“O Lord of lords, O refuge of the worlds, please be gracious to me. I cannot keep my balance seeing thus Your blazing deathlike faces and awful teeth…
All the sons of Dhrtarastra along with their allied kings and all our soldiers are rushing into Your mouths, their heads smashed by Your fearful teeth. …
O Visnu, I see You devouring all people in Your flaming mouths and covering the universe with Your immeasurable rays. Scorching the worlds, You are manifest.
O Lord of lords, so fierce of form, please tell me who You are. I offer my obeisances unto You; please be gracious to me. I do not know what Your mission is, and I desire to hear of it.” Thus spoke Arjuna, the mighty warrior of the Mahabharata.
The Blessed Lord, said: “Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people.”
Bhagavat Gita, Chapter 11 (excerpt)
In the beginning of our friendship, I felt intrigued by and at the same time was a little weary of the complexity of Loki’s nature as underneath His charming, sly demeanour smothered intense power, similar to a volcano. Even so, Loki also embodied a vast stillness as well as compassion and love that radiated a warm feeling of safety. More than once I asked Loki who He really was. Mostly he would give me a childlike smirk and remain silent. Even though Loki can be very outspoken, He often prefers to convey information in a roundabout way, through stories and images, because He wants me to discover my own answers through meditation and contemplation. On one occasion though, Loki offered me a glimpse of something deep and vast, beyond my comprehension, and gave me a straight answer to said question:
“I am the Keeper of Time.”
“The keeper of time?” In reply He brought images of His three children to my mind: Jormungand, Fenrir and Hel. I asked Him to elaborate on this and He answered that these three represent aspects of Time, the destroyer of all things. I wished to know more, but He just left me to ponder over it.
A short while after, Loki did take me on a journey to meet two of His children – Fenrir and Hel. While being in Hela’s realm He also revealed a form of Himself that I had not encountered before – as the “conquerer of death”, He appeared as a God embracing His consort on a field of corpses surrounded by shrieking vultures. As I wished to know more about the conquerer of death, Loki nudged me to deepen my knowledge of Lord Shiva and His different aspects. Shiva is traditionally known by 108 names that relate to the God’s multifarious aspects. It did not come as a surprise to discover one of his manifestations is Mahakala (Lord of Time) and another one is Kalantaka (or Mritunjaya), the conquerer of death. What struck me was that Mahakala’s description/depiction matched perfectly the form that Loki had revealed to me in Hela’s realm (except that Loki did not appear in a “frightening” form with four arms and three eyes, but in the form that I am used to. The arms, eyes and weapons that Hindu deities are depicted with symbolise the powers of the deity described, rather than the actual appearance of the Goddess/God).
According to Shaktisamgama Tantra, the male spouse of Mahakali is the outwardly frightening Mahakala. Mahakala is described as having four arms and three eyes, and the brilliance of 10,000,000 black fires of dissolution. He dwells in the midst of eight cremation grounds, is adorned with eight skulls, holding a trident, a damaru, a sword and a kharpa in his hands. His is a beautiful body adorned with ashes from the cremation ground, seated on corpses he dallies with the beautiful Kalika (his consort), surrounded by numbers of loudly shrieking vultures and jackals in a deserted place.
Both Mahakala and Kali/Kalika represent the ultimate destructive power and are not bound by any rules or regulations. They have the power to dissolve even time and space into themselves and are responsible for the dissolution of the universe at the end of each age. They are also responsible for annihilating great evils and demons when other gods, Devas and even Trimurtis fail to do so. Mahakala and Kali annihilate men, women, children, animals, the world and the entire universe without mercy because they are Time in the personified form. Time is not bound by anything and Time does not show mercy, nor does it wait for anything or anyone.
As Kalantaka (or Mritunjaya) Shiva appears as the Conqueror of Time and Death itself. Both Kalantaka and Mahakala ultimately transcend bondage, not only from the material universe but also from the illusion of time. Thus they help us to transcend the most prominent fear of our finite existence – the fear of death – and also the concept of time. Shiva is ever-transcending and therefore He masters and controls time. There is another, even fiercer form of Shiva who I encountered when meditating on Fenrir and His connection to time, but it would be too lengthy to include this in this post.
While contemplating the term Keeper of Time, another God came to my mind, who is known as Shani in India – we know Him as Saturn or Kronos in the Western world. In India Shani is feared by people who wish to enjoy the pleasures of material life, while He is revered by spiritual seekers of the ultimate truth, because His influence and blessings free us from bondage and allow us to go beyond maya or illusion (Maya/illusion does not mean that our world is not real, it rather points out that we bind and limit ourselves by the thought patterns and beliefs we create. Saturn, Shiva, Loki and Rudra are all God’s who have the tendency to break these patterns and free us of our self-created illusions.)*
(In India) We all pray to the Cosmic Gods, “Please come and bless us, bless us.” But to Shani, or Saturn, we say, “Please, please, remain away from us, remain away!” He is also a god, but we pray to him to remain away from us. Why? Because Shani brings renunciation.
In India, people do not do anything sacred on Saturday (Saturnday), because they are afraid that Shani will cast his glance upon them. They feel that the best thing is to pray to other gods, “Please come and bless us.” To Shani they pray, “Please, please, remain away from us!”
This is our human desire. But Shani comes and gives us renunciation. He creates conditions of human hardship and imposes austerity on us. He even takes our dearest ones away from us. Ordinary human beings will find it hard to embrace this kind of deprivation. But when a seeker wants to reach the Highest, he asks Shani and Rudra, another cosmic god, to expedite the journey toward the transcendental Goal. He prays that they will do their divine work and cut all attachment. Shani and Rudra want us to be freed from the meshes of ignorance. That is why they constantly strive for perfection in and through us. It is precisely because we are fond of living in ignorance that we human beings are afraid of Rudra and Shani. (The dance of the cosmic Gods, Sri Chinmoy)
Shani is the son of Surya, and Suryaputra is also Shani’s name.
I found it remarkable that in one of the Tantric texts, there is a hymn to a God called Mahakala Shani Mritunjaya (Kalantaka), a personification of Lord Shiva that identifies Mahakala with Shani (Saturn) as well as Mritunjaya. In a conversation between the God and the Goddess, she desires to learn more about Him, and also reveals the virtue of His blessings:
The Goddess said, “Tell me about your special Mahakala form. Relate the hymn of praise to Shani Mrityunjaya, who gives freedom from time, bestows immortality, destroys untimely disease and give the Shani mantra particular to this hymn!”
In any description the Gods connected to Time are frightening and mostly feared by people. Shani and Rudra are even said to bring calamities upon those who are not ready or willing to give up attachment. In my experience Loki is just like that. He seems to be an inconvenient God, because He stirs up all those things that keep us in bondage. His “blessings” can be unpleasant, painful and chaotic. So most people would probably rather not have Him in their life. However, if we open ourselves to the Truth and cry for illumination of our limited existence, if we really long for the freedom of earthly bondage, then it is Loki, Shani, Shiva or Rudra who come to our aid. Because this is what Light does, it illumines old, outdated beliefs and illusions we carry about ourselves and the world. If you dwell in a dark room, unaware of what it holds, you might be surprised of what you find when somebody comes along and turns on the light. You might find your room full of rubbish and now, since the lights are on, you are forced to deal with it all. This is unpleasant for most of us.
In my experience, Loki is quick-witted and not willing to spend time with those who indulge in their own bondage. When Loki offers us a hand with the “clean up”, He expects sincerity and dedication, because He offers quick and radical transformation. His blessings can bring great freedom, but if not alert and on guard, they can throw your life into chaos and destroy you just as well. Sincerity can save you a great deal of trouble when dealing with Him, and when He offers His love and compassion, the blessings one receives are far greater than one could imagine.
*as well as their female counterparts, the manifestations of Adi Shakti, who are the most powerful forces when it comes to destroying human ignorance. The Goddesses Kali and Durga are revered and feared for these very reasons.