Following up on my previous post, titled ‘Madness,’ I thought I would take a few paragraphs to write about Odin. There are some, believers and non-believers alike, who confuse the Allfather with some sort of All-hater, and I thought I would take the opportunity to clarify for anyone interested.
Odin is, as far as I’m concerned, a god that concerns himself with purpose. It is a root trait that goes deeper than – even fueling – his preoccupation with the acquisition of wisdom through knowledge and understanding. Odin works within us through our will, inspiring poets, soldiers, and politicians alike, as well as people of all walks in between, with the necessary strength of will (as well as ideas regarding the way) to achieve a goal. Odin can strengthen and weaken the will by either sharpening or dulling our sense of purpose; and it’s been my experience that he does both quite well. As a part of inspiring our sense of purpose, and also as a result of his relentless search for learning what he does not already know, Odin is also a gifted communicator and natural when it comes to mastering the occulted forces of Nature that our sciences have not yet found explanations for. Throughout any traditional description of Odin I have ever encountered, it would seem the only thing that Odin seems to really detest or hate is not knowing something.
This is not to suggest that Odin is a cuddly sort of All-daddy, devoid of rage or spite. I have never had this impression from him. Instead, the Odin I have gotten to know through study, through personal experience, and through listening to what others have had to say about him, is a being who will do what he must in order to accomplish what he sets out to do. I don’t think Odin concerns himself as much with our sense of morality as some might think, as the spear of his own moral compass seems usually to point somewhere beyond his current goal. Thus I think Odin relies on us to determine matters of morality for our own selves, as well as understanding that the consequences for our decisions are ours to bear. This is part of the reason why it may seem that Odin incites strife – he is answering the call, imparting the strength of will and inspiration to someone who is his- or her- self already bent on strife. I don’t think a need to fill the benches in Valhalla has as much to do with this as many might think.
This point is an important one, when looking at a follower of Odin and trying to get an estimate of both follower and god. First, one should understand that regardless of whatever force of will or inspiration Odin might lend a person, our choices and actions remain our own. I have encountered followers of Odin who would have others believe that their actions or perspectives are somehow dictated by Odin, some going so far as to assume a position of Odin’s mouthpiece – it’s utter nonsense. Our actions and perspectives are our own to choose; and if Odin lends us any strength at all, it is to accomplish a goal we have already set out for ourselves. Odin doesn’t ‘make’ someone into a racially-prejudiced bigot, or into a murderous rapist, or even a dread mistress of hate-hurling curses: these tendencies are chosen and pursued by the people who exhibit them. Judging Odin by such people is akin to judging Jesus by all of the people who have been slaughtered in his name – the logic behind this approach to judging Odin is simply not valid.
If you would get to know Odin better, you have basically two choices: you can either get to know Odin better on his terms; or you can get to know Odin better, based on what others have to say about him. I think both choices have merit, require some degree of objectivity, as well as a healthy reliance on one’s own intuition. If you are already prejudiced when it comes to how you regard Odin (or any other god, for that matter), you shouldn’t be surprised when a prejudiced god is what you find. At the same time, Odin is not a god that just anyone would feel a resonance with – but this can be said of any god, from any culture, and does not point toward Odin being a hateful god, or requiring hatred from those who would align themselves with his example. Some point to the misappropriation of Heathen symbols by the Nazis as evidence of a pantheon of gods headed by a race-hating Odin … how, then, is the cross not also regarded as evidence of a race-hating Jesus, when it is used so blatantly by members of the Ku Klux Klan?
A few personal impressions I have of Odin, perhaps to further show that there is a different side to this god than what one might encounter in pop culture and propaganda:
- As well as sense of purpose and consummately seeking out what he doesn’t already know, Odin can and will also act as a guide. That there is a connection between Odin and the dead is well understood; that he acts as a psychopomp, or guide for the souls of the dead, is perhaps not as well known; and that he will guide people through storms (figuratively and literally) is perhaps even less known. His style of guidance, I have found, is a lot like a navigator’s – he doesn’t question you about where you want to go, he simply helps you to get there.
- Although Thor and Ran may more often be associated with storms, I find that the storm is just as easily Odin’s element in that I think of Odin in the way I do a cloud: it can provide you with a gentle shade, a respite from the heat of a bright Sun; it can bring you a nourishing rain; and it can bring you the storm. A lot of people consider storms to be an example of elements out of balance in the most extreme way; but in all truth, for a real storm to take place requires that the elements involved be quite balanced.
- As I wrote in a post titled, “Under the Eyes of Odin,” I believe the Moon is the eye Odin sacrificed for a drink from Mimir’s Well, in order to gain the wisdom such a drink would grant him; and the night-time sky is the Well in which his eye was dropped.
- Many have the impression of Odin as being a somewhat melancholy figure. This is often based on Odin’s association with death, with the knowledge of his son’s death and his own impending death in Fenrir’s maw. What he feels regarding death – the pain felt by survivors of the deceased as well as the feelings he experiences while guiding souls to their next destination – is not something I can claim to ‘know.’ As for the death of his son, and even his own death by becoming Fenrir’s Last Meal, I try to keep in mind that these are stories related by people, based either on visions or impressions … even if divinely inspired (to borrow a phrase from a different religion), everything is still subject to individual interpretation. Essentially, we don’t know if these things will happen. I think what makes him pensive is having to reconcile his obsession with the acquisition of knowledge, and understanding that the only genuinely honest answer to all questions is, “I do not know.” Being a guide often requires one to be a bit of an outsider, at home in places where others feel lost … I think of Odin not as sad, but as serious and resolved.