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Odin

Odin

Odin was the ruler of the Aesir, a group of deities in Norse* mythology. Sometimes called Allfather, Odin played a central role in myths about the creation and destruction of the world. He was the god of battle and also of wisdom, magic, and poetry. His name means "fury" or "frenzy," the quality of fierce inspiration that guided warriors and poets alike. Odin probably originated in the myths of early Germanic peoples, who called him Wo3anaz. The name of the fourth day of the week, Wednesday, comes from Woden's-day, the god's Old English name. Odin was married to Frigg, the guardian of marriage.


Myths. Odin spanned the history of the Norse mythic world from its creation to its destruction. Before the world existed, he and his two younger brothers, Vili and Ve, killed the primal frost giant Ymir. They used Ymir's bones, blood, and flesh to form the universe. Odin arranged the heavens for the gods, the middle world for humans and dwarfs, and the underworld for the dead. He then created the first man and woman from an ash tree and an elm tree.

Among the deities said to have been Odin's children were Balder and Thor*. Odinthe favorite deity of princes, nobles, and warriorscame to be seen as the supreme Norse god, the one to whom the other deities turned for help and advice. He ruled them from his palace Valhalla* in the heavenly realm called Asgard. As the god of war, Odin watched over warriors who fell in battle. Valkyries* carried the fallen ones straight to Valhalla. There Odin feasted them and prepared them for Ragnarok, the final battle in which the gods and the world were doomed to perish.

deity god or goddess

primal earliest; existing before other things

divination act or practice of foretelling the future

Odin was credited with great wisdom, including knowledge of magic and divination. He had paid a high price for this gift, however, giving one of his eyes in exchange for a drink from the well of Mimir. The waters of this well, which seeped from among the roots of the World Tree Yggdrasill, contained great wisdom. Another myth says that Odin stabbed himself with his magical spear, called Gungnir, and hung from Yggdrasill for nine days and nights in a living death. This self-sacrifice gave him knowledge of the runes, the Norse symbols used for writing and fortune-telling. Yet although Odin was wise, he could also be sly and treacherous. It was not unusual, for example, for him to break his word or to turn people against each other to start conflicts.

Odin had the power to change his appearance, and this shape shifting played a part in the myth that explains Odin's connection with poetry The wisest being who ever lived was Kvasir, whom the gods had formed from their own saliva. Dwarfs killed Kvasir and mixed his blood with honey to form a potion that granted wisdom and the gift of poetry. A giant hid the potion in the middle of a mountain and set his daughter to guard it. Odin changed himself into a snake and slithered through a tiny hole in the mountain. Then taking the form of a handsome giant, he charmed the daughter into letting him drink the potion. Once Odin had swallowed it, he changed into an eagle and flew to Asgard, where he vomited the potion into three sacred vats. A few drops of the potion fell to the earth during his flight and became the inspiration of lesser human poets.

Another myth reveals Odin as both a treacherous figure and the enforcer of divine justice. He observed two young princes, Agnar and Geirrod. On Odin's advice, Geirrod sent Agnar out to sea in a boat and then reported that his brother had drowned. After Geirrod grew up and became king, he was tested when a man named Grimnir appeared in his court. Fearing that the man was a sorcerer, Geirrod had him tortured. However, the king's son showed pity on Grimnir and helped him. After predicting that Geirrod would kill himself with his own sword, Grimnir revealed that he was Odin. The king grabbed his sword to attack him but tripped and stabbed himself. Odin then set the kindly son on the throne.

Odin liked to wander the earth in the form of an old man wearing a blue cloak and a wide-brimmed hat that hid his one-eyed face. Often he was accompanied by wolves and ravens, flesh eaters that haunt battlefields. His ravens Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Memory) traveled around the world and the underworld each day, returning to tell their knowledge-loving master what they had seen. Odin occasionally rode an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir, who could travel at great speed through the air and across water.


sorcerer magician or wizard

cult group bound together by devotion to a particular person, belief, or god

patron special guardian, protector, or supporter

ritual ceremony that follows a set pattern

Worship. The cult of Odin flourished across much of northern Europe and gained strength in the a.d. 700S and 800s, the age of the Vikings. These Norse warriors and raiders, especially the fearsome fighters called the Berserks, regarded Odin as their special patron. Their ceremonies in his honor included human sacrifice. Some victims died by the spear or by fire. However, ritual hangings were especially important in the worship of Odin, who was sometimes called the Lord of the Gallows or the Hanging God

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

because of his own mythic hanging on the tree Yggdrasill. When the Vikings raided Nantes, a town in northwestern France, in 842, they hanged many of the inhabitants, perhaps as an offering to Odin.

See also Berserks; Frigg; Mimir; Norse Mythology; Ragnarok; Thor; Valhalla; Yggdrasill; Ymir.

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Odin

Odin in Scandinavian mythology, the supreme god and creator, god of victory and the dead, married to Freya (Frigga) and usually represented as a one-eyed old man of great wisdom. He is said to have won the runes for humankind by hanging himself for nine nights and days on the world tree Yggdrasil (because of which he is god of the hanged); he gave one eye to Mimir, guardian of the well of wisdom, in exchange for poetic inspiration.

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Odin

Odin Principal god in Norse mythology. Identified with the Teutonic god Woden, he is considered to be the god of wisdom, culture, war and death. He lived with the Valkyries in Valhalla, where he received the souls of dead warriors.

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Odin

Odin, Norse god: see Woden.

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Odin

Odin •Aladdin • stand-in •Dunedin, lead-in •Blondin, Girondin •Odin •paladin, Saladin •Borodin • Baffin • elfin •biffin, griffin, tiffin •boffin, coffin •dolphin • endorphin • bowfin •yellowfin •muffin, puffin •ragamuffin • paraffin • perfin •bargain • Begin • Kosygin •hoggin, noggin •imagine • margin • engine •pidgin, pigeon, smidgen, wigeon •stool pigeon • wood pigeon • origin •Pugin • virgin

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Odin

Odin

Nationality/Culture

Norse

Pronunciation

OH-din

Alternate Names

Wotan (German)

Appears In

The Eddas

Lineage

Son of Bestla and Borr

Character Overview

Odin was the ruler of the Aesir (pronounced AY-sur), a group of deities, or gods, in Norse mythology. Sometimes called Allfather, Odin played a central role in myths about the creation and destruction of the world. He was the god of battle and also of wisdom, magic, and poetry. His name means “fury” or “frenzy,” the quality of fierce inspiration that guided warriors and poets alike. The god probably originated in the myths of early Germanic peoples, who called him Wodanaz. Odin was married to Frigg (pronounced FRIG), the guardian of marriage.

Major Myths

Odin spanned the history of the Norse mythic world from its creation to its destruction. Before the world existed, he and his two younger brothers, Vili and Ve, killed the frost giant Ymir (pronounced EE-mir). They used Ymir's bones, blood, and flesh to form the universe. Odin arranged the heavens for the gods, the middle world for humans and dwarfs, and the underworld for the dead. He then created the first man and woman from an ash tree and an elm tree. Among the deities said to have been Odin's children were Balder (pronounced BAWL-der) and Thor. Odin—the favorite deity of princes, nobles, and warriors—came to be seen as the supreme Norse god, the one to whom the other deities turned for help and advice. He ruled them from his palace Valhalla (pronounced val-HAL-uh) in the heavenly realm called Asgard (pronounced AHS-gahrd). As the god of war, Odin watched over warriors who fell in battle. Valkyries , female deities who served Odin, carried the bravest of the warriors straight to Valhalla. There Odin feasted them and prepared them for Ragnarok (pronounced RAHG-nuh-rok), the final battle in which the gods were doomed to perish.

Odin was credited with great wisdom, including knowledge of magic and the ability to see the future. He paid a high price for this gift, however, giving one of his eyes in exchange for a drink from the well of Mimir (pronounced MEE-mir). The waters of this well, which seeped from among the roots of the enormous tree known as Yggdrasill (pronounced IG-druh-sil) that supported the world, contained great wisdom. Another myth says that Odin stabbed himself with his magical spear, called Gungnir (pronounced GOONG-nir), and hung from Yggdrasill for nine days and nights in a living death. This self-sacrifice gave him knowledge of the runes, the Norse symbols used for writing and fortune-telling. Yet, although Odin was wise, he could also be sly and treacherous. It was not unusual, for example, for him to break his word or to turn people against each other to start conflicts.

Odin had the power to change his appearance, and this shape-shifting played a part in the myth that explains Odin's connection with poetry. The wisest being who ever lived was Kvasir (pronounced VAHS-eer), whom the gods had formed from their own saliva. Dwarves killed Kvasir and mixed his blood with honey to form a potion that granted wisdom and the gift of poetry. A giant hid the potion in the middle of a mountain and set his daughter to guard it. Odin changed himself into a snake and slithered through a tiny hole in the mountain. Taking the form of a handsome giant, he charmed the daughter into letting him drink the potion. Once Odin had swallowed it, he changed into an eagle and flew to Asgard, where he vomited the potion into three sacred vats. A few drops of the potion fell to the earth during his flight and became the inspiration for human poets.

Another myth reveals Odin as both a treacherous figure and the enforcer of divine justice. He observed two young princes, Agnar and Geirrod (pronounced GEHR-rod). On Odin's advice, Geirrod sent Agnar out to sea in a boat and then reported that his brother had drowned. After Geirrod grew up and became king, he was tested when a man named Grimnir appeared in his court. Fearing that the man was a sorcerer, Geirrod had him tortured. The king's son, however, showed pity on Grimnir and helped him. After predicting that Geirrod would kill himself with his own sword, Grimnir revealed that he was Odin. The king grabbed his sword to attack him but tripped and stabbed himself. Odin then set the kindly son on the throne.

Odin liked to wander the earth in the form of an old man wearing a blue cloak and a wide-brimmed hat that hid his one-eyed face. Often he was accompanied by wolves and ravens, flesh eaters that haunt battlefields. His ravens Hugin (pronounced HYOO-gin, meaning “thought”) and Munin (pronounced MYOO-nin, meaning “memory”) traveled around the world and the underworld each day, returning to tell their knowledge-loving master what they had seen. Odin occasionally rode an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir (pronounced SLAYP-nir), who could travel at great speed through the air and across water.

Odin in Context

The worship of Odin flourished across much of northern Europe and gained strength in the eighth and ninth centuries CE, the age of the Vikings. These Norse warriors and raiders, especially the fearsome fighters called the Berserks, regarded Odin as their special protector. As warriors, they were drawn to his battle-scarred exterior and no-nonsense nature. The increasing popularity of Odin also reflected the increase in warlike behavior among the Norse people. The ceremonies in honor of Odin sometimes included human sacrifice, with victims dying by the spear or by fire. Ritual hangings were especially important in the worship of Odin, who was sometimes called the Lord of the Gallows or the Hanging God because of his own mythic hanging on the tree Yggdrasill. When the Vikings raided Nantes, a town in northwestern France, in 842, they hanged many of the inhabitants, perhaps as an offering to Odin.

Key Themes and Symbols

One of the main themes found in the myths of Odin is sacrifice. For example, Odin gives up one of his eyes in order to drink from Mimir's well of wisdom. Odin's missing eye can be viewed as a symbol of his ability to see beyond normal sight. Another theme found in the myths of Odin is the inability to escape destiny—the notion that future events have already been determined and cannot be changed. Odin gains the ability to see the future and knows that he and the other gods of the Aesir will die at Ragnarok, but nothing he can do will change that fate.

Odin in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Odin is one of the best-known gods of Norse mythology. He appeared under the name Wotan in the opera cycle known as Der Ring des Nibelungen {The Ring of the Nibelung), written by German composer Richard Wagner in the late nineteenth century. Odin has appeared more recently as a character in the Marvel Comics Universe, and as a character in the Sandman series by author Neil Gaiman. The name of the fourth day of the week, Wednesday, comes from Woden's-day, the god's Old English name.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

In modern times, human sacrifice is almost universally condemned as a barbaric practice that violates basic human rights. Soldiers fighting in wars, however, often end up killing enemies, much like the Vikings did, though it is not considered human sacrifice. Do you think there is a basic difference between killing an enemy in modern warfare and the sacrifice of an enemy in ancient combat? Explain your position.

SEE ALSO Frigg; Mimir; Norse Mythology; Ragnarok; Thor; Valhalla; Yggdrasill; Ymir

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