A thousand years ago, our ancestors understood the traditions we try to embrace today. They lived in a world where they walked with their ancestors, knew the wights of the lands and waters, made peace with the jotnar of the high mountains and raging rivers, learned the alfs of the wild places. The gods and goddesses held a place for them that was something we can only imagine, for they learned how everything fit together from their first breath, first step. There was no word for what they did, for it was no more possible to separate their practice from their life, than it was to separate their breath from their body and continue to live.
A foreign smoke stole that breath from the body of our ancestors, and the living faith died a long time ago. The path they walked we cannot. What they knew, we can only guess at; speculate from scattered puzzle pieces half understood. That is fine. We have chosen to walk out of the smoke, and breath again the living air. We have chosen to once again learn to listen to the whispers of the ancestors, to look at the lands and waters, fields and forests as important relationships, as sacred trusts, and not simply a catalog of resources to be stripped and utilized until fully expended.
The ways our ancestors took for granted are half remembered dreams to us. The relationships they held are matters of speculation and argument for scholars to whom the points are of only academic interest. That is fine. I am a soldier, son and grandson of soldiers. The truths that historians argue over the battlefields of the past contain a hundred facts, and very few truths. Those that come away from such fields may have been aware of only a few of those facts that brushed against them most intimately, but they carry away truths the historians cannot understand. Some truths are found only by living, by walking the road, not by studying the map from a safe distance.
So it is with the road home.
I will admit from the beginning, I am one of Odin’s. He found me in basic training, and pointed me towards the community in the dark days when it was long odds you would ever find another Heathen, let alone a community of them. It is so much easier now. Partly due to technology, and for that I give full praise to our society for its advances. Partly that is due to the communities of people coming together in that metaphorical wilderness and struggling to build something. Let’s be honest, something new. We are rebuilding the alters, recreating the tradition. We may study the latest developments for any scrap they can give us that advances our understanding of the road our ancestors walked before us, but that road we lost in the smoke centuries ago. We build a new road that began when we first came together as groups and chose to bring the practice of honouring our gods, wights, and ancestors back into our lives.
We could not do it alone. We lost the way. We are not alone. The truth is, we may have lost our way, but the land was still the land, our dead were no farther from us, and the gods never left us. We lost the knack of listening, we lost the habits of valuing, we lost our way, but our guides awaited us.
The gods are forgiving, or at least have enough of a sense of humour to put up with the ten thousand things we get wrong, the minutiae we obsess over. We get a lot of it wrong. I know that. We do it differently in a large number of ways, and I would say that they are not all wrong. We are not following the road of our ancestors. That was lost to us. We struggle to build a new road. Who is with us on that road is important.
Odin stands first among the holy kin in this generation, and it is right that it is so. I do not believe that this was his place in peace time for the bulk of our people, but it is the reality today for one reason alone. Odin is the greatest recruiter, the guide that has lead the most of our folks home. I have seen Odin as the gateway drug for so many future Freyrsmen, Thorsmen, Tyrsmen, Frigga’s women, Freyaswomen. His place is earned a thousand times over for bringing so many of us to where we could share a community together and begin to connect again to all the holy tribe, to begin to rebuild the relationship with the wights, the alfs, the ancestors.
There is only one god that I have seen do as much to bring to our halls, to our hearths as many folk who were lost, hurt, and in danger. Loki.
I will leave aside the argument about whether his worship was ever a part of our ancestral tradition. That is an argument for scholars about what was. Our ancestors did not have antibiotics, toilet paper, or defibrillators; I am not looking to ape what was. I am trying to bring the sacred back into the lives we live today, and of all the gods doing the work to guide us on the road we are trying to build together, the one who shines second in his work to bring the scattered folk home is Loki.
Loki is a part of our road forward. Our folk are largely not given the chance to be born into Heathen households and raised in Heathen communities. Our folk still grow up largely in Christian communities whose “truths” are at odds with our own, whose fundamental assumptions are diametrically opposed to our own. For those who have in their heart the call of our gods, these foreign ideas and those that would enforce them as morality are deeply damaging. For so many, the toxins of these foreign beliefs are enough to seriously harm, and in a very real sense, kill. Enter Loki. Trickster, breaker of stasis, flyter of the sacred, mocker of the righteous. Loki has saved so many who saw no way out, and brought them by a thousand twisted paths to join us on the road home.
Odin may well not have been the highest in the time before, and Loki may or may not have been a god to be honoured inside the hearth and Frithstead, but in our generation we must give honour where it is due, must return a gift for a gift and acknowledge that not only does Loki deserve to be honoured as one of our gods, but in this generation, we must accept that he should be held high among them.
When I came to the Pagan community, I was told not to let anyone know that I was Heathen. Like it was a dirty secret. Don’t let anyone know you are Heathen until they know you well. Once they did, then you got this token acceptance (you are all right, you aren’t like them-them being all your spiritual kin).
Now in the Heathen community, I hear the same song, slightly altered. Don’t let anyone know you honour Loki, until they know you well. I have to call it. This was bullshit twenty years ago when Pagans held a view of all Heathens that actually matched none of the Heathens they actually knew and worked with for years, yet they accepted as true for every Heathen except their own token exceptions. Its bullshit now.
There are going to be those pointing to individual idiots in the community and screaming “Look that is a Lokean!” To which we can all point to five Odinsmen, Two Thorsman and a Tyrsman at least as objectionable. Those are the exceptions. Turn and look at the ones making your community work. Look at the hard working people putting on the events, sacrificing to make our scattered organizations stumble along, and so often, these are the Lokeans we are working so hard to demonize.
We are coming together to build a road. A road home. Our guides are the holy gods that walked with our ancestors as they walk with us.
We are Heathens, we are supposed to follow the gifting cycle, we are supposed to repay a gift with a gift, and honour our obligations. Loki has earned a place in our community in our lifetimes, he has done so in the coin of the blood of our own folk; the blood of the folk he saved from loss, and helped make whole again. He has done so by bringing so many of them to us, to our community, where they can find fellowship and learn, as I learned, more than just the god that lead us home.
Thor is the symbol we wear to show each other who we are. Tyr sanctifies our coming together, Frigg weaves us together as Freya teaches us to dare to live again. Odin broods over our feasts, plotting and planning the advance of our scattered kindreds in building our road home to a more frithful and balanced future, and Loki? He is by the fire, laughing at all of us. Make him welcome, for he has offered his gifts right generously already.