Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Odin - Ruler of Asgard
Odin, the leader of the Aesir and ruler of Asgard, not only features in Nordic myth, but has also influenced that of the British via his other guise of Woden. Odin is one of the primeval gods who helped in the creation of the worlds from the body of the slain giant, Ymir. He is the All-Father, along with his wife Frigg, though not adverse to dallying with other goddesses. In some ways he is extremely similar to the Roman Jupiter, including having shape-shifting abilities.
The worlds he helped to create are those of the great tree Yggdrasil, with upper, middle and lower realms. Within those realms was the home of the the Frost Giants in Jotunheim. Here extended one of the roots of Yggdrasil, and beneath that root was the Well of Knowledge. Guarded by the giant Mimir, who set the price of an eye, that Odin must pay for drinking at the Well. This is why Odin has only one eye - the other lies at the bottom of the Well of Knowledge, but from this he gained wisdom and foresight.
Odin's appetite for knowledge is insatiable. On one such quest he pierced himself with his spear, and hanged himself upsidedown from Yggdrasil for nine days, after which he was shown the secret of the eighteen runes, and he learned nine poweful songs. Thus he brought the gift of writing to the world.
Odin is a god of war and death, poetry and wisdom. His hall in Asgard is known as the The Shelf of the Slain, and he also resides in Valhalla, The Hall of the Slain, to where Valkyries bring the souls of dead warriors to prepare for Ragnarok - the Doom of the Gods and the end of the cosmos. From his throne in Asgard he can observe everything that happens in the nine worlds, and his ravens, Huginn and Muninn (being Thought and Memory respectively) reported to him every night with what they had learned in their travels that day.
The dead souls taken to Valhalla feasted on roast boar - which would regenerate in time for the next feast. The dead would also be sparred against by the gods, and any who were "killed" were raised again. Both themes can be seen in the Celtic stories with the Cauldron od Rebirth and Dagda's pigs.
Amongst Odin's prized possessions were his spear that never missed its target, Gungnir, his ring that copied itself nine times every night, Draupner, these rings were placed on the funeral pyre of his son Baldur. His two wolves, Geri and Freki, sat at his feet, and he fed them his food for he needed none.
He has the eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. This horse the result of a prank of the trickster god, Loki, who has changed himself into an alluring mare to distract a magical stallion from completing his task of building a wall around Asgard. Loki later gave birth to Sleipnir, and gave the horse to Odin as a gift. Sleipnir enables Odin to move between states of consciousness, between the realms of spirit and matter, which again points towards his thirst for knowledge.
As well as the Valkyries collecting the souls of the chosen dead, Odin himself is also said to collect them, riding his horse Sleipnir, accompanied by his wolves and with the souls of the dead following behind, gives rise to the myth of the Wild Hunt.
Odin was brought to England, by the Saxons, under the guise of Woden, the day Wednesday is named for him. Although Woden has few of the abilities of Odin, he retained the role of psychopomp, collecting the souls of the dead, and headed the Wild Hunt.
A saxon area that was settled is now the Great Windsor Park - the haunting ground of Herne the Hunter. Herne began his life as a mortal, but was mortally wounded on a hunt when he placed himself in front of the King. Magicians managed to save his life, but he was framed so as to lose favour with the King, and he was later found hanging from a tree. From that date, Herne has taken on some of Woden's attributes, especially that of the Wild Hunt.
The celts also had their own Lord of the Wild Hunt, in Gwyn ap Nudd, who was accompanied by the Cwn Annwn, the hounds of the Underworld, or hellhounds. Though it is extremely unlikely that Odin and Gwyn are one and the same, it is interesting to note the Wild Hunt theme that is consistent across the North European continent.