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Deities & Heros >> Nordic & Germanic
anglo saxon, god of wisdom, madness and death, germanic religion

Odin

Author: The Troth

Copyright © 1994 by The Troth.

Norse Great Father, carries two ravens upon his shoulder to tell him of mans destiny, All Father, Giver of written language (runes). Originally a god of death, whose range later came to encompass magic (especially runic magic), battle (giving victory by choosing who should die), poetry, the fury of the berserk-warrior, and, at least in part, the authority of the ruler descended from the gods (he is the most frequent father of royal lines - including, according to Anglo-Saxon genealogies, the current royal house of England). In the Prose Edda (written two hundred years after the conversion of Iceland), he is shown as the chief of the gods, but historical accounts of Germanic religion do not necessarily support this. Odin won the runes by hanging on a tree for nine days and nights, wounded with his own spear. He gave up one of his eyes for a drink from the Well of Mímir ("Memory"). He won the mead of poetry by seducing the giant-maid Gunnlod who had been set to keep it, then asking for a drink and draining all three cauldrons. To his chosen ones, he gives victory, inspiration, magic, madness, and death when he sees fit. He is seen as especially a god of wisdom, a patron of poets, thinkers, and singers. Of all the gods, Odin is the one who seems to take the most active part in the affairs of humans, and the one who appears most often in the writings of the Germanic peoples.

Odin usually appears as a graybearded man, tall and thin, with a blue-black cloak and an eyepatch or wide-brimmed hat tilted to hide his missing eye. His weapon is the casting spear Gungnir, with which he dooms his chosen ones to die in battle. He has two wolves, Geri and Freki (both names mean "the Greedy"); two ravens, Huginn ("the Thoughtful" or "the Bold") and Muninn ("the Mindful" or "the Desirous"); and a gray, eight-legged horse called Sleipnir ("Slipper"). He is the husband of Frigga and the father of many gods and human heroes. As the leader of the Wild Hunt, he also brings fruitfulness to the fields. Odin is assisted by the valkyries ("Choosers of the Slain") who work his will on the battlefield, bringing the bravest warriors to Valhall ("Hall of the Slain"), where they ready their strength against the coming of Ragnarok. It is said that "Odin will help you if he feels like it", and it is true that he is a stern tester of his children, and often seems rather capricious. However, even when he seems cruel, his purpose is always clear: to strengthen the hosts of the gods for the last battle so that life and knowledge can be preserved and the new world born after the old is destroyed. In the late Viking Age poem Eiríksmál, Bragi asks Odin, "Why did you take victory from him (Erik Bloodaxe), if he seemed the bravest to you?" and Odin answers, "Because of that which no one knows (that is, the time of Ragnarok): the Gray Wolf gapes ever at the dwellings of the gods."

Odin is a god of foresight, careful weaving of plots, and long-term agendas.