Before the Olymians there were the Titans. Before the Asir there were the Jotunn. And before the Tuatha de Danann there were the Fomorians.
These peoples war and marry each other. The Asir made love to Jotunfolk, the Tuatha married Fomorians wives. Even Thor, the great giant-slayer, loved and impregnated Jotun women. The different godly tribes became entwined, but no-one, not even the gods themselves, have forgotten these old genealogies, these ancient feuds. At least, so the written stories tell.
Our relationship with these other godly beings is often problematic. One need only think of the heathen controversies concerning the honouring or worship of Loki. Yet it seems that the Jotun, modernly called Rokkr, shadow gods, are more and more sought out by heathen and northern pagan practitioners. And Loki – even if his worship remains a big no-no among many Asatruar groups, which should be no big surprise since they call themselves that just that, loyal to the Asir – seems to have a great many devotees, perhaps more than some of the ruling Asir.
I find the concept of shadow-gods most intriguing.
Theologically, the presence of a groups of shadow gods seems to be of paramount importance. Their mere existence serves to show that no mythological system can ever be complete or perfect. There will always be an outsider, an outcast, someone who fits none of the traditionally accepted roles. As we have seen earlier this week, we Pagans are tempted by notions of clear-cut boundaries, of religions that are complete in themselves. I do not now think of Asatruar who wish to exclude Loki or his worshippers. I think of Sam Webster and his longing for religious purity. And I think of myself as a young teenager, trying to create the perfect little system with a god for each function and each festival, and certainly not too many of them. There is is value in creating order, but we should never confuse order with purity or perfection.
Loki is an interesting example of how an outsider who appears to work against order, still finds a place within the mythological framework. Jerold C. F. Frakes (1987) writes in Loki’s Mythological Function in the Tripartite System:
“He is a thief, a trickster, a foul-mouthed party-guest, and the ultimate nemesis of the gods. In each instance of these various levels of antagonistic behaviour, Loki manifests his essential mythological function as anti-function. And as such his role is necessary to complete the semiotic structure of the mythological system. For it is only by means of an anti-function that the functions, and by means of the margin and that which is marginalized that the centre, are ultimately delimited and defined.
In fact, it seems that Loki’s position is more controversial than that of his Jotunkin. For the other Jotun, even when they intermarry among the Asir, remain or appear to remain largely independent of the Asir order. Loki crosses this boundary, and his loyalties are divided, and it is this more than anything else that makes people distrustful or even hateful towards him.
For some Christians Judas plays a similar role. To many, he was an evil man trying to undo God’s work, but for others, Judas is necessary to the unfolding of the sacred story. Yes, I did just make a comparison between a (largely) Pagan story and a Christian one, I wonder what Sam Webster makes of that.
By now you are probably wondering, why did Soliwo call this article Fomorians if all she is going to do is talk of Loki. A just question! The Formorians, similar to the Jotun, serve as the shadow gods to the Tuatha Dé. Yet I find very few references that point to current worship of Fomorian gods. And I wonder why this is so.
There are of course two gods of mixed, Fomorian and Danann, ancestry: Lugh and Bres. Lugh, the master of all crafts, is the quintessential hero. Though he transends the three classic functions, he is in no way the anti-god Loki is. His dual ancestry makes him the figure best equipped to resolve the conflict between the two tribes or, depending on your view point, to end the status quo. Yet is Bres, ‘dutiful son’, who is made king after Nuada looses his are, interestingly at the insistence of the Tuatha women. And through the misdeeds of Bres, on whom all female hopes (and eyes, as he was most handsome) are pinned, the land is ruined.
“Both Lugh and Bres are half Fomoire, but whereas the former has a Fomorian mother and a Tuatha father, the latter has a Fomorian father and a Tuatha mother. Each in the event supports his father’s side against his mother’s. Whereas Lugh’s inferior connections are with crafts, those with Bres are of agriculture (…). But his niggardly behaviour is as discordant with the generosity of the third function as it is with the magnanimity of the king. In him, the negative, Formorian side is dormant.
(Alwyn & Brinly Rees, 1998, Celtic Heritage, p.144)
So it seems Lugh is combining the best of both worlds, while Bres is the corrupted one. Together they may combine Loki’s role as the player in the margins. But can Lugh, by himself, fulfil this role? As he becomes king, he no longer is the true outsider. He becomes the symbol of the Tuatha Dé? So if we throw out Bres or the Fomorii altogether do we not miss something important?
In this post I have focussed on the literary mythical system. We cannot know if Bres was ever venerated as a god, or whether he is merely a literary figure, but then, we cannot be sure that Loki was worshipped by our ancestors either.
These are the questions that linger in my mind. Do the Fomorians need another representative besides Lugh? Do they deserve further honouring in their own right? Of have they been absorbed into the Tuatha? Theologically, do we still need a supplement of shadow gods?