Let’s start with this –
I am not the witch Pope. I cannot speak for the witchcraft community
as a whole; only for my own tradition.
5 Things I Believe
Beginner Witches Should Ask Themselves
Note that the answers to these things
will change, but that a firm grasp of the answers at any point in
your practice may be helpful to you. I recommend actually writing
your answers down, and every now and again check back and see if your
stance has shifted.
1. Is magick real?
If yes, then what do you mean
when you say, “Magick is real”. (Do you mean that you can effect
reality with your will, intent, and energy? Do you mean like, Harry
Potter real? What will disappoint you to realize might not be
probable? What will inspire you to realize you can accomplish?)
2. Where are your lines? (What do
you firmly believe is true/false, right/wrong? Violence, doing harm,
controlling others, etc. Would you punch someone if they threatened
a friend? Would you curse someone if they threatened a friend? What
would you do, if your coven head told you it was right but you felt
it was wrong?)
3. What are you looking for in a
magickal path? (Pro Tip – no one has all the answers and there is
no one right way.)
4. What are you prepared to do in
order to accomplish your goals? (How many spoons do you have to give
this practice? Can you devote one night a week, are you going to
randomly pick stuff up on Tumblr, are you going to leave society to
pursue your studies under a waterfall, etc.)
I recommend that no one make any oaths
or vows in their first year of practice. Get to know yourself, how
you feel about magick, and what you actually want to do before you do
any big commitments. (Historic anecdote – this is what the original
year and a day was for.) More strident, but still personal,
recommendation: if someone tries to get you to oath to them within
your first week of being a witch, run.
Things People Should
Tell Beginner Witches, But Often Don’t
1. Don’t be afraid to change your
2. Don’t throw good energy after
bad by continuing to do something that isn’t right for you.
3. Don’t be afraid to continue your
education, even if that means learning something that was right for
you before is no longer right for you.
4. There is no one right way to do
this. There is no Witch Pope - there is no dogmatic enforcement of
the path to being a witch.
5. There are absolutely as many
assholes in Paganism and witchcraft as there are anywhere else.
Don’t think that these people are all spiritually enlightened beings
who mean you well and who will give good advice.
6. Yahoo Answers
is not your friend. You have the internet – which has access
to both all of human information and all of human misinformation.
Look for credible sources. Anything that seems too easy or too good
to be true probably is. Work on critical thinking.
7. Try Scholar.Google.Com over
“this article says so on Patheos.com.” Seriously, recently an
article on there claimed Friday the 13th was a sacred
holiday in goddess centered pre-Christian Paganism before the
patriarchy ruined it. There is no
historical validation for that, but a bunch of witches reblogged
it. (Things you learn from scholarly sources rather than the latest
poorly edited Llewellyn mess: the Burning Times didn’t happen,
different kinds of Pagans warred amongst themselves long before
Christianity came onto the scene, there was no great unified Pagan
religion before Christianity, and Gerald Gardner was probably lying
about almost everything he said.)
You Should Probably
Learn the Difference Between Paganism, Wicca, and Witchcraft
What is Paganism?
Pagan is an umbrella term for a member
of a religious, spiritual, or cultural community, other than those of the main world religions, so:
Non-Abrahamic – it is not Christian,
Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, or Mormon
Non-Eastern – it is not Buddhism,
Hinduism, Taoism, Sufism, or Sikhism
Theistic – The belief in some kind
of divine power, which is sometimes polytheistic (a belief in more
than one god), but not always
Some Pagans practice witchcraft –
others do not.
This definition isn’t quite right, though it’s in hugely common usage, because there are Abrahamic and Eastern
persons who consider themselves Pagan. Keep in mind that there will be
exceptions to this definition and that those exceptions are valid.
There are also secular Pagans, so it
isn’t even always Theistic. I know – it’s complicated. Though this is the largely accepted Academic definition, it doesn’t really work when applied to the real world, if you’re considering someone saying, “I’m Pagan” as a self-identifying definition, which I do.
Wicca is a religion. Most people
consider Wicca as falling under the Paganism umbrella, although not
all Pagans are Wiccan. Not all Wiccans are witches, and not all
witches are Wiccan.
Wiccan is generally defined as:
Dualistic – There is a God and a
Pacifistic – Wicca has a rede that
requires Wiccan do no harm to themselves or others, though not all
Wiccans (such as those who follow Doreen Valiente’s suggested
guidelines) are Pacifistic, so there are definitely exceptions to
Earth-based – Having a respect for
and acknowledgment of the powers of the Earth
spiritual or secular art,
craft, and/or practice
of the witch, defined many ways by many different people.
witch is a witch who says they are one.
there is no witch Pope and no witchy excommunication because you
define yourself as a witch differently than someone else does.
male identifying and/or presenting persons can be witches.
and Witch Fallacies
There are certain ideas that most
beginners in the witchcraft community will encounter over and over
again. I’m going to run down some things – with the reminder,
again, that I can only speak for my personal tradition.
1. “You should remove all negative
influences from your life! You should purge all negative feelings! Be
positive all the time!” Not everything that is negative is bad.
Not everything negative can be avoided – we can’t all just quit
our jobs and live in a witch shack in the mountains. We have to
endure negative things, both because it is healthier to experience
the full range of human emotion rather than to ignore a large chunk
of it, and because it isn’t possible. What we should do is stop
victim blaming witches who are going through hard times and stop
telling witches they can’t be angry when they encounter something
that should be angering.
2. “But, tradition!” Just
because an affluent white guy in the 1400-1600s said something,
doesn’t mean you should do it. We don’t follow their medicinal advice
anymore; we don’t have to follow their magickal advice either.
Seriously, I don’t care if tradition says a trans woman shouldn’t
be in a sky clad ritual – that’s bullshit. We don’t put leeches
on our bodies anymore – let’s leave the past nonsense where it
3. “We have to make sure everyone
feels included and welcome!” Not
if they abuse the welcome of others, we do not. The
problem with making some people feel included and welcome is that you
make their victims feel excluded and unwelcome because you’ve made
“We have to support each other and love each other and be
a positive force in people’s lives.”
Okay, yes, in small doses, this is a great aim. It doesn’t work for
everyone (some witches are spite and malice fueled and they are still
witches), but okay, it’s a nice idea. Until it becomes ableist or
demands free emotional labor from people, which
it often does.
“We have to educate them!”
Okay, it’s great that there is this effort in the community to
educate others. But if you don’t have the spoons or if it seems
like they’re using the demand for their own education as a way to
still have access to a community they are abusing, then no, you have
no obligation to put their education over your well being. None. They
have access to Google (even if they have to go to a library to use
6. “You have to earn your right to
be a witch.” No, no you don’t. Seriously, though, from whom?
Dusty white men in graves? A Llewellyn author who couldn’t fact
check themselves out of a paper bag? Again – no witch Pope. I’m
just gonna keep pointing out the lack of a witch Pope until people
7. “You have to be ________ rank,
degree, etc. to have an opinion on this topic.” Yeah, okay,
I’ll be sure to wave my certificate in your face before having an
opinion on my own tradition. No. Your opinion may
be an uneducated one and you may be corrected for it, but that
doesn’t mean that you didn’t have the right to it before you
completed your O levels at Hogwarts.
a corollary to above, “This is just my opinion and you
can’t be mad at me for it!” People
absolutely have a right to their opinions. And everyone else the
right to decide those opinions make them an asshole.
“I’m super special and powerful because xyz, which
means I get to tell you what to do.”
People only get to tell you what to do if you let them. Sometimes,
that’s an exchange we willingly make, but other times, people will
feel they have the right to tell you what to do because they are a
hereditary witch or because they’ve been practicing longer. Just
remember – their position doesn’t trump your humanity and you
don’t have to kiss the feet of someone who kicks you.
“The person really wants _____ from you, and you should
help them on their path. Helping them on their path helps you on
yours!” Just because
someone wants something from you, doesn’t mean they get it. Being a
witch doesn’t take away your right to say no.
Please remember that you don’t have to
earn your right to be here. This one is tricky on some level – to
be the respected person in your community, you need to put in your
time. However, in order to be part of a group you don’t need to give the High Priest a blow job (seriously, run).
You don’t have to earn admission to witchcraft, but
you do have to earn specific positions and other people’s trust. If you teach people not to trust you
through your actions, they won’t trust you.
So in pre-Christian Finland the bear was a significant figure in spirituality. It was considered the embodiment of the forest deity Tapio, as well as closely related to humans because it can stand on two legs and kind of has a similar shape as people (and its footprint looks like the footprint of a giant baby). The bear’s natural behaviour was used to mark the different times of the year, for example mid-winter was “the day the bear turns over onto its other side during its hibernation”, etc.
Because of this reverence, the name and image of the bear were taboo. In cave paintings you see all other sorts of animals represented but never the bear, and there are thousands upon thousands of nicknames and euphemisms to use to refer to bears so you won’t have to use the name. The idea was that if you use the name or create the image, it will summon the animal (which is obv. very dangerous).
So the new thing I learnt today is that the Finnish word for bear, karhu, is one of these euphemisms, it refers to the rough/coarse (karhea) fur of the animal. And we don’t actually know what the word for ‘bear’ was originally. It was so taboo that it was never used, and now we have lost it forever.
The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals, observed by many modern Pagans. It consists of either four or eight festivals: either the solstices and equinoxes, known as the “quarter days”, or the four midpoints between, known as the “cross quarter days”.
The festivals celebrated by differing sects of modern Paganism can vary considerably in name and date. Observing the cycle of the seasons has been important to many people, both ancient and modern, and many contemporary Pagan festivals are based to varying degrees on folk traditions.
In many traditions of modern Pagan cosmology, all things are considered to be cyclical, with time as a perpetual cycle of growth and retreat tied to the Sun’s annual death and rebirth.
Yule/Winter Solstice: a festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples, later undergoing Christian reformulation resulting in the now better-known Christmastide. A celebration the beginning of longer days, as this is the shortest day of the year in terms of sunlight.
Imbolc: the first cross-quarter day following Midwinter this day falls on the first of February and traditionally marks the first stirrings of spring. It is time for purification and spring cleaning in anticipation of the year’s new life.
For Celtic pagans, the festival is dedicated to the goddess Brigid, daughter of The Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
Among witches reclaiming tradition, this is the time for pledges and dedications for the coming year.
Ostara/Spring Equinox: from this point on, days are longer than the nights. Many mythologies, regard this as the time of rebirth or return for vegetation gods and celebrate the spring equinox as a time of great fertility.
Germanic pagans dedicate the holiday to their fertility goddess, Ostara. She is notably associated with the symbols of the hare and egg. Her Teutonic name may be etymological ancestor of the words east and Easter.
Beltrane: traditionally the first day of summer in Ireland, in Rome the earliest celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries.
Since the Christianization of Europe, a more secular version of the festival has continued in Europe and America. In this form, it is well known for maypole dancing and the crowning of the Queen of the May.
Litha/Summer Solstice: one of the four solar holidays, and is considered the turning point at which summer reaches its height and the sun shines longest.
Luchnassad/Lammas: It is marked the holiday by baking a figure of the god in bread and eating it, to symbolize the sanctity and importance of the harvest. Celebrations vary, as not all Pagans are Wiccans.
The name Lammas (contraction of loaf mass) implies it is an agrarian-based festival and feast of thanksgiving for grain and bread, which symbolizes the first fruits of the harvest. Christian festivals may incorporate elements from the Pagan Ritual.
Mabon/Autumn Equinox: a Pagan ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and the God during the coming winter months. The name Mabon was coined by Aidan Kelly around 1970 as a reference to Mabon ap Modron, a character from Welsh mythology. Among the sabbats, it is the second of the three Pagan harvest festivals, preceded by Lammas / Lughnasadh and followed by Samhain.
Samhain: considered by some as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets, and other loved ones who have died. In some rituals the spirits of the departed are invited to attend the festivities. It is seen as a festival of darkness, which is balanced at the opposite point of the wheel by the festival of Beltane, which is celebrated as a festival of light and fertility.
My God, my God, have mercy on my sin,
For it is great; and if I should begin
To tell it all, the day would be too small
To tell it in.
My God, Thou wilt have mercy on my sin
For Thy Love’s sake: yea, if I should begin
To tell Thee all, the day would be too small
To tell it in. - Ash Wednesday, Christina Rossetti
The Prodigal Son, published 1864, John Everett Millais & engraved by The Dalziel Brothers
The burning of Morena in the Slovak movie Rok na Dedine, 1967
Morena, also called Marzanna and Morana, is a straw-made effigy and the main character in a series of rituals practiced by West Slavs, namely Slovaks and Poles, at the end of winter. She is considered the incarnation of the pre-Christian Slavic goddess of winter and death going by the same name. It is believed that the goddess Morena was considered a death-rebirth deity by the Slavs, associated with various myths but almost always linked to Jarilo; her husband hailed as the god of vegetation, fertility, and spring, and who as well was seen as a death-rebirth deity. The sacrificial death of Morena brought upon the resurrection of Jarilo, which is why to this day West Slavic people burn and drown an effigy of Morena in hopes of ending a harsh winter and introducing a bountiful and fruitful spring.
Are there any symbols used specifically for Loki with historical proof?
Velkomin(n), vinur minn, (Welcome, my friend,)
Archaeological records are not exactly my forte, but it does not seem that there are any symbols that were explicitly used for Loki (at least out of those that have turned up in the archaeological record, that is). By that I mean that there are a few possible depictions of Loki (especially of his binding story), but it does not seem that there was a symbol worn in honor of Loki quite like there was for Thor with Mjölnir. Furthermore, most of the examples that I have located, and that I am going to share with you momentarily, have room for debate in regards to their intended subject matter. Even so, many of these depictions of Loki come fairly late in the Viking Age, after Loki’s image had begun to intertwine with that of the Christian devil.(1)
THE GOSFORTH CROSS:
THIS EXAMPLE YIELDS the most secure depiction of Loki, at least out of the examples that I was able to locate. Yet, even so, this depiction is on a Christian cross. Although containing a substantial amount mythological scenery, they “appear to have been deliberately chosen because they can be presented in accordance with Christian teaching also.”(2) This may be troublesome for people looking for a symbol to ‘revive’ in Loki’s name. Furthermore, even though depicting an older tale, it is generally considered to be a negative tale from a pro-Loki perspective.
Here is the image of a bound Loki on this cross (I have rotated the image):
Here is the tale from the Prose Edda that this portion of the cross presents:
“Now Loki was captured without quarter and taken to a certain cave. Then they took three stone slabs and set them on the edge and knocked a hole in each slab. Then Loki’s sons Vali and Nari or Narfi were fetched. The Æsir turned Vali into the form of a wolf and he tore his brother Narfi to pieces. Then the Æsir took his guts and bound Loki with them across the three stones — one under his shoulders, one under his loins, the third under the backs of his knees — and these bounds turned to iron. Then Skadi got a poisonous snake and fixed it up over him so that the poison would drip from the snake into his face. But his wife Sigyn stands next to him holding a basin under the drops of poison. And when the basin is full she goes and pours away the poison, but in the meantime the poison drips into his face. Then he jerks away so hard that the whole earth shakes. That is what you call an earthquake. There he will lie in bonds until Ragnarok.”(3)
In the image above, all of these details can be seen depicted in a carved from. Loki is shown bound in three places, a snake is above his head, and his loving wife stands beside him holding a basin. The Gosforth Cross is considered to be among the “oldest remaining monuments from the Norse colonies in north-western England,” and is roughly dated to approximately 930–950 (although this dating may now be an outdated claim).(4) A.B. Cook has interpreted this scene, in a fairly middle-grounded approach, as being a parallel between Christian and ‘pagan’ tales, whereby Loki being bound is equated to Satan being bound.(5) This is not to say that Loki is a naturally demonic figure, but rather to explain Loki’s presence on a Christian cross. Regardless of purpose, this image does indeed come from a pre-Christian tale about Loki, and thus is a fairly secure representation of Loki in a historical, visual context.
THE KIRKBY STEPHEN STONE:
THIS EXAMPLE holds room for debate. Some scholars align it with the imagery expressed in the Gosforth Stone, that the bounded figure presented here, likely the Devil, simultaneously invokes a sort of ‘pagan’ imagery that associates it with Loki. Yet, more recent studies have suggested otherwise. John Mckinnell, for example, agrees with Bailey that this “iconography has nothing in common
with that on the Gosforth cross nor with such pictures of the bound Satan
as those in the manuscript of Junius 11.”(6) Given the inherit insecurity of this example, then, it is most definitely not as secure of a depiction of Loki as scholars had previously thought it to be. Furthermore, it is more likely that this is not Loki, then, but rather a more straightforward depiction of Satan. Still, it is worth including, for it serves as a good example for just how troublesome deciphering these images can truly be.
THE SNAPTUN STONE:
PERHAPS MORE SATISFYING is the Snaptun stone, which was found in Denmark, unlike the previous examples which were found in England. This stone, dating to around 1000 CE (still near the end of the Viking Age), features a face that has a pair of lips with four perpendicular lines etched through it. It is this physical trait that has linked the image to Loki, for Loki’s lips were stitched in a tale recounted in the Prose Edda:
“But when Brook tried to catch him (Loki), he was far out of reach. Loki had some shoes with which he could run across the sky and sea. Then the dwarf (Brokk) told Thor to catch him, and he did so. Then the dwarf was going to cut off Loki’s head, but Loki said that the head was his but not the neck. Then the dwarf got a thong and a knife and tried to pierce holes in Loki’s lips and was going to stitch up his mouth, but the knife would not cut. Then he said it would be better if his brother Awl was there, and as soon as he spoke his name the awl was there, and it pierced his lips. He stitched the lips together, and tore the edges off. The throng that Loki’s mouth was stitched up with is called Vartari.”(7)
And here is an image of the stone itself:
This stone has been identified as a hearth stone, and thus would have had a function associated with fire within the household.(8) Interestingly enough, if this stone was indeed used for the purpose of maintaining a hearth’s fire, its very function would reflect the story from which the reference to Loki may derive. Brokk, after all, was a dwarf and smith — a dealer in fire. This is my own conjecture, but it is worth pondering, nonetheless.
LESS SECURE POSSIBILITIES:
THERE ARE A FEW OTHER OBJECTS worth mentioning here, although they are most definitely not concrete examples of symbols used for Loki by any means. Many people will see what they want to see, so we must take delicate care in interpreting them. The following objects are often reproduced as pendants. Some people already associate these images with Loki, although there is no proof of this being the case. Interpret these as you will, but keep in mind the insecurity that is inherently bound to these images.
The first of these is often called the Gripping Beast Pendant, and there are several variations of these. The one shown below is in the Borre-style, and it dates to roughly the tenth century. It was made in Scandinavia, but found in England. Some people have associated this with Loki’s binding story, which we have recounted above. It is possible that this is an abstract representation of that story, but there are no direct indicators (such as Sigyn and her basin) to make this interpretation more secure. The safest interpretation is that this pendant represents a tangled beast, and not necessarily Loki, especially since intertwining animal motifs are quite common in Scandinavian art.
Here is the description of this object from the British Museum:
“Cast silver open-work pendant with a a Borre-style design of a gripping beast inside a frame further decorated with four protruding animal heads. Suspension loop with central ridge and double median groove. The back of the pendant is undecorated. Small areas of gilding and niello are in evidence on the surface of the pendant.”(9)
Other examples are equally insecure and even have multiple interpretations associated with them. There is a ‘mask’ from Gnezdovo that dates to roughly the tenth century, but some say it could be Odin. It bares similar resemblance to the Snaptun Stone, but there are no stitched lips, which was the only solid ‘evidence’ for it to be Loki in the first place. There is also a winged figure that was found at Uppåkra (Sweden) from the same century, but some believe it may be depicting Völund the Smith,(10) although others have suggested that it could be Loki borrowing Freyja’s falcon ‘dress’, which has been told in the Prose Edda (and in the Poetic Edda, of course):
“Being filled with terror, he (Loki) said he would go in search of Idunn in Giantland if Freyja would lend him a falcon shape of hers. And when he got the falcon shape he flew north to Giantland and arrive one day at giant Thjassi’s; he was out at sea in a boat, but Idunn was at home alone. Loki turned her into a nut and held her in his claws and flew as fast as he could. When Thjassi got home and found Idunn was not there he got his eagle shape and flew after Loki and caused a storm-wind by his flying. And when the Æsir saw the falcon flying with the nut and where the eagle was flying, they went out under Asgard and brought there loads of wood-shavings, and when the falcon flew in over the fortification, it let itself drop down by the wall of the fortification. Then the Æsir set fire to the wood-shavings and the eagle was unable to stop when it missed the falcon. Then the eagle’s feathers caught fire and his flight was ended. The the Æsir were close by and killed the giant Thjassi within the As-gates, and this killing is greatly renowned.”(11)
Depending on how well-known this story was, it is possible that this object could have been made to reference it. Yet, no matter the likelihood, there is always room for doubt. Although I personally am not as familiar with his story, it still seems more likely, and more agreed upon, that this is Völund the Smith, and not Loki. Here is an image of this object, nonetheless:
ARCHAEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION seems to be a bit of a challenge, especially when there are not always definite physical indicators to work from. It does not help, of course, that I am not a socialist in archaeology by any means. I am far more familiar with literature. Besides, Loki’s physical appearance can vary tremendously; he is, after all, a shapeshifter. He could appear in numerous forms without us necessarily being able to recognize the subtle hints right away (even then, who decides that we are correct in our assumptions anyway?).
To answer your original question, then, there are very few historical representations of Loki with absolute proof; there is always some sort of doubt. Many of these images can, however, be used to build upon. History only provides us with what survives, but, in working with those fragments, new efforts can be made within reason. Meaning is distributed by society (and even the individual), and meanings can change over time. Being historically responsible, though, means making sure that we know the original intention behind a work of art. It would be irresponsible, historically speaking, to project a new interpretation upon an image that was never meant to have such meaning. In short, it is quite difficult work to be confident in our effort to find historical representations of Loki.
I hope my answer has been helpful, although it is definitely not my strongest. There is definitely plenty of room for more academic work in learning more about historical representations of Loki, but such an area is just not my personal destination. If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to send them my way. I would be more than happy to continue discussing this topic with you, if you’d like.
Með vinsemd og virðingu, (With friendliness and respect,) Fjörn
ENDNOTES: 1. H.R. Ellis Davison, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe (repr., 1964; London: Penguin Books, 1990), 176-77. 2. Ibid., 179. Fig.1. A part of the Gosforth Cross showing, among other things a figure with a horn above a bound figure, usually interpreted to be Loki and Sigyn from Norse mythology. Reproduction by Julius Magnus Petersen, published in 1913. Wikimedia Commons. (Edited – Image has been rotated). 3. Snorri Sturluson, Edda, translated by Anthony Faulkes (repr., 1987; London: Everyman, 1995), 52. (Free version available via the Viking Society for Northern Research). 4. Knut Berg, “The Gosforth Cross,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 21, No. ½ (Jan. - Jun., 1958), 28. 5. Ibid., 29. 6. John Mckinnell, “Norse Mythology and Northumbria: A Response,” Scandinavian Studies Vol. 59, No. 3, Anglo-Scandínavían England (SUMMER 1987), 331. Fig.2. Captioned as “The Bound Devil. Kirkby Stephen.” Plate before page 217. The stone features a depiction of a bound, horned figure, sometimes theorized as the Norse deity Loki. Wikimedia Commons. 7. Snorri, Edda, Faulkes trans., 97. Fig.3. The Snaptun stone, possibly depicting Loki. Housed at the Moesgård Museum near Århus, Denmark. Wikimedia Commons. (Edited – Image turned black and white for clarity). 8. Hans Jørgen Madsen, “The god Loki from Snaptun,” in Oldtidens Ansigt: Faces of the Past (Jysk arkæologisk selskab, 1990), 180. Fig.4.Borre-Style Silver Pendant, British Museum Online Collection. 9. Description provided by the British Museum Online Collection. 10. Michaela Helmbrecht, “A Winged Figure From Uppåkra,” Fornvännen; 2012 (107):3, 171. 11. Snorri, Edda, Faulkes trans., 60. Fig.5.Pendant from Uppåkra, likely Völund the Smith.