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Irma: Odin's Lessons of Fury and Weathering the Storm

Updated on September 7, 2017
Chris Pinard profile image

My primary interests center around the folklore, customs, history, and mythology of the Celts, the Germanic speaking peoples, and the Slavs.

Hurricane and Rough Seas
Hurricane and Rough Seas

Hurricane Irma

The name Irma is currently on the lips of many people throughout the US. Following on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, Irma is currently showing signs of potentially being a stronger and fiercer storm than its predecessor. That being said, Irma is an appropriate name for such a powerful and menacing cyclone.

Yggdrasil and possibly Irminsul
Yggdrasil and possibly Irminsul

Irma and the Etymology of the Name

Etymologically the name Irma is derived from the Old Saxon word Irmin which means “strong”, “great”, or “mighty”. Irmin may also mean world, as in Irmunsul (the world tree, or great tree of Odin). However, Irmin is not simply just any ordinary name, it happens to be a kenning for the god Wotan or Odin. Such a name is among the oldest attested by-names for this complex deity. Another avenue of thought is that the name Irmin may be related to Ariomanus (a name which means “great leader”). Odin is also known as ‘Fury” and ‘Frenzy’. Therefore, to name this hurricane as Irma is foreboding.

The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt

The storm (wind, torrent, fury) has been associated with Odin since his inception. As one of the leaders of the Wild Hunt, his seasonal movements were accompanied by the winds. Grimm theorized that Odin himself had been perceived by the common folk through howling of the wind. Odin was well known to traverse the worlds mounted upon his eight-legged steed, Sleipner. As leader of the hunt, he led a ghoulish troop of the undead, summoned the recently departed to join his procession. The great din of this ghostly entourage was synonymous with the ruckus of the storm.

Odin in his Hat and Cape with Staff
Odin in his Hat and Cape with Staff

Odin in Modern Media

Odin is easily among the most recognized gods of the Norse pantheon. Yet he is also likely the most misunderstood. While many emphasize his presence in battle, his role as a trickster figure and necromancer rarely are present in his most popular representations. Certainly, wisdom is also among his best-known qualities. This wise sorcerer archetype is present within many modern works of fiction, most notably as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s use of Norse mythological concepts is well known, and Gandalf has all of the hallmarks of Odin. In fact, in a 1946 letter Tolkien explicitly stated that he viewed Gandalf as an “Odinic Wanderer” a “man who bore a spear or staff, wore a cloak and a wide brimmed hat”. So, while various modern popular figures may appear to be straightforward in their descriptions, underneath the polished veneer, a rougher courser god appears. One that you might not wish to run into even on the brightest of days let alone during the darkest of nights.

Germanic People in Antiquity
Germanic People in Antiquity

Tacitus and Widukind

It was from Tacitus that we first encounter the name Irmin. Among the West Germans existed a tribe known by the name of Irminones. These people were named for their ancestor Irmin, a son a Mannus. These figures are likely to be euhemerized gods. Odin and his extended family would continue to be euhemerized during the Viking Age. Due to the evolution of the Germanic languages, the name Irmin became Jormun in the Medieval period a common by-name of Odin. The practice of interpretatio Romana resulted in Widukind of Convey to equate Hirmin/Irmin with Hermes and Mars in his work Res Gestae Saxonicae. Irmin did not fit either mold exactly, therefore he was equated with both deities as he had attribute of both. Mars is well known as the Roman God of war. It should be relatively easy for individuals to understand how this comparison was made with Odin. Yet, we have only scratched the surface. When we look deeper into this figure, unsettling facets begin to emerge.

Mars: God of War and Battle
Mars: God of War and Battle

Odin and Mars

Mars was an ancient figure even during the days of the Roman Empire. His worship had ebbed and waned over the years. The God had been rehabilitated during Augustus’ reign and taken into the fold with renewed dedication. Mars’ military prowess is world renown, which is fully compatible with the figure of Odin. Yet, his Greek analogue was not so revered. It was likely the fiery unpredictability of Ares disturbed the sensibilities of the Greeks the most. He was far from being honored in the same capacity as his Roman counterpart. Rather, he was viewed with suspicion. Yes, his war prowess was acclaimed, yet his unpredictability, instability, and destructive tendencies were viewed with contempt. The names of his familial relations enlighten the reader to those characteristics that accompany Ares and by association Odin (Son Phobos: Fear, Son Deimos: Terror, Wife Enyo: Discord). All of these attributes could easily be given to Odin and often were during the medieval period.

Hermes or Mercury
Hermes or Mercury

Odin and Mercury/Hermes

Hermes on the other hand was the classical trickster figure. He was intimately tied to death and functioned as a psychopomp. Further, he was a patron of travelers. Each of these qualities are present within the divine figure of Odin. The Roman equivalent of Hermes was Mercury who was identified with Odin time and time again. Odin and Mercury are both identified as necromancers. This strengthens the notion that Odin was associated with death, and dying at an early period. You might also say that Odin is a God of contradictions. His first notable act was to engage in an act of patricide (an unforgivable offence in pagan Europe). Yet it was undeniably an act that was imperative, as the universe was fashioned from the body of Ymir. While he also strives to preserve the world, and stave off the forces of destruction as long as possible, the interim period has been full of Machiavellian schemes wherein Odin plots the deaths of warriors in order to fill his halls with battle hardened soldiers who will fight in the war to come. More often than not, these deaths are orchestrated through trickery, which gives him another similar attribute as Hermes/Mercury. With Odin, the ends justify the means. You could say many of his ingenious schemes put Littlefinger in Game of Thrones to shame (no offence to George R.R. Martin).

The Sacrifice of Odin
The Sacrifice of Odin

Havamal: The Wisdom Sayings of Odin

As a God of storms, fury, death, and trickery Odin has much to teach the living about adversity, and weathering both physical and metaphorical storms. He is a pragmatic god, and recognizes what is needed in order to live another day. One need not look further than the gnomic poetry of the Havamal (Odin’s Sayings) to gain some of the wisdom that Odin sacrificed his eye for. I have chosen Patricia Terry’s translation:


Training for an Ambush
Training for an Ambush

Preparation

“At every doorway, what you have to do

Is look around you

And look out;

Never forget: no matter where you are

You might find a foe.”

In these opening words of the Havamal we find Odin emphasizing that we must always be prepared for the unexpected. While hurricane Irma still churns the ocean out in the mid-Atlantic millions are waiting in anticipation for what may happen. However, while weather forecasting is reliable to a point, anything is possible. Overnight a category 3 storm can become a 5. High pressure systems can ease, placing the hurricane into a completely different trajectory than what was expected. Those who were once apathetic to the storm now sit up and take notice.

Vikings in War
Vikings in War

Facing Conflict

“The foolish man thinks he’ll live forever

if he stays away from war,

but old age shows him no mercy

though the spears spare him.”

The storm (conflict), is a natural part of the human existence. We cannot shy away from it. Fleeing from every conflict may result in a longer lifespan, at the expense of one’s honor and reputation.

Worry

"A stupid man stays awake all night

pondering his problems;

he’s worn out when morning comes

and whatever was still is."

One can consume countless hours by worrying about what might be. This passage points out the futility of worry. Nothing is changed by fretting about what may come. Worry is useless. If the storm is bearing down on you, worry will not alleviate the torrential downpour or gale force winds. One can only prepare for the storm and adapt to the pressure it places on you. Worry will only fester and deplete your mental faculties.

Hospitality in the Nordic Meadhall
Hospitality in the Nordic Meadhall

Hospitality

"There must be a fire for the frozen knees

of all arriving guests,

food and clothing for those who come

over the hills to your hall."

Hospitality is among the most time honored and valued traditions from our Pagan ancestors. The wandering stranger could be Odin himself. Or, the person in need today might be the same person who will help you during tomorrows storm. Hospitality is an ideal that buttresses the ideal of community. While it is possible to survive completely on one’s own, having a community provides one with the interpersonal resources and collected wisdom that would not be available to a single individual otherwise

Honing Your Skills

"Don’t leave your weapons lying about

behind your back in a field;

you never know when you may need

all of a sudden your spear."

The tools with which we engage in battle are best served when we keep them at our ready. A sword and firearm might be those tools best utilized for physical conflict, but preparation for weathering the storm requires the honing of your mental and spiritual weaponry as much as keeping order of one’s physical tools.

Norse Village
Norse Village

Community

“The pine tree withers in an open place

neither bark nor needles save it.

How shall a man hated by everyone

live for very long?”

If one does not have the support of community during a raging storm, the chances of survival are significantly lower. During hardship, it is natural for people to band together. It is not wise to alienate those who you might be dependent on for survival. One can prepare as much as his or her abilities allow, but as is often the case, best laid plans go awry. No amount of preparation can account for all factors during a storm. Therefore, while it is best to be as self-sufficient as possible, community is vital for one’s survival.

Fenrir and Ragnarok (War).
Fenrir and Ragnarok (War).

Finding Meaning in the Storm

"There is nothing men find better than fire

or the sight of the sun,

and to be allowed good health

and to live a blameless life"

The sun is life itself, every living thing is dependent upon it on one level or another. Yet, to appreciate all that it offers, we must first know what it is to live without it. The storm offers us a glimpse of what life is like without the sustenance of that life-giving orb. It is dark times, that gives meaning to the light. Opposites define one another

The Storm on the Horizon

As I sit here in Puerto Rico, I contemplate the intensity of the storm to come. Gray skies loom in the distance. Will this tempest consume me? In face of the approaching calamity I remain unwavering. Storms are unruly, threatening, and violent but they do not persist. The sun will return. Dawn will come and with it the power of night and the storm will fade into oblivion.

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    • Ivan Hernandez profile image

      Erick Hernandez 

      14 months ago from Maintaining The Ivan Brand in Total Nonstop Ivan

      I live in Norland, Florida, and have experienced Irma firsthand. She was a very powerful. I've never seen or experienced a storm like her. She was very big and very long-lasting, but I came out alright.

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      14 months ago from Canada

      Chris, I hope you are alright after Irma?! You've written a most interesting article here (under extreme duress of the approaching hurricane I would imagine!).

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