see that Loki was painted as the stand-in for the Christian devil. Since we only have the Norse myths through the words of a Christian, we need to peel away the layers and find the truths that exist behind the deceits.
To do that, we need to enlist the aid of Loki, as he is the trickster who has perfected the art of the lie. Only Loki can help us see through the illusions of the world around us, as there is no one harder to deceive than the god of deceit. But to work with Loki, you need to have a sense of humor, and you need to be comfortable with ambiguity. In other words, you need to be comfortable in the grey areas of life because it is only in the in-between that Loki can be found.