Cultic Worship to Loki

Did you know we have possible evidence of cultic worship to Loki from antiquity?

Al-Tartuschi (also known as Ibrahim ibn Yaqub) hailed from the Cordoba Caliphate (specifically the Al-Andalus area from the Iberian peninsula), and wrote of his travels abroad in Europe in 961 – 962 CE.  He records seeing worship connected to the Sirius star in Hedeby, Denmark. The population size is estimated to have been around 1500-2000 people. Hedeby of the time was a commercial center populated by a range of groups: Danes, Frisians, Franks, Germans, Swedes, and Slavs. So that suggests to me the possibility for a much wider dispersion of the practice outside of Hedeby.

The inhabitants worship Sirius, except for a minority of Christians who have a church of their own there. They celebrate a feast at which all get together to honor their god and to eat and drink. He who slaughters a sacrificial animal puts up poles at the door to his courtyard and impales the animal on them, be it a piece of cattle, a ram, billygoat or a pig so that his neighbors will be aware that he is making a sacrifice in honor of his god.

Al-Tartuschi (Ibrahim ibn Yaqub) translation from Factsheet/Vikings, published by the Royal Danish Consulate General New York (2001).

In the source we don’t know who was specifically being worshipped, but thanks to Danish born folklorist Finnur Magnússon we know that the Sirius star is known as Lokabrenna (Loki’s Torch). Considering both of these facts together we thus may have evidence of cultic worship to Loki. Jacob Grimm mentions Lokabrenna in his Teutonic Mythology, but we also have Axel Olrik discussing Lokabrenna/Sirius in Part I of his Loke i Nyere Folkeoverlevering. Olrik states that “it stands in connection with the extreme late summer heat”.

While Sirius is visible in the sky at certain times of the year, we see its heliacal rising typically in the summer months of either July or August, which tend to be the warmest months of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. In cultures across the ancient world (Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc.) the heliacal rising of the star of Sirius (found in the constellation of Canis Major) was associated with the summer heat. In Egypt it was a sign that the annual Nile flood was coming soon. The Romans coined the colloquial expression of the dog days of summer connecting it’s appearance with the “dog” constellation of Canis Major and the heat of the summer together. Olrik sees connections with Lokabrenna to the “dog days” of summer seen elsewhere across cultures in Europe. He also shares with us that in Danish folklore that the shimmering heat waves visible in the air were connected to Lokke (Loki). We know from other sources (mentioned in Rudolf Simek’s Dictionary of Northern Mythology) that in Norway there’s a custom of feeding leftovers into the hearth/kitchen fire, and as Thunder is associated with Thor, the crackling in the hearth fire is associated with Loki.

Lokabrenna by Alice Frai

Fun fact, Sirius is the 7th brightest object visible from the earth (only the Sun, Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mars & Mercury are brighter). Scholars recently uncovered that the world’s oldest known temple, Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, may have been built to worship the Sirius star.

The archaeological record also gives us tantalizing food for thought. In Germany, there is an Alammanic fibula (dated to the 6th or 7th century) that was found in a woman’s grave, known as the Nordendorf I fibula. (MacLeod & Mees’ Runic Amulets and Magic Objects touches upon it briefly). The fibula has an Elder Futhark runic inscription, the second line of which (logaþore / wodan / wigiþonar) appears to be a divine triad of Germanic Gods consisting of logaþore, Odin, and Thor. While debated, there is a theory that logaþore may be Loki (perhaps a heiti for him).

Nordendorf I fibula (front view), photo by Bullenwächter

In modern times some adherents of Northern Tradition forms of polytheism have created some modern rites in honor of Loki. April Fool’s Day (April 1) is the first such date, as modern believers inspired by his creative problem solving (like the story of Loki dressing Thor up as a bride to get mjollnir back) have turned the day into a feast day for Loki. The second date is tied to Lokabrenna, but this date is a bit harder to pin down as you have to use astronomy programs to calculate when the heliacal rising of the Sirius star occurs in any given year (sometime in July or August). This later date arose in part as a counter to a push within heathenry to ban veneration of Loki out of the Troth (in particular any major gatherings like Trothmoot) and many other religious groups. In 2012 Galina Krasskova began to dedicate the month of July to Loki to fight back against that larger push within the community at large. She challenged others to join her giving Loki an offering a day, to carve out and take a stand for the veneration of Loki within our religious community. She wasn’t the only one pushing back against this, but her efforts helped to spearhead a movement, and one aspect of the movement by modern believers was in trying to reclaim the cultic worship we believe was tied to Loki with the Sirius star. Today it’s not uncommon to see hashtags like #JulyForLoki trending within our community.

Prayer to Loki 
by Wyrd Dottir 

Hail be to thee Loki,
God of my heart,
Dear friend and mentor,
whispering wisdom
and bald truths.
When I find myself lost
On serpentine paths
Mired in brambles,
Eclipsed by fog and shadow,
You guide me through
back to the crossroads.
Hearth fire,
Sturdy stone,
Flickering flame;
You, dear Loki,
Beckon me home.
So do I hail!
Art by Elena Stripe
Prayer by Wyrd Dottir, Art by Elena Stripe

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