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Óðinn/Odin: A Reference on the Norse God of Wisdom and War

Please note that this work is subject to updates and that the most recently updated version will always be the document in my google drive linked to on my Resources page. Please also note that you should not accept any of this at face value and always research any of the information I make available yourself. This is intended to be a simple reference and jumping-off point.

Odin and Gunlod by Emil Doepler
Odin bei Gunlod, Emil Doepler

Basic Info:

  • Name Origin: Old Norse
  • Other Names: Wuotan/Wōtan (Old High German); Wōdan (Old Saxon); Wōden (Old English); Wōđanaz (reconstructed Proto-Germanic)
  • Principal Race/“Family” Designation: Æsir
  • God of: war; battle; battle frenzy; berserks; death; victory; hunting; wisdom; Shamanism; magic; poetry; prophecy; inspiration
  • Associations: the runes; the ansuz rune specifically; divination; ravens; wolves; spears; berserks; valkyrjur
  • Epithets[1], [1], [3], [4]: Aldaföðr, Aldagautr, Alföðr, Algingautr, Angan Friggjar, Arnhöfði, Ásagrimmr, Atriði, Atriðr, Auðun, Baldrsfaðr, Bileygr, Biflindi, Blindi, Blindr, (possibly) Bragi, Bróðir Vilis, Bróðir Vilja, Brúni, Brúnn, Burr Bors, Byrlindi, Bági ulfs, Báleygr, Bölverkr, Böðgæðir, Darraðr, Dorruðr, Draugadróttinn, Dresvarpr, Ein sköpuðr galdra, Ennibrattr, Eylúðr, Farmagnuðr, Farmögnuðr, Farmaguð, Farmatýr, Farmr arma Gunnlaðar, Farmr galga, Faðmbyggvir Friggjar, Faðr galdr, Fengr, Fimbultýr, Fimbulþulr, Fjallgeiguðr, Fjölnir, Fjölsviðr, Fjörgynn, Foldardróttinn, Forni, Fornölvir, Frumverr Friggjar, Fráríðr, Fráríði, Fundinn, Gagnráðr, Galdraföðr, Gangari, Ganglari, Gangleri, Gangráðr, Gapþrosnir, Gautatýr, Gautr, Geiguðr, Geirlöðnir, Geirtýr, Geirvaldr, Geirölnir, Geldnir, Gestumblindi, Ginnarr, Gizurr, Glapsviðr, Gollorr, Goði hrafnblóts, Goðjaðarr, Gramr Hliðskjálfar, Grímnir, Grímr, Gunnblindi, Göllnir, Göllungr, Göndlir, Hagvirkr, Hangadróttinn, Hangaguð, Hangatýr, Hangi, Haptabeiðir, Haptaguð, Haptasnytrir, Haptsönirî, Harri Hliðskjálfar, Heimþinguðr hanga, Helblindi, Hengikeptr, Hengikjopt, Herblindi, Herföðr, Herjaföðr, Hergautr, Herjan, Herteitr, Hertýr, Hildolfr, Hjaldrgegnir, Hjaldrgoð, Hjarrandi, Hjálmberi, Hleifruðr, Hléfreyr, Hnikarr, Hnikuðr, Hovi, Hoárr, Hrafnaguð, Hrafnáss, Hrafnfreistuðr, Hrami, Hrani, Hrjóðr, Hroptr, Hroptatýr, Hrosshársgrani, Hvatmóðr, Hveðrungr, Hárbarðr, Hárr, Hávi, Hötter, Jafnhárr, Jalfaðr, Jarngrímr, Jolfr, Jálg, Jálkr, Jólnir, Jölnir, Jölfuðr, Jölföðr, Jörmunr, Kjalarr, Langbarðr,  Löndungr, Loðungr, Niðr Bors, Njótr, Olgr, (possibly) Óðr, Rauðgrani, Reiðartýr, Runni vagna, Rögnir, Rúnatýr, Sanngetall, Saðr, Sigföðr, Siggautr, Sigmundr, Sigrhofundr, Sigrúnnr, Sigtryggr, Sigtýr, Sigðir, Sigþrór, Skilfingr, Skollvaldr, Sonr Bestlu, Spjalli Gauta, Sveigðir, Svipall, Sviðarr, Sviðrir, Sviðurr, Sviðuðr, Sváfnir, Svölnir, Síðgrani, Síðhöttr, Síðskeggr, Tveggi, Tvíblindi, Uðr, Vakr, Valdr galga, Valdr vagnbrautar, Valföðr, Valgautr, Valkjosandi, Valtam, Valtamr, Valtýr, Valþognir, Vegtam, Veratýr, Vingnir, Vinr Lopts, Vinr Lóðurs, Vinr Míms, Vinr stalla, Viðfräger, Viðrir, Viðrímnir, Viðhrimnir, Viðurr, Váfuðr, Váfuðr Gungnis, Váði vitnis, Vófuðr, Völundr rómu, Yggr, Ít-rekr, Ófnir, Ómi, Óski, Ýjungr, Ýrungr, Þekkr, Þrasarr, Þriggi, Þriði, Þrór, Þróttr, Þundr, Þuðr
  • Mythological Possessions: Gungnir, a magical spear made by dwarves
  • Dwellings: (formerly) Ginnungagap; Ásgarðr; Valskjálf; Valhǫll
  • Family: Father: Borr; Mother: Bestla; Wife: Frigg; Consorts: Rindr, Griðr, Jǫrð, possibly Gunnlǫð; Siblings: Vili, Vé; Children: Baldr, Bragi, Hǫðr, Þórr, Váli, Víðarr

Further Info:

On Óðinn’s Berserks: The worship of Óðinn could give a psychological advantage to a warrior during battle; the gifts of battle-confidence and the strength and fury of possession, which could likely lead to victory for that warrior.

On Óðinn Being Untrustworthy: According to tenth-century Norwegian court poetry, Óðinn himself causes some great warriors to die in battle so that he can ensure that they wind up in Valhalla after they’re dead. “In some poems they reproach Óðinn when they arrive in Valhöll, claiming, correctly, that he is not to be trusted.”[5] The picture of Óðinn in the original heathens’ minds seemed to evolve over time from a just god of victory to a more tyrannical, capricious god of madness who could give victory should he choose to. The tenth-century poem Hakonarmal describes Óðinn in like this: “Surely we have deserved victory of the gods… Óðinn has shown enmity towards us… We will keep our war-gear ready to hand.” In Lokasenna, Loki says to Óðinn: “Be silent, Odin, you never know how to / apportion honour in war among men; / often you’ve given what you shouldn’t have given, / victory, to the faint-hearted.” In Ketils Saga Hoengs, it is said of Óðinn: “Balder’s father has broken faith–it is unsafe to trust him…” In Hrolfs Saga Kraka, it is said: “I suspect indeed that it is Odin who comes against us here, the foul and untrue…” [6] Even in stanza #110 of The Havamal, Óðinn says of himself: “Odin swore and oath on a ring; Who can trust his troth now? He took drink at Suttung’s table, and betrayed him: He left Gunnlod in grief.”[7]

The implication of all these numerous sources is that Óðinn is untrustworthy cannot be relied on to keep his word or act honorably. This is echoed by the words of Coifi the high priest in response to the King Edwin of Northumbria’s inquiry of what his court thought of the new Christian doctrine, recorded by Bede in Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation: “O king, consider what this is which is now preached to us; for I verily declare to you that the religion which we have hitherto professed has, as afar as I can learn, no virtue in it. For none of you people has applied himself more diligently to the worship of our gods than I; and yet there are many who receive greater favors from you, and are more preferred than I, and who are more prosperous in all their undertakings. Now if the gods were good for anything, they would rather forward me, who have been more careful to serve them. If follows, therefore, that if upon examination you find those new doctrines which are now preached to us better and more efficacious, we should immediately receive them without any delay.”[8] Coifi was probably a priest of Óðinn, if his method of destroying the temple of the gods (spearing and burning) are indeed meant to reflect sacrificial rites associated with Óðinn himself.

On Óðinn as the Ancestral God: Most Anglo-Saxon kings considered Wōden to be their divine ancestor. [9]

On Óðinn’s Development as a Deity: “Odin in fact appears to be the Successor of both Wōdan and Tīwaz, retaining some of the qualities and attributes of both these gods.”[10]

On Óðinn as God of Battle: In the late heathen period, Óðinn was the main figure who represented the God of Battle. He provided weapons to his chosen followers, and once they received them they were bound to serve him loyally in life and beyond. Óðinn also taught battle strategy and spells to a few of his chosen followers, such as Hadding and Sigmund.

On Víðarr’s Vengeance: During Ragnarøkkr, Óðinn is avenged by his son Víðarr, who slays Fenrir after Óðinn is slain by him in battle. “Then comes the great / son of Odin, Vithar, / to fight, to avenge / his father on the wolf. / He shoves his sword / into the mouth of Fenrir, / all the way to the heart, / and thus is Odin avenged.”[11]

On Sacrifices Made to Óðinn: In the early days of the Germanic heathens, wholesale sacrifice of war prisoners and criminals to Wōtan was common. It was also extremely common to sacrifice the enemy’s tools of war (armor, weapons, shields, etc.) to Wōtan by casting them into swamps or lakes or by burning them on a pyre. The traditional methods of sacrifice to Óðinn are spearing, hanging, and burning, though other methods are also acceptable. [12]

Theories:

On the Bird Divination of the Ancient Germans: The Ancient Germanic people practiced a form of augury in which the sight of a raven before a battle was known to foretell victory. Though augury using crows is not unique to the Ancient Germans (the Greeks and Romans used it, and there are instances of it in Biblical mythology), there is no doubt in my mind that this is related to the later Oðinn’s wartime influence in some way. That said, I don’t yet know the extent of that relation. Perhaps at some point ravens were associated among the Ancient Germans with Tīwaz.

On Óðinn as a Ferryman for the Dead: In The Saga of the Volsungs,[13] Óðinn appears as a Kharon-esque figure, carrying the dead Sigurd, son of Sigmund, on a boat which he rowed. It is possible that this conception of Óðinn as a Kharon-esque figure may have been born as a result of a possible overlap between Óðinn’s and the Vanir’s worship practices and mythologies. The Vanir were the primary gods worshiped in Iceland, and Njörðr in particular, who may theoretically have had roots as a similar ferryman-type figure, given the importance of ship-burials and the idea of the “land beyond the sea” for the dead.

References:

  • Artisson, Robin. The Words of Odin: A New Rendering of Havamal for the Present Age. Concord, NH: Black Malkin Press, 2016.
  • Bede, Lionel Cecil Jane, J. A. Giles, and John Stevens. The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. London: J.M. Dent, 1903.
  • Bugge, Sophus. Sæmundar Edda. 1867. MS.
  • Byock, Jesse L. The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
  • Crawford, Jackson. The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. Indianapolis, IN: Haccket Publishing Company, 2015.
  • Davidson, H. R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. London: Pelican Books, 1964.
  • Davidson, H. R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of the Viking Age. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2006.
  • Larrington, Carolyne. The Norse Myths: A Guide to the Gods and Heroes. NY, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2017
  • Magnússon, Árni. Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection. MS.
  • Mitchell, Stephen. “Odin, Magic, and a Swedish Trial from 1484.” Scandinavian Studies 81, no. 3 (September 1, 2009).
  • Stolt Herr Alf. MS.
  • Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. c. 1220. MS.

Footnotes:

[1] Sophus Bugge. Sæmundar Edda. 1867. MS.

[2] Snorri Sturluson. Edda. c. 1220. MS.

[3] Stolt Herr Alf. MS.

[4] Árni Magnússon. Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection. MS.

[5] Carolyne Larrington. The Norse Myths: A Guide to the Gods and Heroes. NY, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2017

[6] H. R. Ellis Davidson. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. London: Pelican Books, 1964.

[7] Robin Artisson. The Words of Odin: A New Rendering of Havamal for the Present Age. Concord, NH: Black Malkin Press, 2016.

[8] Bede, Lionel Cecil Jane, J. A. Giles, and John Stevens. The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. London: J.M. Dent, 1903.

[9] H. R. Ellis Davidson. Gods and Myths of the Viking Age. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2006.

[10] H. R. Ellis Davidson. Gods and Myths of the Viking Age. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2006.

[11] Jackson Crawford. The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. Indianapolis, IN: Haccket Publishing Company, 2015.

[12] H. R. Ellis Davidson. Gods and Myths of the Viking Age. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2006.

[13] Jesse L. Byock. The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

© Alixander F. D. Bragiteilen and Bragiteilen.com, 2018. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alixander F. D. Bragiteilen and Bragiteilen.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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