Huginn and Muninn


In Norse mythology, Huginn (from Old Norse "thought") and Muninn (from Old Norse "memory" or "mind") are a pair of ravens that fly throughout the world and bringing news to the god Odin.

Information about Huginn and Muninn is found in the Eddas, a 13th-century compilation of poems, the main source of current knowledge of Norse mythology; in the Edda in prose and the Heimskringla, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson; in the Third Grammatical Treatise, compiled in the 13th century by Óláfr Þórðarson; and in the poetry of the Scalds. Sometimes their names are modernly anglicized as Hugin and Munin.

In the poetic Edda, a disguised Odin expresses his fear at the chance that they may not return from their daily flights. The prose Edda explains that Odin is known as the "raven-god" (Hrafnaguð) because of his association with Huginn and Muninn.

In the Edda in prose and the Third Grammatical Treatise, the two ravens are described perching on Odin's shoulders. In the Heimskringla, it details that Odin gave Huginn and Muninn the ability to speak.

Other portraits of Odin with the ravens can be found on golden bracteatas from the Migration Period, on helmet plates from the Vandal Age, on a pair of identical bird-shaped brooches from the Germanic Iron Age, on objects from the Viquingue Age depicting a mustached man wearing a helmet, and a 10th or 11th century part of the Thorwald Cross.

The role of Huginn and Muninn as messengers of Odin has been associated with shamanic practices, the Norse raven banner, the general symbolism of the raven among Germanic peoples, and the Norse concepts of fylgja and hamingja.

Odin's Ravens in the Eddas

In the poem Grímnismál from the poetic Edda, the god Odin (disguised as Grímnir) provides the young Agnarr with information about Odin's companions. He tells the prince about Odin's wolves, Geri and Freki, and in the next stanza of the poem, states that Huginn and Muninn fly daily throughout the Midgard world. Grímnir says that he worries that Huginn may never return and still fears for Muninn.

In the first part of the prose Edda, Gylfaginning (chapter 38), the enthroned figure of Hár tells Gangleri (King Gylfi in disguise) that two ravens named Huginn and Muninn sit on Odin's shoulders. The ravens tell Odin everything they see and hear.

Odin sends Huginn and Muninn out at dawn and the birds fly around the world before returning at dinnertime. As a result, Odin is informed of many events. Hár adds that it is from this association that Odin is known as the "crow-god". The above-mentioned stanza of Grímnismál is thus quoted.

In the second part of the prose Edda, Skáldskaparmál (chapter 60), Huginn and Muninn appear in a list of poetic names for ravens. In the same chapter, excerpts from Einarr Skúlason's work are presented. In these excerpts, Muninn is quoted in a common name of 'raven' and Huginn is quoted in a kenning of 'carrion'.

In the Saga of the Inglingos from the book Heimskringla, an evêmerized account of Odin's life is provided. Chapter 7 describes that Odin had two ravens, and upon these ravens he bestowed the gift of speech. These ravens fly throughout the land and bring information, causing Odin to become "very wise in his knowledge."

In the Third Grammatical Treatise, an anonymous verse mentions that ravens fly from Odin's shoulders; Huginn seeks out hanged men and Muninn dead bodies. 

Huginn and Muninn Archeological Findings 

The gold Bracteatas (types A, B and C) of the Migration Period (5th and 6th centuries) have a depiction of a human figure on a horse, holding a spear and surrounded by one or often two birds.

The presence of the birds led to the iconographic identification of the human figure as the god Odin, surrounded by Huginn and Muninn. As a description of the ravens in Snorri's prose Edda, a bird is sometimes depicted in a human's ear or a horse's ear. Bracteatas had been found in Denmark, Sweden and Norway with a small amount found in England and southern Denmark.

Austrian Germanist Rudolf Simek says that these bracteatas may represent Odin's healing of a horse and the descriptions of the birds through the horse may indicate that the ravens were healing the horse. He says that this may indicate that Odin's ravens were originally not only Odin's companions on the battlefield, but also "Odin's helpers in his role as veterinarian."

Vendel-era helmet plaques (from the 6th or 7th centuries) found in a grave in Sweden show a helmeted figure holding a spear and shield, at the same time riding a horse, surrounded by two birds. The plaque was interpreted as Odin accompanied by two birds: his ravens.

A pair of identical bird-shaped Germanic Iron Age brooches from Bejsebakke in northern Denmark may be representations of Huginn and Muninn. The back of each bird features a mask-theme and the feet of the birds are in the shape of animal heads.

The feathers of the birds are also composed of animal heads. Together, the animal heads on the feathers form a mask on the back of the bird. The birds have strong beaks and fan-shaped tails, indicating that they are ravens. The brooches were intended to be worn on each shoulder, after the fashion of the Germanic Iron Age.

Archaeologist Peter Vang Petersen commented that while the symbolism of the brooches is open to debate, the shape of the beaks and tail feathers confirm that the representations of the brooches are ravens. Petersen states that "raven-shaped ornaments worn as a pair, after the fashion of the day, one on each shoulder, cause thoughts to turn to Odin's ravens and the cult of Odin in the Germanic Iron Age." Petersen says that Odin is associated with disguise and that the masks on the ravens may be portraits of Odin.

The fragments of the Oseberga tapestry, discovered within the Viquingue Age at the burial of Oseberga's ship in Norway, feature a scene containing two black birds hovering over a horse, possibly, originally driving a chariot (as part of a procession of horse chariots led in the tapestry). In her analysis of the tapestry, scholar Anne-Stine Ingstad interprets these birds as Huginn and Muninn flying over a covered wagon containing an image of Odin, drawing comparison to the images of Nerto attested to by Tacitus in 1 E.C..

Excavations at Ribe, Denmark, have recovered a Vichingue-era metal pulley mold and 11 identical cast molds. These objects show a man with a mustache wearing a helmet that has two ornaments on his head. Archaeologist Stig Jensen proposes that these head ornaments should be interpreted as Huginn and Muninn and the wearer as Odin. He notes that "similar representations occur everywhere Viking; from eastern England to Russia and naturally also in the rest of Scandinavia."

One part of the Thorwald Cross (a surviving part of the runic stone erected at Kirk Andreas on the Isle of Man) shows a bearded man holding a spear down into a wolf, his right foot in its mouth and a large bird on his shoulder. Andy Orchard commented that this bird may be Huginn or Muninn. Rundata dates the cross to 940, while Pluskowski dates it to the 11th century. This description has been interpreted as Odin, with a raven or eagle on his shoulder, being consumed by the monstrous wolf Fenrir during the events of Ragnarök.

In November 2009, the Roskilde Museum announced the discovery and subsequent display of an inlaid niel silver statuette found in Lejre, Denmark, which they named the Odin of Lejre. The silver object shows a person sitting on a throne. The throne features animal heads and is surrounded by two birds. The Roskilde Museum identifies the figure as Odin sitting on his throne Hliðskjálf, surrounded by the ravens Huginn and Muninn.

Theories about Huginn and Muninn

Certain scholars have related Odin's relationship with Huginn and Muninn to shamanic practice. John Lindow, for example, relates Odin's ability to send his "thought" (Huginn) and his "mind" (Muninn) to the trance-like journey of shamans. Regarding the Grímnismál stanza where Odin is concerned about the return of Huginn and Muninn, Lindow writes, "would be consistent with the danger the shaman faces on the trance state journey."

Rudolf Simek is critical of such an approach, and states that "attempts have been made to interpret Odin's ravens as the personification of the god's intellectual power, but this can only be assumed from their names themselves, Huginn and Muninn, which were most likely not invented before the 9th or 10th centuries" even though the two ravens, as Odin's companions, seem to derive from much earlier times.

Instead, Simek connects Huginn and Muninn with greater raven symbolism in the Germanic world, including the raven banner (described in English chronicles and Scandinavian sagas), a banner that was woven in a method that allowed it, when floating in the wind, to appear as if the raven depicted on it were flapping its wings.

Anthony Winterbourne relates Huginn and Muninn to the Norse concepts of fylgja, a concept with three characteristics: shape-shifting abilities, good fortune, and guardian spirit; and hamingja, the double ghost of a person who can appear in the form of an animal.

Winterbourne states that "The shaman's journey through the different parts of the cosmos is symbolized by the hamingja concept of the shape-shifting soul and takes on another symbolic dimension for the Norse soul in the description of the ravens of Oðin, Huginn and Muninn."

In response to Simek's criticism of attempts to interpret the ravens "philosophically," Winterbourne said that: "such speculations [...] simply strengthen the conceptual meaning plausible by other features of mythology" and that the names Huginn and Muninn "require more explanation than is usually provided."

Huginn and Muninn in Popular Culture

Huginn and Muninn appear in Thor comics. The ravens' first appearance was in Thor issue #274. They have also appeared in several other issues of Thor, including also appearances in events involving multiple Marvel Universe characters, such as The Avengers, Crystal, Sabretooth, and X-men.

During the Avengers: The Fall event, in which all members of the team went through events that would lead to the end of the group, Thor faces Ragnarök. In the timeline of these stories, Odin had died months earlier facing Surtur, and Thor inherits both the throne and his father's powers.

During the events of Ragnarök, he loses such powers and it is his father's ravens that teach him that Thor must overcome the trials faced by his father to end Ragnarök.

Both will be portrayed in the upcoming film Thor, produced by Marvel Studios and directed by Kenneth Branagh.