Of all conceivable interpretations of Old Norse mythology, the overarching one that I find to be the most appealing is the idea that its characters were never meant to be gods in the first place, but were rather figures in an allegorical folklore where each of them represented their own human instinct, and all of them had to coexist somehow (as human instincts do). Loki would then have represented the impulsive, corrupt and sexually deviant nature in humans, a side that needs to be tied down and contained at all cost, lest it bring destruction upon the whole unity. That would also present a reasonable answer to the obvious question of why the other gods didn’t kill Loki once they had captured him, instead of merely tying him up and leaving him in a cave. As comes out later, Loki was not indestructible, but it would seem as if he could only die when everyone else would perish with him – in Ragnarök, or, if we accept it as an allegory, when the whole organism that he was a part of was brought down as well. This folklore must then later have been forced upon people as a religion, with its symbolic characters being turned into deities that people were supposed to worship and show submission to.
As much as I like this proposition of the origins of Old Norse, I’m afraid there is no evidence to back it up, and so it remains nothing more than a charming idea. In my short story Loki’s Story, which I posted on the website last month, a different kind of origin story is suggested. Although it is just as unfounded as the one mentioned above there are certain elements in that text that are derived from some more serious observations on the mythology, and I wanted to give acknowledgements of those here on the site. The main underlying research comes from work I did as a part of a course of Nordic legends at the University of Iceland in 2005. In my own paper I cited various sources and since they ended up influencing Loki’s Story I figured I should refer to them here as well.
First of all, the discovery of the second part of the line in Völuspá: ‘Festur mun slitna, en freki renna,‘ meaning ‘fire will spread‘ instead of ‘wolf will run‘ is truly my own, and I was surprised to find that no one else seemed to have picked up on it. As mentioned in the Author’s Notes section of Loki’s Story, the word ‘freki‘ comes up as meaning ‘fire‘ in the language of Jötunns in the poem Alvísmál, whereas the oldest recorded usage of ‘freki‘ as meaning ‘wolf‘ is merely from the nineteenth century (according to Orðabók Háskóla Íslands, the Dictionary of the University of Iceland) and that could easily be due to the meaning that the word was assigned in this interpretation of Völuspá.
It is well established that Loki’s name refers to fire, but just for the sake of having a reference on that, Philip N. Anderson pointed out in his article Form and Content in Lokasenna: A Re-evaluation, that in the story of Lokasenna that association is made perfectly clear. The word ‘freki‘ comes up in another instance in Völuspá, where it could possibly be referring to someone who is leading the Jötunns to war onboard the ship Naglfari. In that case it would certainly seem far-fetched to assume that it would be a wolf (despite all other peculiarities in the mythology) and more likely the word was put in there to establish that it was meant to refer to Loki. Also, the way names are replaced with other words that refer to a certain person or creature in the poem is mostly done for the sake of alliteration. ‘Wolf will run‘ has been taken to be referring to the wolf Fenrir, but there is no reason why his name would be replaced with the word freki, as both words have the same initial.
The similarities between some parts of Old Norse and other mythologies, especially Greek, is another theme that was covered both in my research and then also found its way into Loki’s Story. I should mention that the similarities between the story of Odin’s journey to Hell to retrieve Baldur, and the Greek legend of Eurydice and Orpheus had been pointed out by Anna Birgitta Rooth in her book Loki in Scandinavian Mythology, from 1961.
Lastly, the scene with Loki’s toast at the feast of Asgarden is inspired by the story of Lokasenna, where Loki ridicules his fellow gods with some home truths during their feast, and is eventually chased away by Þór. This story has been used as an example of how followers of Old Norse were able to joke about their gods, and that they did in fact not have the same kind of stuck-up relationship with their deities as many devout believers do today. So if any devout followers of Old Norse end up reading my story, just keep that in mind.