The American Heritage Dictionary defines a psychopath as “A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.” Clearly, this is an apt description of almost every activity that the Norse god Loki participates in, always the consummate trickster figure. Odin, father of the Aesir gods and their self-proclaimed king, displays a remarkably similar pattern of behavior throughout the corpus of Norse mythology, being an equally fickle and untrustworthy being. Loki is consistently depicted in a negative light as a chaotic enemy of civilization, whereas Odin is king of the Aesir, and therefore the ruler of the natural order. While Snorri Sturluson and some of the other Christian redactors are advancing a post-pagan agenda throughout the extant corpus, the Aesir are generally depicted as the “Good Guys”, the noble warrior-sages wearing white hats and fighting the dark forces of the giants. While Odin is their leader and chief wise man, he is often as chaotic and perverted as Loki in his actions, choosing first one side in a conflict, then giving the secrets of war to their enemies solely to gain more recruits for his massive army of the dead. He hides his name, changes his shape, is constantly drunk, and in general creates a mess of things rather frequently. Loki is introduced by Snorri (p. 26, Edda) with a litany of how infamously evil he is, accusations most of which can be said to apply equally to Odin, although the redactors usually praise the exact same traits in Odin. Snorri accuses Loki of being erratic in his behavior, a trait that Odin takes equal part in. Loki causes numerous problems for the gods, but he almost always comes up with the solution himself, while Odin needs his son Thor to clean up his messes with his straightforward approach to problems. Loki and Odin, while ostensibly diametric opposites, are in fact practically the same as beings of elemental chaos with little to no concern for anyone except for their close kin.
In “Gylfaginning”, Snorri sets the lens through which both Odin and Loki are to be viewed throughout the rest of the mythology. Odin is presented to Gylfi as an omnipotent force to be worshipped above all others, while Loki is shown as a chaotic and evil being contrary to all life. This can be viewed with a little skepticism as Gylfi is getting this story from Odin in three of his guises, leading to a slight bias towards the Aesir. Snorri is trying to demonstrate the falsity of the old pagan religion, but it is also possible that he is subtly drawing parallels between the king of the Aesir and the most vile of demonic Giants, to further re-enforce the superiority of his own Catholic religion. Every charge that he lays at Loki’s feet is in some way applicable to Odin. Even the spawning of weird monsters on a Giantess is not thoroughly un-Odinic in nature. Odin spawns both Vidar and Vali solely for vengeance, a monstrous activity if there ever was one. Thor’s mother is also possibly a Giantess, and from a Giantish perspective, nothing could be more monstrous than the murderous thunderer himself. As for the other charges, namely being capricious and cunning troublemaker, these traits are manifestly part of Odin’s personality as well. Loki is shown to be a resourceful problem solver, rescuing Idunn from Thiassi, procuring many useful artifacts from the dwarfs in recompense for his pranks, and aiding Thor on several of his journeys. In fact, the only bit of mischief that Loki doesn’t help to amend is that of Baldur’s death, which the text credits him with making final beyond all repairs. Odin, on the other hand, often creates problems that need an outside force, namely his son Thor, to come in and fix due to his daring exploits in the quest to obtain all knowledge. Odin is credited with the creation of the cosmos through the murder of his maternal grandfather, Ymir. But again, Snorri is telling us this isn’t really so and that this revelation to Gylfi all a trick being pulled on the gullible Swede, which puts Odin even lower than Loki in a moral context as Loki never claims powers of Cosmogenesis. Without the moral superiority of being the creative force of the universe, which Snorri undermines every chance he gets, Loki is no worse than Odin, who is recast as simply a tribal chieftain possessed of especial aggression and violence against his neighbors.
The ever-fickle Odin is accused by Loki of giving what he “shouldn’t have given, victory, to the faint-hearted” (Poetic Edda, p. 88). Odin doesn’t even bother responding with a defense of his choices in favor, but counters by recalling Loki’s act of ‘ergi’. This is a broad range of interlinked negative concepts in Norse culture, constituting deceitfulness, treachery, witchcraft, and worst of all the ultimate humiliation within medieval Icelandic society, being the passive partner in a homosexual act. Odin’s lack of effective counter-argument suggests that Loki is in fact right, and Odin gives victory to those who don’t deserve it because it suits some other ends of his, generally the procuring of the best of warriors for his einherjar army in preparation for Ragnarok, as shown in Eiriksmal in dialogue between Odin and Sigmund over why he robbed Eirik Blood-Axe of victory despite his worth in battle. The story of the Langobards, although not technically part of the Scandinavian corpus, points to an inconstant and changeable nature for Odin, as he is arbitrarily convinced of the worthiness of the Langobards to win because their women show up with their hair in front of their faces. There’s not exactly a strong case against Loki’s accusations of underhanded dealings with his followers.
Being a pervert, in the Icelandic concept of ‘ergi’, is a crime that Loki is most definitely guilty of, having given birth to Sleipner after having changed shape into a mare and engaging in intercourse with the stallion Svadilfari (Edda, p. 36-36). This is the ultimate act of ergi, but Odin is guilty of ergi on numerous occasions himself. He constantly lies about his true identity, a sneaky and cowardly thing to do by Norse moral standards, and part of the broader implications of ergi. His complete mastery of the magical arts of seidr manifest a deep and constant state of ergi, a charge which Loki makes directly to Odin in “Loki’s Quarrel” after Odin accuses him of another gender-bending childbearing experience on top of that of Sleipner:
‘But you once practiced seid on Samesey,
and you beat on the drum as witches do,
in the likeness of a wizard you journeyed among mankind
and that I thought the hallmark of a pervert.
This leaves Odin speechless, and he lets off to let the other Aesir have their turn arguing with Loki. Thus Loki beats Odin in a contest of words, the domain over which Odin had obtained mastery, the only such case I can find in the texts. Odin can’t honestly say that Loki is wrong in his accusations, and he also can’t defend his actions as being anything other than they are, blatant acts of ergi. Both Loki and Odin are depicted as perverted practitioners of unnatural magic. Since they are both blatantly guilty, the question of why Odin let Loki win the exchange arises. Since they are both guilty of ergi, why is it that Loki is allowed to keep on going, while Odin sits down with his tail between his legs? The answer is that what Odin did was even worse than Loki. Loki gave birth to Sleipner, and apparently three other children never named, which seems to be as bad as it gets. But Loki’s accusations are worse in that he can’t narrow it down to one or even two examples. The actions of ergi he accuses Odin of actually are consistent behavioral patterns that Odin never wavers from. He is always practicing seidr, like witches do, and he is always wandering among mankind in disguise as a wizardly figure. Brave and virtuous warriors fall in battle all the time due to Odin’s treacherous nature. He is just as guilty of being a beguiling Trickster as is his archenemy Loki, if not far more guilty.Though they are set up as polar opposites on the moral plane of Nordic myth, Loki and Odin are essentially equivalent in terms of their deeds as agents in the world. Both are users of perverted magic, which requires them to take on female roles contrary to the masculine ethos of Norse society. Both play tricks on people of the very cruelest kinds imaginable, leading to the death of many, and in Odin’s case to the creation of a vast army of the dead. The image in the Edda of Loki and Odin staring each other down from their high halls after the murder of Baldur does not depict two diametrically opposed figures representing good and evil, or order and chaos. They both are looking into a mirror, showing that they are both essentially the same, power-hungry and chaotic beings out to get the best possible advantage from every situation without regard for others, the dictionary definition of psychopaths.