GMC: Odin, the Nordic Allfather

Odin (Óðinn, Wotan, Wodan, or Odhinn) is the chief God of Asgard. Wednesday is named for Him (Wotan’s Day). There are many possible meanings of His name, including “Seer”odin-norse-god or “Prophet” and “Raging” or “Furious”. Wikipedia covers some of the history and alternative meanings here:

 

“The Old Norse theonym Óðinn …and its cognates, including Old English Wōden, Old Saxon Wōden, and Old High German Wuotan, derive from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic theonym *wōđanaz. The masculine noun *wōđanaz developed from the Proto-Germanic adjective *wōđaz, related to Latin vātēs and Old Irish fáith, both meaning ‘seer, prophet’. Adjectives stemming from *wōđaz include Gothic woþs ‘possessed’, Old Norse óðr, ‘mad, frantic, furious’, and Old English wōd ‘mad’.

The adjective *wōđaz (or *wōđō) was further substantivized, leading to Old Norse óðr ‘mind, wit, soul, sense’,Old English ellen-wōd ‘zeal’, Middle Dutch woet ‘madness’, and Old High German wuot ‘thrill, violent agitation’. Additionally the Old Norse noun æði ‘rage, fury’ and Old High German wuotī ‘madness’ derive from the feminine noun *wōđīn, from *wōđaz. The weak verb *wōđjanan, also derived from *wōđaz, gave rise to Old Norse æða ‘to rage’, Old English wēdan ‘to be mad, furious’, Old Saxon wōdian ‘to rage’, and Old High German wuoten ‘to be insane, to rage[1]‘.”

 

Odin is the grandson of the first Aesir, Buri. Interestingly, He is half Jötnar. His mother was a Frost Giant named Bestla, His father the Aesir Bor. He has two brothers called Villi and Ve. Odin is married to Frigga, the Queen of the Gods, and Their children are Balder and Hod. However, Odin had many lovers. His most famous child today, the thunder-God Thor, was not the Son of Frigga, but of a Jötnar woman named Fjörgyn. This would probably shock Marvel fans, because that means that Thor is ¾ Frost Giant! Odin had two other sons, Vidar and Vali, by two other Jötnar women.

Odin rides an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir, the offspring of Loki and a magical 220px-Del_av_hjälm_vendel_vendeltid_möjligen_odenstallion. (long story, and the focus of this post is Odin. Suffice it to say, some of the Nordic myths are a little messed up by modern standards, LOL). Odin has two ravens named Huginn, “Thought”, and Munin, “Memory”. They fly all over the world, and then they return to Odin and tell Him about all the things they have seen. Odin is also followed everywhere by two wolves named Geri and Freki, “the ravenous” and “greedy one”, who He feeds from His own table. According to Snorri Sturluson, the 13th century author of the Prose Edda, the wolves receive all the food from Odin’s table, because wine and mead is all Odin needs to live, it both meat and drink to Him.

Odin is a truly complex God. He cannot truly be pinned down to one label such as “King of the Gods” or “War God”, or although He is certainly both of those things. He shares the battlefield dead with Freyja, taking His half to His hall Valhalla. Odin leads the female spirits the Valkyries, getting the first pick of the slain. But He is also a God of healing, poetry, magic, knowledge and wisdom.

Odin had many names and titles, as many as 170 to 200. One of them was Gangleri, which means “Wanderer”. Odin wanders the earth because He is on a constant quest for more Odin_Chief_of_the_Aesir_Godsknowledge, particularly magical knowledge. Odin is in many ways the archetypal wizard, and some believe He may have inspired Tolkien’s Gandalf the Grey to some extent. His title Galdorfaðr, means “Father of Incantation” and Gandfaðr, “Who Works Magic With His Wand”. He is skilled at necromancy, the summoning of the dead, and divination. But Odin also practices a particular kind of magic called Seidhr, similar to shamanism, which was taught to Him by Freyja. This raises a lot of interesting connotations and questions. In Norse society, Seidhr was considered a womanly type of magic. While it was still practiced by both genders, there was a certain amount of scorn aimed at men who choose that path. At one point, Loki even taunts Odin about it, saying:

 

But you, they say, were on Sams Isle,
And drummed for the wights with the Völvas,
Like a wizard (vitki) through the world you passed,
which I thought was an unmanly (ergi) thing to do.
(Lokasenna: 24)

 

So, interestingly, despite popular culture depicting Him as a patriarchal God of the highest order, Odin is not only related to magic and wisdom, but specifically to women’s magic, women’s wisdom. And throughout the myths and sagas, time and again He seeks out powerful women to learn from. He seeks out the Jötnar, who are primordial beings of great power and wisdom, and sires several children with the giantesses who teach Him. Thor is among these children. Odin also consults the dead spirit of a witch known only as the Volva, from whom He learns many things, including the future and about Ragnarok and His death during it.

Odin famously has only one eye, described as “blazing like the sun”. His other eye He Odin_only_had_one_eyetraded for a drink from the Well of Wisdom, guarded by Mimir. Mimir, which means “the Rememberer” or “the Wise One” was the wisest of all Gods. In Norse mythology, a major theme seems to be that nothing of value is free, there is always a sacrifice to be made, even by Gods. Mimir’s well lay deep under the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree (Yggdrasil literally means “terrible horse”). Odin’s eye only bought Him one sip from the enchanted well, but with it came immeasurable wisdom and foresight to predict the future. Although I’m not sure what He gains from it, it seems that Mimir put the sacrificed eye from Odin into the well itself afterwards, according to this passage:

I know well, Odin, where your eye is hidden—
in the water of Mimir’s well. Mimir drinks mead
each morning from Valfather’s pledge. — Vóluspá 28, Chisholm translation

Odin also learned the secret of the runes by another painful sacrifice: hanging himself upside down from the World Tree. For nine days and nine nights He hung there, in agony, no food, no water, completely alone. It texts phrases it as “He made a sacrifice of himself to himself”, and after nine days He “fell screaming” to the ground. In a instant flash of insight, the secrets and power of the runes were revealed to Him. When He hung on Yggdrasil, Odin not only became the Master of the Runes, but Lord of the Ordeal as well.

 

Know that I hung on a windy tree

nine long nights,

wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,

myself to myself,

on that tree of which no man knows

from where its roots run.

No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn,

downwards I peered;

I took up the runes, screaming I took them,

then I fell back from there.

 

Odin is connected to kings, royalty, and sovereignty. Thinking of this, you would expect the Romans to connect Him to Jupiter, or to Mars, if the War-God aspect was His most important facet. But instead the Romans saw Him as a form of their own Mercury. But Odin, like Hermes or Mercury, is shapeshifter. He is not just the God of Kings, but the God of outcasts as well. He patronizes many different areas life (and death) and occupations, some things which seem completely unconnected in the modern mind.

 

The Germanic peoples, like other Indo-European peoples, originally had a three-tiered social/political hierarchy: the first tier consisted of rulers, the second of warriors, and the third of farmers and others occupied with production and fecundity. The gods and goddesses can be profitably mapped onto this schema, and Odin, along with Tyr, corresponds to the first tier, the rulers.[6] The crucial difference between Tyr and Odin in this regard, however, is that Tyr has much more to do with rule by law and justice, whereas Odin has much more to do with rule by magic and cunning. Tyr is the sober and virtuous ruler; Odin is the devious, inscrutable, and inspired ruler[2].

 

Odin is also the God of language, eloquence, poetry, and writers. The story of how this came to be is very complicated. He stole the mead of poetry from the giants. This mead has a strange history. Kvasir, the wisest being who ever lived, was formed from the saliva Odins_ravens_Huginn_and_Muninnof the Gods. But he was killed by dwarfs, who then mixed his blood with honey, which created the magical mead that gifted wisdom and the gift for poetry to whoever drank it. After a long chain and somewhat complicated chain of events, it came to be owned by the giant Suttang, who hid it inside the middle of a mountain. His daughter Gunnloð he appointed as the guardian of the mead and charged her with keeping it safe. However, Odin seduced her, and in exchange for three nights with her, she gave Him the three vats of mead. Odin then took the form of an eagle to fly the vats back to Asgard, from where He dispenses the mead of poetry to the Gods, humans, and elves that He deems worthy. This story is an interesting parallel to Freyja’s trade for the Brísingamen necklace, and the sexual trade on Odin’s part may have been something else that the Norse would have considered ergi, unmanly. The mead itself is called in Old Norse Óðrœrir, meaning “The Stirrer of Óðr”. Odr, in addition to meaning “mad, frantic, furious”, also means “ecstasy” or “inspiration”.  Odr is the root of Odin’s name, and also, as I mentioned before, the name of another mysterious God that is married to Freyja.

Combined with His many other faces, particularly in His role as psychopomp and God of the dead, it begins to become clearer why the Romans equated Him with their own Mercury. As I briefly mentioned before, Odin is a skilled necromancer, frequently consults the spirits of the dead to learn their secrets, and has the first pick of the battlefield slain.

I have heard Odin described as the God of Being. The Poetic Edda tells how Odin gave the first two humans soul or spirit, sometimes interpreted as the breath of life, while two other Gods, Hoedir and Lodur, gave them blood and senses.

 

Spirit they possessed not, sense they had not,

blood nor motive powers, nor goodly colour.

Spirit gave Odin, sense gave Hœnir,

blood gave Lodur, and goodly colour

 

With each breath we breathe Him in. Odin is the very life-force in side of us, the hunger in our souls for more, the desire for knowledge and passion for life itself. As Heathen Woman at Patheos puts it:

“Odin’s traits include very human characteristics including love, social demands, fallacy, 220px-Odin,_Sleipnir,_Geri,_Freki,_Huginn_and_Muninn_by_Frølichdefeat, passion, and other traits that are part of our daily lives. In other words, Odin not only understands what it’s like to be human, he fully embodies those qualities. For those who have come to heathenry through a Christian upbringing, it’s common to see Odin elevated to a Christ-like position because of lifelong associations of an all-knowing supernatural deity. There are major differences that need to be considered, however; while this kind of thinking may be a hard habit to break, it’s essential so that we are able to develop a personal connection to him from a heathen perspective[3].”

 

One last thing I want to say is that the original Norse peoples held onto their Pagan heritage much longer than many other native Europeans[4] – well into the 12th century, at least. And with Gods like these, who can wonder why? And who can wonder at how They have come alive again, inspiring new worshippers in a new era, scattered all over the globe.

 

 

*Besides my internet research, I read the Prose Edda and Galina Krasskova’s Whisperings of Wotan as part of my studies. I highly recommend the devotional practices in the later.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odin

[2] http://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/the-aesir-gods-and-goddesses/odin/

[3] Heathen Woman. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2014/02/heathen-woman-the-reality-of-odin/

[4] “In the 12th century, centuries after Norway was “officially” Christianized, Odin was still being invoked by the population, as evidenced by a stick bearing a runic message found among the Bryggen inscriptions, Bergen, Norway. On the stick, both Thor and Odin are called upon for help; Thor is asked to “receive” the reader, and Odin to “own” them.” From wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odin

 

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