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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Odin's Associations in Myth and Magic

*Previously published elsewhere - see note below

The Norse god Odin is often depicted as a fierce warrior, but that is just one of his many attributes. This is partly due to the fact that his worship differed among the tribes of pre-Christian Northern Europe as well as the evolution of his character over time. He is complex and at times mysterious, a god of life and death, poetry and magic who can provide inspiration for various types of magic and ritual.

Odin as Creator, All-Father and Wish-Father

The Norse creation myth begins with two worlds of fire and ice. From the meeting of these worlds, Ymir is born. He is the primal giant who created the first gods. Odin and his brothers, Vili and Ve, slayed most of the elder gods and from the body of Ymir created the world of men called Midgard as well as the inhabitants of that world. Vili and Ve are often seen as personality aspects of Odin, and he has eventually become the most well known of the three.

Odhin by Johannes Gehrts
One of Odin's roles is as an All-Father or leader of the race of gods known as the Aesir. He ruled from his home in the realm of the gods known as Asgard. He presides over the Aesir as an organizer not as a judge like gods from other mythologies such as Zeus. Besides his fearsome aspects, Odin the Wish-Father is a granter of wishes and prosperity. He does tend to play favorites and enjoys granting the desires of those he favors.

Odin's Appearance and Symbols

Like gods from other pantheons, Odin can take on different guises to suit his purposes. Besides his virile warrior appearance, he is seen as an old, one-eyed man leaning on his staff and wearing a wide-brimmed hat covering half of his face. He has a long gray beard and wears a dark blue cloak.

He is often shown with his spear and two ravens, Hugin and Munin (sometimes translated to mean thought and memory), who keep him abreast of activities on earth. Other animals associated with him are:

  • The wolf which represents his ferocity.
  • The gray, eight-legged horse Sleipnir which may denote his psychopomp status.
  • He turned himself into a snake and eagle in search of the mead of poetry.

Another one of Odin's symbols is Ansuz which is the rune of communication and divine inspiration.

Odin's Association with War and Death

Odin is often depicted as a god of war in full battle regalia. Our modern term 'running berserk' comes from Odin's inspiration of the berserks in battle who were Scandinavian warriors with a fierce frenzy that seemed unstoppable. He bids his female warriors the Valkyries to grant victory in battle to those he chooses. In this way, he is the god of life and death.

He's also the psychopomp god who leads souls to Hel, the land of the dead and then brings the wisdom of the dead to the lands of the living. The blue color of his cloak mentioned above was a symbol of death in pre-Germanic culture. Indeed, his appearance in Norse lore in his old gray form usually precedes a death.

Odin as Mystic and Poet

Odin was a mystic and seer and god of poetry and magic. He used trickery to win the mead of poetry from the giant Suttung. The mead was said to bestow the gift of inspiration to any who drank it. Odin appeared as a serpent to Suttung's daughter whom he convinced to allow him to take three drinks from the mead. In doing so, he took all the mead with him as he turned himself into an eagle and flew away with the prize.

He's noted for bringing the runes, an ancient writing, divination and magic system to mankind. For nine days and nine nights he hung upside down on the World Tree and received the wisdom of the runes in return. He gave himself up for sacrifice to gain wisdom.

Honoring the Many-Faceted God

Odin is also a husband, lover, father and teacher. In Norse lore, which is rich with stories of his deeds and foibles, there are over two hundred names for him. Because of his long list of traits, this god appeals to modern followers with vastly different backgrounds. For this reason, he can be called upon in rites for purposes ranging from prosperity spells to shamanic journeys between worlds.

Sources:

© Trish Deneen

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[Note:  This is an original article by me that was first published at Suite 101.  Unfortunately, unscrupulous people have copied much of my work and posted it elsewhere.  Please rest assured that all of the content on this site is my original work unless otherwise noted.]
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