At the end of the novel, Mr. World (Loki’s alter ego) orders Mr. Town to cut a stick from the ash tree on which Shadow was sacrificed, planning to throw the stick over the battlefield of the gods and dedicate all the carnage to Odin. The characters themselves see the stick as a symbol, self-consciously referencing that, as Loki says, the symbol is the thing it is supposed to represent. In a world where belief itself is a powerful force that can shape the physical world, symbols, like the ash stick, have the ability to change the world around them as if they were the very thing they represent. Though an ash stick is obviously not as dangerous or strong as a spear, the power of belief is so strong in this novel that a weak stick can become a spear when it is specifically chosen to stand in for that object. That means that, for Loki, the small stick of an ash tree really is a spear, and can do the damage that a spear can do. Any so-called symbolic action taken in the novel, as when Mr. Town pantomimes stabbing Shadow with the ash stick, has real consequences, such that Mr. Town’s fake poke creates a real wound in Shadow’s side. Laura, stealing the stick from Mr. Town, puts this idea to the ultimate test, using the stick to stab Loki in the chest and kill him as the stick literally turns into a spear capable of piercing Loki’s flesh.
On another level, the ash stick also represents Loki and Mr. Wednesday’s plan to double-cross all of the gods and use this battle for their own gain. No one except Loki actually knows what the stick is for, thinking that it is just an ordinary branch. Loki and Wednesday tend to use mundane objects for nefarious purposes, depending on the art of misdirection and false assumptions to keep their true agenda hidden. Their deception comes back to harm them, though, as Laura also uses the stick to further her plan for Shadow and disrupt Loki and Wednesday’s plot. The stick thus symbolizes how Wednesday and Loki hope to trick others to further their own power, but end up themselves the victims of this malicious plan.
The Ash Stick Quotes in American Gods
When he was opposite Shadow, he paused. "God, I hate you," he said. He wished he could just have taken out a gun and shot him, and he knew that he could not. And then he jabbed the stick in the air toward the hanging man, in a stabbing motion. It was an instinctive gesture, containing all the frustration and rage inside Town. He imagined that he was holding a spear and twisting it into Shadow's guts.
“It's never a matter of old and new. It's only about patterns. Now. My stick, please."
"Why do you want it?"
"It's a souvenir of this whole sorry mess," said Mr. World. "Don't worry, it's not mistletoe." He flashed a grin. "It symbolizes a spear, and in this sorry world, the symbol is the thing."