(Today's primary sources are The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson translated by Jean Young, Myths of the Norsemen by H.A. Guerber, and The Norse Myths retold by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Today's image is 'Odin the Wanderer' by Georg von Rosen.)

Who: Odin (or Wodin), King of the Gods, Leader of the Æsir, the Allfather.

What: Personification of the atmosphere. God of rushing wind, war, wisdom, those who die a noble death in battle, poetry, and those who die from hanging. Creator of all life and runes.

Rules: All of Asgard. His halls are Valhalla where the dead go, Gladsheim where the gods meet, and Valaskialf where he watches all of creation.

In Sturluson's Prose Edda, the King of Sweden, Gylfi, traveled to Asgard in order to find out about these gods he'd heard so much about. Upon arrival he was directed to Valhalla where he saw three thrones stacked one upon the other with a man seated in each. These men introduced themselves as High One, Just-as-high, and Third and proceeded to tell Gylfi everything about the gods in question and answer format. High One, Just-as-high, and Third are supposed to represent Vili, Ve, and Odin. At the same time they only represent Odin. You see, it is very likely that Odin was a triple god with his brothers being aspects of him. For proof of this, most people point to the Lokasenna where Loki attempts to pick a fight with all of the gods at once by airing all of their dirty laundry. When Frigg attempts to hush him he accuses her of having an affair with Vili and Ve. Normally, this sort of rumor would have been devastating for the Queen of the Gods, but no one seems to take any real notice of it. Due to this, people more scholarly then I have said that as Vili and Ve are aspects of Odin, they are also technically the husbands of Frigg.

Odin was described as being an elderly but vigorous man of around fifty years (think of the life expecancy of ages past before you yell at me to say that 50 isn't old) with gray curly hair and a long beard. He dressed in blue and gray, the colors of the sky he represented, and carried with him the spear Gungnir which never missed it's mark. Odin's most striking feature was that he only had one eye, although I don't think it's mentioned which eye was actually the missing one. He lost his eye by trading it for a drought from Mimir's (memory) well. After plucking out his eye and casting it into the well's depths, Odin obtained all of the world's knowledge and wisdom. Odin also created runes, the early Germanic alphabet, by hanging himself over Mimir's well for nine days and night while peering into the well's depths. To do this, Odin was not hung as if he were being executed, but instead was positioned like the Hanged Man tarot card.

The most interesting thing about Odin, to me, was how fond he was of traveling amongst humans. To do so he usually dressed himself all in gray, donned a wide brimmed gray hat so no one would notice his missing eye, and introduced himself as Gangrad to all that met with him. (This is a Tolkien alert to any and all who are interested in how the Grand Master of fantasy came up with his ideas.) Once disguised, he would wander among humans helping those that needed it and punishing those that deserved it. In fact, Odin enjoyed wandering around Midgard so much that at one point all of the gods thought that they would never see him again. Taking advantage of his absence was Vili and Ve who quickly took over and even made Frigg their wife. (Hence Loki's accusation above and the reason why it didn't matter that much.)

Despite being the leader of the gods, there is some evidence that he was not the most important of them. As far as stories go, there are fewer stories about Odin then there are about other deities such as Thor and Loki. In fact, out of all the gods, Thor probably has the most stories about him. Additionally, in the Lokasenna when Loki is insulting everyone in sight it's only when Thor arrives that Loki is put in his place and leaves. Odin had been there the entire time trying, and failing, to quiet him.

Odin was worshipped in many temples, but the most imporant ceremonies were supposed to be held in Uppsala (today known as Gamla Uppsala) where the kings of Sweden ruled. According to Adam of Bremen, an eyewitness from the 11th century, this location was where the trinity of Odin, Thor, and Freyr were worshipped, with Thor sitting on the highest throne. While you can't really trust Adam entirely as he was a Christian missionary in a time when Christianity is trying hard to push it's way north, he is a rare eyewitness in a time when very few written records survive. To Odin, horses were supposed to be the sacrifice of choice, although human sacrifices could be made during times of great need. I've read that once a king had himself sacrificed in order to placate the gods and save his people, but I've never been able to find source that says who this king was or when it happened. The cloest I've ever found to his story was the tale of King Aun of Sweden who sacrificed his nine sons to Odin in order to obtain a longer life. Our friend Snorri reports on this in his Heimskringla and there may be some truth to this tale as, according to Adam of Bremen, nine male animals were sacrificed to the gods at a time. Although in this case, the sons were sacrified one at a time instead of all at once.

Notes: Here's a fun fact for ya! Odin is one of the major sources behind Santa Claus! While the start of the Santa Claus myth comes from Saint Nicholas of Myra, you've got to admit that his being from Turkey doesn't really match up with tales of the North Pole. However, Odin is the origin of the stories of the Wild Hunt, a frightening hunting party that roared through the air on dark nights around the season of Yule. Plus, Odin's horse was the eight legged Sleipnir while Santa has his eight flying reindeer (before Rudolph who is a late addition). Lastly, while in Valaskialf, Odin could see all of creation and what he couldn't see his crows Hugin and Munin went out at saw for him. So, Odin Claus could definately spy on all of the little children to see if they'd been naughty or nice. Okay, at Christmas I'm going to write an entire article to prove this to you!

I also have it on good authority that Gary Corby is a direct descendent of Odin. And by good authority I mean Gary said so. You know that it has to be true, because you saw it on the internet!
2 Responses
  1. Yeah... Thor's badass. Maybe it's the hammer... I knew Odin was the "leader" of the gods, but I didn't know he didn't have much power.

    Slightly off topic... is there an Odin in the Asgard on SG1? I remember Thor and Loki, and one more who was a prick...

  2. Anonymous Says:

    In one of the latest Dresden Files books, "Cold Days", Butcher actually uses this connection of "Santa" with the Wild Hunt and Odin! :D