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Thor’s Day Alert #6: President Odin

Happy Thor’s Day, everybody!

Since we’ve just elected a new president here in the (hopefully) improving US of A, I thought today would be a good day to talk about Asgard’s leader, Odin.

Odin is the most complex of the Norse gods. Warrior and shaman, spearman and skald, he is both loved and feared by those he rules. In many ways, Odin is a study in contrasts — most of which I can’t address in one blog post.

So just some quick hits today. An Odin primer, if you will:

Odin is Thor’s father. Indeed, Odin is father to numerous gods (and mate to a few women). But this isn’t why his most famous nickname is Allfather. He’s called this because he’s the oldest of the Norse gods, and because among them he is solely omnipotent.

Odin came to power in the most old-school of ways: through an unquenchable thirst for knowledge . . . and bloodshed. To kick off his campaign, he and his brothers murdered the Frost Giant Ymir, who created not only the first human, but giants and dwarves as well. The argument could be made that Ymir was Odin’s great-grandfather.

Following this ruthless act Odin switches from destroyer to creator. With the help of his brothers Vili and Ve, he raises Ymir’s broken skull and with it forms the dome of the sky. From Ymir’s flesh they create the earth, and within his encircling eyebrows, the earthly realm of man known as Midgard; Ymir’s blood formed the seas; his bones, cliffs; his hair, trees; and from his brains, storm clouds.

From two trees Odin and his brothers create a pair of humans to populate Midgard. The man’s name was Ask and the woman’s name was Embla (as in Ash and Elm, perhaps?). And from them descend the rest of the humans in Midgard.

In Prose Edda, we hear nothing more of Vili and Ve. I don’t know about you, but something tells me Odin’s brothers went the way of good old Grandpa Ymir.

And that, my peeps, is how to win a kingdom — Norse style.

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6 responses

  1. Adrian Simmons

    One of the interesting thing about Norse (and most other, I guess) mythologies, is how the various older traditions meld with the newer ones. Odin and his two brothers and Ymir all come from a very old tradition, and one can argue that Thor (a good, all-purpose weather-god) came later, and that Tyr (a lawgiver) came even later, and finally Odin comes to prominance again (or Odin is even inserted BACK into the older myths as his cult gains in power).

    Interesting also that Odin creates the first first two humans, but one brother gives them awarness, and the other gives them speech.

    November 8, 2008 at 12:19 pm

  2. davidfarney

    This post is drawn largely from the creation myth as written in the Younger (Prose) Edda. I’m unfamiliar with Odin ever losing prominence in the myths . . . but perhaps you mean he steps off center stage while we’re entertained by Thor and company? Returns to stage at the end — Ragnarok?

    Or do you mean there is substantial difference in the Odin/Creation story in the Elder (Poetic) Edda? And this is really the heart of my question because I haven’t read the Elder Edda as closely as the younger:

    Does Odin enjoy more of the stage in the Elder?

    November 8, 2008 at 5:20 pm

  3. Adrian Simmons

    I heard somewhere that, as far as who the Scandinavian people actually worshipped, Odin was actually a fairly recent addition. The Odin cult apparently replaced the earlier Tyr cult, and there was discussion that Thor’s cult was probably in promenance before that.

    I wish I could remember where I heard it… it may have been when we were acually in Sweden, but I can’t recall.

    November 9, 2008 at 9:39 pm

  4. davidfarney

    Ah. It could also be a regional thing — Odin was more widely worshiped in Sweden, say, than in Norway. One of these days maybe I can do some on-the-ground research . . . Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Finland. That would be so cool!

    November 10, 2008 at 7:09 am

  5. Pingback: Thor’s Day Alert #8: Yggdrasil « STORM OF THE NORTH

  6. Pingback: Thor’s Day Alert #29: Ragnarok, part one « STORM OF THE NORTH

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