While Thor may be the most popular Norse god known today, Odin remains the most powerful and complex Norse god to have ever existed. He is associated with different facets of life, including wisdom, poetry, and war. As the All-father and king of Asgard, there have been many attestations of him in the Norse mythology sources along with numerous depictions. In these depictions, Odin is often portrayed with his trusted animals, among them being the two ravens Huginn and Muninn.
Despite the importance of these two ravens, there is little that is written or known about them. While they do appear in some sources, they are only brief mentions and not enough information. That is why in this article we take a deeper look at what the two are in the mythology as well as their meaning.
What Is Huginn And Muninn In Norse Mythology?
As we’ve mentioned, Huginn and Muninn are the two ravens always seen perched on Odin’s shoulder in many of his depictions. You could say that they were like his pets but it would seem that they were more than that. Of all his other animals, family, and subjects, Odin gave more importance to these two birds and worried about them the most.
Beginning with their names, Huginn pronounced as HOO-gin, derived from the word hugr, which meant thought. Muninn on the other hand, pronounced as MOO-nin, derived from the word munr, which meant memory. Their names were symbolic of the role they played in helping Odin. The two names are, however, not easily distinguished. They overlap in meaning in deeper Old Norse.
In terms of appearance, not much is mentioned, but you could assume that Huginn and Muninn seemed to be normal ravens. Large black birds with curved bowie knife-like beaks, and shaggy throat feathers. But there was nothing normal about them. Unlike other ravens, Odin had bestowed on Huginn and Muninn the ability to speak and understand any language. They were also able to fly throughout the entire nine realms faster than any bird.
These powers were however not for nothing. As you may know, Odin had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. That was why he was constantly wandering, seeking to know everything there was to know. That was where Huginn and Muninn came in. To help Odin quench his thirst, he would send his two ravens out every morning to fly around the cosmos and listen and watch everything that was happening. They would then come back and perch on Odin’s shoulders whispering in his ears what they had seen and heard. This helped keep Odin in the know of everything that went on. It made him a better ruler and was especially useful when it came to battle.
What Do Odin’s Ravens Symbolize?
Also known as the raven god, it is clear that the bond between Odin and the ravens is deep, but also very old. So, what is it that connects these two ravens to Odin and what do they symbolize as a result? Well to begin with Ravens are carrion birds that feed on carcasses and Odin is the god of war, who decided who lives and dies. So, there is no surprise in their connection there. Ravens are always present where a battle took place and just as Odin appears to take away the fallen heroes in battle whose souls are said to dwell in Valhalla until Ragnarok. So, you can say that the ravens were a symbol of death, and Odin was the god of war and death. Norse people also believed that if ravens flew over the sacrifices offered to Odin, then it was a representation that he accepted it.
To add to it, ravens are intellectual birds, in the same way that Odin was the most intellectual being. Again, that is a clear connection between them. Huginn and Muninn would go out and collect knowledge and information on Odin’s behalf, which makes them a symbol of knowledge and wisdom as well. Also, the meanings of their names would suggest that the two ravens were representations of Odin’s state of mind. They were a projection of him, in the same way, shamans would go into trance-like states and journey to other parts without moving their bodies. This would explain why Odin was afraid of losing them.
Viking Raven Meaning
When it comes to the meaning Raven hold in the Viking culture, the obvious one to start with is that they are a representation of Odin. Because of how Huginn and Muninn are always depicted with Odin, Vikings believed that they symbolized his presence which is why they worshiped ravens. Seeing a raven especially flying over them in battle was a good sign that Odin was with them and their victory was guaranteed.
Aside from that ravens played an important role in the Vikings’ lives too. The first link is in their shared survival traits. Aside from being seafarers, Vikings were also hunters and gatherers at some point. As mentioned, ravens are carrion feeders. As such, to find found a raven would follow a hunter, wait until he was successful in getting game, and then invite itself to eat. Vice versa a hunter seeing a raven circling a particular area meant that there was ready game. In that way, the two shared a primitive bond where they depended on each other to survive.
As Vikings began going on more expeditions, the ravens still proved to be useful to them. Seeing a raven in the sky meant that land was nearby, so they just had to follow it. In a way, Vikings saw it as Odin guiding them through the sea to safety.
Huginn and Muninn are perhaps the most important creatures to Odin. Because of them, Odin could gain useful knowledge without having to leave Asgard. Although he is said to have wandered on various occasions. The clear similarities in the intellect and curiosity of the birds and Odin, explain the deep connection between them. Also, why the ravens were so important, not just to Odin but also to Vikings who revered him.