The most well known and possibly the most revered God in Heathenry is Odin. He is a mysterious and magical God known for is many attempts to gain wisdom to aid in the battle of Ragnarok. He is husband to the Goddess Frigga and father to the God Thor. Aside from creating the cosmos of the nine worlds and all that inhabit it, for which is called All-father, he gave his eye to Mimir, for wisdom from the well, he wanders the realms in disguise to gain wisdom, he betrays the best warriors in battle so that he may recruit them for the inevitable battle at Ragnarok, and he hung himself from the World Tree in a quest for wisdom that resulted in his discovery of the runes.
Odin is known by many names across the Germanic lands. In addition to the modern English ‘Odin,’ the old English ‘Woden,’ and the Old High German ‘Wotan,’ he is often described in relation to his activities using poetic devices called heiti or kennings. Some of his more poetic names are Grímnir (Shadowed or Cloaked One), Yggr (Terrifying or Awesome One), The High One, Greybeard, The One-Eyed Wanderer, or just Wanderer, Hanged One, Raven God, Lord of Hlidhskjálf , which is his high seat where he views all of the world, and The Wise One.
The most famous of poems in the Poetic Edda, the Hávamál, contains the counsel of The Wise One for successful ways to live, advice on love and a description of magical spells.
In the opening stanza of the Hávamál Odin advises awareness:
At every doorway
before you enter,
you should look around,
you should take a good look around—
for you never know
where your enemies
might be seated within.
Hospitality is a great virtue in Heathenry. In stanzas 3 and 4 Odin advises how to be a good host to one’s guests:
He needs a fire,
the one who has just come in,
his knees are shivering.
Food and dry clothes
will do him well,
after his journey over the mountains.
He needs water,
the one who has just arrived,
dry clothes, and a warm welcome
from a friendly host—
and if he can get it,
a chance to listen and be listened to.
He offers wisdom to the guest as well:
The watchful guest,
when he arrives for a meal,
should keep his mouth shut
listening with his ears
and watching with his eyes—
that’s how the wise get wiser.
He advises on the dangers of too much alcohol:
There is not as much good
as men claim there is
in alcohol for one’s well-being.
A man knows less
as he drinks more,
and loses more and more wisdom.
It is such a popular poem among Heathens that there are ‘pocket’ versions of the Hávamál available to purchase a plenty.
Another popular poem in the Poetic Edda involving Odin is Grímnismál where Odin is disguised as The Cloaked One, or Grímnir and dispenses stories of the nine realms to a noble youth while being held captive. In stanza 10 he talks of Valhalla:
is easily recognized
if one comes to see it.
A wolf hangs above
the western door,
and an eagle above him.
We learn about his wolves Geri and Freki from his own tongue in stanza 19:
feeds his tamed wolves,
Geri and Freki.
But for his part,
lives on wine alone.
And about his ravens Hugin and Munin in stanza 20:
Thought and Memory,
my ravens, fly every day
the whole world over.
Each day I fear
that Thought might not return,
but I fear more for Memory.
As this is just a beginner’s guide, there is so much information about Odin that this small attempt to describe him could not contain. Several years ago I did a design, which I sell on Red Bubble, attempting to tell his story which I called Woden. I spent many months working on it and a year went by before I considered it ready. I felt fairly intimidated doing it but I have sold a lot of t-shirts with his design and I consider this evidence of his awesomeness.
The story of Odin’s sacrifice on the World Tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days and his founding of the runes. The valknut, or knot of the slain, is thought to represent Odin. His wolves, Geri and Freki, and his ravens Hugin and Munin. Woden is the Anglo Saxon way to spell his name.
Odin is an awesome God. He is fearsome, mysterious, magical, wise, poetic, creative, admirable and strong. Strong may not be the right word. Omnipotent might be better. Many Heathens have devoted their lives to Odin. I encourage you to read the sources listed below and discover for yourself the many mysteries and deeds he is associated with.
What is your impression and/or experience of Odin?
Sources / Reading –
Chapter 10 in Our Troth: History and Lore Vol.1, BookSurge, 2006
Pages 31-40 in Teutonic Religion by Kveldulf Gundarsson Llewellyn, 1993
Chapter 2 in Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H. R. Ellis Davidson, Penguin, 1990
Hávamál & Grímnismál in The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes by Jackson Crawford, Hackett, 2015
Gylfaginning & Skaldskaparmal in The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse L. Byock, Penguin, 2005