Odin

Odin, the supreme deity, had, besides the title of All-Father, many
other names. He was called Ygg (The Awful), Gagnrad (He Who
Determines Victories), Herjan (God of Battles), Har (The High One),
Jafnhar (Even as High), Thridi (Third), Nikar, Nikud, Bileyg (One With
Evasive Eyes), Baleyg (One With Flaming Eyes), Bolverk (The Worker of


Misfortune), Sigfather (The Father of Battle or of Victory), Gaut (The
Creator or, the “Geat”), Roptatyr, Valfather (Father of the Slain), etc. Odin
was the wisest of all the gods; from him the others always sought counsel
when need arose. He drew wisdom from the well of the Giant Mimir. Having
placed one of his eyes in pawn with Mimir, Odin invariably appeared as a
one-eyed, rather oldish man; otherwise he ’was represented as strong and
well-favored, and as armed with spear and shield. In Valhalla and Vingolf,
where Odin gave banquets to gods and heroes, he himself partook of
nothing but wine, which to him was both meat and drink; the meat that was
placed before him he gave to his two wolves, Geri and Freki. Odin also
had two ravens, Hugin and Munin (Thought and Memory), which perched one on each of his
shoulders. To them he owed a great part of his wisdom; every day they
flew forth through the expanses of the universe, returning at supper to tell
him all that they had seen; therefore Odin was called also the God of
Ravens. From his high seat, Lidskjalf in Valaskjalf, Odin saw all that came
to pass. On his horse, Sleipnir, which was eight-footed and the fleetest
horse in the world, he rode wherever he wished. His spear Gungnir would
strike whatsoever he aimed at. On his arm he wore the precious ring
Draupnir; from it dropped every ninth night eight other rings as splendid as
itself.

The worship of Odin appears to have consisted in part in a peculiar
kind of human sacrifice, and this circumstance had much to do with our
forefathers’ regarding him as a stern and cruel deity. Just as Odin himself
hung upon a gallows, wounded with the thrust of a spear, and devoted to
himself, so, according to certain legendary narratives it was a custom to
dedicate men to Odin by hanging them on a gallows and piercing them with
spears. The skalds thus referred to Odin as the “God of Hanged Men” or
the “Lord of the Gallows.” He bade his raven fly to such as had been
hanged, or he went in person to the gallows tree and by means of
incantations compelled the hanged man to hold discourse with him. An
historian of the eleventh century, Adam of Bremen, recounts that in the
sacrificial grove near the temple at Uppsala many
human bodies hung from the branches of the sacred trees. This record no
doubt has to do with sacrifices to Odin. With these very sacrifices to Odin
what Snorri relates in the Ynglinga Saga must be closely connected; as the
story reads there, Odin immediately before his death caused his body to be
marked with the point of a spear, and “dedicated to himself all men who
died by force of arms”; “Njord died of disease, but he let himself be marked
for dedication to Odin before he died.” Thus it was possible for Odin to
accept human sacrifice not only by means of hanging but through a
ceremonial procedure by which one who wished to avoid dying a natural
death made an incision on his body with a spear. And one who advanced
to meet an opposing army might, before joining battle, devote the enemy to
Odin by hurling a spear over the heads of the hostile force, with the words,
“Odin possesses you all.” Odin took pleasure in such a sacrifice; to him it
was a matter of great moment to surround himself with as many Heroes as
possible in preparation for the ultimate warfare against the enemies of gods
and men.

Among the Æsir there were several gods of war, but Odin was
foremost. From him battle took the name of “Odin’s Tempest” and “Ygg’s
Game”; and the spear, “Odin’s Fire.” The worship of Odin as the supreme
deity was not, however, universally prevalent; the cult bound up with his name
seems to have come from the South into the North at a comparatively late date.
Place names in which the name of Odin forms a compounding element provide
valuable aid in determining the limits of Odin worship in various regions.
Jord and Frigg were the wives of Odin; his concubines, the Giantess
Grid, and Rind; his sons were Thor (with Jord), Balder (with Frigg), Vidar
(with Grid), Vali (with Rind), and besides, Heimdal, Hod, and Bragi; all
these were numbered among the chief deities. Other sons are Tyr, Meili,
and Hermod, the messenger sent by the gods to Hell upon the death of
Balder. Ancient kings and princes were proud to count their descent from
Odin; for this reason other sons were later attributed to him, such as Skjold,
ancestor of the kings of Denmark, Sæming, ancestor of the Haloigja family
(the earls of Lade), Sigi, ancestor of the Volsungs, and still others.


Sources:

Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 7-10.
Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson. Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906.


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