Odin | Norse Mythology


Odin or Wodan (younger futhark: ᚢᚦᛁᚾ, southern Germanic Wōdan, Old Icelandic Óðinn, Old English Wōden, Old Saxon Uuoden, Old Bavarian: Wûtan, Old Dutch Wuodan, Old High German Wuotan, Longobard Godan or Guodan, Common Germanic *Wôðanaz) is the principal god in Norse Mythology.

In Eddic poetry he functions as the father of the gods, god of war and the dead, a god of poetry and runes, of magic and ecstasy with distinctly shamanic traits.

Etymology of Odin

Depending on the context, both the North Germanic form of the name Odin and the South Germanic forms Wodan or, in New High German pronunciation, Wotan are common in Germanic language.

The oldest written evidence of the name is a runic inscription on a sixth-century AD bow brooch from Nordendorf, which mentions Wodan among other names.

The second syllable was reshaped in North Germanic to -en or -in (Anglo-Saxon Wōden). In the North Germanic languages, moreover, the anlautende W- (as always before o and u) dropped out.

The earliest evidence for the god's name Odin from the time around 725 AD was found in the form uþin on a skull fragment incised with runes.

Both name variants go back to a Western stretching form to the Indo-European root *wat "to blow on, kindle, inspire," according to others *u̯ā̌t-, *u̯ōt- "to be spiritually excited," or *weh₂t- "angry, excited, inspired," which also gave rise to Old Indian ápivátati "blows at, inspires," Latin vatēs "seer, poet, soothsayer," and Old Irish fāith "seer, prophet."

The reconstructed Proto-Germanic original form of the god's name is *Wōdanaz. Old High German and Middle High German wuot "violent movement, violent excitement of mind, frenzy" and New High German Wut "furious anger," and Dutch woede "rage, frenzy" can also be traced back to this Indo-European root via Common Germanic *wōdaz "possessed, excited" (directly from it still Gothic wods "furious, possessed" and Old English wōd "mad, furious, furious").

Furthermore, Old English wōþ "sound, voice, poetry, song" and Old Norse óðr "excitement, poetry, poetry" trace back to parallel derivations of the same root, illuminating further characteristics of the Germanic god (his association with poetry, song, and magic).

The mental excitement associated with the god Wodan can refer to poetic poetry as well as to magic and its possible application in war or to the irascible rage of the berserkers.

Already Adam of Bremen in his description of the temple of Uppsala in his eleventh century Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum summarized the nature of the god in this sense: "Wuodan id est furor" ("Wodan, that means rage").

With the Second Sound Shift, the South Germanic Wodan became Old High German Wuotan and Longobardic Wotan or, in Romance spelling, Guodan.

In modern times, especially in the course of Romanticism, the name was resumed in German. Richard Wagner first used the West Germanic phonetic form Wodan (so in Act II of Lohengrin), but from about 1860 he opted for the spelling Wotan, which mediates between Wodan and Wuotan.

This form of the name, which is attested only once in Langobardic in the early Middle Ages, became the common spelling of the southern Germanic name through the influence of his operas.

The name of Wednesday in other Germanic languages refers to Wodan in reference to the Roman model dies Mercurii "Day of Mercurius" (cf. Interpretatio Romana).

"Wodanstag" or also "Odinstag" became Woensdag in Dutch, Wednesday in English, Wernsdey in Frisian, onsdag in Danish and Swedish.

The borrowing is related to the adoption of the Roman seven-day week by the continental Germanic peoples of the second to third centuries. In German "Mittwoch" the name of the highest Germanic god should perhaps be avoided.

Odin's Attributes 

Odin is often depicted as a divine rider on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir. A distinctive feature is his one-eyedness, which is explained in a legend that he gave Mimir one eye as a pledge to be able to see into the future.

In 2009, during excavations in Gammel Lejre in Denmark, a 1.75 cm high and 1.98 cm wide gilded figure made of silver was found. The Roskilde Museum dates the unique find to 900-1000 AD.

It is a representation of Odin and his magical throne Hlidskialf with the ravens Huginn and Muninn. The throne enables Odin to see all nine worlds. Odin wears a cloak, jewelry around his neck and chest and the magical ring Draupnir around his finger. Odin also has two wolves as faithful companions named Geri and Freki

Small thrones have also been found in other archaeological excavations, including Hedeby. However, a person is missing on these. The find at Gammel Lejre is the oldest known representation of Odin and his magical throne Hlidskialf.

Esoteric interpretation of Odin

The three figures Hárr (High), Jafnhárr (Equal High), and Þriði (Third) in Snorri's Prose Edda, whose roles in the nominal narrative are purely didactic, could be Odin, Vili, and Vé, but it is equally likely that they are Odin under three different forms, since all three names are applied to Odin elsewhere in Old Norse poetry, and he introduced himself as Odin, Vili, and Vé at the first revelation to man. This would indicate the trinity of Odin.

According to the Swiss founder of psychoanalysis Carl Gustav Jung, the first form of Odin or Wotan is the archetype of the "restless wanderer."

This wanderer still exists as a human being, and therefore any human being can be Odin in his first, physical form. We exist as humans most obviously and grossly on the physical plane.

The second form of Odin is the spirit. The Equal High Plane is incorporeal, which here points to the life force, the inspiration behind art and poetry. The names of Odin are often translated as "rage," "spirit," "ecstasy." Ecstasy is translated from the Greek into "standing outside of oneself."

As such, we begin to realize that our consciousness makes us more than just a biological machine, more than just ultra-evolved apes.

The Equal Level expresses its nature through both inspired frenzy (combat, artistic creation) and the integrating experience of true meditation.

The word "Equal" in "Equal High" indicates that these two levels are equal. The Equal High Spiritual Plane inspires the physical vessel of man to go beyond his basic needs.

The third level of Odin is the highest, the supreme, the king of the gods. Here we find the transcendental plane, the source and cause of all life.

There is nothing into which it further splits, it is not further reducible. In this plane we find the polarities of life drawn up, which meet in the transcendental, absorb in it and are created by it at the same time. Total being and total emptiness, (sanskrit bodhi).

The metaphorical idea of the god Odin with three different states of being - high, equally high and third - indicates a triangle. That threefold form reflects, among other things, the Christian Trinity. Triune gods also abound in ancient Celtic lore.

Origins of Odin

The earliest evidence of the Germanic conception of God has been interpreted as rock sculptures in Scandinavia showing oversized characters in a phallic pose and armed with a spear.

However, these interpretations are disputed and are based on the late pagan Scandinavian written as well as pictorial representations of Odin as a deity attributed with a spear alongside Thor with his hammer and Tyr with his sword.

Tacitus names in the ninth chapter of his ethnographic treatise, the commonly abbreviated titled Germania, the outline of the religious conditions of the Germanic tribes. In the opening he quotes Caesar verbatim after his Gallic War.

Tacitus lists Mercurius as the highest worshipped deity in Roman interpretation. From the further naming of the two other main deities Hercules and Mars for Donar/Thor and Tiwas/Tyr, Wodan/Odin is inferred for Mercurius.

However, the introduction of Tacitus is probably not completely congruent with the assumed actual relations. Also the problematic identification of Hercules with Donar/Thor shows that a differentiated evaluation is compelling.

In the first post-Christian centuries, Wodan was honored in Germania inferior by dedicatory stones, which were usually donated by Germanic tribesmen who were in Roman military or state service.

The stones bear inscriptions that pair the name of Mercurius with Germanic terms, be it references to localities, to individual tribes, or forms of names with other references.

Exemplary inscriptions are Mercurius Cimbrianus "Wodan of the Cimbri"' and Mercurius Leudisius "Wodan of Liège". Especially the new discovery of the votive stone of Mercurius Hranno is associated with the medieval literary evidence of a name of Odinsbein.

The interpretations of the petroglyphs, among other aspects, led to an unsettled dispute in the research. On the one hand, there is the thesis, following Georges Dumézil and others, that Wodan/Odin is an all-Germanic god-figure from Indo-European times.

On the other side there is the thesis of the gradual migration of the cult of Wodan, which had developed before the turn of time in the Lower Rhine-Northwest German area and the Netherlands and had spread from there and had displaced the old high and sky god Tiwaz from his position.

This process must then be seen in the context of the conflicts with the Roman Empire as well as the change of inner-Germanic relations.

Thus there are in the Netherlands, former main settlement area of the Franks dominant in the early Middle Ages, certain places which go back to the name of Odin (Woensel, Woensdrecht and Woensberg) and could be recognized in the Dutch Sinterklaastradition striking old-Germanic characteristics of the Odinskultus.

Written evidence in the continental Germanic area is sparse, the main evidence here being later sources, some written after Christianization (Edda), which reflect memories of pagan pre-Christian times and their religious rites and mythologies deeply rooted in customs.

Moreover, in the Icelandic-Eddic writings of the High Middle Ages, the influence of Christianization and both Christian and Greco-Roman ideas can be seen, also and especially in the representation of Odin.

Otto Höfler stated on the basis of the disparate source situation to Odin/Wodan that one cannot summarize this to a uniform anthropomorphic, human-shaped character image, however a uniform cult type can be determined over the epoch of the Germanic Paganism. 

Odin's Myth

Odin is one of the most complex figures in Norse mythology. Characteristic in the Old Norse-Icelandic mythological writings are the numerous epithets that characterize him.

Odin in the Poetic and Prose Edda

From the salt-tarred stones the cow Audhumbla licked the giant Buri; he had a son, Börr, who married the giant's daughter Bestla and with her begat Odin, Vili and Vé.

The latter two are largely lost from the story of the Aesir, are rarely mentioned and are limited primarily to a representative function of their brother; Odin, however, rules powerfully, creatively, through all times, until the world fire - the fate of the gods Ragnarok.

The first act of the three united brothers was that they went out against the giant Ymir, slew him and formed the world from his corpse. The world was flooded with Ymir's blood, and only one couple saved themselves, the giant Bergelmir and his wife.

After the earth was formed, it consisted of two parts: one only of fire (Muspellsheim) and the other only of ice (Niflheim); between them was the gorge, Ymir's grave.

Odin populated the earth by creating a human couple, Ask and Embla. But the giant race reproduced likewise, and thus from the beginning the quarrel between the good and the evil was laid, in which also Odin himself perishes, since he is only a finite god.

Odin is extremely wise. He owes his knowledge to two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who sit on his shoulders and tell him everything that happens in the world, which is why he is called the raven god; furthermore, he derives his knowledge from a drink from Mimir's well, for which he lost an eye; hence he is also called the one-eyed man. He knew how to get the delicious Skaldenmet from Gunnlöd by his cunning and manly beauty, therefore he is also the poet king and has the surname Liodasieder (song maker, verse maker).

Odin's wives and mistresses are: Jörd (mother of Thor), Rind (mother of Wali), the Aesir queen Frigg (mother of Baldr), Grid (mother of Vidar), nine pure giant virgins of infinite beauty, all nine sleeping on the seashore, at the same time became mothers of Heimdall; Skadi, formerly Njörd's wife (by O. mother of Säming and many other sons), Gritha (mother Skiolds); furthermore, the giant daughter Gunnlöd pleased him with her favor. About the mothers of Odin's sons Hödr, Bragi and Hermod there are no sources. Whether they are sons of Frigg or other mothers thus remains pure conjecture. As Tyr's father, the traditions give both Odin and Hymir.

Odin resides in Asgard, where he has two palaces: Walaskialf and Gladsheim with Valhalla. From the first he is able to survey the whole world; the second is destined for the assemblies of the council of the gods; in it is the hall where all the heroes of the earth gather around him to fight with him against the powers bringing about the end of the world.

These heroes are called Einherjer, are invited on the battlefield by the Valkyries with a kiss to Odin's banquet and await there the fate of the gods (Ragnarök) under continuous feasting and fighting.

Himself a friend of carousing and battles, Odin always lets two Valkyries, Rista and Mista, serve him with golden goblets and fights with the Einherjers on his eight-footed steed with a spear Gungnir that never misses the target; but neither his heroes nor his weapons help him: The end of the world brings death to him as well.

Yggdrasil, the world ash tree, is a symbol of immortality. Through Odin's self-sacrifice, Yggdrasil becomes a sacrificial tree, as Odin hangs himself from the tree to gain the secret knowledge at the roots of Yggdrasil.

Odin's self-sacrifice

Odin is persistent in his quest for wisdom. He gives an eye as a pledge against a sip from Mimir's well to get seeric powers.

He steals the scaldenmet Odrörir from the giantess Gunnlöd and brings him to the gods in the form of an eagle. According to tradition, Odin envied the Norns for their ability to write runes.

Since the runes only reveal themselves to the "worthy", Odin hangs himself from the world tree Yggdrasil by his own spear. He hangs there for nine days and nights ("Wounded by the spear, consecrated to Odin, myself myself, on the branch of the tree, which one cannot see from which root it sprouted"; from Odin's Runic Song 138), until the runes appear to him. (Odin's runesong in the Hávamál of the Song-Edda).

Magic artifacts and companions

Odin rides every morning on his eight-legged steed Sleipnir and with his two faithful ravens Hugin and Munin ("thought" and "memory") across the morning sky and explores the world. His wolves Geri and Freki ("Greedy" and "Voracious") help him hunt.

He possesses the golden dwarven ring Draupnir and the spear Gungnir, with which he brought the first war into the world, when he threw it into the army of the Vanir. Furthermore, he has the severed head of the giant Mimir, who can predict the future. From his throne Hlidskialf (it stands in Valaskjalf; see also: Sökkvabekk or Gladsheim) Odin can see everything that happens in the world.

Odin wears a magical cloak that takes him to the places he wants to be, and with which he can make himself invisible.