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  • Hrafnsunna Ross

Loki: Child of the Wind and the Witch

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

Finding aspects of Loki in Finno-Ugric myth

(Click images for sources)

I noticed in the poem Haustlöng that Loki is both referred to as “Fárbauta mög”, son of Fárbauti, and as “barn Öglis”, child of the eagle in stanza 12. We know that he is the son of Fárbauti, a giant who many see as connected to lightning, but let’s look at Hræsvelgur for a bit. Hræsvelgur is “a giant in the shape of an eagle”, the source of all wind and, according to Snorri, is located at the northernmost point of the world. His wing beats send winds over mankind.

Then said Hárr: "That I am well able to tell thee. At the northward end of heaven sits the giant called Hræsvelgr: he has the plumes of an eagle, and when he stretches his wings for flight, then the wind rises from under his wings, as is here said:

Hræsvelgr hight he | who sits at heaven's ending,

Giant in eagle's coat;

From his wings, they say, | the wind cometh

All men-folk over."

- Prose Edda, chapter 18

In stanza 50 of the Völuspá there is mentioned a tawny eagle who screeches and tears up corpses, "...ari hlakkar; slítr nái niðfölur...". To me this sounds like Hræsvelgr, it fits one interpretation of his name at least (corpse-gobbler) .

Let’s now think about the name Fárbauti. Fár means danger or destruction, and in Icelandic a common use of the word is in “Fárviðri” meaning dangerous weather. “Bauti” comes from “bauta”, which means to strike/hit and has the same origin as the word “beat”. As said before, many people interpret his name to mean “dangerous striker” and connect him to lightning, but what if these “dangerous beats” were wing beats that sent forth dangerous weather? If Fárbauti is a kenning for Hræsvelgur, this would explain why Loki is referred to as “the child of the eagle”.

But what about Loki’s mother? Laufey is often translated as “leafy island”, but the Icelandic etymological dictionary suggests a connection to the Finnish underworld goddess Louhi, sometimes conflated with Loviatar.

Her name Nál is also translated as “needle” but the Icelandic Etymological Dictionary suggests it may also be related to the obscure goddess Nehalennia, as well as being connected to the latin word necāre which means "to kill", especially by methods such as poisoning or starvation. The dictionary also makes a suggests a connection to the dwarven names Náli, Náinn and Nár which are likely related to the word nár meaning "corpse" or "dead". If Laufey is related to Loviatar then this origin would definitely be very fitting.

In Finnish mythology Loviatar is impregnated by the wind, which would tie her to Laufey if Fárbauti is indeed Hræsvelgur, the source of wind/stormy weather.

On the fields of sin and sorrow;

Turned her back upon the East-wind,

To the source of stormy weather,

To the chilling winds of morning.

— Kalevala, Rune XLV, from the translation by John Martin Crawford

I also read in this article that a part of Mari (a Finno-Ugric people in Russia) spiritual practices is a ritual where young women make love to the wind. This is all I know and haven't yet found more information on it but it is interesting to see making love to the wind as a positive thing in one Finno-Ugric culture but further West it is something that an "evil underworld witch" does.

Loviatar is also referred to as the mistress of Pohjola, which is “the extreme north”, a dark, terrible place. In Mythologia Fennica she is referred to as the emuu or “ancestor spirit” of wolves, connecting her to Loki’s association with wolves as the father of Fenrir.

Impregnated by the wind, Loviatar gives birth to nine children, associated with diseases but one son stood out:

One remained without getting a name, a boy at the bottom of the batch, a mouthless, eyeless brat; afterwards she ordered him away, to the tremendous Rutja rapids, into the fiery foaming surge. From him sharp frosts were bred, from him arose the Syöjätärs, from him the other destroying ones, he begat the sorcerers on lakes, the wizards in every dell, the jealous persons in every place, in the tremendous Rutja rapids, in the fiery foaming surge. - John Abercromby, The pre-and proto-historic Finns : both Eastern and Western, with the magic songs of the West Finns Syöjätärs are kind of Baba Yaga-like troll women.This myth has a resemblance to the last part of the 12th stanza in Völuspá hin Skamma, where it is said that Loki is the origin of all monsters or “troll women”.

Varð Loftr kviðugr

af konu illri;

þaðan er á foldu

flagð hvert komit.

(With child from the woman | Lopt soon was,

There hence on earth | came the monsters all.)

Flagð here is translated as “monsters” but it is more commonly used as a word for witches or troll women.

Norse mythology is a shamble of many different tales and myths from different cultures, it wouldn't surprise me if aspects of Loki can be found in Finnish myths and folklore.

I want to preface this next part by saying that I have not studied etymology on an academic level, but I do know that Norse and Finnic people borrowed words from each other (f.x. the Norther-Sámi word siedi, which means "sacred offering site/offering stone" is borrowed from Norse seiðr).

If Loki is actually Lóðurr, and there is some evidence he is (Haukur Þorgeirsson of the University of Iceland writes about it here), then Loki is also responsible for the creation of man according to Norse myth. The Finnish luoda (“to create”, from Proto-Finnic *loodak which means "to create" or "cast/throw") sounds like it could be connected to Lóður, however Lóður is thought possiby derive from Icelandic lóð meaning "growth or product/yield". I still find it interesting that another Icelandic verb, afkasta ("profit, yield") has connections to throwing, clearly throwing and creating are sometimes linked concepts.

I also found out that from *loodak comes the word luopa "renounce/abandone" and luopio which means “traitor”. These words are likely derived from the "casting" definition of *loodak and to me sound eerily like Loptur but could be a bit of a stretch as well.

The word I find most interesting though is the Finnish word loukko. The general consensus regarding the name Loki is that it is most likely from "loka" which means to shut or open, also “lok” which is "ending" (same root as the english word “lock”). However, loukko (hole, hollow, inside corner, pit) from Proto-Uralic *lowkke (“hole, opening, cavity, hollow”) attracts my attention because of the aforementioned meaning of Loviatar's name which is made up of lovi ("cleft" or "hole") and -tar (feminine suffix). The Finnish way of saying "falling into a trance" is "langeta loveen, literally "falling into lovi, falling into a cleft".

This phrase, falling into a cleft, refers to cracks in stone being gateways to the underworld in Finnish-Karerlian shamanistic folklore. Antti Lahelma writes about cracks in painted/carved rock faces being gateways to the Underworld as a phenomenon attested cross-culturally. On the rocks by the lake Onega in northwestern Russia there are images of swans entering or emerging from cracks in the rock, Lehman writes that this could represent the soul of a shaman or dead person passing between this world and the Underworld. In their article Liminality, Rock Art and the Sami Sacred Landscape, Inga-Maria Mulk and Tim Bayliss-Smith suggest that Badjelánnda rock art site in northern Sweden should be seen as a Sámi gateway to the Underworld. They also write that water seeping out of cracks in these smooth, south-facing black rocks represented new souls returning to the Middle World. According to Russian scholar Vladimir Napolskikh's constructed ‘map’ of Proto-Uralic cosmology (see image below), the Underworld or Lower World is associated with North, the river mouth, cold sea and subterranea.

Migratory water-birds such as swans, geese and ducks were birds of the Upper World, but the birds of the Lower World were loons. These birds often feature in Earth-Diver myths and Napolskikh writes that in some versions the loon (or someone who transforms into a loon) that dives to the bottom of the sea and fetches the earth that land shall be made of. However, in some myths the loon is the unsuccessful rival of another creature (often a duck) which does manage to fetch earth, sometimes the loon is even a form of the Devil.

An interesting theme that can be found in some versions is the Devil/loon/second bird using part of the earth to create the land as well. This is sometimes a team effort between the two creators but sometimes the Devil/loon/second bird deceitfully conceals a part of the earth in it's beak/hands and either deliberately or accidentally creates it's own parts of the world. One myth I find particularly interesting features the Devil demanding a small piece of earth and from the resulting hole emerge all kinds of vermin. Here we see some familiar concepts; A creator, a hole or gap, a traitor, an originator of undesirable creatures. Lóðurr, Loki, Loptur?

Probably the most compelling evidence that suggests that Loki is connected to loons can be found in An Account of the Sámi by Johan Turi. He writes about the loon being a noaidi bird (i.e. associated with Sámi shamanic workers) and being able to foretell changes in the weather. Most remarkable however, is that the beaks of the red-throated loon were used "in the olden times" to make weapons like arrows and it was believed that such weapons are the only things that can kill people that have been enchanted to resist arrows. This reminds me of the mistletoe that kills Baldur as well as Loki’s weapon Lævateinn which is the only weapon that can kill the rooster Viðófnir.

Thinking of all of his names and these words fills my head with repeating sounds, Lou Lo Ló Low Loo. This reminds me of the sound of the Sámi joik or luohti, a kind of singing which is sometimes done in a shamanic context. Not necessarily related, I just wanted to add this in.

This whole thing might be me just grasping for straws, but I strongly believe that the myth of Loki is tied to something deep. Is Loki the howling sound of the wind passing through cracks and clefts in stone? A being that dives into the Underworld? A cunning magician with loon-beak arrows?

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