10 Major Myths about Odin, the all-father god in Norse mythology

In Norse mythology, Odin, the Allfather god and chief of the Aesir, is most known for his unrelenting pursuit of wisdom, knowledge and power. It’s been stated – in the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda – that Odin went to the ends of the cosmos in order to overcome some particular limitations, be it in knowledge or power. Furthermore, Odin embodies numerous qualities, some of them which are outright contradictory. The one thing that always stood out was his appetite for mischief and senseless wars and chaos.

In the article below World History Edu explores 10 major myths about Odin.

Arguably the most revered god in Norse mythology

Norse god Odin, also known as the “Master of Ecstasy”, is the ruler of Aesir gods | Image: Odin, in his guise as a wanderer, by Georg von Rosen (1886)

Son of Borr and Bestla, Odin was revered as one of the most eminent gods in Tteutonic and Scandinavian tribes. However, his role and nature are diverse and complex, often taking on the responsibility of a host of issues. For example, he was known as the god of magic, war, poetry, and wisdom.

Often took many adventures across the cosmos

To Odin, a personal limitation of his was simply an invitation for him to put everything on the line in order to overcome the said limitation. He was relentless in the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and power.

Odin’s numerous adventures throughout the Nine Worlds were fueled by his insatiable appetite for wisdom. The Norse gods, unlike the deities in monotheistic beliefs, had limitations and flaws, almost like the ones humans possess. In order to overcome a particular limitation, Odin traveled to the ends of the cosmos, often times in search of wisdom.

One time, he even sacrificed one of his eyes so he could obtain the secrets to the cosmos. On another occasion, he allowed himself to be hanged upside down in unimaginably agonizing pain so as to increase his knowledge of the runes, a magical ancient Germanic alphabet believed to hold the secrets to the cosmos. That particular ordeal lasted for nine days and nine nights.

Odin is said to have sacrificed himself to himself by hanging upside down on the world-tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nine nights | Odin sacrificing himself upon Yggdrasil as depicted by Lorenz Frølich, 1895

Patron of outlaws and social outcasts

In terms of trickery and mischief, Odin is perhaps only bested by the god of mischief Loki. Such was Odin’s knack for behaving in a devious manner that he came to be associated with outlaws and society’s misfits. He was said to have a particular liking for people who went against the established social order. Odin himself was once banished from his kingdom for about a decade, according to 13th-century Danish poet and historian Saxo Grammaticus. The all-father god had brought immense shame to the Aesir gods by acting in a mischievous manner among the race of men.

A knack for competition

One of the possible reasons Odin went on arduous self-discovery and solitary wanderings throughout the Nine Worlds had to do with his very competitive side. His unrelenting quest to acquire more knowledge and wisdom was aimed at making him standout from all beings across the cosmos.

In terms of his priorities, fairness and respect for law were not things that Odin valued the most. Instead he did everything possible to come out tops. Take the case of when he challenged a very wise giant to an intellectual battle. Odin ended up outsmarting the giant before going ahead to claim his prize – the head of the giant.

Valhalla – Odin’s magnificent residence in Asgard

It was commonly believed that Odin, the chief god in Norse mythology, resided in a magnificent palace known as Valhalla, which in turn is located in Asgard, one of the Nine Worlds.

According to the myths, the magnificent hall of Valhalla is where Odin dines and drinks to wild abandon with fallen warriors in battles. Those warriors are chosen by Odin and his maidens called the Valkyries (“choosers of the fallen”). According to the myths, Odin sends the Valkyries to visit the battle field and select the fallen warriors that they deem worthy. The goddess Freya then takes the fallen warriors that are not selected by Odin.

The rationale behind claiming those brave fallen warriors is to have a sizable army to face the giants and evil forces during Ragnarok, i.e. the demise of the gods.

Mostly associated with war and senseless chaos

Right from the pre-Christian era, Odin was seen as the god of war. It was believed by Scandinavian tribes that fallen soldiers in the field of battle were whisked away by a group of maidens known as the Valkyries or Valkyrja (“Chooser of the Slain”) to dine and wine in Odin’s hall Valhalla. For this role, Odin was described as the “Protector of brave warriors”. He is said to bestow immense blessings on warriors he deems worthy of his honor.

Odin is a very unique kind of war-god as he said to not concern himself with the reasons behind wars. Instead, he delights in the rush and ecstasy that comes with a disorderly situation or conflict.

His major symbols were the raven and the wolf

A powerful shaman and extremely knowledgeable in magic, Odin is considered the greatest shaman, along with the vanir goddess Freya. As it was typical for shamans to be in the company of animals, Odin took to always having his two ravens – Hugin and Munin – tag along with him. He was also known for always being in the company of his two fierce wolves Freki and Geri. With regard to his ravens, it was said that the birds furnished him on a daily basis major events that transpired in the Nine worlds.

Odin’s powerful eight-legged horse Sleipnir

Odin rides his horse Sleipnir, his ravens Huginn and Muninn and wolves Geri and Freki nearby | Image by Lorenz Frølich (1895)

Sleipnir, Odin’s famed horse, is said to have the ability to gallop large distances through the air and over the sea. The eight-legged imposing animal also has the runes inscribed on its teeth, making it an even more powerful and imposing animal. Sleipnir, which many accounts is considered the fastest horse in Norse mythology, is destined to be the horse which Odin will ride to face the mighty wolf Fenrir during Ragnarok (“the demise of the gods”).

One time, Odin rode Sleipnir all the way from northern Eurasia to the underworld, where he sought the counsel of a very wise female seer (a seeress/volva) in relation to his son Baldur’s dreams.

Patron of rulers

Being the ruler of Asgard, Odin is known in the myths as a deity who serves as the patron of powerful rulers, including those on Midgard (Earth). His numerous adventures throughout the Nine Worlds often times resulted in the establishment of royal blood lines.

Scandinavian warrior kings and shamans commonly associated themselves with Odin. Odin’s sphere of influence generally borders on rule by magic and mischief. He often favors rulers that deploy devious and cunning tactics in getting and maintaining power.

Depictions and appearance

In some accounts, particularly the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, Odin is described as a tall old man with very long beard. Often times, he appears donning a cloak and a hat. Held firmly in his hand is usually his most famous weapon, a spear known as Gungnir. Furthermore, he almost always appears with one eye, hence his epithet “the One-eyed raven god”. Odin is said to have exchanged one of his eyes for wisdom, making him the one-eyed raven god.

Odin and his brothers created the first humans

After overthrowing Ymir, the first frost giant, Odin and his brothers fought very hard to establish themselves as the pre-eminent rulers of their world. One day, the brothers found two tree trunks on the beach while taking a walk. Odin and his brothers went ahead to make the first humans out of the tree trunks.

Once the humans were created, the gods named them Ask (male) and Embla (female). As they were without any discernible human feature, Odin breathed into the humans the breath of life. His brothers – Vili and Vé – gifted Ask and Embla intelligence and the major human senses – ability to hear, see, feel, speak, and taste.

Odin and his brothers placed Ask and Embla within the walls of Midgard (Earth).  This came after the gods had bestowed upon the humans with some very special gifts, including the breath of life. Ask and Embla went on to become the progenitors of humanity.

Odin’s relationship with Loki

Contrary to what pop culture and the Marvel comics and blockbuster films would have people believe, Odin was not Loki’s adoptive father. Rather, the trickster god Loki was kind of an adoptive blood-brother to Odin. Unlike Odin, the chief of the Aesir gods, Loki was a jotunn (giant).

Other interesting myths about Odin

Image: Óðinn throws his spear Gungnir at the Vanir host in an illustration by Lorenz Frølich (1895)

  • Odin has a spear called Gungnir. The spear was forged by the Sons of Ivaldi, a group of very skilled dwarfs in metallurgy. The Allfather god is fated to wield the spear and ride to battle on Sleipnir in order to face the mighty wolf Fenrir during Ragnarok.
  • Odin is said to communicate only in poems; thus making him the god of poetry. He got imbued with this power by drinking copious amounts of the mead of poetry, a beverage that grants the drinker clarity and the ability to utter wise words in a beautiful and very convincing manner. The mead of poetry, also known as Óðrœrir(“Stirrer of Inspiration”), was said to have been brewed by the dwarfs (led by Fjalar and Galar) from the blood of a being known as Kvasir.
  • Another popular epithet of Odin is “The Master of Ecstasy”. His name, Óðinn, literally translates to master of ecstasy. Óðr – the first part of his name – means ecstasy or inspiration. The second part – Inn – means “master of” or “perfect example of”.
  • Characteristic of trickster deities, both Odin and Loki are known in Norse mythology for their shape shifting abilities. Both gods could take on different forms in order to act in a deceitful manner.
  • The Roman god Mercury was associated with Odin’s day “Woden’s day”, which is Wednesday.
  • According to the Icelandic poet and statesman Snorri Sturluson, in the Ynglinga saga, Odin’s brothers were briefly rulers of Asgard. They also took Odin’s wife Frigg as their consort, something which the trickster god Loki made fun of Odin in the Lokasenna
  • Other names Odin include Wodan and Woden
  • Born to Borr and the giantess Bestla, Odin and his two brothers – Vili (will), and Vé (the holy) – grew up in the realm of Niflheim, a barren place with no no food or drink. Therefore Odin and his family had to survive on the milk of the primeval cow Audhumbla.
  • Having had enough of the bad rule of the jötunn Ymir, the first frost giant in Norse mythology, Odin and his brothers slew the giant. They then used the corpse to make the world as well as other realms, including Asgard, Midgard, Jötunheim, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, and Helheim.

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