Odin the Wanderer, Father of the North
Odin, Wizard of the North
Odin the Wanderer, Chief of the Viking Gods, is the Wizard of the North who gave up an eye for one sip from the Well of Wisdom.
His domain was over dragons and dwarves, bright elves and werewolves, and trolls which turned into stone. Legend tells us how he made the first man and woman from an ash tree and an elm tree.
For this, he is called All-Father for he is indeed father of all.
Tolkien's Gandalf is Odin
Odin with his staff, long beard and wide-brimmed floppy hat was the base from which Tolkien drew his Gandalf.
Odin is easily recognised in the early stories of the now familiar wizard who sleeps under hedgerows, enjoys a drink down in Hobbiton, and appreciates a joke.
Gandalf, however, has two eyes while Odin, with his vast store of riddles, runes and after-dinner tales, has only one. And here's why.
How Odin gave up his eye
In the spot where the sky and ocean meet, the giant Mimer kept guard over his hidden well, in the bottom of which lay such a treasure of wisdom as was to be found nowhere else in the world.
One night, when the sun had set behind the mountains of Midgard, Odin put on his broad-brimmed hat and, with staff in hand, trudged down the long bridge to where it ended by Mimer's secret grotto and asked for a drink. But the giant, recognising his visitor (he was wise from drinking the water) grew crafty and asked for payment.
"Ask your price,"said Odin, "I promise that I will pay it."
"What say you, then, to leaving one of those far-seeing eyes of yours at the bottom of my well?" asked Mimer. "This is the only payment I will take."
Odin didn't hesitate. "I pledge you my eye for a draught to the brim."
Mimer filled his drinking horn from the fountain of wisdom and handed it to Odin. "Drink, then," he said; "drink and grow wise".
Odin seized the horn and emptied it without delay. From that moment he became wiser than any one else in the world (except perhaps Mimer himself).
When Odin went away, he left at the bottom of the dark pool one of his clear blue eyes, which twinkled and winked up through the magic depths like the reflection of a star.
This is how Odin lost his eye, and why from that day he was careful to pull his gray hat low over his face when he wanted to pass unnoticed.
Odin had two ravens named Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory.
Each morning he would send them forth into the world to see what they could see. Each night they would return and sit on his shoulders to tell him of all they had seen.
In this way Odin always knew everything that went on in the world of men.
(If you see two ravens flying overhead, remember that they will tell Odin what you've been up to).
Odin was accompanied everywhere by the wolves Freki and Geri, both of these names mean Greedy.
It's been said that Odin gave all of his food to the wolves and consumed nothing but wine himself but I find this hard to believe. There are too many tales of a traveller appearing out of the snow at a Chieftan's feast, eating, drinking and telling stories over the meal, beating his staff in time with the singing.
After eating his fill, this traveller, in his cloak and wide floppy hat, would vanish as mysteriously as he had arrived.
Sleipnir is Odin's steed, the best of all horses. His eight legs gave him extraordinary speed.
Wednesday is for Odin
Most days of the week were named after the Northern Gods, we still use them to to this day.
Our Wednesday is from the Old English Woden's day
In Germanic myths, during the time of Romans, Odin was called Wodan and the classical Roman writers identified him with their god, Mercury. The Latin languages name Wednesday after Mercury.
Bring Odin into your home
A handy companion to have at Ragnarok, the end of the world!
Lovely wooden finish statuette of Odin for your home.
Here's Odin, in his floppy hat, showing his staff and sitting with his ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who are whispering into his ears. The two wolves, Freki and Geri, sit at his feet..You can see he has but one eye in this statue, and the ancient carving reads "Take up Runes".
Let the Wanderer have a home in yours.
How Odin became Immortal
Just as we mortals grow old, the gods too, grow old, and like us search for rejuvenation. The Gods of the North ward off ageing by eating the magical Apples of Youth kept by the goddess Idun.
But Odin, in typically male fashion, went about it in a much harder way. He pierced himself with his own spear and hung himself for nine days from the great cosmic tree Yggdrasil.
Hanging suspended like this, he won immortality.
It was here also, that he learned nine powerful songs and eighteen powerful runes, to become the master of the runic inscriptions that can accomplish any mortal purpose, either beneficial or baneful.
Odin as Psychopomp
Psychopomp is the word which describes an Usher of the Dead, a Guide, a Conductor of Souls to the place of the dead.
Throughout all cultures and belief systems, the Psychopomp has appeared in diverse forms to open the way to the Mysteries of Death and Rebirth.
Most common is the idea of the Dog as Psychopomp but Odin, on his great eight-legged steed, Sleipnir, is the Usher in the North.
Norse Mythology for the Beginner
Are you new to the myths and legends of the North?
When I was growing up my books were all of the ancient Greeks and it took me 20 years to find out about the Scandinavian gods. Now I can't get enough of them.
Get a copy to read to your grandchildren. They will remember the experience forever
Video - Scandinavian Myths
More on the Northern gods
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© 2008 Susanna Duffy