The Big Book of Runes and Rune Magic: How to Interpret Runes, Rune Lore, and the Art of Runecasting - Edred Thorsson 2018
Runelore of the Gods
Runelore is dominated by the figure of Odin. It is the path exemplified by him that the runer seeks to travel. However, as Odin has shown, other gods are also essential for the healthy workings of the cosmological, sociological, and psychological orders. We know—from a tale told by the monk Saxo Grammaticus in Book I of his History of the Danes—that it is the will of Odin to preserve and to promote the whole structure of the gods—the entire pantheon. In this tale, we read that Odin left his kingdom, and his place was taken by one called Mitódhinn. The name Mitódhinn may mean either “the one beside Odin” (Mit-Odin), or “the one who measures out” (Mitódh-in), related to an Old English word for “god,” Meotod. In either case, it appears to be a name for Tyr. Mitódhinn tried to institute a separate cult for each of the gods. When Odin returned, he overthrew Mitódhinn and restored the common cult in which sacrifices were made (three times a year) to all of the gods and goddesses of the pantheon together. Mitódhinn's plan would certainly have led to fragmentation of the society, whereas Odin's restoration was aimed at maintaining a cohesive whole. As we will see, those two tendencies are what we should expect of Odin and Tyr.
Before delving into the Odinic archetype we should, being true to the Odian path, delineate the structure of the whole of the Germanic pantheon from a runic or esoteric viewpoint. In the twentieth century two investigators, working from two different perspectives, have again provided keys with which to unlock the ways the divinities relate to each other. C. G. Jung, with his theory of archetypes within the collective unconscious (see chapter 12), has given a workable basis on which to understand the linkage between the human psyche and the gods and goddesses of our ancestors. Georges Dumézil, a French historian of religion and an Indo-Europeanist, has added the key to the structure of the pantheon.1
The gods and goddesses have both subjective (i.e., within the psyche of the individual) reality and multiversal objective (i.e., outside the psyche of the individual) realities. These objective realities are essentially three: (1) within the national group (an inherited “metagenetic” divine pattern), (2) within the species homo sapiens, and (3) independent of humanity. Not all gods partake of all three objective realities. The first reality is the strongest objective link man can have with the divine. This metagenetic link is most powerful within close national/linguistic relationships, that is, ones that correspond to one's heritage (although all native English speakers will have absorbed a good deal of that nation's indigenous structures regardless of ethnic heritage). But “mega-nations” or linguistic groupings (e.g., Indo European, Semitic, Sino-Tibetan) will have significant impact as well. Only Odin, as the shaper of humanity, is independent of it.
What is a god or goddess? In runic terms a god is a living entity with some sort of existence independent of the individual psyche, although most gods may have had their ultimate origin there. It may be incorporated anywhere within the psychophysical complex; that is, it may have its origin in an instinctual, emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual pattern. A god, as most first perceive it, is a subtle tendency within the self, which then can be fed with psychic energy by means of myth, ritual, runework, and the like. The anthropomorphic shape of a god is a symbol. This is the simplest way for most people to grasp entities that have certain roles and complex interrelationships. The anthropomorphic symbol is not altogether arbitrary because the gods are essentially creatures of the great force of consciousness given by the All-Father to mankind alone. A part of the god is housed within the minni of an individual and is inherited metagenetically from the ancestors.
In the final analysis, there are as many conceptions of the divine as there are individuals. No two persons comprehend a deity or theology in exactly the same way, yet there are innate tendencies that are determined by living metagenetic forms. Of course, another method, used by the prophets of revealed religion, is that of dogma and coercion.
For the individual who may wish to understand the inner or outer reality of a god or goddess, a process of learning about the inner form and of linking that inner form with its external counterpart must be developed. This is a form of communication with the divinity and is a chief concern of religion. The task of the Odian runer goes somewhat beyond this, as we shall see.
The Great Gods of Aesir
The various Germanic divinities relate to one another in a way that is profound, archaic, and of great potency in the understanding of deep-level runelore. Table 13.1 on page 143 shows, in abbreviated form, the most important structural aspects of the oldest form of the Germanic pantheon. It amounts to a social structure of the pantheon and is essentially the Dumézilian restoration with additional runic insights.2 On the other hand, the nonhuman elements of the multiverse extend beyond the realms of the Aesir and Vanir, and these worlds are represented in the pattern of Yggdrasill (refer to figure 10.7 on page 126).
Again, these relationships are to be found within individual psyches, within the national psyche of a people; they have their correspondences in the objective multiverse as well. To some extent these relationships give us the internal structure of the minni—the psychic “stuff' with which one is born. The dynamic interrelationships between these living inhabitants of this part of the psyche are the starting points for the great myths. Through various workings of a religious nature one may link the elements of one's own psyche with those in the objective world of the mythic tradition and become in-formed by them.
Table 13.1. Structure of the Germanic pantheon.
Although Odin will be discussed in depth throughout this chapter, here we will put this divinity in the context of the whole pantheon.
Odin is a god like no other. He is the Alfadhir—the All-Father. He is called this because he is the source of consciousness among the gods and mankind. His gift is the expanded human consciousness that allows the synthesizing self-concept to arise. It is for this reason that the active Odian does not so much seek to worship an external god-form of Odin as he does him-Self to embody and to develop the Self-concept and consciousness given by the god. Whereas other religious cults turn outward to the objective manifestation of the particular god, the cult of Odin turns inward and seeks a deification of the Self. The Odian does not worship his god—he becomes his god.
By his very nature Odin synthesizes everything around him. He makes all things his own and uses them according to his will, while remaining in an essential way apart from outside things. In the history of Germanic myth, this can be seen as the Odinic archetype absorbs the Týric aspect and takes upon itself aspects of the warrior and craftsman/farmer.
The essential Odinic structure is threefold. The oldest name of this tripartite entity is Wōdhanaz-Wiljōn-Wīhaz (ON Odin-Vili-Vé). The meanings of these names show us how this tripartite entity of consciousness works. Wōdh-an-az (master of inspiration [wōdh-]) is the expansive all-encompassing ecstatic and transformative force at the root of consciousness and enthusiasm. Wil jōn (the will) is the conscious application of a desired plan consciously arrived at, and Wīhaz (the sacred) is the spirit of separation in an independent sacred “space.” This separation between consciousness and “nature” (that outside consciousness) must be effected before any transformations or “work” can take place. All three are necessary; all three should work together as a whole.
Although Odin is first and foremost the god of synthetic consciousness, this characteristic allowed him to assume the roles of the god of the dead, of poetry, and of intellectual crafts of all kinds (including runes). This latter aspect made him the favorite of the elite bands of innovative and aware warriors and kings.
Essential to the Odinic mystery is his manifold nature. He is the whole made up of many parts. In the mythology this is made clear not only by his tripartite appearances but also by his many “nicknames” (ON heiti). More than a hundred of these have been documented. A litany of a substantial number of them can be found in the “Gríminismál” (sts. 47—55). These range from names meaning Worker of Evil (ON Bölverkr) to Father of All (ON Alfödhr) and every quality in between. Perhaps one of the names sums up this quality—Svipall (the Changeable One), which indicates the ultimate transformational character of the god. This divine case of “multiple personalities” gives an indication as to why Odin is often misunderstood. Indeed, those who approach him from a non-Odian viewpoint will be disappointed, confused, or destroyed.
Figure 13. 1. The eight great aspects of Odin.
If the heiti were not enough to confuse the non-initiate, the greater aspects (hypostases) have even confounded many experts. A hypostasis is an aspect of a god that seems to be an independent god-form but on closer investigation is shown to be a particularly well-developed functional aspect of it. Because of his many-sided character, Odin is especially subject to this mode of understanding. Figure 13.1 shows the eight great hypostases of Odin. Some of these are dual in nature.
Vili and Vé have been discussed and will be explained further in the “Odin: The Hidden God of the Runes” section below. The forms Lodhur and Hœnir are Odin's counterparts in the anthropogonic myth reported by Snorri in his Prose Edda. Hœnir also figures as a partner with another god named Mímir. When these two god-forms were given as hostages to the Vanir at the conclusion of the First War, Hoenir who was reputed to be wise, proved to be “empty-headed” unless advised by Mímir. This so angered the Vanir that they cut off Mímir's head and sent it back to the Aesir. Odin is said to preserve the head in order to learn hidden lore from it. At first glance this myth is baffling, especially when we see that Hoenir is otherwise depicted as a powerful intellectual force. In the “Völuspá” he gives Askr and Embla ódhr, and after Ragnarök he comes back as the chief diviner of the gods who can read the runestaves. But everything becomes clear when Hoenir/Mímir are understood as aspects of Odin. The fact that they never really act independently is one indication of this, but their names contain the key. Hoenir is derived from the same root as hugr, and Mímir is related to the same root as minni. Therefore, we have figures related to Odin in the same way as their zoomorphic counterparts Huginn and Muninn, the ravens of Odin. These are the cognitive and reflective functions of the god.
Bragi is the poetic aspect of the god and a name taken by an ancient skald who became identified with the elder god of poetry. Baldr is the young warrior aspect of Odin and also an aspect that relates to the initiation of the young warrior into the band of armed men. Heimdallr is the guardian aspect of Odin. He guards the Rainbow Bridge (Bifröst) against the coming of the rime-thurses, but he is also the aspect that continually communicates with mankind. It is Odin, in the form of Heimdallr and going by the nickname Rígr, that becomes the progenitor of human society. The mystery of Heimdallr is found in the M-rune.
The most puzzling hypostasis of all is that of Loki. In Loki, Odin contains the seed of his own destruction but also a necessary part of the process of his rebirth and transformation in the new age. Loki, as a name and as a separate entity, is a latecomer to the Germanic pantheon and is really found only in sources of Norse origin. But in most respects the characteristics of Loki correspond to the “darker” one of Odin as the sly, deceitful, perverse god. In a way, Loki is the objectified shadow-self of Odin. But he still works together with his “dark brother,” and it is even said that they become “blood brothers” (see “Lokasenna,” st. 9). Actually, they are of the same “blood.”
Where Loki is most conspicuous is in his role connected to Ragnarök—the Judgment of the Gods. Once one realizes that the Ragnarök process is actually a model of transformation and that the central triadic figures of Odin-Baldr-Loki/ Hödhr can be understood as internal forces, the true meaning of the “dark brother” becomes clearer. The blind Hödhr (whose name means “warrior”) is guided by the force of negation (Loki) to kill the Lord of Light, the bold Baldr (another name meaning “warrior”). Baldr is sent to the dark, still enclosure of Hel, informed by the greatest of secrets (runes) that Odin whispered into his ear as he was on the pyre before being sent Hel-ward. There he awaits Ragnarök to be reborn in the new age. Loki too is cast down and bound in the underworld as punishment for his murderous act. There he too awaits the “final conflict.” This deed of the dark blood brother has set the process toward Ragnarök in motion. When the final hour comes, Odin, with his hosts of Valhöll and Asgardhr turn southward to face Loki and the forces of Hel and Muspellsheimr. The god of consciousness has turned to face his shadow-self. Heimdallr and Loki kill one another, and Odin is swallowed by the Fenris-Wolf (a son of Loki). In turn, Odin is avenged by his son Vídharr, who kills the Wolf by either splitting him open with a sword or ripping his jaws apart. Rune wisdom tells us that this means Odin too is “reborn,” in a transformed state, into the new age. But in what form? He is Hoenir made whole, who will “handle the blood-twigs.”
When viewed as a mythic paradigm of transformation, the Ragnarök process takes on meanings that are powerful and useful in runework, and it gives a deeper understanding of the function of Loki and of Odin's “dark side.”
Before returning to Odin's meaning and might, we should explore the ways that the Odian views the other holy gods of the North.
The essential mysteries of this god are embodied in the T-rune that is named after him. Tyr is the god of justice and of self-sacrifice for the good of society. This aspect is illustrated by the myth in which the gods capture the Fenris-Wolf by binding him with a fetter made of six things that indicate subtle mysteries, while Tyr holds his (right) hand in the jaws of the Wolf as a pledge of troth. When Fenrir finds he cannot escape, Tyr's hand is sacrificed to the jaws of the son of Loki (the Wolf). As a mythic figure, Tyr retreats into the realm of relative inactivity after this. However, in religious practice (especially that connected to legal matters) he remains a god of great importance. Tuesday is named after him. In German we have Dienstag, which is derived from an older form Dings-tag, day of the thing (legal assembly). So in one language we have the god; in the other we have the instruction over which he ruled.
As the overall structure of the psychocosmological aspects of the pantheon shows, ideally Tyr and Odin should work together in harmony as the left brain and right brain, respectively. In the process of shaping or creating anything, both forces are necessary. The Tyr aspect lays the plans, and the Odinic aspect puts the plans into action and makes them real. Tyr is the planner; Odin, the doer. The Germanic soul is essentially one of action and eternal motion. For this reason, the Odinic aspect was always at least slightly dominant in the pantheon; Odin is the high god and the All-Father. Odin's expansive transformational essence led to his aspect, largely synthesizing that of Tyr. Nowhere is this clearer than in the later legendary name of the North Star, Odin's Eye. The North Star is, of course, primarily identified with Tyr (see the T-rune), but in a sense Tyr becomes the all-seeing eye of Odin aloft on Hlidhskjálfr, the Gate-Tower. This is the eye that sees all over the worlds, whereas that which is pledged in Mímir's Well is the eye that sees “beneath” all the worlds, into their deepest secrets (runes).
The latent antagonism between Odin and Tyr is merely that which often occurs within systems composed of complementary aspects. An act of will is needed to cause them to work together harmoniously.
This god seems simple, yet he is complex. Great mysteries of Thor are contained in the TH-rune. Essentially, Thor is the ancient god of war. In later times, as Odin absorbed that function, he lost much of that attribute among men. Yet we note that he retains it among the gods themselves. He is their defender and the one who exercises his brute strength and power of his cosmic hammer, Mjöllnir, against the nonconscious or preconscious forces of Jötunheimr.
The Aesir—gods of ancestral consciousness and transformation—are faced with the forces of nonconsciousness and entropy pressing in from the east and south—out of Útgardhr. To oppose these forces the gods need a power very similar to that of the thurses and etins but loyal to them alone. This is Thor. Thor does little “thinking” for himself; he follows the orders given by the sovereign gods. Realistically speaking, there is, of course, superficial antagonism between the “Warrior” and the “Wizard” (see the “Harbardhsljódh” in the Poetic Edda), but ultimately the Warrior follows the guidance of the Wizard. The Wizard rules by wisdom; the Warrior rules by weapons. As long as Odin remains dominant, wisdom rules the weapon. It is Thor out of balance that leads to national catastrophe.
Although the “theology” of runic practice is dominated by Odin as the great runemaster, another figure—Freyja—looms large in the practice of Germanic magic. She is even said to have taught Odin a form of magic known in Old Norse as seidhr (shamanistic trance-inducing methods). In many ways Freyja is the female counterpart of Odin. She is the magical archetype for women involved in magical pursuits, as Odin is for men. In her most basic aspects, Freyja is “the Lady” (this is the literal meaning of her name). Her companion is her brother/lover Freyr, “the Lord.” However, it would be a large mistake, as we have already noted, to assume that Freyja is primarily a fertility goddess. Among the Vanir, it must be remembered, she is the one chiefly concerned with the numinous. In her very essence she embodies a profound relationship to the Odian pathways.
Like Odin, Freyja is known by many names. Some examples of these are Vanadís (the Goddess of the Vanir), Vanabrúdhr (Bride of the Vanir), Hörn (Mistress of Flax), Gefn (the Giver), Syr (the Sow—her solar aspect), Mardöll (the Sea-bright), and Gull-veig (Gold-Greedy). These names tell us quite a bit about the range of Freyja's functions and her position. She is of great importance among the Vanir, perhaps in many places superior to her brother. She is indeed connected with prosperity and growth, and she gives her gifts (material and numinous) to humans. In her cosmic aspect she is connected to the sun (which is feminine in Germanic; see the S-rune) through her image as the “golden sow.” The boar and sow are the animals of Freyr and Freyja, respectively. In Germany today, when the sun is very hot, they still say Die gelbe Sau brennt (The yellow sow is burning). The linkage with gold is made on many occasions, and on one level this is a further expression of Freyja's capacity as Vanic deity of prosperity and well-being. There is another level that is made clear in the mystery of fehu.
In the “Völuspá” we read how a certain sorceress named Gullveig came to the Aesir from the Vanir when those two groups of gods were at war. This is Freyja in another guise. We know this because, although Freyja is later found among the Aesir, she is not one of the Vanir (Freyr, Njördhr, and perhaps also Kvasir) who went over to the Aesir as hostages as a part of the truce between the two divine races.
Before we consider three of Freyja's myths in some detail, it might be well to remember how much of her lore is lost. At one time there was a vast body of mythic and cultic material connected with the goddess, but perhaps because of the erotic nature of her mysteries and myths they were especially singled out for eradication by the monkish missionaries to the north. Even in normally tolerant Iceland, her poetry—the mansöngr (love song)—was prohibited. And unfortunately, her cult could not recede into the protective confines of the chieftain's hall. But some of it was saved by the skald's art.
During the First War—the war between the Aesir (first and second functions) and the (third function) Vanir—a sorceress named Gullveig came to the Aesir, into Odin's hall. The Aesir tried to kill her by piercing her with spears and burning her. But each time she was reborn. The third time she transformed herself from Gullveig into Heidh (the Shining One). This “thrice-born völva (seeress) is most probably Freyja, and it is in this form that she became Odin's teacher in the ways of seidhr. After her lore and her cult had been assimilated into that of Odin and of the Aesir, the lore of seidhr became an integral (but specialized) field within runelore (in the sense of esoteric studies).
The necklace of the Brisings is much more than a pretty trinket. It is the all-encompassing fourfold cosmic ring, under the control of the great goddess Freyja. It is the magical equivalent of the Midhgardh Serpent that girdles the entire cosmos. The Tale of Sörli tells us how Freyja obtained this magical tool by spending a night with each of the four dwarves—the Brisings (descendants of the Shining Ones)—who forged the necklace. These four dwarves may be the same as Nordhri, Austri, Sudhri, and Vestri, who are stationed at the four cardinal directions of the world. It may have originally been that she had sexual relations with all four, simultaneously or over four nights. In any event, the result is the same: Freyja gains control over the fourfold cycle of the cosmos and its generative and regenerative powers. The object is said to be worn either as a belt or as a necklace, depending on how the goddess wished to use its power. At one point the mischievous god Loki stole the Brisinga-men from Freyja, and it was restored to her only after it had been recovered by the god Heimdallr. What is interesting here is that both Loki and Heimdallr are considered aspects (hypostases) of Odin—his dark and light sides, if you will.
Search for Ódhr
It is said that Freyja is married to a god named Ódhr, who is none other than Odin him-self. The name Ódh-r simply indicates the force of ecstasy, of the magically inspired mind. To this, indeed, the goddess Freyja is wedded, and it too (as with Odin himself) is the chief aim of her strivings. As Ódhr wandered, so Freyja wandered after him, shedding tears of gold. Many have wanted to see in this mournful search a parallel with the search of Ishtar for Tammuz. However, the significance of this Sumerian/Akkadian myth and that of Freyja's search for Ódhr is quite different. Freyja's quest has nothing directly to do with fertility—she is seeking the “numinous inspiration” embodied in the god.
Each of these three myths indicates something of Freyja's primarily magical or numinous character. That fertility, wealth, well-being, and eroticism grow out of this character is perhaps secondary but nevertheless essential.
Another important fact about Freyja is that she receives one-half of all those slain in battle, according to her choice, to go to her otherworldly stronghold called Folkvangr (Field of the Warrior-band). The other half, of course, goes to Odin.
Like Odin, Freyja is a threefold divinity. She, as no other goddess is able to do, covers all three functions of the pantheon: (1) she is a magical figure, (2) she is a goddess of warriors, and (3) she is a Vanic deity with all the powers of that race of gods. She can bring things into being, can cause them to become, and can cause them to pass away toward new beginning. This magical power is at the root of her fertility function. Ultimately, the “marriage” between Freyja and Odin is a rather “modern” one. Freyja is not the “feminine side” of Odin (he carries that comfortably within himself—or in his “devilish” aspect, Loki); nor is Odin the “masculine side” of the Lady—she contains this as well. Perhaps Freyr even originally grew out of Freyja the way the masculine Njördhr grew out of the feminine Nerthus. In any case, we are dealing with two individuated deities drawn together by a common purpose. There are still a great many mysteries to be unraveled about this most powerful of goddesses.
Of all the gods, the one most independent of Odin is Freyr, the God of This World (ON veraldar godh). Despite this independence, or perhaps because of it, there is little conflict between the Lord and Odin. In fact, it seems they secretly conspire with one another in many regards. Through runic investigation we find that besides Odin it is Freyr who is best represented in the ancient runelore. By this fact the runers of old acknowledge the importance of the Lord in the workings of the world.
Freyr is not the god's actual name but a title. This is not unusual. But in this case, we perhaps have the actual name of the god in the name of the NG-rune: Ingwaz. It is also possible that two gods are assimilated here, as the originally Aesiric Ing and the Vanic Freyr. The mysteries of the god are contained in the NG-rune. Yngvi is also a great progenitor of royal houses (especially in Sweden); the Ynglings are the greatest clan of the Sviar (Swedes).
Although Freyr is sometimes connected to the imagery of war, he is most often a figure of peace, prosperity, and pleasure. At Midsummer the Norse sacrificed to him for good harvest and peace (ON til árs ok fridhar). Another name of Freyr is perhaps Fródhi, who in the form of a legendary king ruled over a golden age of peace in the north called Fródha fridhr (Peace of Fródhi). Runically, this points us in the direction of jera (younger name, ár). Remember that for ár the “Old Norwegian Rune Rhyme” reads: “I say that Fródhi was generous.” In Freyr, the Lord of the World, we see the force ruling over the organic processes that bind together the J- and NG-runes. The :: is the closed circle of the year, the cycle of gestation, and : : is the dynamic opening of the yearly cycle at harvest when the fruit is born forth.
Odin and Freyr work most harmoniously together in the Völsunga Saga. Yet this cooperation is largely hidden from the uninitiated eye. That Odin is the divine progenitor of the Völsungs and that he and his agents are responsible for the initiation of the members of this clan into the secrets of the gods is well known and obvious. But in his little-expressed warrior aspect Freyr is also present in the greatest of the Völsungs-Sigurdhr (or Siegfried) the Dragon-Slayer. In some versions of his myth Sigurdhr is raised by hinds in the woods and is later identified as a hart (which is his animal-fetch). Now Freyr is also closely associated with this high-horned beast, and after giving up his sword to gain the favor of the etin-wife, Gerdhr, he must fight with all that is left to him—the horn of a stag. This and other hidden associations show us that Freyr and Odin could work together in an independent fashion to form great initiates—Odin as progenitor and initiatory sponsor and Freyr as earthly provider.
Besides the high gods—Aesir and Vanir—there are a number of important beings that inhabit other dewllings in other worlds within the branches of Yggdrasill. Odin actively and fruitfully interacts with beings in all of these worlds. Odin himself is, after all, a synthesis of the pure streams of thurs-force and god-consciousness (see chapter 10), and his inherently expansive consciousness seeks wisdom in all realms and rejects nothing that might be instrumental in effecting his will.
The elves (ON álfar; sg., álfr) are a complex lot. They dwell in (Ljóss)álfheimr and are sometimes associated with Freyr. The word elf means “the shining-white one.” These are entities of light (not always seen because they are exceedingly small in stature) that sometimes interact beneficially and sometimes maliciously with humans. Essentially, they are the collective light bodies or “minds” (ON hugar) of the ancestors (in their female forms they are called dísir or dises or ides) that continue to have contact with the minds of humans. They have much lore and wisdom to teach. They are the mental faculties of the ancestors that have been reabsorbed into the cosmic organism.
The dwarves are also known in Old Norse as svart- or dökk-álfar, and they dwell “below” Midhgardhr in Svartalfheimr. These entities too have much lore to teach, but their main function is that of formulators. They are the shapers of shapes that come into being in Midgardhr, especially those shapes capable of effecting the will of a great warrior or magician. That is why they are always said to be the forgers of magical weapons. They also can be considered the reabsorbed ancestral skills and crafts.
Rises, Etins, Thurses
The words most often translated as simply “giant” are actually three different words in the tradition. Old Norse rísi (ris) is a true giant, an entity of great size and perhaps even ultimately referring to the prehistoric inhabitants of the north. They are often said to intermarry with humans and to bear children with them. In addition, they are more often than not beneficent and often beautiful to look at. The etins (ON jötnar, sg, jötunn) are characterized by great strength and age, although size is not of particular importance. They can be vast as the worlds (Ymir) or virtually microscopic (the name of a certain beetle in Old Norse is jötunuxi [etin-ox]). Etins are vastly potent ageless entities who often embody the wisdom of the aeons through which they have existed. In regard to the eternal “battle” between the conscious and nonconscious, they are neutral. That is, some side with the Aesir and some with the thurses. What is certain is that they exist. Etins are non-evolving beings—they are now as they were in aeons past. It is for this reason that Odin often engenders children with etin-wives. The forces of nonconsciousness are embodied in the thurses (ON thursar, sg., thurs). They are, even in later tales, marked by their stupidity. Thurses too are of great age (see chapter 10), but they are actively antagonistic toward the forces of consciousness and seek to destroy it through their rime-cold entropy. The “sons of Muspell”—and their leader, Surt—who come out of Muspellsheimr to destroy cosmic order with fire are also ascribed to this group—the polar opposites of the rime-thurses. It is impossible, from an Odian point of view, to call these forces morally “evil” in the Christian sense; they are merely nonconscious natural forces of the mechanical or organic multiverse that eternally seek stasis. They are, however, entities contrary to the purposes of men and gods alike.
The lore of all of the gods and all of the wights throughout the multiverse is to be mastered by the Odian. Therefore, nothing lies outside his interest, and no path is closed to him. But before the ways of other gods are opened to the Odian, the deep essence of the road shown by the great god must be fathomed.
Odin: The Hidden God of the Runes
Odin must be known forever in his true nature as the omnideus, the whole-god of inner being/transformation and timeless mystery. Odin holds the holy words to open the doors of the new dawn, but he will not give them away; we must win them by our own wills. To do this the first step is the discovery of the character of his godhood.
What is meant by the formulation “Odin: Hidden God of the Runes”? First of all, let us restate and expand the etymology of the name Odin. The name occurs in most of the major Germanic dialects (OHG Wuotan, OE Wōden, as well as ON Ódhinn). The Germanic form of the name would have been Wōdhanaz, which is quite transparent in meaning. Wōdh- is a term for ecstatic, inspired numinous or mental activity; it is almost like a physiological response in the psychophysical complex to a high level of stimulation present in such phenomena as ecstasy, enthusiasm, outflowings of physical power, and the feeling of awe in the presence of the numinosum tremendum (the terrifying aspect of the “divine”). Wōdh is first and foremost a magical power concept. The element -an- regularly indicates the “master of” whatever concept it is attached to. (Other examples of this would be Old Norse thjódh-inn, the master of the people ( = king), and Old Norse drótt-inn, the master of the warrior band. The grammatical ending -az- is already familiar to the reader from the rune names. In most cases this ending became an -r in Old Norse, but following an -n- it changed to an -n as well. Also, the loss of initial w- before a long ó or ú is already known from the relationship between Old Norse Urdhr and Old English Wyrd. Thus, Odin is just a regular development from Wodhanaz.
The Master of Inspiration is only one of many characterizing names (heiti) ascribed to this age-old and actually nameless, hidden god. The esoteric numen or archetype of the mysteries is not hidden by a veil as such, nor is it mainly occulted by its transcendence alone but rather by its omnipresence. That is the key to his many names. What makes Odin especially “occult” is his intense presence in paradoxical formulations. His co-equal presence as a binding force between opposites is an essential feature of his character, yet one that often baffles the human view that tends to understand things in a more dualistic-analytical way. But Odin comprehends through the whole entity expressed by polar constructs. Odin sees with the whole eye. This is the essence that hides him from our rational (“two-eyed”) minds—he is the embodiment of the “suprarational-all.”
Odin is a god because he serves (and has served for aeons) as an exemplary model for the expression, development, and transformation of human consciousness. This was for long ages institutionalized in a “national cultus” among the Germanic peoples, with each tribe holding its special versions of emphasis within a general traditional framework. Odin, by any name, served this function since the birth of Indo-European humanity, and hence cannot be extinguished except through the physical destruction of his people.
The runes are an integral part of the Odinic essence because it is through them and by them that he grows in power, becomes indestructible, and is able to communicate multiversal mysteries to his human kindred. Odin, the runes, and humanity form a matrix in which the conscious/ unconscious and existence/nonexistence meet.
To establish a traditional framework for the exploration and emulation of the Odinic archetype, it is wise to read what was composed about Odin's evolution in the nights when his ways were an established, institutionalized lifestyle, uncluttered by centuries of intervening ignorance. For this we must concentrate on the sources of Odin's wisdom and power as outlined in passages in Old Norse literature.
The primary Odinic initiatory myth is that of the self-sacrifice on Yggdrasill described in the “Hávamál,” stanzas 138 to 165. This process must be understood as taking place in a realm beyond time, in that immense cosmogonic space before the advent of the Nornic Laws (see the N- and P-runes). The “birth” of Odin and the World-Tree self-sacrifice are essentially simultaneous—without it Odin is not Odin. In this process Odin gives his self to him-Self while hanging on Yggdrasill (the steed of Yggr [ = Odin], or the yew-column). The subject has turned upon itself and has successfully made itself the object of its own work. Odin becomes omnijective. In this action Odin meets with the dark realm of Hel—the unconscious—and merges with it while keeping his wits. Thus, in a flash of inspiration he is infused with the entirety of the runic pattern. Because Odin is, by his tripartite essence, a conscious entity, this pattern is reshaped by his will into a communicable form. Through this central Odinic mystery the conscious is melded with the unconscious, the light with the dark, and it is made comprehensible by the supraconscious essence of Odin. The runes then begin to be formulated by Odin into a metalanguage contained in the runic system, in poetry, and in natural language, as “one word leads to another, and one work leads to another.” The seed of Odin, his gift, is then the essence that makes this comprehension possible in his descendants: conscious humanity.
A complex source of Odin's secret wisdom is found in Mímir. As we have seen (page 145), Mímir is really the “memory” aspect of Odin and a counterpart to the Hoenir aspect. Mímir belongs, even on the exoteric level, to that generation of “first Aesir” sometimes identified as a wise Ase, sometimes as an etin. This twofold nature is due to the fact that Mímir is to a large extent the “ancestral memories” of Odin, whose ancestors are among the thurses and etins! Odin derives wisdom from this aspect in two ways: (1) from the severed head of Mímir and (2) from his eye, which he has hidden or pledged to Mímir's Well.
From the myth of the hostage exchange between the warring Aesir and Vanir (see page 145) we learn that Mímir's head was cut off by the angry Vanir because they felt cheated that Hoenir (Mímir's partner) was less intelligent than he had been represented to be. Odin preserved this head in herbs and spoke spells over it to keep it alive. It is kept, with older wisdom, at Mímir's Well. The consultation with the “head of Mímir” is then a magical image in which the self is shown to have access to the minni aspect. But because it has been “severed” due to mistrust of it by noninitiates, it requires magical acts of will to keep the channels of communication open to it. When Odin gets rede from Mímir's head (memory), Hoenir (mind) is informed, and thus another threefold pattern is completed as shown in figure 13.2. Ultimately, “Mimir's head” is a metaphor that indicates the focusing of consciousness in the minni—in the Well of Mímir.
Figure 13.2. Odin-Hoenir-Mímir complex.
This Well of Mímir is said to be under a root of Yggdrasill (also called in ON Mímameith [Mímir's Tree]) that is over Jötunheimr. In order to gain and grow in wisdom, Odin desires to drink of the waters of this well, but Mímir's head asks of him one of his eyes—a part of himself—as a pledge or sacrifice. Odin “hides” his eye down in the column of vertical consciousness, down in the depths. There his eye remains active, always able to see, to “drink in,” the wisdom of all the worlds. Thus, Odin always has two visions—one over “this world” (from Hlidhskjálf) and one in the “other worlds” (from the Well of Mímir). It also might be pointed out that Heimdallr also stores his hljódh (hearing, or ear) at this well; thus, he (Odin) is also able to hear in all the worlds.
In the myth of Mímir, the Odian recognizes the necessity for access to the realm of minni, the inherited storehouse of magico-mythic imagery, and the necessity for a synthesis of the various psychic aspects designated by the names Mímir and Hoenir. This is done through a magical act of will by means of a secret “technology” whereby the focal point (head) of this storehouse is obtained, preserved, and assimilated. One eye is focused downward into the well of “wyrd” (images), and the other is focused outward into the wide worlds of words and works. (Again, the functions of the bihemispherical brain seem indicated.)
Odin also gains knowledge from sources outside himself. The main source of this kind is Freyja. As we have seen, the Vanadís taught Odin the arts of seidhr. There is every reason to believe that this took place in some sort of sexual initiatory context in which certain secrets of what might today be called “sex magic” were originally passed from female initiates to males and from male initiates to females. In myth we see this reflected in the magical marriages between a warrior and his valkyrie or between humans and superhuman initiators. The “Rúnatals tháttr Ódhins” (see page 88) tells us that the eighteenth secret (probably here to be ascribed to the G-rune) is spoken to no one “except her who embraces me or who is my sister.” It is in this cultic context that Odin and Freyja exchange occult secrets. The techniques of seidhr include trance induction for divinatory purposes, shape-shifting (which also can be done with galdr), the deprivation of others' souls, creation of illusions, and other arts more or less thought by some to be “shamanistic.” It must be noted from the standpoint of the history of religion, however, that shamanism as such appears to be a distinctly different tradition. These techniques were often used in aggressive magic, which in part has led to its being thought of as an evil undertaking. But perhaps another trait led to its reputation as being “unmanly”; that is the practice of men transforming themselves into women in order to engender magical beings (often harmful ones) through sexual sorcery. In this fashion Loki becomes the mother of the steed Sleipnir.
Another of these quests assumes an importance second only to the Yggdrasill rite: the winning of the poetic mead from the realm of the etins. The poetic mead had been created from the blood of Kvasir, who was a linking being between the Aesir and Vanir when they made their truce. (In one version of the myth he is shaped from the spittle of the two divine races; in another he is simply one of the Vanir sent as hostage [see the Skaldskaparmál in the Prose Edda, chapter 1].) In any case, Kvasir was reputed to be the “wisest of all beings,” but he is killed by some dwarves, who make the poetic mead from his blood. This liquid—the essence of the inspired consciousness of the Aesir and the organic unconscious of the Vanir—eventually came into the possession of the etins (by nature beings of the nonconscious realm). Therefore, the mead by necessity had to be won back by Odin “by hook or crook.” This myth is described both by Snorri (Skaldskaparmál, chapter 1) and in the “Hávamál” (sts. 104—110). The process by which this is done is most significant. In the guise of Bölverkr (Worker of Evil) and by cunning and oath-breaking, he gains access to the mountain (Hnitbjörg—knit -mountain), where an etin-wife, Gunnlödh, guards the mead. He bores his way into the mountain in the shape of a serpent and remains in the interior for three nights, sleeping with the etin, after which he gets to drink down the mead in three gulps from the three vessels—Ódhoerir, Són, and Bodhn—in which the mead was held. Then he shape-shifts into an eagle and flies out of the top of the mountain and back to Asgardhr, where he spits out the mead into three vats—thus returning the mead to its rightful place among the Aesir and humanity. It is specifically stated that some of the mead dropped to the earth when Odin flew away, and this anyone can drink (if he or she happens upon it by accident). Thus, it is called the “fool-poet's share.”
This myth is vital to the runic tradition. The sign of the Rune-Gild—three interlocked drinking horns—is derived from this tale. It describes the path of becoming, the pathway of transformational Odianism, and the essential mission of the Gild: to serve the larger conscious community of gods and men.
Figure 13.3 graphically shows the process of the rewinning of the poetic mead of inspiration. In this process we see the amoral force of Odin, obeying only his higher laws of will and service to the path of becoming/consciousness, gain access to the hidden realm that conceals the ill-gotten power by transforming himself into a serpent. He allies himself with the underworldly forces of dissolution to break through the mountain and to enable himself to traverse the exceedingly narrow etin-ways of dense reality. Here is hidden the significance of the serpentine aspect of the Odinic cult, well known from snake-bands on runestones and the famous dragon ships of the Vikings. While in the interior chamber with Gunnlödh—perhaps in conjunction with rites of sexual sorcery in which darkness and light are wedded (knit together; see the meaning of the name of the mountain)—Odin consumes all the mead from the three vats. The static force of the mead held by the etins, but useless to them, is now reassimilated to Odin who transforms himself into an eagle, the wide-ranging bird of prey that transmits the ecstatic force back to the world of the Aesir separate from the world of men and under the control of consciousness. There the mead is rearticulated into its threefold essence and returned to the three vessels: (1) Ódhroerir (the exciter of inspiration, which is also a name of the mead itself) (2) Són (atonement), and (3) Bodhn (container). The significance in the number of these vessels is in the threefold essence of the mead itself. Normally, this “triessence” of consciousness is only shared by Odin with the Aesir and with human initiates of his cult.
Figure 13.3. The rewinning of the poetic mead.
The path of the serpent leads to wisdom (::). In the mountain enclosure (::) opposites are wed (::) and inspiration is gained (::), to be returned by the flight of the eagle (: :) to the enclosure of the gods and initiates (::), to be given (::) by the great god to those in his band. In this myth we see why Odin is considered both the Drighten of Darkness and the Lord of Light.
Odin's wisdom is derived from three continuous sources: (1) the Yggdrasill sacrifice (for rune wisdom), (2) Mímir's Well (the head of Mímir and the “hidden eye”), and (3) the poetic mead Ódhoerir. The mythic paradigms connected to these sources give shape to the process of the acquisition of runelore, rune wisdom, and runecraft. They also serve as psychic models that the runer follows in the Odinic pattern. The “god” Odin is on one level something separate from the paradigm of “that which comprehends opposites” at the root of the Odinic mystery. These aspects can be contained in the archetype concept (if not in the strictest Jungian terms). The archetype is not a personified thing but rather an impersonal pattern of action or pure consciousness. As this paradigm becomes more conscious in the human being, a “personification” of that pattern begins to emerge and to act as an exemplary model of consciousness and behavior—a “god.” From the Odian point of view this is the process of all gods and goddesses.
Here we want to concentrate on Odin the god as a psychic model for the evolution of the runemaster, the role of the runes and their interaction with and assimilation to this model, and why Odin must ever remain the hidden god.
At the root of the Odinic archetype is the concept of wholeness within twofoldness. His origins show this quite clearly. He is born of Borr, son of Búri (of the race of protogods) and Bestla, daughter of the etin Bölthorn. Odin therefore represents a synthesis of the primal (preconscious) entities (see chapter 10). The bridging function is something that he eventually can give to his human kindred.
From this twofoldness comes the great manifoldness (“all-ness”) that is represented throughout the Odinic literature by his unlimited names and shapes. This manifold character is most formally represented in Odin's all-pervasive number—three (and its multiples). Odin is again and again represented in triads of aspects, for example, Odin -Vili-Vé, Odin Hoenir- Lódhurr, Odin-Hoenir-Loki, and Hárr (the High)—Jafnhárr (the Equally High)—Thridhi (the Third). The oldest formulation of this type is certainly Odin -Vili-Vé, which dates from the common Germanic period. We know this because it was originally an alliterative formula. The Germanic forms of the names would have been Wōdhanaz, Wiljōn, and Wīhaz. An examination of the deeper levels of the formula will yield much of the hidden structure of Odin (see table 13.2).
Wōdanaz should be clear enough by now as that which integrates the many into a conscious whole and describes this entire process (hence, this is the most common name for the god). Wiljōn is the will that charges the process with a joyful dynamism. The idea of joy is expressed by this root in most of the ancient Germanic dialects, including Old English. This is the power of conscious willed direction. Wīhaz contains a root concept of separateness, “other-ness,” which is absolutely essential to the threefold working of the god as it works in all of the worlds. This is bound up with the dichotomy of the “holy” as expressed in Indo-European thought. Wīh- is that terrifying and mysterious aspect (the numinosum or mysterium tremendum)—the doorway between the worlds through which all who would transform themselves, gods or men, must pass. When seen from the outside, wīhaz can be terrifying, but once the runer becomes wīhaz, he sees for the first time and is therefore often feared, resented, or even hated.
Table 13.2. The structure of the Odinic triad.
Therefore, the whole describes an eternal process of evolution, of transformation—the power to shape and reshape. This process is the interplay between the two halves of the whole; and Odin is the embodiment and eventual conscious model of the oscillation between the fields of light and dark through a continuous process of separation from one field, merger with the other, there to undergo transformation, followed by reintegration with the first field. Thus, the fields of darkness are sown with the seeds of light, and the fields of light are sown with the seeds of darkness. All polar fields contain the seeds of their opposites.
All of this is done by means of a will, or consciousness, that is fundamentally separate from the process itself. This is most evident in the Yggdrasill initiation, where Odin binds together the realms of light and dark, life and death, conscious and unconscious. But he is not consumed by the process—he makes use of it. The other sources of Odinic wisdom also have elements of this binding of polar opposites and ultimate utilization of them by the magical Self.
For the modern runer this has many lessons to teach. The true essence of the lore is by its very nature impossible to express fully in “words,” that is, in common natural language. But what can be said is that Odin's being teaches the way of the “whole-I,” the “all-self,” as well as the “higher self.” This higher self is a supraconscious entity, the “holy self' or the magical ego of the runemaster. It can mingle with the natural, organic cosmos. It can mingle with the non-natural, numinous realms. It does so, however, in order that it may further its willed aims. It is the essence of the way of the true seeker, never resting, always searching in darkness and in light, high and low, in life and in death. But the process of synthesizing the polar fields is not one of neutralization but of maximization—a boring directly through to the kernel essences. Only in this way can the whole of the power be known and used.
The runes play a central role in all of these Odinic mysteries. It is through them that Odin comprehends these processes, through them that he formulates them so that he can master and eventually (in part) manipulate them, and through this formulation that he can communicate the mysteries to his human kith and kin.
The “cosmic runes” (ON ginnrúnar) are innate and eternal patterns in the substance of the multiverse, indestructible and ever-growing along eternal patterns. They cannot be fully comprehended, however, because when a part of them is comprehended (internalized by a conscious being), they at once grow beyond that comprehension; this process is also eternal. Odin, like the modern theoretical physicists who have followed him, knows this well and knows that his search for totality is a never-ending one. Yet he continues in his heroic struggle, as must his fellows. Those who find this prospect disheartening are not meant for the Odian path.
When Odin undertook the Yggdrasill working, the primal heroic deed of consciousness was completed. The very basic and elemental systematic structure of the whole was at once won and comprehended. These runes, divided into bright runes (ON heidhrúnar) and murk runes (ON myrkrúnar), now provide the road map for the unending exploration of the multiverse. The runes held by Odin may be won by humanity through following Odin's example and by assimilating, as he did, the pattern of his consciousness imprinted with the runic system. (The Odian does not seek “union” with Odin but seeks union only with that with which Odin sought union—the Self.)
These runes represent totality in its simplest yet most whole form comprehensible to the human psychophysical complex. But as Odin can never comprehend all of the cosmic runes, so humans can rarely fully comprehend all of the divine runes. However, because we are the children of the All-Father (i.e., conscious beings) and have received his primal (and only “free”) gifts of consciousness (see chapter 10) we are able to ride the runeroads with the Aesir. The runes are the road map by which man can find self-hood and the gods, and in turn they provide the way through which Odin can chart the edges of unknown time and space.
It should now be evident why Odin is the hidden god. As popularly understood, the formulation “hidden god” indicates that unknown and unknowable “god beyond duality.” No other archetype working in the realm of consciousness so perfectly represents the path to that state. The processes outlined above show how this god works; essentially, its function cannot be understood in the intellectual sense. It can be understood only through experience in magical workings of the “Odinic paradox.” Even when this comprehension takes place, and you begin to open the runic secrets, Odin will still remain a hidden god, for in actual experience the intellect and the words of human speech fail because they are phenomena of only half of the whole to which the experience belongs.