A Reconstructionist’s Lore Guide to Loki

This post is intended on being a kind of shorthand guide for reconstructionist heathens to historical sources which mention Loki. These are the oldest sources that mention Loki and are compromised of the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, and Gesta Danorum. Some attempt has been made here to give corroboration to certain events within the different sources.

 

Poetic Edda

Voluspo:

  1. I saw for Baldr, | the bleeding god,

The son of Othin, | his destiny set:

Famous and fair | in the lofty fields,

Full grown in strength | the mistletoe stood.

 

  1. From the branch which seemed | so slender and fair

Came a harmful shaft | that Hoth should hurl;

But the brother of Baldr | was born ere long,

And one night old | fought Othin’s son.

 

  1. His hands he washed not, | his hair he combed not,

Till he bore to the bale-blaze | Baldr’s foe.

But in Fensalir | did Frigg weep sore

For Valhall’s need: | would you know yet more?

 

  1. One did I see | in the wet woods bound,

A lover of ill, | and to Loki like;

By his side does Sigyn | sit, nor is glad

To see her mate: | would you know yet more?

 

In the Voluspa we see Loki bound and referenced directly after the recounting of Baldr’s death by mistletoe hurled by Hoth. We later get a retelling of Ragnarok in which Loki leads the forces of the dead against the gods. For brevity, I will include only the section which shows Loki.

 

  1. O’er the sea from the north | there sails a ship

With the people of Hel, | at the helm stands Loki;

After the wolf | do wild men follow,

And with them the brother | of Byleist goes.

 

The Poetic Edda (Voluspo) (Translated by Henry Adams Bellows)

 

Hymiskvitha:

  1. Not long had they fared | ere one there lay

Of Hlorrithi’s goats | half-dead on the ground;

In his leg the pole-horse | there was lame;

The deed the evil | Loki had done.

 

This is the only reference to Loki in Hymiskvitha and is at odds with the more comprehensive story told in the Prose Edda. For one, the travelling companion of Thor in the Prose Edda is Loki and not Tyr as it is in this version. Also it was a human and not Loki who broke the goat in the Prose version. Yet it still remains that there is an evil deed apparently attributed in this book to Loki.

 

The Poetic Edda (Hymiskvitha) (Translated by Henry Adams Bellows)

 

Lokasenna:

“Ægir had two serving-men, Fimafeng and Eldir. Glittering gold they had in place of firelight; the ale came in of itself; and great was the peace. The guests praised much the ability of Ægir’s serving-men. Loki might not endure that, and he slew Fimafeng.”

 

“Loki turned back, and outside he met Eldir. Loki spoke to him:

 

  1. “Speak now, Eldir, | for not one step

Farther shalt thou fare;

What ale-talk here | do they have within,

The sons of the glorious gods?””

 

Loki here kills Femafeng in Ægir’s halls out of jealousy and then returns to threaten the life of the remaining servant of Ægir, Eldir.

 

When he comes back, he lists this as his reason for returning (here in two translations):

 

“In shall I go | into Ægir’s hall,

For the feast I fain would see;

Bale and hatred | I bring to the gods,

And their mead with venom I mix.”

Lokasenna (3) trans. By Bellows

 

“In I shall, though, into Ægir’s hall –

fain would I see that feast;

brawls and bickering I bring the gods,

their ale I shall mix with evil.”

Lokasenna (3) trans. by Hollander

 

Later in the Lokasenna he freely admits to killing Baldr, giving corroboration to the event in both the Prose and Poetic Eddas.

 

Frigg spake:

“If a son like Baldr | were by me now,

Here within Ægir’s hall,

From the sons of the gods | thou shouldst go not forth

Till thy fierceness in fight were tried.” (27)

 

Loki spake:

“Thou wilt then, Frigg, | that further I tell

Of the ill that now I know;

Mine is the blame | that Baldr no more

Thou seest ride home to the hall.” (28)

Lokasenna (27-28) trans. By Bellows

 

“Mine is the blame” says Loki. He says this straight to the victim’s mother, not hours after killing Femafeng. So if you want reason for him being bound, it is not just in his words alone but in his deeds.

 

On his binding the Poetic and Prose Eddas disagree on which of his sons became the wolf and which was torn asunder; the names are reversed in each.

Within the Lokasenna though we see Loki in not just these cases but he takes on most all of the gods within this source. He accuses many of the male gods of being unmanly and accuses many of the goddesses of being unchaste or of having affairs. In essence he slut-shames the goddesses to silence them and calls the gods unmanly to shame them.

 

The Poetic Edda (Lokasenna) (Translated by Henry Adams Bellows)

The Poetic Edda (Lokasenna) (Translated by Lee M. Hollander)

The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

Thrymskvitha

This story includes Loki and Thor and a brief synopsis would be Thor’s hammer goes missing and the gods send Loki to retrieve it. They both attend a wedding where Thor is in drag. There are many unanswered questions about this book of the Poetic Edda as it is unattested in any other source and does not overlap with other material. It is undoubtedly one of the most interesting stories though in the Poetic Edda. However a parallel to the missing hammer can be found in the Prose Edda when Loki makes sure Thor doesn’t have his hammer to face Geirrödr.

 

The Poetic Edda (Thrymskvitha) (Translated by Henry Adams Bellows)

 

 

Baldrs Draumar
The witch that Odin seeks to raise from the dead to tell him why Baldr is having dreams of his doom clams up before she shares with him the manner in which Baldr would die except that it came from a branch and involved Hoth. When the witch figures out that it is Odin she refuses to go any farther and instead tells him:

 

  1. “Home ride, Othin, | be ever proud;

For no one of men | shall seek me more

Till Loki wanders | loose from his bonds,

And to the last strife | the destroyers come.”

This source provides corroboration for Loki’s involvement in Ragnarok.

 

The Poetic Edda (Baldrs Draumar) (Translated by Henry Adams Bellows)

 

 

Hyndluljoth

  1. The wolf did Loki | with Angrbotha win,

And Sleipnir bore he | to Svathilfari;

The worst of marvels | seemed the one

That sprang from the brother | of Byleist then.

 

  1. A heart ate Loki,– | in the embers it lay,

And half-cooked found he | the woman’s heart;–

With child from the woman | Lopt soon was,

And thence among men | came the monsters all.

 

The Poetic Edda (Hyndluljoth) (Translated by Henry Adams Bellows)

 

Svipdagsmol

Svipdag spake:

  1. “Now answer me, Fjolsvith, | the question I ask,

For now the truth would I know:

What weapon can send | Vithofnir to seek

The house of Hel below?”

 

Fjolsvith spake:

  1. “Lævatein is there, | that Lopt with runes

Once made by the doors of death;

In Lægjarn’s chest | by Sinmora lies it,

And nine locks fasten it firm.”

 

Loki here shows up as Lopt as he is elsewise referenced.

 

Fjolsvith spake:

  1. “Uni and Iri, | Bari and Jari,

Var and Vegdrasil,

Dori and Ori, | Delling, and there

Was Loki, the fear of the folk.”

 

Loki is referenced here as being the “fear of the folk”.

 

The Poetic Edda (Svipdagsmol) (Translated by Henry Adams Bellows)

 

Reginsmol

Loki accidentally kills Otr and is made to go through a process to make amends for it through wergeld but ends up stealing the gold from a dwarf who curses the gold. That curse gets passed on to others with the finishing of the Wergeld. This is retold in the Prose Edda.

 

The Poetic Edda (Reginsmol) (Translated by Henry Adams Bellows)

 

 

Prose Edda (Gylfaginning)

 

Is Loki Æsir (XXXIII & XXXIV)

XXXIII. “Also numbered among the Æsir is he whom some call the mischief-monger of the Æsir, and the first father of falsehoods, and blemish of all gods and men: he is named Loki or Loptr, son of Fárbauti the giant; his mother was Laufey or Nál; his brothers are Býleistr and Helblindi. Loki is beautiful and comely to look upon, evil in spirit., very fickle in habit. He surpassed other men in that wisdom which is called ‘sleight,’ and had artifices for all occasions; he would ever bring the Æsir into great hardships, and then get them out with crafty counsel. His wife was called Sigyn, their son Nari or Narfi.

 

XXXIV. Yet more children had Loki. Angrboda was the name of a certain giantess in Jötunheim, with whom Loki gat three children: one was Fenris-Wolf, the second Jörmungandr–that is the Midgard Serpent,–the third is Hel. But when the gods learned that this kindred was nourished in Jötunheim, and when the gods perceived by prophecy that from this kindred great misfortune should befall them; and since it seemed to all that there was great prospect of ill–(first from the mother’s blood, and yet worse from the father’s)-then Allfather sent gods thither to take the children and bring them to him. When they came to him, straightway he cast the serpent into the deep sea, where he lies about all the land; and this serpent grew so greatly that he lies in the midst of the ocean encompassing all the land, and bites upon his own tail. Hel he cast into Niflheim, and gave to her power over nine worlds, to apportion all abodes among those that were sent to her: that is, men dead of sickness or of old age. She has great possessions there; her walls are exceeding high and her gates great. Her hall is called Sleet-Cold; her dish, Hunger; Famine is her knife; Idler, her thrall; Sloven, her maidservant; Pit of Stumbling, her threshold, by which one enters; Disease, her bed; Gleaming Bale, her bed-hangings. She is half blue-black and half flesh-color (by which she is easily recognized), and very lowering and fierce.

 

The Wolf the Æsir brought up at home, and Týr alone dared go to him to give him meat. But when the gods saw. how much he grew every day, and when all prophecies declared that he was fated to be their destruction, then the Æsir seized upon this way of escape: they made a very strong fetter… [Tyr and Fenris story] Then said Gangleri: ‘Marvellous ill children did Loki beget, but all these brethren are of great might. Yet why did not the Æsir kill the Wolf, seeing they had expectation of evil from him?” Hárr answered: “So greatly did the gods esteem their holy place and sanctuary, that they would not stain it with the Wolf’s blood; though (so say the prophecies) he shall be the slayer of Odin.”

 

The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

The gods explain the origins of Sleipnir (XLII)

The gods were approached by a stonewright who struck a bargain that he could build the gods an impenetrable fortress in one seasons time for the hand of Freya and the Sun and the Moon, “he asked that they would give him leave to have the help of his stallion, which was called Svadilfari; and Loki advised it, so that the wright’s petition was granted.” They knew he was a giant and so Thor was away so that the truce could hold. It was also part of the bargain that “if any part of the citadel were left unfinished, he should lose his reward”. He was about to when the bargain though so “[t]he gods agreed that he must have counselled this who is wont to give evil advice, Loki Laufeyarson, and they declared him deserving of an ill death, if he could not hit upon a way of losing the wright his wages”. Loki transforms into a mare and distracts the giant’s horse long enough that he loses the bet. Loki comes back sometime later with Sleipnir.

 

The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

Thor and Loki with Utgard Loki (XLIV – XLVII)

Thor and Loki have a trip in which Loki has no role of mischief or really anything else to play. His main purpose in this trip is to face off against Logi, the incarnation of fire. The mischief in this piece is wrought by Utgard Loki who uses shapeshifting, magic, and cunning in order to make fools of Thor and Loki and Thor’s new human servant Thjálfi. It is interesting to note though that the Poetic Edda disagrees on aspects of this story and casts some doubt on that aspect of it; in the Poetic Edda it is listed that Loki and not Thjálfi broke the thighbone of Thor’s goat and lists Tyr as the traveling companion (in the Hymiskvitha).

 

The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

Baldr’s Death (XLIX)

Baldr began to have bad dreams foretelling his own death. The Æsir decided that the best way to protect Baldr would be to seek oaths from things that could harm him.  “And Frigg took oaths to this purport, that fire and water should spare Baldr, likewise iron and metal of all kinds, stones, earth, trees, sicknesses, beasts, birds, venom, serpents.” After that it became a kind of game to throw stuff at him at the Thing and watch it miss. Loki wanted to know more about this so he shapeshifted into an old woman and asked Frigg about how it was possible. “Then said Frigg: ‘Neither weapons nor trees may hurt Baldr: I have taken oaths of them all.’” To which Loki probed further asking “’Have all things taken oaths to spare Baldr?’ and Frigg answered: ‘There grows a tree-sprout alone westward of Valhall: it is called Mistletoe; I thought it too young to ask the oath of.’” Immediately after this,“Loki took Mistletoe and pulled it up and went to the Thing.”

Loki convinces Hödr to take part in the affair and guides his hand and provides a mistletoe weapon. “Hödr took Mistletoe and shot at Baldr, being guided by Loki: the shaft flew through Baldr, and he fell dead to the earth; and that was the greatest mischance that has ever befallen among gods and men.”All the Æsir “were of one mind as to him who had wrought the work, but none might take vengeance, so great a sanctuary was in that place.”

Hermódr is sent to Hel to see if Baldr could be sent back from Hel. Hel made the deal that “’If all things in the world, quick and dead, weep for him, then he shall go back to the Æsir; but he shall remain with Hel if any gainsay it or will not weep.’” Loki again takes the form of another being and then refuses to weep for Baldr, saying “Let Hel hold to that she hath”, which keeps him in Hel and prevents his return.

 

The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

Punishing Loki (L)

“Then said Gangleri: ‘Exceeding much Loki had brought to pass, when he had first been cause that Baldr was slain, and then that he was not redeemed out of Hel. Was any vengeance taken on him for this?’ Hárr answered: ‘This thing was repaid him in such wise that he shall remember it long…’” Loki ran and hid and eventually the Æsir caught up to him and he tried to shapeshift his way out of it but was caught. “Loki was taken truceless” and bound to a set of rocks. The bindings were made from the entrails of his son who was killed by his other son who the Æsir had turned into a wolf. Skadi took a venomous serpent and placed it over Loki’s head. He remains in bondage until Ragnarok.

 

The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

Loki in Ragnarok (LI)

“Loki and Hrymr shall come there also, and with him all the Rime-Giants. All the champions of Hel follow Loki” “Loki shall have battle with Heimdallr, and each be the slayer of the other.”

 

Here you have similar corroboration as is found in other references to Ragnarok.

 

The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

 

Prose Edda (Skáldskaparmal)

 

On the kidnapping of Iðunn (I and repeated in poetic from in XXII)
In this story, the eagle formed Thjazi strikes a bargain with the gods Odin, Hœnir, and Loki that he will be allowed to eat his fill of the ox they caught in bargain for allowing them to cook the remainder. “They assented to this.” Then Thjazi “forthwith at the very first took unto himself the two hams of the ox, and both shoulders. Then Loki was angered, snatched up a great pole, brandished it with all his strength, and drove it at the eagle’s body.” Odin and Hœnir did not break their oath with Thjazi, Loki broke his oath. Loki had first assented and then broke his oath to the giant for which the giant swooped him up and flew about until Loki “cried aloud, entreating the eagle urgently for peace”. Loki bargains with the giant and Thjazi asks that  Loki would give “him his oath to induce Idunn to come out of Ásgard with her apples. Loki assented”.  To do this Loki lies to her and convinces her to follow him, saying that he had found some really awesome apples. Iðunn is swooped up by Thjazi. Loki only agrees to save her because he is “threatened with death, or tortures”. Iðunn is saved and Thjazi killed. Loki later ties his genitals to a goat in order to make Skadi laugh as she was Thjazi’s daughter and had sought recompense for his death from the Æsir.

 

The Prose Edda (Skáldskaparmal) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

Heimdallr’s Kennings (VIII)

Heimdallr is known as the “Foe of Loki” in his kennings and is listed as having “contended with Loki for the Necklace Brísinga-men”.

 

The Prose Edda (Skáldskaparmal) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

Loki Kennings (XVI)

“How should one periphrase Loki? Thus: call him Son of Fárbauti and Laufey, or of Nil, Brother of Býleistr and of Helblindi, Father of the Monster of Ván (that is, Fenris-Wolf), and of the Vast Monster (that is, the Midgard Serpent), and of Hel, and Nari, and Áli; Kinsman and Uncle, Evil Companion and Bench-Mate of Odin and the Æsir, Visitor and Chest-Trapping of Geirrödr, Thief of the Giants, of the Goat, of Brísinga-men, and of Idunn’s Apples, Kinsman of Sleipnir, Husband of Sigyn, Foe of the Gods, Harmer of Sif’s Hair, Forger of Evil, the Sly God, Slanderer and Cheat of the Gods, Contriver of Baldr’s Death, the Bound God, Wrangling Foe of Heimdallr and of Skadi.”

 

The Prose Edda (Skáldskaparmal) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

Thor is unarmed (XVIII)

“Thor went to Geirrödr’s dwelling. At that time he had not the hammer Mjöllnir with him, nor his Girdle of Might, nor the iron gauntlets: and that was the fault of Loki, who went with him.”

Loki went for a fly in the hawk feathered cloak of Frigg but was caught by Geirrödr. Loki “by way of ransom for his life he swore to Geirrödr with oaths that he would get Thor to come into Geirrödr’s dwelling in such a fashion that he should have neither hammer nor Girdle of Might with him.” Thor only succeeds against the giants because he is warned by “Grídr, mother of Vídarr” who also lent to Thor her staff, iron gauntlets, and girdle of might since he was without his own because of Loki.

 

The Prose Edda (Skáldskaparmal) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

Loki is listed as attending Ægir’s party (XXXIII)

Loki is listed as attending Ægir’s party, a party which Thor was absent from. (This detail perfectly matches it to the Lokasenna)
The Prose Edda (Skáldskaparmal) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

Sif’s Hair (XXXV)
Thor “seized Loki, and would have broken every bone in him, had he not sworn to get the Black Elves to make Sif hair of gold, such that it would grow like other hair”.

Loki convinces the dwarves to make several treasures but after this Loki bargained his head to the dwarves Brokkr and Sindri that they could not make something equally as nice as what was already made. He tries to distract the dwarves through the making in shapeshifted form. Loki returns with golden hair and other treasures. He loses the bet with the dwarves but refuses to honor the terms as he first runs and then when Thor catches him and “Loki said that he might have the head, but not the neck.” So the Dwarf sews his mouth up instead.

 

The Prose Edda (Skáldskaparmal) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

 

A retelling of Otter’s Wergeld (XXXIX)
The story is consistent with the other telling.

 

 

Gesta Danorum “The Danish History” (Book Eight)

King Gorm was in trouble, storms and bad weather had him trapped, he “fell to making vows to heaven, thinking the gods alone could help him in his extreme need.” The people offered to many gods; “but the king, offering both vows and peace-offerings to Utgarda-Loki, obtained that fair season of weather for which he prayed.” He went home and enjoyed peace and prosperity for a long time; “but when he had almost come to the end of his days, certain men persuaded him by likely arguments that souls were immortal; so that he was constantly turning over in his mind the questions, to what abode he was to fare when the breath left his limbs, or what reward was earned by zealous adoration of the gods.” In essence, King Gorm wanted to know where it was that he would be going to once he died. The king was told to send Thorkill to figure this all out and to send him to Utgarda-Loki to appease him. Thorkill demanded that those who volunteered him for this mission would go with him and the king agreed despite their reluctance and put them “under the command of Thorkill, and even upbraided them with cowardice.” They set out with an oxhide reinforced ship and an “abundant store of provision.”

“In this ship they sailed away, and came to a sunless land, which knew not the stars, was void of daylight, and seemed to overshadow them with eternal night.” They sailed on into the dark land until their wood and fuel ran out and they were left eating raw food. They were growing sick from starvation and uncooked food when finally they saw fire in the distance.

Thorkill marked his boat with a jewel to reflect the light and set off to find the source of the fire. Inside a snake-infested rotting hovel were “two men, swart and very huge, with horny noses” keeping their fire alive in any way possible. When the giants spoke to Thorkill he described his “desire to visit a strange god” and they inclined to help Thorkill if he spoke truthfully to them. Thorkill insulted them by saying “’In good truth, I do not remember ever to have seen a household with more uncomely noses; nor have I ever come to a spot where I had less mind to live.’” The giants deemed it true and they told him where to find Utgarda-Loki “who had chosen hideous and grisly caves for his filthy dwelling.” He bargains more wisdom for fire and returns to his men.

They sail on and eventually see a huge rock and go exploring. They held the light and squeezed into the wet, snake infested caverns. And then “they saw Utgarda-Loki, laden hand and foot with enormous chains. Each of his reeking hairs was as large and stiff as a spear of cornel. Thorkill (his companions lending a hand), in order that his deeds might gain more credit, plucked one of these from the chin of Utgarda-Loki, who suffered it. Straightway such a noisome smell reached the bystanders, that they could not breathe without stopping their noses with their mantles. They could scarcely make their way out, and were bespattered by the snakes which darted at them on every side.” Only five of Thorkill’s men didn’t die from the poison. Venom and poison dripped onto Thorkill’s men “But the sailors sheltered themselves with their hides, and cast back the venom that fell upon them.” Thorkill offered to the highest god he knew and after that was able to sail away. Thorkill returned to “his country accompanied by two men only, who had escaped the worst.”

“The king desired to learn everything from Thorkill’s own lips; and, thinking it hard to escape destiny, bade him relate what had happened in due order. He listened eagerly to his recital of everything, till at last, when his own god was named, he could not endure him to be unfavourably judged. For he could not bear to hear Utgarda-Loki reproached with filthiness, and so resented his shameful misfortunes, that his very life could not brook such words, and he yielded it up in the midst of Thorkill’s narrative. Thus, whilst he was so zealous in the worship of a false god, he came to find where the true prison of sorrows really was. Moreover, the reek of the hair, which Thorkill plucked from the locks of the giant to testify to the greatness of his own deeds, was exhaled upon the bystanders, so that many perished of it.”

 

Utgarda-Loki being bound in this way along with his name makes it too similar to Loki to ignore. Furthermore, the source shows unpleasant undertones and implications about gods controlling where one ends up for an afterlife when one is bound to a god by oaths as King Gorm is.

 

Gesta Danorum “The Danish History” (Book Eight) by Saxo Grammaticus (Translated by Oliver Elton)

*The featured image is the Kirkby Stephen Stone which likely depicts Satan but local folklore says it is an image of Loki.

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The Heathen and Historigraphy

Historians are often products of their time. The historical writings of those living in the 1700’s take on the flavor of that time, the 1800’s much the same. There are flavors of historians like there are flavors of ice-cream, and each of those historians will take on their subject through different lenses. If you took for instance the Salem Witch Trials, these can be looked at through a religious lens, an economic lens, a class struggle lens, a gender lens, and oh so so so many others. Is any one of the lenses the one correct answer? No. The motives of these people do not always conform to our ideas and in some of these lenses, historians have been known to anachronistically place modern ideas on people who are decidedly not modern. In a sense, not all historians through all of time are created equal. Today we make rigorous attempts to remove personal bias and essentially strip away anything that is not factual or in some way based on facts. But because of this, it becomes very important to look at the historiography of a particular material – the history surrounding the particular historian, their life and time, and their biases; essentially the history of their history. And when you look at the historiography, many of these writers living in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s had an agenda – Nationalism.

We’re not talking patriotism, we’re talking nationalism and there is a difference. We’re talking Nazis, fascists, eugenics, and the “we’re better than you are because our race scientists say so” nonsense. Romantic Nationalism was the prettier cousin of the nasty nationalism that we all know. Let me take you back to 1930’s Germany. We all know how this story turns out, but between 1933 and 1936 it would have primarily been seen as an era of Romantic Nationalism there. They were doing what so many other European nations had been doing, reinventing themselves based on nationalist thought. The general idea of it all went something like this – every nation had a racial identity or an ethnic soul of a kind that was in competition with every other nation. This is present visually in representations of say John Bull or Uncle Sam; these were the personified spirits of the nation. But the nations were all in competition with one another and the people represented that nation. Folks began to want to give themselves long and glorious histories of superiority then to show that they were winning this competition between nations. Thus, Romantic Nationalism was born. People could be patriotic then through more or less imagining their past in some idealized form. Think George Washington and the cherry tree, it’s a nationalist myth that romanticizes a figure from our American history. But this was not just happening in Germany and Italy where it went sour or in America or England where those romantic nationalist myths are still told. No, this happened across Europe and even elsewhere in the world. People began to give their countries pedigrees essentially, to write their people into the fabric of history and ensure their place was one of importance. This resulted in some fabulous works of art, literature, and music. It resulted in for instance the entire Ring Cycle by Wagner, the Kalevala would have been lost forever had it not been for Romantic Nationalism, and entire languages were saved because the people began to take pride in their national and ethnic heritage. But it also resulted in the marginalization or destruction of minority groups within those nations that adopted these views.

The issues go deep. The presence is generally seen to have been important for art and culture, but one area that suffered because of its presence was the historical discipline. Essentially we have a period of historians who mythologized their national past to the point that it became unusable. It was not history any more, it was imagined. They created stories out of it all and into those they wove half-truths and ample amounts of fiction. They also made wild leaps based on some fragment of truth so they could make It fit into a nice, neat narrative.

Enter Vilhelm Grønbech, a historian living in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. I’ll give you one guess where Grønbech fits. You got it, he was a romantic nationalist who died in 1948 and he wrote The Culture of the Teutons. In academia, if it seems too good to be true it usually is made up. This book is made up, or its filled with so much made up material mixed with half-truths and a little truth that the lies weave themselves into a nice pretty romantic nationalist picture. It was written in 1909 and generally speaking historians won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole because it is everything history today is not. It cites no sources, it is written more like a long winded talk than a history, it is a long flowing diatribe weaving a concise and imaginary picture of a broad Germanic culture that united the ancient heathens in Germanic comradery. The book is a lie that has been peddled so hard by certain elements that folks buy the lie; hook, line, and sinker. It is a lie that has been sold to us and repackaged now so often that many folks cannot see the truth of the matter. Romantic nationalism, while it produced some fine art, is toxic to history and historians; ultimately the same thoughts that fueled it also gave rise to the Nazis in Germany and to Fascists in Italy and its ideas are why we still have issues with folkishness and Nazism in Heathenry today.

A modern historian is trained to look for the nuggets of truth hidden in these works and to try and parse them out through rigorous attempts to trace back and confirm certain aspects. Essentially, if you read it in Vilhelm Grønbech or any other historian influenced by Romantic Nationalism, you cannot trust it. The reason historians will not touch it even if they are equipped to look through the falsehoods to find the nuggets of truth is that in the end all you end up doing is going on hunts for sources that get you to look around the source you were trying to look into. The heart of the matter is that if you can find a primary that he was using, why use him at all when his ideas were so skewed? And if you cannot find the primary source, was he just making it up to fit his narrative of a romanced national heritage? This is the same issue we find in other historians of that era. Jacob Grimm for instance wrote that monumental work Deutsche Mythologie in 1835 right at the forefront of this romantic nationalism movement. I love Grimm, I have read his work and have found many interesting things in it, but in the end I find myself working double time to try and confirm him elsewhere through primaries because he simply cannot be trusted all of the time and he too makes wild and unfounded leaps. He was a product of his time and at that time the historical discipline was much less stringent about citation and removing personal bias.

At the end of the day, Heathenry needs to learn a little more about historiography. The heathen reader needs to be able to spot bad scholarship and romantic nationalism and know it for something not to be trusted and generally to be avoided. It also doesn’t stop at the 1800’s because ancient sources have their biases as well. The heathen reader needs to be able to spot these things because if we let these falsehoods take root in us we will not be able to discern the real history from the imagined.