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While poking around the internets for this question in SciFi&Fantasy, I was reminded of one of my curiosities that had come about from watching the same film. After watching Kevin Smith's Dogma, my cousin mentioned something along the lines of Loki being actual Catholic dogma according to a friend of his.

I can't find any sources on the internet to confirm this. In fact CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA lists him in a paragraph describing the beliefs of 'Teutons and Celts' confusing me more, since I'm quite sure Celts had nothing to do with Loki. Wikipedia describes the blending of Christian and Norse belief systems in a short paragraph without giving any easy references to go off of.

I find it difficult to drop the idea because I find it a lovely example of Christian syncretism. I ask in the hopes that some of you may have had interesting discussions in catechism that would have covered this, or perhaps you know where to look better than I do, and can confirm or reject this.

Was the Norse mythological being Loki incorporated into the Catholic belief system, and if so, in what way?

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Nope. Occasionally some local deities are sybcretized into Catholicism, but there is no official status to Norse gods or any other Pantheon. –  Affable Geek Oct 29 '12 at 23:06
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As a Catechism teacher I get the "what about 'the gods'" question all the time, I think this question could be more useful if it didn't assume that the existence of Pantheism in a non-canonical encyclopedia had some bearing on Catholic doctrine. –  Peter Turner Oct 30 '12 at 0:12
    
@PeterTurner ce and wiki links are there to show the closest I came to an answer in my own research. In part I list them to show how incomplete/mistaken my 'best' internet references are (i.e. why I'm asking here). –  tugs Oct 30 '12 at 19:54
    
@tugs yeah certainly no criticism meant, it's an assumption that I'd assume is easy to make. –  Peter Turner Oct 30 '12 at 20:19
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Also, from the wiki page on syncretism, "The Catholic Church allows some symbols and traditions to be carried over from older belief systems, so long as they are remade to fit into a Christian worldview; syncretism of other religions with Catholicism, such as Voudun or Santería, is condemned by the Church." –  svidgen Dec 10 '12 at 15:39

2 Answers 2

The article you linked to is about magic and the occult, and speaks of magical concepts from many cultures, including Norse mythology. It mentions Loki only once, at the end of that section. In the very next paragraph, it says that "magic as a practice finds no place in Christianity."

From this, it seems pretty clear that Loki (and all the rest of the mythological figures mentioned in the article) are being used here as illustrative examples only, and don't hold any doctrinal significance in Catholicism.

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Is there a better source that we can reference? I worry about a dated perspective on history evident in small inaccuracies like the one I highlighted in my question. I also worry because of the hand-wavy reasoning in the author's arguments. I understand that if what I'm looking for doesn't exist, the answer could be in the hand-waving, but if possible I'd like a more official reference. –  tugs Oct 30 '12 at 20:31
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More to it, the whole tone of the article (from Catholic Encyclopedia) is from a Catholic perspective looking out at a foreign perspective in condemnation of beliefs and practices. –  svidgen Dec 10 '12 at 15:37

It is typically assumed that when similarities are found between Christianity and another religion, whether in myth, dogma, or practice, the flow of influence is syncretism into Christianity. This tendency is largely due to the many instances of Catholic hagiology appearing much like myths from earlier pagan times before Christianity had heavy influence over the area.

There is very likely some level of influence, however, it is Christianity that influenced myths about Loki.

The earliest Norse myths involving Loki portray a character that is certainly a trickster, but not malicious. There are many instances of Loki engaging in a good deal of intentional mischief, but also resourceful and helpful, giving inventions to humans, and eventually resolving his mostly harmless mischief. However, by the 10th century, after nearly 200 years of significant Christian influence, Loki's myths make him out to be a much darker character. In a myth involving a character named Baldr (who was certainly influenced by Christian depictions of Jesus), Loki is an evil specimen that murders Baldr out of jealousy.

When they capture Loki, he is held in a prison until Ragnarok (the Norse apocalypse that was also likely influenced by Christianity) and tortured by having a perpetual stream of snake venom drip into is face.

Loki's evil nature and jealousy (of a Christ like image especially) and his ultimate tortuous imprisonment was undoubtedly influenced by Christian perceptions of Satan. In Christian mythology, Satan is evil. And the eschatology revolving around him involves an eternity of torment, which is undoubtedly just for his heinous misdeeds against God, humanity, and the rest of creation.

This progression for trickster gods to take on a darker persona as the centuries pass is actually quite common (Satan in Job, for example, is not necessarily evil, but is certainly an accuser and adversary, but by Revelation he is patently evil). It is therefore expected that Loki would become more like Satan as Christianity influenced the Norse mythos, because Satan had already progressed into a personification of evil centuries earlier. Without Christian influence, Loki still likely would have become more evil and less trickster, so the rising influence of Christianity in Norse areas and Loki's conversion to an evil character may have been coincidental, however it does seem likely that Christianity at least hastened the process.


SOURCES

  1. Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages - "The parallels between Loki and Satan are striking but are for the most part Christian coloring of paganism rather than the opposite."
  2. The Trickster, the Devil, and an Ambiguous World - The Anthropik Network - "It’s fairly easy to divide stories about Loki into two historical categories: pre-Christianity, and post-Christianity."
  3. A Brief History of the Vikings - "By the [10th century], Loki had perhaps been influenced by several centuries of Christian lore, and was now seen as a far more devilish figure that he may originally have been."
  4. Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature - "Tales of Loki's evil and binding are clearly influenced by the later Christian identification of Loki and the Devil (tricksters, perhaps because of their profane character, are often equated with the Devil if their original culture is converted to Christianity)."
  5. Völuspá - New Advent - "Balder, the innocent god, is treacherously slain through the machinations of the wicked Loki." and "Christian influence is not only possible, but certain."
  6. Viking Religion - BBC History

NOTES

  1. A New Place for Loki, Part II on Polytheist.com states that "since Loki was a deity who I believe was originally responsible for carrying burnt sacrifices to the gods and freeing the souls of the dead via cremation, it is only natural that the Catholic Church would have found him particularly deplorable." There are many sources for the article, but I have not looked through them. There is a certain level of sense to the claim, but without vetting it, the source finds itself in the notes section instead.
  2. Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History states "The Norse God Loki [et al.] ... contributed to Elm's syncretic descriptions of Christmas custom." A different topic, but interesting.
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