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The oldest known sources of Norse Mythology, as preserved in the Elder Edda, do not give a coherent or consistent account of the gods. These highly allusive poems give only fragmentary information. The more connected accounts given by Snorri Sturluson in his Prose Edda and by later writers were only put together long after the conversion to Christianity by authors for whom the material was interesting, not a matter of belief.
Odin's name is related to óðr, meaning "excitation," "fury" or "poetry." He is god of both wisdom, war, battle and death. He is also attested as being a god of magic, poetry, prophecy, victory, and the hunt.
Odin has had several wives with whom he fathered many children. With his first wife, Frigg, he fathered his most famous sons Thor, god of thunder, and Baldur (Baldr, Balder), who stood for happiness, goodness, wisdom and beauty. By the giantess Grydur or Grid, Odin was the father of Vídar, and by Rinda he was father of Vali Also, many royal families claimed descent from Odin through other sons.
The mysterious Odin is a shapeshifter, and he is able to alter form in any way he liked. Odin travels the world as an old man with a staff, one-eyed, grey-bearded, and wearing a wide-brimmed hat, with a blue traveling coat.
Odin has three residences in Asgard. First, Gladsheim, a vast hall where he presided over the twelve Judges, whom he has appointed to regulate the affairs of Asgard. Second, Valaskialf, built of solid silver, in which there is an elevated place, Hlidskialf, from his throne on which he can perceive all that passes throughout the whole earth. Third, Valhalla, where Odin receives the souls of the warriors killed in battle. Valhalla has five hundred and forty gates, and a vast hall of gold, hung around with golden shields, and spears and coats of mail.
Odin has a number of magical artifacts associated with him: the dwarven spear Gungnir, which never misses its target, a magical gold ring (Draupnir), from which every ninth night eight new rings appear, an eight-legged horse (Sleipnir) and two ravens Huggin and Muninn ((Observation and Memory), who fly around the world daily, to report all happenings to Odin at Valhalla nightly. He also commands a pair of wolves named Geri and Freki, to whom he gives his food in Valhalla since he consumes nothing but mead, or wine. The Valknut is a symbol associated with Odin.
Odin and his brothers, Vili and Ve, are attributed with slaying Ymir, the Ancient Giant, to create Midgard. From Ymir's flesh, the brothers made the earth, and from his shattered bones and teeth they made the rocks and stones. From Ymir's blood, they made the rivers and lakes. Ymir's skull was made into the sky, secured at four points by four dwarfs named East, West, North, and South. And from Ymir's brains, they shaped the clouds and mir's eyebrows became Midgard, the place where men now dwell. Odin and his brothers are also attributed with creating mankind. After having made earth from Ymir's body, the three brothers came across two logs. Odin gave them breath and life; Vili gave them brains and feelings; and Ve gave them hearing and sight. The first man was Ask and the first woman was Embla and from them all families of mankind are descended. Many kings and royal houses claim to trace their lineage back to Odin through Ask and Embla.
Odin ventured to Mimir's Well, near Jötunheim, the land of the giants, as not Odin, but as Vegtam the Wanderer, clothed in a dark blue cloak and carrying a traveller's staff. To drink from the Well of Wisdom Odin had to sacrifice his left eye, symbolizing his willingness to gain the knowledge of the past, present and future. Mimir accepted Odin's eye and it rests today at the bottom of the Well of Wisdom as a sign that the father of the gods had paid the price for wisdom.
Odin was said to have learned the mysteries of seid from the Vanic goddess and völva Freyja, despite the un-warrior-like connotations of using magic. In Lokasenna, Loki derides Odin for practicing seid, implying it was woman's work. (Another example of this may be found in the Ynglinga saga]' where Snorri opines that men who used seid were ergi or unmanly.)
Odin's quest for wisdom can also be seen in his work as a farmhand for a summer, for Baugi, and his seduction of Gunnlod in order to obtain the mead of poetry.
In the Rúnatal, a section of the Hávamál, Odin is attributed with discovering the runes. He was hung from the tree called Yggdrasill while pierced by his own spear. He hung for nine days and nights, in order to learn the wisdom that would give him power in the nine worlds. Nine is a significant number in Norse magical practice (there were, for example, nine realms of existence), thereby learning nine (later eighteen) magical songs and eighteen magical runes.
Odin in other Indo-European Traditions
The Romans identified Wotan//Woden/Odin with their god Mercury, because he gathered up the souls of the dead. Mercury in turn was identified with Hermes in the Greek tradition. He has also been identified with Rudra/Shiva in the Vedic tradition.
Parallels between Odin and Celtic Lug have often been pointed out: both are intellectual gods, commanding magic and poetry. Both have ravens and a spear as their attributes, and both are one-eyed.
Odin, along with the other Norse Gods and Goddesses, is honored by Odinists and other neopagans. He is honored in Asatru, the "faith in the Aesir", an officially recognized religion in Iceland and Denmark.
- H. R. Ellis Davidson, The Battle God of the Vikings, York (1972)
- Hector Chadwick, The Cult of Othinn
- Kris Kershaw, Odin, 2004, ISBN 3-935581-38-6
- Mark Mirabello, The Odin Brotherhood, 2003, ISBN 1869928717
- Horst Obleser, Odin, 1993, ISBN 3-926789-14-X
- Grenville Pigott, A Manual to Scandinavian Mythology, 2001, ISBN 0-89875-539-5
- Padraic Colum, Nordic Gods and Heroes, 1996, ISBN 0-486-28912-5
- Snorri Sturluson, Prose Edda Jean I. Young, trans. 2002, ISBN 0-520-23477-4
- ____. Poetic Edda, Carolyne Larrington, trans. 1999, ISBN 0-19-283946-2