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In Norse Mythology Odin was the primary god amongst the Aesir clan, widely accepted to be the higher tier of Gods, who ruled the nine realms from his throne in Asgard. Often refereed to as the 'Allfather' he was an extremely complex and sometimes contradictory character who is often misunderstood and misrepresented by modern interpretations.
Some of the many descriptions of him tell us of qualities that were attributed to Odin; his wisdom, being a master of both war and poetry, and his tendency to indulge on long and self interested quests, often far from his homeland. He was also a God of war, magic, death and runes.
The modern English name itself 'Odin' is translated from the Old Norse 'Óðinn' which is the masculine form of the 'óðr' which meant 'motivation', 'enthusiasm' or 'inspiration'.
The Allfather is a character that predates the Viking Age and was recorded as far back as 12BC by Roman historians during their conquest of Germania. In addition to being one of the prominent deities in Norse Mythology Odin was also represented in Germanic Mythology, where he was known by the name 'Woden' and 'Wōdan' in Old English and Saxon. The character had a presence in the wider Germanic Mythological culture and was not unique to Norse Mythology like many of the other gods. He was often thought of as an ancestral figure and founding father of many of the Germanic tribes.
The modern English word for 'Wednesday' was derived from the Old English 'wōdnesdæg' which meant 'Woden's day'. This can also be seen in other germanic languages, the Old Norse equivalent 'Óðinsdagr' was adapted into modern Norwegian, Swedish and Danish as 'Onsdag'.
As was often the case in Norse Mythology, Odin's family tree was extremely complicated. He was born from the marriage between Burr and Bestla, a Jotun giantess. With his wife, Frigg, he had one son, the beloved Baldur.
However Odin has numerous extramarital affairs, most famously his affair with Jord, with whom he fathered another prominent Norse God, Thor. There was also speculation that Odin had an affair with Sif, who as Thor's wife, and is actually the father of their child, Ullr. Finally Odin had two other sons, named Hodr and Bragi, however it was not known who the mothers of these two were.
Odin and Freya looking down from their window - Emil Doepler, 1905
There was some uncertainty as to whether there was a relationship between Odin and Freya. There are numerous theories about the identity of Freya's husband who was referred to as 'Odr', whose name had the same meaning as Odin in Old Norse. There was also speculation that Freya and Frigg could be different names for the same character and their two stories had slowly diverged over time.
The final son of Odin was the trickster, Loki, who was not his biological son. He was born to Jotun parents, Farbautey and Laufey, however he came into Odin's care when he was a child and was raised in Asgard as one of their own.
Odin is often depicted in Modern Culture as being a strong and muscular figure, however in the Viking age his image was quite different. He was an old man, with a tall and slender build, and could often be recognised by his characteristically long beard and missing eye. His weapon of choice was the spear Gungnir which was crafted by dwarves and was said to be so well balanced that it could strike any target, regardless of the skill or strength of its bearer.
Odin - Georg von Rosen, 1886
The eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, which was said to have the ability to run over air and water, is mentioned in Norse writings and was said to belong to Odin, he was also often associated with other animals such as Wolves and Ravens. Huginn and Muninn, his two raven spies, would fly over Midgard and relay information back to the Allfather.
In contrast to many all loving and forgiving Gods in other religions, Odin was often associated with war, and even seemed to revel in the violence and brutality of combat. It seems that he was largely ambivalent to the outcome of battles and would instead just enjoy the frenzied and raw bloodshed.
He was also described as being extremely elitist and would only give his interest to the finest warriors who had proved themselves in battle, giving little notice to the average and lesser fighters. There was a particular connection between him and the berserkers, who were fierce warriors associated with magic that would charge into battle in a trance-like state. The berserkers, like Odin, would often have spiritual associations with animals such as Bears and Wolves.
Odin heals Baldur's horse - Emil Doepler, 1905
Along with Freya, Odin is one of the Norse Gods who was most referred to as a practitioner of magic and shamanism. There were numerous instances of him embarking on quests to far away realms, including the realm of the dead.
The ruthless pursuit of wisdom and knowledge was one of the characteristics that Odin displayed the most throughout the various sagas in which he was mentioned. In one story he sacrifices his eye at the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil, in order to enhance his magical abilities and gain a better view of the cosmos. He was also said to have hung himself from the tree for over nine days with a spear wound that nearly killed him in order to be granted the knowledge of the Runic alphabet, which he then gifted to mankind.
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