From Norse mythology, four gods are commonly known among the Germanic tribes. Among the four is Odin. Odin is considered the most powerful of all the Norse gods and the most known.
Who is Odin?
Odin is known by many names. In Old English and Old Saxon, he is referred to as Woden. The Old High German referred to him as Wuotan or Wotan while the Proto-Germanic called him Wodanaz. In any case, his name translates to “Master of ecstasy”. The name Odinn according to Old Norse can be broken into “Odr” (fury, inspiration, ecstasy) and suffix “-inn” (master of).
As one of the characters of the Norse Mythologies, Odin is the most complex and enigmatic character there is. He is the son of Borr and Bestia, and king of the Aesir race of deities. He is known to be a relentless seeker and giver of wisdom. He is also described as having no regard for values like honor, justice, convention, fairness, and the law. Many times, he discretely ventures far from his kingdom Asgard on solitary missions motivated by self-interest. He wanders the cosmos in search of things that will make him wiser or greater.
Odin is an embodiment of very many contradicting qualities. He is considered a god of war, but also a god of poetry with prominent feminine qualities that would be considered shameful in a warrior. He is considered a divine patron of rulers and is worshipped by people seeking nobility and prestige. At the same time, he is seen as the patron of outlaws and is cursed for being a trickster. His embodiment as the master of ecstasy is the unifying factor of all contradicting traits associated with him, that is, wisdom, war, poetry, sovereignty, the dead, shamanism, and magic.
In terms of war, Odin is nothing like the noble and honorable ruler he is popularly known as. According to ancient Norse, unlike honest warlords like Tyr, Odin was known to incite peaceful people to war with sinister glee. As a god of war, Odin was more concerned with the uncontrolled excitement of battles rather than the reason or result of it. He only associated himself with warriors he deemed worthy and showered his blessings on great heroes like the Volsung family and Starkadr.
When it comes to sovereignty, Odin is seen as the divine archetype of a ruler. He is said to be the founder of many royal lines and many kings claim him as their beneficiary. As ruler Odin is devious, mysterious, and inspired, using cunningness and magic to rule. Aside from being favored among kings, Odin was also favored among outlaws like Egill Skallagrimsson and Grettir Asmundarson. Either way, those favored by Odin were intelligent, poetic, creative, or competent in the proverbial “war of all against all”.
Odin also believed that any kind of limitation should be overcome, regardless of the means. For this reason, Odin was relentless and ruthless in his search for more magical powers, knowledge, and wisdom. He made many sacrifices to acquire all these things without caring about the kind of reputation it brought him or what he lost in the end. A great example of his sacrifices is the time he sacrificed one of his eyes for wisdom. At some point, he sacrificed himself by hanging on the world tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nights without any food or drink. He did this to perceive the magically charged runes that held the secrets of existence. Also, to become one of the greatest practitioners of the most powerful kind of magic, Seidr, Odin sacrificed his masculinity. He did not care for the taunts he got for his unmanly practice of Seidr.
Additionally, Odin is known to have the ability to write beautiful poetry. A gift he stole from the giants when he stole the Mead of poetry, and one he shares only with those he deems worthy. Some believe that Odin’s name roots from the mead of poetry, known by its old Norse name as Odroerir meaning the stirrer of Odr (ecstasy, inspiration, and fury).
Another aspect associated with Odin was death, which was seen as more significant than his association with death. He rules over Valhalla, a prestigious place for the dead, who Odin picked himself after every battle. Odin is also known for his mastery in the magical art of communicating with the dead as well as raising them. Due to his association to death, he often received human sacrifices, as a way of people winning his favor in battle. This was achieved when one would use a spear or noose or both, to kill an enemy while shouting “Odin owns ye all”. The use of the spear or noose was symbolic of how Odin sacrificed himself to acquire the knowledge of the runes.
There are various reasons why Odin has a close association with the dead. Aside from gaining their knowledge and wisdom, he desires to have the best warriors with him when he faces Fenrir during Ragnarok. This is also his reason for wanting immense knowledge, wisdom, and power because he is fated to die in Ragnarok.
Odin’s Powers and Abilities
As the chief god and ruler of the principal race Aesir, Odin is considered the most powerful god in Norse mythology. He is believed to have first acquired immense power after the demise of his two brothers Ve and Vili, at the hands of Surtur. The three brothers were on exploration when they came across Surtur in Muspelheim. The fire demon was forging his sword Twilight, which he would use to destroy earth and Asgard. To stop him, the three brothers combined their powers to destroy Twilight. While Ve and Vili held Surtur back, Odin fled to Asgard with the eternal fire that was used to forge Twilight.
After the death of his brothers, Odin assumed their godly energies, enhancing his might to what is known as the Odin power. Aside from that, Odin’s quests across the cosmos served to make him wiser and more knowledgeable as well as gain magical powers. The following is a summary of the Odin powers and his abilities:
Power of immortality: Being a god, and the chief god at that, Odin can live for millenniums without dying. Unlike the Greek gods, however, Odin is not completely immortal. He can be killed or harmed by a divine weapon, a god, or a powerful being like Surtr and Fenrir.
Superhuman strength: As the king of Aesir, it is believed that Odin contains immense superhuman strength that surpasses all the Norse gods. This includes Thor who is said to be the strongest Norse god there is. There are only three beings said to be stronger than Odin, and they are, Surtr, Fenrir, and Starkadr.
Manipulation of the elements: as with other gods, Odin can control the elements of nature. He can channel the cosmic energies to and use them as explosive forces or shields. He can also use the cosmic energies to fly, teleport, cast illusions, or rearrange matter on a molecular level.
Superhuman durability: Given his many encounters with powerful beings, Odin is considered to have extreme durability. He survived the fight with Ymir, the most powerful frost giant and first being to ever exist. He also survived battling with Surtr, the fire giant and brother to Ymir. His durability is however limited as Odin is destined to be killed by Fenrir during Ragnarok and after Helheim, the Norse realm of the dead.
Omniscience: Because of his relentless quest for knowledge and wisdom, Odin is considered among the most intelligent beings to ever exist. Mimir, who is considered the wisest being in all the realms, considers Odin to be almost as smart as he is.
Master of combat: Odin is well versed in all forms of offensive and defensive combat, being one of the gods of war. His abilities have been forged over centuries of training and experience in battle.
Master of magic: Odin is the only Aesir who practices magic and is considered a very skilled sorcerer. Among his magical prowess, Odin was able to master the powerful magic of Seidr from his wife Freya as well as Necromancy, the ability to communicate with the dead. Using his magical powers, Odin could raise the dead, heal injuries, speak to others from different dimensions and increase his physical size.
Summoning: Aside from magic, as a shaman, Odin is accompanied by spirits like ravens, wolves, and Valkyries. As the raven god, he can summon ravens and use them as messengers or spies to observe and gather information across all realms.
Enchantments: Given his power, Odin can enchant any object or weapon by imbuing it with the Odin powers. Among such weapons are Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, Eric Masterson’s mace Thunderstrike and Odin’s very own three-pronged spear Gungnir (the spear of heaven). The spear is guarded by an enchanted serpent that appears if anyone else tries to wield the spear.
Power channeling: Aside from the Gungnir, Odin owns several Uru-enchanted weapons. He can channel and horn his power through all his weapons during combat. Using a sword, Odin can even channel the energy of all the Aesir gods by plunging the sword into the ground.
Odin is also known as the Raven god because of his strong connection to his two pet ravens Munnin (memory, mind) and Huginn (thought). The reason for their connection in Norse mythology is the cycle of life and death. Because Ravens are scavenger birds that feast on dead decaying matter, they are associated with battles. They, therefore, are said to remain loyal to the one who gives them sustenance through the sacrifice of human life. Being the god of war, Odin presided over the death of warriors in the battle, so he gave them as a sacrifice to his ravens, keeping them loyal to him. If there were no battles for a long time, then Odin would sacrifice his enemies to feed the ravens.
Like Odin, the two ravens were considered to be very intelligent and perceptive with special powers. Odin rarely went anywhere without them. Whether in words or illustrations you will always find the ravens perched on Odin’s shoulders or their images engraved in his armor and weaponry. As his pets, Munnin and Huginn acted as Odin’s ears and eyes. Every morning Odin releases them to go around the world collecting as much information as possible and bringing it back to Odin. Because they were intelligent creatures, Odin could trust that the information they brought was accurate. Given all the information he gains from the ravens, Odin has enough knowledge and wisdom to be the most powerful god with control over most aspects of life. As a result, the two ravens serve to enhance Odin’s image and reputation of being a knowledgeable and wise god.
Aside from the two ravens, Odin is also said to have been accompanied by two wolves as referenced in the Poetic Edda and earlier Prose Edda both compiled in the 13th century. The two wolves were named Geri and Freki, one is said to be male and the other female.
The name Geri is said to have come from the Proto-Germanic adjective “geraz” also called “girs” in Burgundian, “gerr” in Old Norse, and “giri” or “ger” in Old High German. All these names translate to mean “greedy”. Freki on the other hand is derived from the Proto-Germanic adjective “frekaz”. It’s referenced in Gothic as “faihufriks” (covetous, avaricious) or in Old Norse as “frekr” (greedy). It’s also referenced in Old English as “frec” (desirous, greedy, audacious, or gluttonous) and in Old High German as “freh” (greedy).
In the poetic Edda, the two wolves are referenced where Agnarr was told by Grimnir (Odin disguised) that Odin feeds his wolves all the food from his table and yet only drinks wine himself. In Helgakvida Hundingsbana I, verse 13, the two are referenced as Odin’s hounds who roam the battlefields with greed, for corpses of those fallen in battle. In the Prose Edda, Geri and Freki are also referenced in Chapters 38, 58, 60, and 75.
It is believed that when Odin separated from his brothers to wander Midgard alone, the two wolves kept him company. They walked with him across Midgard, populating it with their offspring. It is also believed that the two ravens were created by Odin when Geri and Freki could no longer hunt for food on their own. The ravens would scout for prey and the wolves would chase the prey. Later the two pairs would share the bounty. This companionship is still seen between ravens and wolves even today.
Sons of Odin
Among his many names, Odin is also known as the Allfather, which translates loosely to the father of all gods. He is also believed to be partly responsible for creating the first humans and giving them the breath of life. As a result, he is considered the ancestor of many families across Northern Europe. Other than that, Odin also sired several children of his own. The following is a list of Odin’s sons:
Thor is the son of Odin, whom he sired with the earth giant Jord. Thor is known as the God of Thunder and storm, wielding the hammer, Mjolnir. The hammer was gifted to Thor by his father Odin, and he uses it to create thunder and lightning. Aside from Thor, it is believed that only the righteous can pick up the hammer and wield it. Thor is also feared amongst giants, following the genocide he was instructed by Odin to carry out. He fought vehemently against any threats to his family or loved ones. As such, he was considered the true image of a Viking warrior, one who was brave, powerful, and protective of his loved ones.
Baldur was another one of Odin’s sons, whom he had with his wife and queen Frigg. Baldur was loved by everyone for his kindness and generosity and therefore the beloved son of Asgard. Upon reaching the age of man, however, Baldur was prophesied to be dead and was sent to Hel. He was to live in Hel until the day of Ragnarok comes to pass. He is said to have been married to Nanna and they had a son named Forseti.
Vidar is known as the son of Odin although it is not clear who his mother was. Some manuscripts, however, state that his mother was Gridr. Vidar was considered the god of silence. He spent most of his time in his garden gazing and planting flowers and trees. Later on, in Ragnarok, he would be continually remembered for killing Fenrir to seek revenge for his father Odin’s death.
Vali is the son of Odin with the giantess Rindr. He is said to have been born for the sole purpose of killing Hodr to avenge Baldur’s death. This is because Hodr was believed to have been a part of it. He is also known to have bound Loki using entrails from his son Narfi.
Other gods are in some manuscripts referenced as sons of Odin, however, the information from different manuscripts contradicts one another. The names of these gods are as follows:
- Tyr (god of war also believed to be the son of Hymir)
- Loki (adopted son in some versions)
Loki is an Old Norse name that is pronounced as LOAK-ee. The name Loki means a wily trickster god that was an important part of Norse mythology. Though the trickster god, Loki was also treated as one of the nominal members of the gods who occupied a very ambivalent and unique position among all the gods, the giants, and all other spiritual beings that are recorded to have populated the Norse religion in the pre-Christian times. This is all attested by his familial relations.
In Old Norse, the name Bragi pronounced as “BRAG-ee” means poet. An Eddic poem describes him as having runes on his tongue that aid him in creating great and artful poems. For this reason, it is believed that upon his death, Odin made him the wise and educated poet of Valhalla, the magnificent hall of the deceased elite warriors, overseen by Odin. In Old Norse’s poetry from the Viking age, he is referenced entertaining the band of spirits of the dead in Valhalla, welcoming the dead heroes into their midst.
Heimdall, as mentioned above, is pronounced as HAME-doll and is spelled as Heimdallr going by Norse etymology. Heimdall is one of the more popular gods in Norse Mythology – this god is one of the Aesir gods and also the ever-vigilant guardian of Asgard, the gods’ stronghold.Heimdall’s dwelling place is known as the Himinbjörg, which translates to Sky Cliffs, connoting the idea of a high place akin to a fortress. This fortress is said to sit at the top of Bifrost, which is the rainbow bridge leading to Asgard. Naturally, this is the most befitting spot for a highly vigilant god and a guardian of Asgard.
Baldur is believed to be the most popular and beloved of all the gods mentioned in Norse Mythology. Baldur was Odin’s son (Odin is pretty much the chief god), and also son to Frigg, a benevolent and powerful sorceress goddess. Baldur was known for his generosity, courage, and joyfulness. His positive spirit and goodness was highly contagious and felt everyone around him, as well as everyone who hanged out around him. So, when Baldur started getting ominous dreams about the grave misfortunes that would befall him, the gods grew weary and they were troubled. Odin was troubled too, and he set out a plan to uncover the meaning of Baldur’s dreams.
Hermod is well known for accounts recorded in the medieval Icelander Snorri Sturluson Edda Prose. In one of the recorded episodes, it’s said that Hermod traveled to the underworld on Odin’s horse, the Sleipnir. In the underworld, Hermod would go on to plead with Hel, the goddess of death, albeit unsuccessfully. This happened after the once cheery and loved Baldur started getting dreams about his death and gloom, and everyone was out ravaging for solutions to eventually keep Baldur alive since the dreams were believed to be a premonition of Baldur’s death. Eventually, Loki deceived Hodr to kill Baldur, which was a sign of Ragnarok. Hermod’s trip to the underworld was one of the failed attempts at bringing Baldur back to life.
In Norse Mythology, Meili is an Aesir god, but little is known about this god, his conquests, etc. Apart from the appearance of Meili’s name in the Edda Poem, Hárbarðsljóð. In this poem Thor names Meili as his (only) brother while omitting the names of his other universally known and acknowledged half-brothers, Vali/Bous and Baldur, this poem and Thor’s acknowledgment makes it clear that Meili is Odin’s son, and most likely, Jord’s son. Then in Prose Edda, the statement about Meili being Odin’s son is supported by the fact that Meili is actually listed as one of the immediate descendants of Odin.
When compared to the Greek god Zeus, the Norse god Odin, you’ll find that the two share some similarities. Both of them rule over their realms, each with the paranoia of any power threatening their reign, including killed own sins. Like Zeus who killed Kratos out of fear of the marked warrior prophecy, in the same way, Odin killed Tyr because he believed Tyr was siding with the giant planning on how to overthrow him. Both also killed their progenitors to rule over the whole of eternity without challenge. Odin participated in the slaying of Ymir a while Zeus killed almost every Titan, to rule over the eternal world alone.
Both Odin and Zeus ordered their children to kill powerful beings on their behalf. Kratos was asked by Zeus to kill Ares, while Thor was asked by Odin to eliminate the entire race. Zeus and Odin are also said to have kept and tortured former allies after a small form of disloyalty. Zeus had Prometheus’ liver eaten after giving the eternal fire to the mortals. Odin on the other hand tortured Mimir for 109 years for merely trying to convince him that he should let go of the giants. Both are destined to die at the hands of Kratos or his descendants. That is why they are both very afraid of Kratos.
In addition to the shared similarities to Zeus, Odin is depicted in all murals are riding his mythological horse Sleipnir. Oddly, Norse mythology states that Sleipnir was Loki’s offspring had with Svadilfari, the stallion that helped Hrimthur build the walls around Aesir. Some, however, believe that it’s impossible since the horse Sleipnir was alive thousands of years before and was with Odin ever since he slew Ymir.
The irony of Odin, the great Allfather, is that his actions to prevent his death and that of Aesir are the very reason that caused it. His efforts of preventing Ragnarok only accelerated its occurrence by 100 years. Wanting to control Ragnarok is the reason he lost control. His actions are what led to Aesir being hated by the giants, Vanir, and other inhabitants of the 9 realms. He is responsible for the desolation of five realms out of the nine through his corruption, genocide acts and intervening.
Given his actions, Odin is considered a powerful, yet cruel and sadistic ruler. Despite being so powerful, Odin had his limitations. To maintain the Odin Power, Odin had to perform a full cycle of Odin sleep, a coma-like state, every year. Failure would cause his powers to wane. The same could happen if he was away from Asgard for a long time. Either way, Odin also had his moments of affection, as shown in the love he had for his wives, Frigg and Freya as well as his sons.