And Then There’s Farbauti: Thoughts on Loki’s Father

October 10, 2017 | Filed Under History, Things I Think About | No Comments

The subject of Farbauti came up on Tumblr in this post, and, well, I Have Thoughts.

Pull up a chair, choose a beverage, and let’s chat about Farbauti.

We know very little about him from the myths, as the few mentions are both fragmentary and filtered through the lens of the Christian scholars who wrote everything down after a gap of some centuries.

He is called “Cruel Striker”, which some take as an indication that he is associated with lightning. Why lightning? Lightning creates fire, which burns and destroys, but new life comes after the fire. With Loki’s mother Laufey, “The Leafy One”, we have lightning striking a leafy tree and creating wildfire, which destroys and begins a new cycle of life. That works pretty well, both on the material plane and as material for a myth. She is also sometime referred to as “Njal”, thought to be pine needles, which are equally combustible and would give the same result.

The myths say nothing about the relationship between Laufey and Farbauti, and do not explain why Farbauti was not involved in Loki’s childhood. Maybe it was Laufey’s decision, maybe it was Farbauti’s decision, maybe it was circumstance. Some people read the lighting strike by which Farbauti impregnated Laufey as sexual assault, in which case it’s understandable why Laufey wants nothing to do with him, and does not him near her son.

There’s also speculation that Laufey was not Jotun, but Asynja, which makes the pairing (whether mutually chosen or not) even more unusual. There are plenty of tales of Aesir and Vanir males pairing with Jotun females, but a conspicuous absence of instances of Jotun males pairing with non-Jotun females. This would underscore Loki’s otherness even more thoroughly; the discomfort others feel about him is not just that he is half-Jotun, it’s that he is half-Jotun in the wrong way. UPG abounds on this, and you may have some of your own.

Loki is known by a matronymic, unusually for a male of the Viking age. Why? Well, you’ll have to ask him. Perhaps to honor his mother, or to renounce his father, or some of both. If he is half-Jotun “the wrong way” and/or the child of a rape, he’s definitely going to distance himself from that. Who would want to carry the name of the person who assaulted their mother in such a horrible way?

For the Aesir, it’s probably actually worse if Laufey willingly entered into the relationship with Farbauti. While boys may be boys, and girls are permitted some freedoms, the men’s privileges are much more wide-ranging. That may be something that was different in the original myths, prior to the Christian filters being applied. (See also the slut-shaming of Freyja and the desexualization of Frigg. But that’s another post.) Until we get a time machine, however, we just don’t know, but we can make some educated guesses based on the social mores of the time. Women were permitted some sexual freedom in the Viking era, but of course the Christians couldn’t condone that sort of behavior, so we need to be aware of that bias as we consider the relationship between Loki’s parents as presented in the myths.

So, with not much to go on from the historical sources, and wildly varying UPG, Farbauti may seem like someone you don’t want to bother with, and so can easily dismiss.

However, as the Cruel Striker, Farbauti is also the unexpected and uncontrollable event which shatters our life and knocks us off our feet—the layoff from the job, the expensive and possibly incurable health problem, the natural disaster which destroys our home and injures or kills our loved ones. These things suck. They totally suck. That whole, “You are now free from what held you back! Grow! Re-create yourself and reinvent your life!” is some serious upside thinking that pisses me right off. It’s difficult to feel the elation of freedom when you’re also wondering how you are going to pay your medical bills, or where you are going to live because your house burned down, and are mourning the loss of your family.

These things are part of life. They are a sucky part of life, but they are part of life. You can’t control the event; you can only control how you respond to the event. Being angry, getting depressed, and acting out are not unreasonable responses to negative events. But you also need to deal with the situation, make decisions (never the easiest thing to do in times of extreme stress), and take action (which can be hard, either due to depression or overwhelm). But you have to deal with it, somehow, some way. And how you do that is up to you, and not for anyone else to judge (although people may try, and it’s perfectly reasonable to tell them to offer real assistance instead of useless advice, or else STFU).

He is there, every day, lurking around the corner in the car that’s going to collide with yours. He’s in the business plan at corporate headquarters to reduce costs by reducing staff, and your name is on that list. He’s the lightning that strikes the tree and burns the forest, or the tectonic plate that’s about to shift, and destroys your house. He’s in the cells of your body, that first rogue malignant cell that starts the tumor growing.

You don’t have to like Farbauti, but you do have to accept the reality of Farbauti.

Just like the reality of Fenris (we all have parts of ourselves we’d rather ignore than acknowledge), the reality of Hel (that we are going to die), and the reality of Skadi (life is not always fair), the reality of Farbauti—that some things will happen that are beyond our control—is also part of life.

Set your wards, watch your health, lock your doors, manage your money wisely, so that when Farbauti does come calling, you are as prepared as possible. You won’t be able to refuse it, ignore it, or change it, but you can do your best to be ready, and to meet the situation with strength and grace.

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