This has been hanging around in the back of my mind for about a year now. I took a crack at a draft earlier this year, to get some of my thoughts down; that draft has been sent to join its ancestors.
I was thinking over the Lokasenna, and the myth about Loki’s binding, and the various players in that myth, and I realized that another way of looking at it is about civilization’s attitude towards nature.
The Aesir are commonly seen as gods of civilization, whereas Loki is not only a Jotun, from the part of the pantheon where deities are aligned with primal natural forces and phenomena, He is (among other things) a god of change, which is one of the most fundamental natural forces there is. While there are other Jotnar who are accepted among the Aesir, Loki never seems to be as fully accepted among this civilization-oriented group of gods. He never becomes as civilized as the other Jotun-blooded deities who have Their place in Asgard.
As the myths have it, He insults all the deities at a feast, by pointing out various true but unflattering things about Their lives and behavior, behaving in a way considered improper enough that He is chased from the hall with violent threats, pursued, captured, and then bound in a way that ensures He will be tortured and driven mad – until the end of the world, when He will escape, and be on the side of the Jotnar, helping to bring about the end of the world.
Western civilization’s general approach to using natural resources is that they are there for us to “tame,” to use as we wish, when we wish, and if they don’t behave the way we want them to, we will do our best to make them, or to force onto them whatever it is we DO want to be there. Like trying to grow annual grain crops on the Great Plains, instead of respecting them as perennial grasslands; the outcome of that was the Dust Bowl.
For many decades, people have been raising warnings about impending ecological disasters of all kinds, and repeatedly been dismissed, or taken seriously only on relatively rare occasions. These warnings threaten our way of life, you see; they would impede progress, and slow down civilization. They are critiques of the foundational elements of our civilization, and people who say those unseemly things are generally ignored, mocked, and treated as though they do not belong among those who are running civilization.
Some interpretations of the myths say that Ragnarok is the inevitable result of the gods of Asgard ignoring Loki’s criticism – that instead of accepting His accusations, and making changes to live up to higher standards, They ignore Him, lock Him away where He can’t point out any more inconvenient truths, and torture Him. Eventually, this contributes to the destruction of Their world, from which will arise a new world, with new inhabitants and new gods.
This pattern seems to play out with many people in their current interactions with Loki. That is, if they ignore His suggestions to make changes in their lives, ignore painful truths He points out, eventually things break in really unpleasant ways, and the change happens anyway.
The moral of the stories here is that big, unpleasant change is often the outcome of ignoring earlier suggestions to make less painful, more gradual changes.
Thanks to ignoring many, many exhortations to change how we interact with the planet, we might be going through a kind of Ragnarok right now – or about to see it happen – as natural systems collapse or transform into wildly different behavior, and that on the other side of these impending catastrophes, the world will be unrecognizable to those of us alive today.
Treating nature like it can be bound, acting as though it can be kept within our rules and made to behave properly, and ignoring repeated evidence that our approach is a problem, has gotten us to a situation where, from our perspective, nature is going mad and threatening to destroy our world (the human world, that is; the planet will keep going, after all).
I don’t believe that the myth as written down hundreds of years ago was intended to be prophetic or interpreted this way. But I am bitterly amused at its relevance to very real-world situations.