The nature of Odin

I’m a big fan of norse mythology, in particular Odin. My studies in it have led me to form my own, perhaps slightly creative interpretations.

Odin is a very fascinating and complex god. It is interesting to note that his jurisdiction as a deity is essentially composed of different modes of self-transcendence. He is psychopomp (loss of self through death), god of intoxicants, and god of ecstatic and/or inspired states (“poetic fury”, or in battle the berserker rage). His “death” on yggdrasil was a self-sacrifice, with the goal of gaining wisdom through his own destruction.

He is the god of the wanderer, the outsider, taking on over 200 distinct forms in the norse mythos. Besides this, Odin has two brothers named Vili and Ve. In proto-germanic, the names of the three brothers are alliterating: “Wódin, Wili, Wé”, and form a triad of inspiration, cognition, and numen. It has been theorized by several scholars that the three brothers are a trinity rather than discrete deities. (The reasoning for this is that Vili and Ve have almost no role in norse mythology while their brother has one of the most important, that Odin takes many forms throughout the mythos, and that Vili and Ve sleep with Odin’s wife while he is away.)

It is also worthy of note that until the end of the migration period, Loki and Odin were identified as the same god. In later texts, Loki is the brother of Helblindi, which is one of the aspects of Odin, and each of the two gods has a son with the name Vali. Both Odin and Loki take on many different forms, and are gods of deception and concealment.

Odin and Loki, in their most common form, are also blood brothers, and share many familial links. Fenris, the offspring of Loki, is raised by Odin himself until he bites off the hand of Tyr. Fenris, of course, will later kill Odin at Ragnarok, (a fate of which Odin is perfectly aware), only to be killed by Odin’s son Vioarr, while Loki is killed by Odin’s son Heimdallr. Sleipnir, Odin’s eight legged steed, is the son of Loki. However, in early texts Sleipnir is referred to as Echwaz, a horse-god of nightmares, who many scholars have identified as an originator-god of Odin himself.

Loki and Odin have no real issue to fight over, for despite the traditional attribution of Loki as the “trickster” and “deceiver” Odin at the very least equals him in this regard. Loki creates chaos among the gods but Odin is the patron of the chaotic wild hunt, of battle and war, and of death itself.

So the question is, given Odin’s elusive, concealed and plural nature can he be identified as an individual at all? He appears to be representative of a trinity of forces, takes on a multitude of names/forms, reigns over to transcendence of the ego-self and is intimately linked, if not identifiable, with his arch-enemy Loki.

A further question is whether or not Odin actually dies at Ragnarok.

He is all-seeing and all-wise as a god, often using deceit, trickery and concealment to achieve his own ends. Furthermore, he possesses the secret knowledge of the runes and the power of prophecy, making him privy to the innermost workings of the cosmos, and has (apparently) died once before on yggdrasil.

Worthy of note here is Odin’s son, Vioarr, who remains silent and plays no role in the mythos until the moment his father dies. Immediately after Fenris devours Odin whole, Vioarr steps on Fenris’ lower jaw and grabs his upper jaw, breaking the wolf’s skull in two. Vioarr, no longer silent, then takes his place as one of gods of the new world. Given the heavily cyclic nature of norse mythology, it is highly suggestive that at the same the moment that Odin (intentionally) dies his formerly passive son steps forward, avenges his death and becomes an active member of the new pantheon. In norse mythology, wisdom, prophecy and magic are heavily associated to speech, song and poetry. Thus before Ragnarok Vioarr is impotent in these capacities, and after Ragnarok he is positioned to take his father’s place as their patron.

My interpretation of this is that Vioarr is nothing more than another form of Odin, or the force/entity behind “Odin”, and also that Loki and Odin are but two sides of the same coin. Odin does not die, he simply takes on a new form after Ragnarok.

“Odin” is the lingam, the creative ‘male’ force, present in countless forms but not reducible to their sum. Loki is merely the aspect of this force that turns upon itself (he is not essentially creative as none of his progeny survive Ragnarok to populate the new world), upon Odin, disrupting equilibrium so that destruction and violence ensue. However, this violence is itself an act of creation by Odin\Loki, resulting in a new world which begins the cycle anew.


“Wait, what? He’s pretty obviously an individual in the prose Edda which is one of the few semi-canon Norse sources.”

Chronological error, my bad. I should have referenced a much earlier time period, before the prose edda. Thor Templin and Jan de Vries are the scholarly proponents of this theory, though I have been unable to find english translations of their works.

“You’re getting Abrahamic monotheism in your Norse. None of the Norse gods are all anything. They are limited, mortal*, bound by fate. Sure, Odin could see whatever currently happening in the universe from his throne, but it was more like satellite recon than being simultaneously aware of everything.

Besides, if he was all-wise, why’d the Aesir get their asses kicked in the Aesir-Vanir war? They end up with a peace treaty and the Aesir almost getting fined. What kind of Jimmy Carter bullshit is that?
is not, sir.”

Odin is, at the very least, the all-father, so your assertion that none of the norse gods are ‘all-anything’ is incorrect. wink.gif .

My Abrahamic monotheism is not anywhere near my Norse. I did not state that Odin was omniscient. All-seeing, yes, with the qualifier that he is only so when seated upon his throne. I did not think it relevant to include this factoid in my post, as it has nothing to do with the point I was trying to make. Likewise, the technical answer to why the Aesir lost is either that it was fate, or that Odin hadn’t yet gained his wisdom. (Only after drinking from mimir’s well does he have access to the ‘wisdom of ages’)

Odin, as an individual, is most definitely limited. He is subject to fate, he is subject to injury and death, he must sacrifice heavily to gain wisdom and power, he makes mistakes etc. He is but one of many forms taken by an underlying force. The god of abrahmic monotheism is about as far away from my interpretation as it gets.


~ by ethmgallagher on August 19, 2009.

3 Responses to “The nature of Odin”

  1. […] The nature of Odin « Sleeping In the Rain […]

  2. do you know why, when the vikings adopted latin why echwaz (horse rune) became e?

  3. Linguistics is not an area of expertise for me, but to the best of my knowledge the attribution is phonetic in nature. That is to say, the closest approximation to the sound echwaz signified in Latin is most similar to e.

    It’s important to note here that the runic alphabet was very unstable and is preserved in multiple forms, echwaz is only present in the Elder Futhark if I remember correctly.

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