Surely you have already heard of it as the “All-Father” or the “Wanderer”. This is Odin, the god of war, one of the most symbolic and iconic characters in Norse mythology.
God of victory, war, knowledge, poetry and the dead, he was venerated by the majority of the Viking people, throughout their territories. Disciples and youth also had great respect for Odin, to receive honor, prestige, but also great dignity.
Odin is the son of the giant Ymir and the husband of the goddess of marriage who is none other than Frigg. This large, complex, yet ever so figurative figure from Norse mythology , sits enthroned with his wife in the palace of Valaskjalf atop Asgard.
He was the most powerful of Asgard, the pantheon of Norse gods, that is to say a territory which housed all the gods and which was placed at the center of the worlds.
The god Odin: his name throughout history
The Norse god Odin has been known by many names throughout history. In Old Norse he was known as Óðinn (Wodanor Wōden in Old English).
The name Odin has a double meaning once divided into two parts: the prefix óðr which is defined by fury and impenetrability, and the suffix “inn” which means “master of” and which also refers to perfection. In other words, Odin can mean "the master of ecstasy". Indeed, Odin has the firm ability to embody and transmit supreme ecstasy to the people around him.
Do you know that the word "Wednesday" comes from the name of Odin? Indeed, this word comes from the German "Wotan" or "Wōđanaz"in proto germanic,which is the German translation of Odin's name. Because of this, Wednesday is considered Odin's Day.
In the Nordic countries it is called Oden. Lithuanians call it Dievas, while Estonians call it Taara.
The Celts worshiped him as Lugus and among the Scandinavian tribes he was called Fröj or Freyr. Among the Baltic nations, such as Lithuania, it was called Perkūnas or Pērkons. In Russia and Ukraine, Odin is known as Volos or Veles.
The Teutons referred to him as Tiwaz, while the Norse called him Allfather due to his role as supreme ruler of the gods and goddesses.
The creation of the world by Odin
Odin is the son of the giant Ymir, it is from this giant that the god of war will create the world. He first separated his father Ymir's body into its four parts, Earth, Air, Fire and Water.
Odin then took the sparks of fire that burned in his father Ymir's eyes and used them to light up the sky and create stars in the night. This is how Odin filled the world with knowledge and wisdom, which he was known for throughout his life.
Using Ymir's skull as a vessel, Odin created the heavens or "the dome of heaven" which encloses everything in its protection against the outer forces of chaos.
As a final step , Odin breathed life into two human beings named Ask and Embla. He gave them clothes and a house which he called Midgard to live in. From Ask and Embla, the rest of humanity was born and this is how Odin completed the creation of the world.
Over time, as ruler over the world of men, Odin continued to teach the knowledge and wisdom of the runes to men and he created many gods associated with specific aspects of life on Earth. He also sent down laws from Asgard intended to maintain order in Midgard and ensure that men respect his wishes.
Odin is an important character in Norse sagas and is said to be the father of many gods. He has two brothers, Vili and Ve, with whom he created the world. In addition to his two god brothers, Odin is also married to the goddess Frigg, with whom he had several sons including Baldr and Hod.
Frigg is a goddess associated with domestic affairs and motherhood. She was also believed to have a special relationship with every living creature, giving her an even greater role in the lives of all individuals. It is said that Odin married his wife Frigg for love rather than political reasons, making their bond even stronger.
However, Odin's family doesn't stop there as he was known to take trips to Jotunheim, the land of giants. During these travels, Odin fell in love with many giantesses who bore him other children. One of them was Thor (the god of thunder), born after an affair with Jörð or Earth. Among the other gods who are credited with descending from Odin is Vali, the god of justice.
In the pre-Christian courts of the Viking Age, kings and their retinue experienced skaldic poetry that venerably named Baldr, Thor, and Vali as sons of Odin. Thirteenth-century Icelandic author Snorri Sturluson went further by adding Heimdall, Týr Bragi Vidarr and Hodr to the list, reading the contents of his poetry even serving to remind us (and perhaps encourage!) of the reputation of 'Odin as a womanizer, with many mothers having given birth to children named after him.
Loki is another important son of Odin and was born of an illicit union with a giantess. He is described as a prankster god, renowned for his cunning and mischief.
As such, Odin's family therefore consists of several gods, giantesses and other supernatural beings who are all linked to him by their common filiation.
Odin: god of war in Norse mythology
Through some modern popular imagery, we can see Odin as an honorable king and a real strategist and intelligent commander once on the battlefield. Nevertheless, this image is misrepresented, because in Scandinavian mythology, the Norse peoples had another vision of Odin.
In Old Norse he was the opposite and behaved opposite to some noble gods like Thor or Tyr. Indeed, Odin rather incited pacifists to quarrel among themselves. He embodied war and combat.
His attitude is very close to the saying of Nietzsche which is: “You say that it is the good cause which sanctifies even the war? I tell you: it is the good war that sanctifies any cause”.
Additionally, Odin preferred to lavish his blessings on those Viking warriors they deem worthy of receiving them. Odin was completely the opposite of the god who was associated with sovereignty. Only a few great Germanic warriors and heroes like the Volsung family and Starkaor were able to benefit from Odin's patronage.
Odin was a god of war who was not interested in the reasons for conflicts and the resolution of clashes as we think. He is above all a god who is interested in the intensity of the battle and its chaotic aspect. Indeed, the god Odin managed to weave a friendship with the berserkers (elite warriors) and several “warrior shamans”.
The warrior shamans possessed other combat practices: those of unifying their spirits with certain ferocious totemic animals such as wolves and bears, which were then associated with Odin himself. Odin was then the master of these ferocious and savage beasts that could go into battle during battles.
The god Odin: a royal authority vis-à-vis the Aesir
Thanks to his status as chief of the gods Ases, Odin embodied the ideal model of a divine sovereign. He managed to create several legendary royal lines. Odin's preference for the elite spans several areas of society.
The Germanic peoples had a social and political hierarchy with three levels: the first level is made up of rulers, the second level is made up of warriors and finally the third level is made up of farmers. A hierarchy that is controlled by the rulers, i.e. the deities.
In this group of rulers of Germanic culture, Odin embodied an impenetrable and at the same time very sly authority. He differs from other deities by his magic and cunning. Odin was very different from Tyr. Tyr is a ruler who mostly looks to law and justice while Odin wields full sovereignty with rule through magic and trickery.
Odin was a god who didn't follow the rules to the letter. Indeed, he was the model god of outlaws, people who were punished and banished for breaking the law. To them, Odin was like an idol, as he could show exceptional willpower even when breaking the rules. In any case, the people admired in the eyes of Odin are intelligent, cunning and very open-minded people.
Understanding Odin's Animals in Norse Mythology
Odin was a master in many areas, but he had a particularly strong connection with animals. He could communicate with them in a way that most others couldn't understand!
Ravens Huginn and Muninn
Odin had two crows by his side at all times: Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory). Crows are said to have flew through the skies of the human world during the day, gathering information for their master. When they returned to the realm of the gods, they perched on one of his shoulders and whispered in his ear. This allowed Odin to keep up to date with all the news from Midgard without leaving his throne.
The Wolves Geri and Freki
Geri and Freki were two wolves who accompanied Odin on his travels to Asgard, the realm of the gods in Norse mythology. In some interpretations of Norse mythology, the two wolves were part of an immortal trio with Odin himself. This trio traveled through the nine realms of Yggdrasil, the world tree, in search of knowledge and wisdom. During these journeys, they were the faithful companions of Odin, offering him their protection.
The Wolf Fenrir
Fenrir was a giant wolf son of Loki (the joker god). It was so huge that even Odin was wary of it! To protect the realm of the Norse gods from the wrath of Fenrir , Odin bound it with an unbreakable chain called Gleipnir.
It was made from six impossible ingredients: woman's beard, mountain roots, fish breath, bear tendons, bird slime and, finally, a single lock of hair from Freya's head! This bond symbolized that even seemingly impossible tasks can be accomplished when working together.
Sleipnir was another of Odin's animal companions. It was an eight-legged horse that could travel through the air and sea at incredible speed. According to legend, Sleipnir was born when Loki transformed into a mare to distract Svadilfari, a magical stallion owned by a giant who had challenged the gods to build a wall for them in three months or less! When Svadilfari fell madly in love with the mare Loki, he fathered Sleipnir on her before she returned to her true form!
The god Odin: shamanism, magic and wisdom
For people who believe in only one god (monotheistic theology), God is omniscient: he knows everything or claims to know everything. He is also all-loving and all-powerful. For polytheists, each God is powerful, but has limits: they are like any human being or like any living being, they are limited to their abilities.
For Odin, there are no limitations. His actions therefore led him on a merciless and ruthless quest to gain more wisdom, knowledge and powers, usually of a magical nature. For Odin, the quest for wisdom was limitless: he was ready to do anything to acquire the wisdom and knowledge he needed. The story goes that Odin aimed to identify runic scriptures. For this, he was prepared to fast for 9 days and even injured himself with a spear.
To discover and exceed his limits as God, Odin also had the audacity to challenge the wisest of the giants accompanied by his competitive spirit. His intention was to find out who was better informed between the two fighters. The clash ended with Odin victorious, with his goal accomplished, as he was able to ask his opponent something that only he could know.
Odin is the greatest user of shamanism (a practice that involves trance and divinatory practices) among all the gods. Like all shamans, Odin also has accompanying spirits like Odin's crows, Hugin and Munin, wolves and valkyries.
Discoveries of the runes
Odin, Father of Scandinavian mythology, is closely associated with runes. The story goes that he sacrificed himself by hanging on a tree, the tree of life, called Yggdrasil (in Old Norse Yggdrasill )
Yggdrasil is a huge mythical tree that connects the nine worlds of Norse cosmology.
The nine worlds are:
Asgard, at the top of the tree, is the home of the Norse gods.
Vanaheim, the land of the Vanir.
Alfheim, the kingdom of the elves.
Midgard, the world of men.
Jotunheim, the land of giants and monsters.
Niflheim, the kingdom of ice and fog.
Muspelheim, the land of fire and lava.
the world of Svartalfheim, home of the dark elves.
Helheim, the realm of the dead.
Yggdrasil occupies an important place in Norse myths and is considered a source of life for all living creatures. Yggdrasil has three roots that connect it to these nine worlds and nourish them.
Odin was hung on the tree for nine days and nine nights in order to obtain his secrets. It was during this period that Odin discovered both the physical and esoteric power of runes. He learned to inscribe runes in objects such as stones and wood, as well as to use runes for divination and communication with other realms.
After his ordeal, Odin shared this rune knowledge with mankind so that they could also use the runes for their own purposes.
The god Odin: the myth of the single eye
Odin is known for his single eye, because the other was sacrificed for a specific purpose: the quest for wisdom and more specifically runes. As explained before, Odin went to the tree of life to get all the knowledge and the power of the runes. It was during this journey that he lost his eye, at the well of Mimir which is located at the foot of the tree of life, Yggdrasil.
Who is Mimir?
Mimir is a dark and mysterious being who possessed a knowledge unequaled among the inhabitants of the cosmos. He held this incomparable knowledge which was even above the gods thanks to the water he drew from the well. Indeed, water contained all cosmic knowledge.
Odin asked to drink this magic water, but Mimir only accepted if he gave him his eye. With his thirst for knowledge and wisdom, Odin did not back down and gouged out one of his eyes to then throw it into the well. He then received a glass of water from Mimir.
The story of the loss of Odin's eye is a message for readers. This myth wants to convey Odin's way of thinking, that of never backing down from anything and being ready to sacrifice one's being to acquire supreme wisdom.
In any case, the loss of his eye remains very significant, because the latter was a poetic symbol of perception. Several rather surprising expressions in the works of the great poets and in everyday use use vision as a metaphor for perceiving and understanding something.
The god Odin: the god of poetry and death
Odin is a wise and intelligent god, but also full of talents. Indeed, Odin has a good pen and is able to write poems through which he transmits his way of thinking. In his quest for knowledge, he managed to seize the mead of poetry which allowed the giants to write and speak very persuasively. His talent for poetry comes from this intoxicating drink which also gave him his famous overflowing ecstasy. He also decided to share it with men and warriors who seemed worthy to receive it.
Odin is also the god of the dead. He was more closely linked to the dead than to the world of war. Do you know that Odin was in control of Valhalla? Valhalla is the most prestigious of the habitations of the dead . Accompanied by his spirits, he himself selected the best warriors who died on the battlefield who were to accompany him to Valhalla after each battle.
Indeed, he rallied the best warriors to his side to accompany him in the fight which opposed him to the wolf Fenrir during Ragnarok. He also had the ability to communicate and raise the dead. He was trying to understand the knowledge and wisdoms that resided within the dead.
To summarize, Odin is a Viking god who thrones in Asgard, he is the god of all Norse gods and is revered by the majority of Norse people.
Odin was a symbol and representation of divine strength in the eyes of all Vikings. “The god of gods” even exercised his sovereignty in all areas of life over which he presided. Odin is considered the breath of life of the Norse people and even their lifeblood.