Fear and (Self) Loathing with Loki

I’ve been thinking about anti-Loki stuff since my recent post about it and how far the American heathen community has come around lately. And I realize I usually blame Loki fear on the residual indoctrination of Christianity/monotheistic religions, because it certainly takes a lot of time and reflection and new experiences to shift one’s world view. There’s another factor, though, that scares people. Loki is a god of lies, but the point of his deceit is usually to force an uncomfortable truth. And that, my friends, can be much more frightening than simply thinking of him as a devil figure.

As more heathens become more proficient at shedding ideologies that are at odds with pre-Christian philosophies, the Noki mindset is fading. People are still scared, though, because it’s human nature to seek protection and security and prosperity. A lot of religions are based on seeking peace and stability. Loki…. Loki isn’t really the dude to call on for those things. He’s known for shaking up the status quo. He’s a chaos-bringer, world-breaker, a master of deceit to rile up the powers that be. That shit is scary and unwelcome in most people’s lives, and that’s absolutely understandable and relatable.

So how do I justify oathing myself so completely to such a being? Because I myself have known chaos and ruin, and while it’s miserable, it’s not without hope. When the turmoil kicks up, it broadens my perspective and allows me to see through the cracks at what’s on the other side. Complacency is dangerous: it breeds stagnation, which stunts personal growth, intellectual growth, and spiritual growth. The development of skills – be they physical or interpersonal – levels off. Daily life becomes redundant and glossed over. This is when we either feed ourselves lies, becoming arrogant because we think we’ve reached the pinnacle, or become blind to the truth: we’re not done growing, we’re not done learning, this isn’t as good as it gets.

This is when Loki scares the shit out of us. Something happens to crack the foundation of the bland, rote life we’ve settled into. Some aspect of our identity is called into question. Something has come along to disrupt the predictable, familiar routines of our lives, and we’re utterly blindsided by all of it. This is when it feels like everything we’ve built for ourselves falls apart, and we rage at how unfair it is. “What did I do to deserve this?!” And Loki answers, “It’s not what you did. It’s what you stopped doing. You stopped caring.”

I don’t know if it’s because of my military brat upbringing or what, but I’ve never had a problem breaking down my life and rebuilding it somewhere else, doing something vastly different than anything I’ve ever dreamed of doing before. I’ve scrapped things a few times and started from scratch more than once, and I have plans to do it again. I already have a few degrees, a few licenses, and I’m constantly plotting how to add to the collection. I’ve lived in the US longer than I lived overseas, and I’m ready to shift the balance there, too. Usually, I’m my own agent of chaos: I know too well that (metaphorical) destruction paves the way for bigger, better things. Complacency makes me uneasy, whether it’s regarding where I live, what kind of work I do, or even my hobbies. I find myself picking at seams, trying to loosen a thread so I can unravel a hole and see what’s on the other side. I know there’s infinite knowledge to gain and unlimited experiences to have, and I just get so damn antsy when my daily life has gotten too routine. I need to be challenged, because when I’m challenged, I learn and I grow and I become better able to give back to my community and help the people who need it.

Of course, I have the (very planned, very intentional) privilege of not having a family whose needs require a measure of security and routine. I want to quit a secure job and go to school to become a mortician? Easy! Move to Iceland? Just have to figure out the quarantine situation for my cats! No need to worry about a spouse or child(ren) leaving their lives behind on account of my whims. So Loki’s flair for shaking shit up doesn’t scare me the way it would folks who have other people relying on them for stability. I’m lucky: when my world falls apart, I have the luxury of waiting for the dust to settle so I can see what kind of potential lies ahead. I’m pretty damn spoiled that way. It means I can embrace whatever Loki brings into my life without risking anyone else’s well being. Not to say I always embrace his influence. Not gonna sugar coat things here: I’m just as quick to yell at him and react to his presence with some colorful hissy language as I am to curl up and enjoy his company over a cup of coffee and a smoke or two.

That said, his penchant for forcing truth can be more frightening than his habit of shaking us out of complacency. When he’s a constant in your life, expect egos to be checked on the regular: you need look no further than the Lokasenna for evidence of that. Ain’t no time for holier than thou attitudes when he’s creeping about, and that’s one of my favorite things about him. Thing is, a lot of the times the lies we tell ourselves and to others are crafted as defensive mechanisms, to help us feel better about ourselves, to avoid conflict. There’s not necessarily anything malicious about these untruths, but they still damage us and stunt our abilities to become better versions of who and what we actually are. We’ll craft personas and don masks to “fake it til we make it,” for the benefit of fitting in, or just to keep the peace. It’s a natural side effect of being social pack animals. It’s a tool to help us survive. . .  but it’s not a tool that will help us thrive. Loki wants to see us thrive and become more self-actualized, and that means he’s going to rip those masks away and force us to face our bare, naked selves as we really are. Yikes, yeah? Sounds scary, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Mostly because we’re not as bad as we think we are.

As a mortician, I’ve cared for the bodies of people who have died in accidents and violence. It was – and is – crucial to me that I make the bodies presentable for their families, because it helped to put their minds at ease and move forward with the grieving process. Almost every single time I lead a family into the chapel to see their loved one, they enter tense and worried, terrified of what they’re going to see. Once they see how intact and at peace their loved one looks, that fear vanishes, both visibly and psychically. Our imaginations always wind situations up to be worse than they actually are, which stresses us out and holds us back. The coroner tells the family that the trauma was severe, and they may not be able to view the body, which fills the family’s collective mind with horrifically gruesome imagery They’re tormented by the thought of their loved one lying somewhere mangled and destroyed. A good mortician can restore the appearance of the body so that the family’s gore-soaked imagination is eased with the assurance that their loved one is not feeling any pain, is at peace, there’s no suffering any more. Likewise, a good god can restore an anxious mind that has spun up into a frenzy of over-analyzing nonsense and has convinced itself that it’s worthless and broken. The mind can and will create illusions to pretend to be something it’s not. A good deity can pry the real self away from the heaps of distorted perception, the half-truth warning of “the trauma is too severe” and hold your hand when you look at yourself and see you’re not as awful as you convinced yourself you were. And so you can begin the real work on yourself, the hard work: being true to yourself, being your real self without the masks and deceptions that stunt you.

Our imaginations make our perception of a situation (or ourselves) worse than it might actually be. We think we have to create masks and half-truths to hide how worthless we really are, to offer a reason why we can’t do The Thing that we’ve dreamed of. “But the mortician analogy is flawed,” you say. “There was trauma, and you used sutures and wax and makeup to hide the trauma!” Remember, Loki is a god of deception, and that deception is designed to force the truth. Yes, there is often trauma. But it’s not as bad as we make it out to be. I’ve lost count how many times a family has come to me and said the coroner told them there too many lacerations and a viewing won’t be possible. So of course I brace myself when I retrieve the body from the morgue. And so many times, I take a deep breath, unzip the body bag. . .  and see a face that’s intact. The lacerations are minor, the mouth is slack, the eyes closed. The important thing, the thing that the family worries about, is that the person is at peace. No more pain, no more suffering. To be able to see that, to see that yes, they have died, but their body and spirit aren’t in pain, is a tremendous relief amidst the fear and sorrow. The hideous things the family has imagined weren’t accurate, and while it doesn’t lessen the blow of the loss, it means they don’t have to work through the emotional trauma while being haunted by graphic thoughts of physical trauma.  The reality isn’t as awful as it’s been imagined to be. And that’s what Loki helps us with: he knows we’ve been telling ourselves that our true selves are unviewable, that we’re too awful and mangled and broken to behold, and we need to stay covered up and hidden from others lest we repulse them. But he says, “Well, let’s take a look,” and he unzips the body bag, and he shows us we’re not as awful to look upon as we thought. We’re smarter than we thought, kinder than we thought, far stronger than we’ve ever given ourselves credit for.

I completely understand the hesitation to let the mask drop and let yourself be vulnerable. It’s painful to confront defensive mechanisms, but there’s no healing or growth to be done when we keep ourselves hidden. On the flip side, Loki can be scary as hell if one’s concerned that they’ll be exposed as someone who’s normal or even mediocre when they present an overly-inflated sense of ego to others. It’s hard for me to conceive myself, because I definitely fall into the “I suck and am utterly unlovable” camp, but gods know I’ve encountered countless folx who are borderline narcissistic. Oftentimes I find myself wondering, “Oy, what the hell must it be like to have so much self-importance when nothing they do backs up what they claim?” I get second hand anxiety from people like that, because holy shit is it going to be uncomfortable if and when they’re forced to realize how much they’re puffing themselves up or that other people see right through the mask of authority/excellence/superiority they’ve created for themselves. Fallout can get messy, and it might be scarier to be told you’re really not as clever as you think you are than it is to hear you’re actually not as awful as you think you are.

The fear goes both ways because reality isn’t always something we can bear accepting. And a god who forces truth and challenges our cozy little ruts in life can be absolutely terrifying. But Loki’s need to shake things up and have us face the facts isn’t malicious; he just wants us to be better than we are.

That said, if you sense him nosing around in your life, or you feel compelled to welcome him into your inner circle, brace yourself. He’s not acting with ill intent, but change and growth are rarely simple, pleasant things to experience. Prepare for things to get messy, learn to adjust to uncertainty. If my absurd life experiences are any indication, the benefits will be worth it. It’s so much easier to hold your head up and see where you’re going when you don’t have masks weighing you down. And that’s the god-honest truth.

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