chapter  1
12 Pages

The mythic cycle of Odin

The myth Odin is best known in the context of Scandinavian mythology, although he is an old god who fi gures in the mythologies of other northern peoples as Woden, Wodan, Wotan or Woutan (North 1997). He has a priestly as well as a martial role, and he served as the patron of aristocrats, warriors and poets (Byock 2005: xviii). In Old Norse mythology, Odin appears as the head of the pantheon and as the king of the Asir gods (Nordberg 2003). His nature is particularly complicated and contradictory, and he is the most ambiguous in character and attributes of all the Nordic gods. His name derives from a word that would mean something like ‘leader of the possessed’. In Old Norse the word o∂r meant both ‘poetry’ and ‘frenzy’ (Lindow 2001: 250), and Odin is the furious ecstasy-god as well as the lord of inspiration and magic. He takes different names in virtually all the myths and more than 156 alternate names for him are known (listed in Orchard 2002: Appendix A), including All-Father, the High One and Val-Father, which means ‘Father of the Slain’ (Byock 2005: xviii). More than anything, however, he is the great sorcerer who uses his ‘wisdom’ to place himself atop the hierarchy of all living creatures (Lindow 2001: 250). In all, nine magical acts are ascribed to him. Among these are the following: he can appear in whatever shape he chooses – man, woman or animal; he commands the magic of the weather; with words he can extinguish fi re, calm the seas and turn the winds; he can communicate with the dead; he possesses oral magic, galdrar (spells and chants) (Simek 1996: 97 f.) and the magic of writing – the runes (Ynglinga Saga chs 6-7). Through self-sacrifi ce and self-infl icted torture he attained the highest power, that is, made himself the master of runic magic. He sacrifi ced himself by spearing himself and by hanging in the World Tree (Yggdrasil), the holy tree, for nine stormy days and nights and through this suffering won magic, the art of runes, and powerful spells – that is, wisdom and knowledge.