The Northern Way

LOKE IN YOUNGER TRADITION

If “lokabrenna” actually means “the summer heat” (and not the star Sirius), it may have connection to our “Lokke” and his summer heat.

Thus the younger settlements contain sparse notions about this and that, while the old countries, populated since prehistoric times, each have their great groups of related motifs: the supernatural light creature and the supernatural domestic- or home fire creature.

Already this difference between ancient settlements and younger settlements (settlements that are only one thousand years old!), gives us a hint about the age of the Lokke-notions. Besides from that, it is quite possible that also the two old groups may have affected each other, although not in an especially considerable degree. It is possible, that Lokje from Telemarken, who arrives at Maundy Thursday and brings fleas to the house (at the same time as the spring warmth), is related to the Jutlandian notions about him as a creature of the spring. It is more certain that “Lokke’s oat” as a plant name, has spread [from Denmark] to Norway and Sweden, although the Lokke-name has been abandoned and the plants are called “trollhavre” (troll oat) and “pukhagre”.

On the other hand, when Lokke, on the Danish isles occurs as a disturbing creature in the home, by tangling up the yarn, he is not the flickering light-creature, but rather the domestic, pixie-like creature.

There is one thing that might surprise people who bear Loke from the ancient myths in mind: That people actually have been named Loke or Lokke:

Among the Norsemen in Northumberland in the 12th century, there was a man called Locchi.

In Scandia, Lokkethorp (now Lockarp) was named after a man with a similar name.
In Småland, Locke has been preserved as a hereditary surname.
On a rune stone in Uppland, the name “Luki” (Loki?, Lokki?) appears. The name can also be traced in place names (Lockbol, 1341 Lukabol; Lockesta, 1328 Locastum). From Norway we know a settler called Þórbjørn loki, and a birkjebein called Þórðr loki (?). (25)

The fact of the matter is, that these persons and places were probably not named after Loke the deity, as one may be inclined to assume, but after the supernatural creature or tiny troll Loki (Lokki). This then refers to several other ancient Norse surnames (and personal names), like dverg, puke, skratte, troll, thurs, jotun. Originally, this type of appellations have been given as surnames or nicknames to people because of their unusual low or high stature and their strange appearance - and in the course of time, it has been transmitted to a personal name. The name Lokki, used for humans, most likely connoted a short and pixy-like man.

In favour of the regard of the personal name as naming after the god Loke, we can mention, that contemporary with the birkjebein Þórðr loki, there lived a man called Auðunn býleistr (named after Loke’s brother). But if there is any connection between the two names (the form Loki isn’t quite certain here), it could be due to the fact that the nickname býleistr (he who is similar to or worse than Loke) was given to an opponent, just because the birkjebeins didn’t know the origin of the name.

Naming people after the actual pantheon, does not seem to have been used by the Norsemen in general. On the other hand, there seems to have been a certain inclination in the early days of the Icelandic settlement, to give the surnames of the gods to people: vingnir, gefn (as strong as Thor?, as beautiful as Freya?); or to name after the subordinate characters (høðr, maybe about a strong hero); or naming after certain giants (hrungnir, surtr). But neither by nature nor region, do these give any warrant to consider lok(k)i as a name for Asa-Loke.

We can now make our conclusion from the entire investigation. In the Norse countries, there have been notions about Loke as a small supernatural creature from ancient times. The basic meaning of the name is “lue” (flame) – “lysmand” (light man). In Denmark he is regarded as the shivering or quivering air, while he in Sweden and Norway is regarded as the home fire. In this last shape, he has received small sacrifices in the home, as its guardian and helping spirit. From these points of origin, certain elfish- or pixy-like features grow from his nature, especially teasing and thievish.

He does not derive from Loke in the mythological poetry, which contains so much other features in connection with the main gods, and a devilish behaviour. But certain traits in his nature (the smallness, the teasing and the thievishness), as well as the likeness between the names, indicates, that there is a connection. Traits from the supernatural creature in the folklore, must have been adapted by Loke the deity, and contributed to his strange and complex character. (26)

One thing should be sure though. We can, by simply - and without preconceived ideas - looking at our younger Norse folklore, see beyond the mythical Loke from the Eddas, and find a simpler type of mythical creatures, connected to certain natural phenomena, and still not separated from the common notions about creatures of that kind. The circumstances about Loke is, like they were about Odin (see my article: “Odinsjægeren i Jylland” (The Odin-hunter from Jutland)[or: Odin as a hunter...] Dania VIII 139). The knowledge about the folklore in its versions from the different districts, revealed here a hunting, troll-chasing, stormy creature of the night, whose existence has been an important precondition for the notions about Odin the war-god and ruler of Valhall.


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