Odin's Journey for the Runes

The Norse god Odin is known for his traits both praised and loathsome. He ruled Asgard, the realm of the gods, and is called the All-Father, he who made the worlds with his two brothers, Vili and Ve. He also plays a major role in Northern European lore as the god who received the runes by his own shamanistic death journey.

Odin as God of Death

He is known as a battle god not so much for fighting but for choosing which warriors are to be slain. In this sense, he is a god of death and a psychopomp leading souls through the worlds. Many times though the Valkyries performed this task in his name. He was loved as a giver of wealth and good fortune yet feared for his association with death.

Odin as God of Communication and Magic

H.R. Ellis Davidson in Gods and Myths of Northern Europe links Odin's death aspect with his role as a god of magic. He brought forth the runes used in writing and spellcraft. Galdor (also spelled galdr) is the combination of poetry and rune carving both of which Odin is a master of.

Odin's Sacrifice on Yggdrasill for the Runes

Sacrifices were common to the god in the form of piercing and hanging the sacrificed from a tree. However, Odin expected no more from his worshipers than he did from himself. In order to learn the wisdom of the nine worlds (the heathen concept of the otherworld), he pierced himself with a spear and hung from Yggdrasill, the World Tree.

Yggdrasill itself is at the middle of the worlds. Midgard is the physical realm. At the bottom of the tree is Hel, the land of the dead, which contrary to the similarity to the word for the Christian Hell was not necessarily a place for sinners.

Davidson likens Odin's act of self sacrifice to a trance journey through the land of the dead such as shamans of other cultures took to gain wisdom, though modern scholars and heathens hesitate to call the Norse a shamanic culture. Through pain and deprivation he sacrifices himself to himself to gain initiation into the mysteries he seeks.

In the Auden and Taylor translation of the Havamal, a poem through which Odin purportedly speaks, he tells us:
"Wounded I hung on a wind-swept gallows
For nine long nights, Pierced by a spear, pledged to Odhinn,
Offered, myself to myself
The wisest know not from whence spring
The roots of that ancient rood
They gave me no bread,
They gave me no mead,
I looked down;
with a loud cry
I took up the runes;
from that tree I fell."
Odin's Gift to the World 

Odin gave the greatest sacrifice to receive the runes—his life and ego—and was rewarded with the wisdom he sought. He shared them with man leaving what information he believed humankind unable to handle as mysteries retrievable by those willing to make their own journey of sacrifice for the sake of wisdom.

© Trish Deneen


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