“You say it is the good cause that hallows even war? I say unto you: it is the good war that hallows any cause.”Nietzsche
God of war, sovereignty, wisdom, magic, shamanism, poetry, and the dead.
Though the ruler of the Aesir tribe of deities, Odin often ventured far from his kingdom, Asgard, on long and solitary wanderings throughout the cosmos on purely self-interested quests. He was a relentless seeker after and giver of wisdom, but he had little regard for communal values such as justice, fairness, or respect for law and convention.
He was considered the divine patron of rulers, and also of outlaws. A war-god, but also a poetry-god, worshipped by those in search of prestige, honour, and nobility, yet often cursed for being a fickle trickster. Odin was a devious, inscrutable, and inspired ruler, choosing to honour magic and cunning over law and justice.
In war, he did not generally concern himself with average warriors, preferring instead to lavish his blessings only on those whom he deemed to be worthy of them. He presided over Valhalla, the most prestigious of the dwelling-places of the dead. After every battle, he and his helping-spirits, the valkyries (“choosers of the fallen”), combed the field and take their pick of half of the slain warriors to carry back to Valhalla.
Along with Freyja, he was one of the greatest practitioners of shamanism amongst the gods.
Obsessed with knowledge and prophecy, Odin was prepared to make any sacrifice in its pursuit. Any kind of limitation was something to be overcome by any means necessary, and he dedicated much of his life to the relentless and ruthless quest for more wisdom, more knowledge, and more power, usually of a magical sort.
In his cultivation of Valhalla, he desired to have as many of the best warriors as possible on his side for when he must face the wolf Fenrir during Ragnarök – even though he knew he was doomed to die in the battle. Despite that dread-fear, it is said he gave Freyja first pick of the dead, for her halls in Sessrúmnir.
Tattoos marked much of Odin’s skin, embedded with protections of the power (these later formed the genesis for the nature of Fenrir’s binding, gleipnir), but one of the most striking aspects of his appearance was his single, piercing eye — the other given in payment for secrets from Mimir’s Well.
He is also purported to have hanged himself, wounded himself with his spear, and fasted from food and drink for nine days and nights in order to discover the runes said to reveal the secrets of existence.
Then I was fertilized and grew wise;Odin
From a word to a word I was led to a word,
From a work to a work I was led to a work.
He was a talented dreamwalker, and discovered many secrets in both this and the waking realm — and even further afield too. It is likely he had knowledge of other worlds. Certainly he was known to have had communication with the race of the Finn, for it was from them he received the child Loki. Given the gods’ great fear of Fenrir, and the manner in which they bound his soul, it is likely he also had some knowledge of previous Ages and the nature of the Wheel. Whether this was from vision, prophecy, communication with other realms, or something else, is unknown.
Much of Odin’s motivations are obscured by his selfish countenance — indeed it’s said he was once banished from Asgard for the span of a decade when the other gods had become deeply scandalised by his ill reputation amongst the mortals. No evil act was beyond him if it was in pursuit of his perception of the greater good, including the rape of Rindr, who was prophesied to carry the son who would avenge Odin’s death, but who repeatedly rebuffed Odin’s advances.
Yet it is likely much of Odin’s machinations were not ultimately in favour of saving himself or his fellow pantheon, but ensuring the pieces were put into place to assure the Wheel would continue to spin into the next Age.
Brothers will fightVöluspá
and kill each other,
will defile kinship.
It is harsh in the world,
—an axe age, a sword age
—shields are riven—
a wind age, a wolf age—
before the world goes headlong.
No man will have
mercy on another.
Three things signified the beginning of the end:
- The death of Baldr.
- Three years of uninterrupted winter, in which mankind became so desperate for food and other necessities of life that all laws and morals faded away, leaving only the bare struggle for survival.
- The chains on Fenrir breaking.
Thus came the prophesied ‘Twilight of the Gods’, marking the end of an Age with the eradication of channelers, and dire natural disaster that threatened to wipe out all life on earth. As destined, Odin himself dies at the jaws of the wolf Fenrir, subsequently avenged by his son Víðarr. Amidst fire and blood, the world sinks, leaving nothing but the void.
Some say that that is the end of the tale – and of all tales, for that matter. But others hold that a new world, green and beautiful, will arise out of the waters.
Indeed, it was not to be the end of the world; the Wheel would yet turn.
Baldr, dead at the hands of the trickster Loki, remains in Hel during Ragnarök, and is released upon its end to be reborn. Freyja is also said to survive, perhaps owing to her peaceful preparations in Fólkvangr, and the boon of first pick of warriors for her hall. Both Odin and Thor’s sons, too, live to rebuild. How much was intention, how much chance, or how much fate, is a secret Odin takes to his grave.
Companions, Possessions, and Symbols
- Hugin and Muninn: “thought” and “memory”, ravens that traversed the world and brought back information to their master Odin.
- Geri and Freki: “ravenous” and “greed”, wolves said to accompany Odin.
- Sleipnir: eight-legged horse, birthed by Loki and gifted to Odin.
- Gungnir: Odin’s legendary spear, created by the Dvurges. It has runes carved into its tip.
- Draupnir: a gold ring with the ability to multiply itself every nine nights, creating eight new rings of identical size, weight and value as the original each time.
- The Valknut: knotted symbol thought to show the power of Odin to bind and unbind. Odin had the power to lay bonds upon the mind, so that men became helpless in battle, and he could also loosen the tensions of fear and strain by his gifts of battle-madness, intoxication, and inspiration