The Flame and the Fire

By Elsa-Brita Titchenell

When our world was to be born anew, it was the task and desire of a creative trinity of gods to bring forth being from non-being and fashion all that longed-to-be. Odin (spirit) urged the becoming, Honer (divine mind) suffused the waters of space with the cosmic plan, and Lodur (vitality and heat) impelled motion which created substances -- the "giant world." In Norse mythology the gods are conscious energies which galvanize inertia or latent proto-matter into activity, producing life: so it came about that every living thing is compounded of the essence of the gods and fashioned in giant form. Since that first impulse thrilled through infinitude and unrolled once again the scroll of all the heavens, modes of motion appear as light and life, signals of existence, to echo back to the One its manifest reflection. In this scheme stars and planets are tables where the gods feast on the mead of experience; they are disposed on the many shelves of varying substantiality -- worlds are formed of ethereal, gaseous, liquid, solid construction, all according to the needs of the indwelling deities. All-father Odin permeates them all, besides interacting with each one of the pantheon of powers, which also mingle each with each to present all possible permutations and facets of existence and awareness imbodied in seen and unseen worlds.

Throughout a period of life Odin, All-father and hierarch of his creation, is kept informed by two ravens, Mind and Memory, which fly daily over the battlefield of life and report back to him. These are the cosmic aspects of the properties man reflects in his faculties of cognition and retention, the two sides of consciousness which make growth and evolution possible at any level. The cosmic process is replicated in every smallest member of a universe.

Centered in his field of vision, man is himself a lesser cosmos. In him the divine attributes exist, but partially dormant: the vital breath of Lodur is in his body, but the spirit of All-father is not yet active in his soul; he is in process of learning to apply the power of thought, Honer's gift, at this crucial stage when self-consciousness is aroused with the awakening of mind. It is the point at which awareness becomes self-reflective and capable of directing its own action; this produces in the human race a sense of separateness and, with it, egoity and all divisive attributes, while providing the very means by which to penetrate this mind-born illusion and gain divine knowledge.

Of all themes in the world's mythologies the lighting by compassionate solar forces of mind in man is surely the most inspiring; it is an often recurring topic in scriptures, legends, and traditions. Told in numerous ways, symbolized by every psychological device that may evoke a realization of its import, it is probably the most prevalent of all myths. The formation of worlds, the structure of cosmos, and the evolution of races on earth, all are told in ancient sagas and lays but, encapsuled in the smallest space and unexplained, they are difficult to grasp; but the awakening of mind is an event given much attention in every system, to elevate and ennoble while giving practical directives for use in daily living.

The Norse Edda tells in great detail how the solar deity, in the guise of Rig (cf. "The Song of Rig," SUNRISE, May 1955, p. 246), "the wise and powerful Ase," comes to earth to awaken dormant human intelligence in three progressive stages. On his first visit, the story goes, he finds the door closed to the miserable hovel man inhabits; his second attempt seeks out man in a comfortable dwelling whose door is ajar; only on the third try does the god find man's mansion open and receptive.

Man may be regarded as intermediate between the Aesir (gods) and the giants -- that part of man which links his inner god with his animal/matter-nature. This, the human, quality in a human being partakes on one hand of the character of the gods, but it is derived or evolved from giant antecedents and subject to errors in judgment. In the myths this is the character named Loki (the enlightener). His many names denote his many aspects: in the cosmic context he is Lopt (the Lofty), closely allied to the concept Honer, universal mind. He is also the crafty villain Logi (wildfire, often called his brother), the brute side of man with its uncontrolled passions. Tales about Loki abound in the Eddas, where he is a constant source of entertainment. His pranks cause the gods much embarrassment, but it should be noted that Loki is also able and willing to extricate the Aesir from the numerous dilemmas he brings about. Just so is the fertile mind prone to cause man's confusion but ultimately it is the means of his salvation. It is no wonder the protean character of the enlightener has perplexed mythologers, for he is a perpetual paradox. Descended of giants, his father is Minier, the all-comprehensive giant-source, owner of the well of wisdom whereof Odin drinks each day. This well is one of three which water the three roots of Yggdrasil, the tree of life; it is the fountain of all knowledge, the inescapable wellspring of experience. But Loki, while a son of Mimer, is also blood-brother of Odin, supreme among the Aesir, who will not partake of mead without him. This is most revealing, for it shows the gods' need of this mysterious link with matter, whose agency makes possible the transformation of giants into gods, the gradual transference of substance spiritward, evolution in short.

Loki is said to have fathered three offspring with a giantess named Sorrowbringer. One of these is Hel, queen of death, whose coldly automatic action assigns appropriate conditions in her realm to all who enter it; the second is Jormungandr, the Midgard serpent -- whether the ecliptic or the Milky Way, which describes the earth's angle of inclination -- in one tale Thor displaced the fearsome monster, causing an inversion of the poles; the third is Fenris, the wolf that will end the sway of Odin, breaking the bonds laid on him by the gods, and devour the sun at the end of its life cycle. Loki is thus father of death on three levels: human, terrestrial, and solar.

In former ages Loki is reputed to have been female and to have given birth to all earth's hags and witches, after becoming pregnant from devouring the half-cooked heart of an evil woman. In another tale he assumed the guise of a mare, to lure a stallion from performing a giant's work, and bore Sleipnir, the eight-legged steed which Odin rides through his nine worlds. In this and several other episodes Loki by ruse rescues Freya from giants, after first having placed her in peril. Freya is the goddess of intelligence and reason, patroness of humanity. She wears on her breast the gem which represents the human race, the intelligence-principle or level of life. Loki steals the gem in one account, but is forced by the gods to restore it to its owner. On many occasions Loki commits a wrong or foolish act but, when taken to task by the gods, he makes amends. This is very much in character, for so the mind, when exercised without the guidance of wisdom and intuition, tends to rob us of our values but, when mobilized on the side of the higher nature, it raises some portion of our "giant" to a nobler status.

Loki's humanizing role is seen in the contest between two factions of dwarfs who vie to produce worthy gifts for the gods. Dwarfs are the elemental beings, consciousnesses imbodied in the kingdoms less evolved than man: they are less than human (not necessarily smaller). The gifts smithied by the mineral and vegetable worlds together are such as symbolize the automatic actions of their spheres: one is the rocky planet (the ship Skidbladner), one is the harvest of grain (Sif's golden hair), and one the urge to grow (Odin's spear Gungnir). The opposing faction, comprising man's animal nature humanized by Loki, wrought the recurring cycles of rebirth (Odin's self-replicating ring Draupnir), limitless power (Thor's hammer Mjolnir), and the spiritual will (Frey's magic sword), faculties that distinguish the human being.

There is a suggestive connection between Loki and Gullveig, who represents thirst for gold and who was instrumental in instigating the primal war in heaven between the Vanir and the Aesir -- powers that refused to imbody, and powers that brought creation into being. There are, as always, a number of meanings to every myth. Gullveig is in one sense the parallel of the Oriental concept trishna, thirst for life, and may also apply to greed for wealth and other possessions; however it must certainly pertain also to the yearning for wisdom in the human mind. The alchemists used the same idea in their laboratory retorts, physical and symbolic. In the Edda tale, Gullveig is hoisted over the fire on the spears of the gods -- thrice burnt, thrice reborn, this Norse phoenix emerges with each purification more beautiful. On the opposite side of the coin, her name has been associated with witchcraft and sorcery -- she is much in demand among evil peoples, for the gold of wisdom can have many uses. In planet earth, deposits of gold are said to be the tears shed by Freya while she awaits her lover -- humanity -- who seeks her throughout the worlds. When reunited, she becomes Menglad -- "jewel-happy."

One lay tells of the feasting of the Aesir at a banquet hosted by Aegir -- the spatial deeps wherein all worlds of life supply the mead for the Aesir. All gods and goddesses are present, except Thor (who is busy elsewhere, which is often the case in these encounters; he turns up at the end of the tale and brings an end to the quarrel), and Loki who has not been invited. We are reminded that Loki is kin to Odin, because on the strength of their being blood-brothers Loki forces his way into the hall. The chamber is sacrosanct: no harsh words or acts may here be tolerated; nevertheless, Loki enters blusteringly and proceeds to insult each of the divinities in turn. A parody of parodies, the lay portrays a common attitude of shallow thinkers the world over: in it Loki pretends to a literal interpretation of the metaphoric tales attached to the ancient gods, and he mocks the relationships of the deities, their supposed love affairs and peccadilloes, ignoring the meanings concealed within them that tell of the applications and functions of cosmic forces in combination or opposition. In this slapstick comedy scene Loki repeats all the trite accusations that have been leveled at the pantheons of mythology, adding a few choice morsels of his own and claiming to have shared in escapades with several goddesses, which presumably would be known only to them and himself, therefore are not susceptible of being disproved. Loki here appears coarse, rude, and facetious, and typifies mind applied on the lowest mean.

The part played by Loki in the slaying of Balder, the sun-god (cf. "Yggdrasil . . . . the WorId-Tree of Edda," SUNRISE, December 1954, p. 72), with the mistletoe by the blind and innocent god, Höder, is well known, but we note once more that death is here brought about through his agency. Death and procreation are both the result of mind applied in matter and are inescapably interdependent. Either without its opposite -- procreation without death, or death without birth -- is unthinkable and would have ended evolution then and there.

The prankster god whose awkward use of newly acquired powers entails numerous errors is often seen as the villain of the piece on whose head descends the wrath of the gods. He it is who takes Thor's hammer to the giant world, giving the power of creativity and procreation to nether realms; he is the abductor of Idun, whose apples of immortality nourish and rejuvenate the gods; he is the thief of Freya's jewel, prostituting the mind of man to unworthy ends. But always he is finally persuaded to cooperate with the holier powers and, once he does so, the situation is remedied.

Beneath all the foolishness, when the ribald laughter has died down, there remains a vivid image of the saving faculty of intelligence, Loki, chained in the darkness of the underworld, beneath the gates of death, "bound with the guts of his dead son Night." The "slender god-bride" Skade (Harm) had suspended two venomous serpents over his naked body and were it not for his loyal wife Sigyn (Victory?), who holds a bowl beneath the writhing reptiles, their venom would further increase his agony. Earthquakes are said to take place when she must go to empty the bowl, leaving him exposed. There he will remain until the end of the world, chained in the depths of alien regions, his agony increased by the harm added by deceptive beauty.

What is the meaning of this mysterious imagery? Like Mercury, Hermes, Prometheus, Loki is depicted as a thief and a scamp; he not only awakened in men the dormant power of thought, he also taught them crafts, seamanship, and all the arts. But it was his gift of death which most incurred the wrath of the gods for, with the opening of this portal to the supernal spheres, man gained access to the realms hitherto reserved for the deities -- realms of grandeur and of universal life and consciousness. Hence, Loki's imprisonment in humanity is a gift beyond price. Man in his foolishness may often abuse it or debase it, but by this inner light he may see the way that leads to the sanctuary of the gods.

(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, November 1979. Copyright © 1979 by Theosophical University Press)

World Spiritual Traditions Menu