Odin…Where to begin? That is a good question! I would like to remind everyone that my post on Odin shall be divided into three parts! So do not expect all of it in this post! This post shall be jam-packed with as much information as I can get! A great deal of it shall be common knowledge, but for those new comers, or those who are curious, I want this to be a “one stop shop” of information! Ok let’s get started!
Odin, the All-Father of Nordic Gods
Odin is known by many names. His most common alternate names that are used in everyday use are: The All-father, Óðinn, Woden, Wuotan, Wotan, or Wodan.
For a complete list of Odin’s alias, please refer to this link:
I would like to start off by detailing Odin’s personality, and general physical appearance. The best way to describe what Odin looks like (in his normal form) is a shapeshifter (think of Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings). In letters written by the author J.R.R Tolkien, he describes his inspiration for Gandalf the Grey Wanderer.
Gandalf was created with Odin in mind, in his appearance, and his attitude.
Gandalf the Grey Wanderer, Lord of the Rings
That is the most simple way to describe Odin.
Odin is a god of war and death, but also the god of poetry, wisdom and magic. Odin is described (at least when he is in Midgard) of having grey robes, a wide brimmed grey hat, leather boots, leather gloves, a long grey beard matched by long grey hair and a staff (Possibly his enchanted spear Grungnir).
Are you picturing Gandalf? I know that I am! Odin is somber, wise, strong, kind and yet brutal. He is the All-Father, all emotion.
The parents of the All-Father are the giants Bor, and Bestla. Odin has two brothers, the leader of the Vanir, Vili and Ve. Odin is for lack of a better word, and I apologize to Odin, but he is a player. Yes, I mean that kind of player. In simple language, his game is sex. Odin (surprisingly) has one wife, the All-Mother Frigg.
He has many mistresses, concubines, and affairs with various beings. Odin’s genealogy differs depending on who you ask, and what you read. Here is just one of the ideas. By his wife Frigg, Odin had Hermod, Hodr, and Baldur. With Jord, Odin had his most well known son, Thor. By the giantess Rindr, ( I think she has other names but I cannot think of them) Odin had Vali, the silent one. Other children of Odin include but are not limited to: Vidar, Bragi, Heimdall and Mankind. The later is heavily debated. It is said that Odin, with the help of Vili and Ve, created humans from two tree trunks that they found on the shore. Thus he is the father of man (as are Villi and Ve). But then it is also said that Heimdall is (or that at least) created the different social classes. Who can say?
Before getting into the religious
aspects of Odin, I would like to go into the historical first, as they go hand in hand.
“Worship of Odin may date to Proto-Germanic paganism. The Roman historian Tacitus may refer to Odin when he talks of Mercury. The reason is that, like Mercury, Odin was regarded as a Psycho-pomp, “guide of souls.”
As Odin is closely connected with a horse called Sleipnir, and a spear called Gungnir. His transformation and shape shifting into animal shapes, an alternative theory of origin contends that Odin, or at least some of his key characteristics, may have arisen just prior to the 6th century as a nightmarish horse god (Echwaz), later signified by the eight-legged Sleipnir.
Some support for Odin as a latecomer to the Scandinavian Norse pantheon can be found in the Sagas where at one time he is thrown out of Asgard by the other gods — a seemingly unlikely tale for a well-established “All Father”. However, it could also mean Odin represented an older cult of proto-Germanic hunter-gatherers, his association with being a wanderer and having shamanic qualities, and this story might on the contrary mean the Odin-cult was taken over by newer sedentary cults.
Scholars who have linked Odin with the “Death God” template include E. A. Ebbinghaus, Jan de Vries and Thor Templin. The later two also link Loki and Odin as being one-and-the-same until the early Norse Period.
Scandinavian Óðinn emerged from Proto-Norse *Wōdin during the Migration period, artwork of this time (on gold bracteates) depicting the earliest scenes that can be aligned with the High Medieval Norse mythological texts. The context of the new elites emerging in this period aligns with Snorri‘s tale of the indigenous Vanir who were eventually replaced by the Æsir, intruders from the Continent.
Parallels between Odin and Celtic Lugus have often been pointed out: both are intellectual gods, commanding magic and poetry. Both have ravens and a spear as their attributes.
Julius Caesar (de bello Gallico, 6.17.1) mentions Mercury as the chief god of Celtic religion. A likely context of the diffusion of elements of Celtic ritual into Germanic culture is that of the Chatti, who lived at the Celtic-Germanic boundary in Hesse during the final centuries before the Common Era. (It should be remembered that many Indo-Europeanists hypothesize that Odin in his Proto-Germanic form was not the chief god, but that he only gradually replaced Týr during the Migration period.)” (1)
Odin is an ancient god (one of the first to show up historically). He was not always the father of the gods, and king of the Aesir (this title, as stated above originally was held by Tyr: a son of Odin in some myths). As the people evolved and changed, so did their need for a different head god. Thus, Odin became the king of Asgard. Now there are a few ways to look at this. The purely historical, and the religious. The purely historical person would say that Odin became the All-Father because that was what humans needed him to be.
While this fits in with the religious, it does not go both ways of course. In a heathen sense, where Odin is one of our gods, it is possible that just like there are changes in leadership among humans, that Odin could have beaten Tyr in some sort of battle or competition and taken his place. Odin, being the great seeker of knowledge that he is, became so wise and powerful that the other gods decided to raise him to their leader. That goes with the historical, or it could be as simple as the Tyr idea is wrong, and Odin was always the leader, I tend to lean this way.
Another, more general take on the All-Father: (remember, I do quote quite a lot just to make sure that I do not miss anything, and to give the best/most information I can!)
“In the Norse pantheon, Asgard was the home of the gods, and it was the place where one could find Odin, the supreme deity of them all. Connected to his Germanic ancestor Woden or Wodan, Odin was the god of kings and the mentor of young heroes, to whom he often gave magical gifts.
In addition to being a king himself, Odin was a shapeshifter, and frequently roamed the world in disguise. One of his favorite manifestations was that of a one-eyed old man; in the Norse Eddas, the one-eyed man appears regularly as a bringer of wisdom and knowledge to heroes. He pops up in everything from the saga of the Volsungs to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. He was typically accompanied by a pack of wolves and ravens, and rode on a magic horse named Sleipnir.
Odin is associated with the concept of the wild hunt, and leads a noisy hoard of fallen warriors across the sky. Odin was said to summon dead heroes and kings to Valhalla, which they entered accompanied by the host of Valkyries. Once in Valhalla, the fallen engaged in feasting and combat, always ready to defend Asgard from its enemies. Odin’s warrior followers, the Berserkers, wore the pelts of a wolf or bear in battle, and worked themselves up into an ecstatic frenzy that made them oblivious to the pain of their wounds.
As a young man Odin hung on the world tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days while pierced by his own javelin, in order to obtain the wisdom of the nine worlds. This enabled him to learn the magic of the runes. Nine is a significant number in the Norse sagas, and appears frequently.
Odin continues to maintain a strong following, particularly amongst members of the Asatru community.” (2)
Well I think that this is a good place to stop for part 1! Next week on “The Gods” we shall go into Odin’s mythological, and religious aspects!
May the All-Father watch over you and yours!