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Thor’s Day Alert #27: Norse Myth and the Number Nine

Happy Thor’s Day, everybody!

The number nine in Norse mythology is a recurring symbol. Symbolic of what, I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps transitional events — like birth or death. Or transitional things — like Yggdrasil, the tree which touches both heaven and (Nifl) hel. The transitional meaning supposedly comes from the fact that the number nine is the last single-digit number before we reach double-digits with the number 10.

But for dummkopfs like me, the number nine in Norse myth is most useful for giving me a head’s up, like: Yo. Pay attention. This part is really important.

Here follow some famous nines in Norse myth:

  • The Nine Worlds
  • Heimdall had nine mothers
  • Nine thralls Odin incites to killing each other so he could take their place in the fields and learn from their master where to find the mead of poetry.
  • Hermod rode for nine nights before reaching Niflheim and there attempting to bring Balder back from the dead.
  • Nine — the number of days and nights Odin hung on the World Tree, Yggdrasil, in order to learn the secret of runes.

There are more instances of nine in Norse myth, but its use in the story of Odin and the runes is probably the most important. Want to know what he learned those long nights on the tree? Some powerful magick, that’s what. Check out the following passage from Havamal, a section of The Elder Edda by Benjamin Thorpe:

ODIN’S RUNE-SONG.1

140. I know that I hung, on a wind-rocked tree, nine whole nights, with a spear wounded, and to Odin offered, myself to myself; on that tree, of which no one knows from what root it springs.

141. Bread no one gave me, nor a horn of drink, downward I peered, to runes applied myself, wailing learnt them, then fell down thence.

142. Potent songs nine from the famed son I learned of Bolthorn, Bestla’s sire, and a draught obtained of the precious mead, drawn from Odhraerir.

Did you catch that? Another instance of the number nine, this in stanza 142 and telling how many magical songs Odin learned from drinking the mead of poetry. (But I’ve also read that Odin learned these nine songs from the giant Suttung himself rather than through the mead Odin stole from him.) Could it be that in stanza 141 Odin’s “wailing” indicates he might have sung these songs in order to call forth more powerful runic magick whilst hanging on Yggdrasil? Without further ado, here are the spells he learned those nine nights on The World Tree:

148. Those songs I know which the king’s wife knows not nor son of man. Help the first is called, for that will help thee against strifes and cares.

149. For the second I know, what the sons of men require, who will as leeches live.

150. For the third I know, if I have great need to restrain my foes, the weapons’ edge I deaden: of my adversaries no arms nor wiles harm aught.

151. For the fourth I know, if men place bonds on my limbs, I so sing that I can walk; the fetter starts from my feet, and the manacle from my hands.

152. For the fifth I know, if I see a shot from a hostile hand, a shaft flying amid the host, so swift it cannot fly that I cannot arrest it, if only I get sight of it.

153. For the sixth I know, if one wounds me with a green tree’s roots; also if a man declares hatred to me, harm shall consume them sooner than me.

154. For the seventh I know, if a lofty house I see blaze o’er its inmates, so furiously it shall not burn that I cannot save it. That song I can sing.

155. For the eighth I know, what to all is useful to learn: where hatred grows among the sons of men—that I can quickly assuage.

156. For the ninth I know, if I stand in need my bark on the water to save, I can the wind on the waves allay, and the sea lull.

157. For the tenth I know, if I see troll-wives sporting in air, I can so operate that they will forsake their own forms, and their own minds.

158. For the eleventh I know, if I have to lead my ancient friends to battle, under their shields I sing, and with power they go safe to the fight, safe from the fight; safe on every side they go.

159. For the twelfth I know, if on a tree I see a corpse swinging from a halter, I can so grave and in runes depict, that the man shall walk, and with me converse.

160. For the thirteenth I know, if on a young man I sprinkle water, he shall not fall, though he into battle come: that man shall not sink before swords.

161. For the fourteenth I know, if in the society of men I have to enumerate the gods, JEsir and Alfar, I know the distinctions of all. This few unskilled can do.

162. For the fifteenth I know what the dwarf Thio- dreyrir sang before Delling’s doors. Strength he sang to the ^Esir, and to the Alfar prosperity, wisdom to Hroptatyr.

163. For the sixteenth I know, if a modest maiden’s favour and affection I desire to possess, the soul I change of the white-armed damsel, and wholly turn her mind.

164. For the seventeenth I know, that that young maiden will reluctantly avoid me. These songs, Lodd- fafnir! thou wilt long have lacked; yet it may be good if thou understandest them, profitable if thou learnest them.

165. For the eighteenth I know that which I never teach to maid or wife of man, (all is better what one only knows. This is the closing of the songs) save her alone who clasps me in her arms, or is my sister.

166. Now are sung the High-one’s songs, in the High-one’s hall, to the sons of men all-useful, but useless to the Jotuns’ sons. Hail to him who has sung them! Hail to him who knows them! May he profit who has learnt them! Hail to those who have listened to them!

So there you have the 18 rune-songs Odin learned upon The World Tree. (I probably don’t need to point out that 9 x 2 = 18.)

Thanks for stopping by! See ya Tuesday.

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One response

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

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