turns out he was a shape shifting, gender changing god.Not to mention a backstabbing coward - not really the most flattering god from Norse mythology
Maybe not flattering. But readily recognized - and often respected in much the way you would a "worthy adversary."
Loki's role as a tempter, prankster, and manipulator is absolutely crucial in the framework of most mythologies.
There's always someone that needs to go around dissing the gods and generally screwing up the divine plan for things. How else could you account for why so many things always seem to go wrong in the world? Good thing we get somebody like Loki to blame when bad things happen. Because if we didn't, we'd have to blame Odin for either being incompetent or malicious.
And supreme deities, like Odin, usually didn't take too kindly to people feeling that way about them.
Similar mythic entities can be found in most cultures. Take a look at the North American Indian's Coyote
, the Aztec Huehuecoyotl
, the Hindu Krishna
(or even a certain well known serpent) to see the shape-shifting Trickster
in yet another of his/her/its many manifestations.
Lots more examples here if you're interested:http://en.wikipedia...._in_various_cultures