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Norse Mythology: The Eighteen Charms Known by Odin

Updated on August 1, 2019
Odin, der Göttervater, Wilhelm Wägner, 1882.
Odin, der Göttervater, Wilhelm Wägner, 1882. | Source

In Norse myth and legend, an almost obsessive pursuit of knowledge and wisdom is one of the defining characteristics of Odin, the ruler of the group of gods known as the Aesir. It was this obsession, after all, that drove Odin to steal the mead of poetry from the giant, Suttung—an act of blatant theft he was able to commit by seducing Suttung's own daughter, Gunnlod. It was also this same obsession that led Odin to pierce his own side with a spear and hang himself from the branches of the world tree, Yggdrasil, where he hung from nine days and nine nights in an act of ritual sacrifice in which Odin made an offering of himself, to himself.

It was this act of self-sacrifice that allowed Odin to learn the secrets of the runes - though, his pursuit of knowledge also led Odin to learn even greater magic from other sources. As outlined in Hávamál, one of the poems to be found in the Poetic Edda, Odin also learned nine powerful songs from his maternal uncle, the unnamed son of his grandfather, Bolthor. Odin's pursuits had also led him to acquire knowledge of eighteen charms, or powerful spells, not known by any other man or women.

  • The first is a rather abstract charm simply called "help" which provides aid in any moment of strife or grief. While the exact nature of that aid is not elaborated on, it seems safe to assume that this charm is one which can be used to calm one's mind in moments of emotional turmoil.

  • Odin's second charm is a good counterpart to the first, being one that can be used to heal physical injuries, and provide relief from physical pain.

  • The third is a charm of protection which, if called upon, will allow Odin to blunt the blades of his enemies, so that their weapons become incapable of inflicting serious harm.

  • The fourth is a charm that allows Odin to escape from any attempt to bind him.

  • The fifth charm is one that would allow Odin to stop, or alter, the course of any arrow that he can observe in flight.

  • The sixth is another charm of protection—one that allows Odin to turn any spell, or curse, back against the one who cast it.

  • Seventh is a charm that allows Odin to put out any fire, no matter how large, with a simple chant.

  • The eighth seems to be a variation of the first—though, this one is specifically concerned with soothing feelings of anger and hatred.

  • Ninth is a charm that allows Odin to calm the wind on a stormy sea.

  • The tenth charm is one that is effective against witches and, perhaps, any other supernatural being with an ability to change shape. By uttering the chant, Odin can curse any he may see with an inability to find their way back to their true form, or their true home.

  • Odin's eleventh charm is a blessing given the soldiers about to enter battle, ensuring that they will emerge victorious and unharmed.

  • Twelfth is a charm that allows Odin to raise the dead, allowing him to speak with the recently deceased.

  • The thirteenth charm is another blessing, similar to the eleventh. If Odin were to sprinkle water on the head of a child, that child would be guaranteed to never fall in battle.

  • Odin's fourteenth charm is a gift of knowledge, allowing Odin to know the name of anyone he might meet.

  • The fifteenth is a chant that Odin first heard from the dwarf, Thjodrerir—one that granted strength to the gods, skill to the elves, and wisdom to Odin, himself.

  • Sixteenth is a charm that allows Odin to rouse feelings of love and desire in any woman that attracts his interest.

  • The seventeenth is a counterpart to the sixteenth, ensuring that a woman's love for Odin will never waver, or fade.

  • Finally, the eighteenth charm is something of a mystery—a secret which Odin keeps only for himself.

While Hávamál is a poem written as though narrated by Odin, himself, there still seems to be some variation in the way in which these charms are described, due to the different translations of the Poetic Edda currently available. The seventh charm, for example, can be described as granting Odin the ability to redirect any arrow—but, it has also been interpreted as the slightly more mundane, though still impressive, ability to catch any arrow with his own hands. Also, the tenth charm can be described as useful particularly against witches, though it has also been described as a useful means of banishing ghosts.

The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore (Penguin Classics)
The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore (Penguin Classics)

The Poetic, or Elder, Edda is the primary source of information available to us, regarding Norse myth and legend. Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, along with just about any other book on the subject of Norse mythology written since then, are valuable and interesting as secondary sources, of course. But, if you want to read the stories of Norse myth in their original form, than the Poetic Edda is as close as you're ever going to get.

There are a few different translations of the Poetic Edda currently available. This one, though, presents the poems in modernized, and easy to follow, language. It also comes with a detailed selection of notes and annotations for each poem, to provide additional context

 

© 2019 Dallas Matier

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