Loki Week: Day Three - Magic
An Old Norse term for a type of sorcery practised in Norse society. Seidr practitioners were of both genders, although females are more widely attested, with such sorceresses being variously known as vǫlur, seiðkonur, and vísendakona. There were also accounts of male practitioners, known as seidmenn, but in practising magic they brought a social taboo known as ergi onto themselves, and were sometimes persecuted as a result. Within pre-Christian Norse Mythology, seidr was associated with the god Odin, as well as the goddess Freyja, a member of the Vanir who was believed to have taught the practice to the Aesir.
i get that you’re trying to be concise and all but you’re missing a lot of really cool—and really relevant—stuff, like the fact that the concept of ergi is intimately connected with transgender people1. academia being academia, it gets swept under the rug a lot, but the connection is there. seiðmenn are not inherently argr; although it’s a common enough reference and accusation, avoided most often by being of a high enough status nobody wants to start anything. See: óðinn2. his status is also complicated by the fact that seiðr is not the only type of magic he practices; galdr, which he uses much more often, is considered an almost purely masculine form of magic, along with runic magic. galdr is a form of magic which uses musical incantations. runic magic is pretty self-explanatory.
Then there are the two more ‘effeminate’ forms of magic: seiðr and spá. seiðr is a very broad category of magic; it encompasses illusions, battle-magic, prophecy, causing physical phenomena such as earthquakes and storms, potion-brewing, healing, and shapeshifting, amongst other things3. it has certain connotations of evil and untruthfulness behind it because of what seiðr-workers can do. spákonur and völur, by comparison, work specifically in the realm of prophecy, or what is called ørlög: the law of how things shall be, as laid down by the norns. the prophecy of a seiðr-worker is not the same sort as that of a spákona; rather than perceiving ørlög directly, the seiðr-worker gains the knowledge of it by using the spell vardlokur, that is, summoning spirits4.
argr amab seiðr-workers are sometimes called seiðskrattar5. another term is seiðberendr6; sometimes considered a way to refer to any seiðr-worker because berendi literally means “carrier”, however it was used often as a term for the womb7, and has connections to transwomen who used witchcraft to combat their dysphoria8.
loki is innately connected to the concept of ergi; one of their kennings is rög vættr, another áss ragr—both can be translated as, roughly, “the queer god”9. they have been a mother several times, and they are said to have given birth to all witches10. (let’s assume that’s metaphorical.)
despite not often being brought up in mythological discussion as a seiðberendi, their status as such is inarguable. strangely, though, their most obvious use of magic, their shapeshifting, doesn’t appear to be the traditional sort of shapeshifting used by a seið-worker. a shapeshifter in this vein is called an hamhleypa11, and while they take on new forms, their native body lies inert. if you’re familiar with discworld, you’ll recognise granny weatherwax as an hamhleypa, though she’s not named as such. of course, given that loki embodies the liminal, boundary-crossing aspects of seiðr, perhaps that should be expected of them.
1 schnurbein; shamanism in the old norse tradition
2lokasenna, et al. “en þik síða kóðu/sámseyu í,/ok draptu á vétt sem völur;/vitka líki/fórtu verþjóð yfir,/ok hugða ek þat args aðal”
3 callaghan; magic beyond the binary: magic and gender in the poetic edda
4 eiriks saga rauda, et al.
5sørensen; norrønt nid: forestillingen om den umandige mand i de islandske sagaer (sidenote: in modern icelandic, skratti now means “demon”. gotta love christianisation.)
6hyndluljóð, et al. “ero völur allar frá viðolfi/vitkar allir fra vílmeiði/seiðberendr frá svartöfða/iötnar allir frá ymi komnir”
7 strömbäck; sejd: textstudier i nordisk religionshistoria
8 fritzner; ordbog over det gamle norske sprog
9 ergi as a concept is difficult to define; it’s often said to mean “unmanliness”, but that’s a vast simplification. it comes from proto-indo-european h₃orǵʰ-, meaning “to have sex” (which comes to modern english, incidentally, in the form of “eerie”), defined by seiðberendr both in the past and present as not only gender transgressing behaviour and/or sexual activities but being, essentially, ‘out’, willingly taking on the taboos associated with them.
10hyndluljóð. “varð loptr kviðugr at kono illri,/ϸaðan es á foldo flagð hvert komit”
11 simpson; the witch figure
Eeeeeh I have a bit of a quibble with this, and that is that saying it’s specifically tied to transgenderedness is sort of misleading.
It’s tied to the accusation of a man being the receptive partner in sex, and at the time doing that willingly was basically counted as ‘you are a man who acts like a woman and wow we think that’s weird and gross.’
Obviously transfolk are not a new phenomenon, but it’s only VERY recently that gender identity started to be understood as a thing that is separate from sexuality.
Thus, accusations of ergi etc are more literally equated to being the ancient Norse equivalent of being called a f***ot.
Either way it’s sensible to associate Loki with genderqueerness and transness and queerness in general (regardless of what various insults mean there is at least one shift in biological sex, and bisexuality is still queerness) and I mean, the association of his magic with a trans identities isn’t inherently wrong, it just involves a lot of extrapolation and attaching ideas to mythology that didn’t exist until recently.