The autumnal equinox is nigh, so finding balance is on my mind. Jax posted about major female figures in the Norse pantheon earlier this week. I’m providing a bit of parity here with thoughts about a major male figure — Odin, the Allfather. I’ve felt “watched over” this last year, probably by my ancestors. This feeling has me thinking about Odin for the past few months and imagining him as a wanderer, observing our lives with enough interest to keep watching and learning, but not so much to intervene.
I’ve also been thinking about him as Hangatýr, the god of the hanged. You may know the tale of Odin and Yggdrasil (the world tree). Odin was a seeker in every sense of the word, but mostly he sought knowledge – not just of things he didn’t know, but of things he couldn’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) know. So great was his search he was willing to do anything to know the unknowable. He sacrificed greatly, more than once. In the end, he learned what he wanted and was forever changed. What strikes me is not just that he was willing to sacrifice for what he wanted, he was willing to accept real and permanent damage. I’m wondering what the lesson is here, for me personally, and for humanity at large. I know that gain often takes sacrifice, but does it also require indelible damage? Head. Spinning.
Honestly, I’m tapped in the “deep thought” department for a while. Last week did me in. Today, I just want to “hang” with you (*wink*) and share some of my favorite Odin-inspired images from across time and genres. I will probably come back to Odin in a future post, with more gravitas, but today I’m in need of…maybe not levity exactly, but certainly not gravity. [Okay, yes I need gravity in a physical, scientific way, but I still need a break from heavy stuff.]
Lord of the Rings
I’m certain you know who Gandalf is. If you don’t, you really should. He is the perfect balance of wise-cool-badass. J.R.R. Tolkien explained that Gandalf was inspired by Odin in his wanderer incarnation. Gandalf’s appearance was not the only thing built on Norse culture. His name, Gandalfr appears is in the n the Völuspá (the first poem of the Poetic Edda) and means “Cane-elf”. Indeed, many of the name of Tolkien’s characters were taken from Norse stories. So saturated were the names of his characters in Old Norse that he eventually felt compelled to explained why that was. According to JRRT, Old Norse emerged as a translation of the language of Dale in the LOTR universe. (Dale is the town near the mountain where Smaug the Dragon slept.) So Gandalf is a giant elf inspired by Odin. You had me at elf, Tolkein. That he is an Odinic elf is just…divine. =)
Tarot Major Arcana
I have always been fascinated by tarot, but have yet to learn it myself. I like how almost every card / image has a double meaning and requires context for interpretation. The hanged man is associated with many archetypes involving death and resurrection <internal link>, including Jesus, Osiris, as well as Odin. As I alluded earlier, Odin sacrificed himself (to himself) by hanging from a branch of Yggdrasil (the world tree) and piercing himself with his famous spear, Gungnir. There he hung for nine days with no water or food so he could learn the secret of the runes, which he did. This is why the hanged man is closely associated with sacrifice. The hanged man has many possible meanings, however, that also include letting go, patience, inner harmony, and non-action. Like I said, the interpretation depends on the context of the draw. So if you are contemplating a mullet hairstyle and were to draw this card, you may want to think it means inner harmony, but it probably means non-action.
Conan on the Tree of Woe
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Note: For the love of all you consider holy, DO NOT watch the 2011 remake.
This is one of my all time favorite films. I know the acting is not first-rate, but the writing is wonderful. And so is the production. And the music…ah! Don’t get me started on how amazing this soundtrack is. Anyway, I am often reminded of Conan on the Tree of Woe when I see images of Odin on Yggdrasil. <add image of conan> Others have made this connection, too. Conan doesn’t end up on the tree willingly, which is a major diversion from Odin, but he does hang from a tree for (what seems like) a long time, and he is punctured in about the same place. Though in all fairness, Conan is punctured in lots of places because Thulsa Doom and his Thulsa thugs beat the @#$& out of him. It’s really just the image itself — Conan hanging on a tree — that reminds me of Odin. There is sacrifice and resurrection in this story, though, when Valeria promises to pay the Old Gods in return for Conan’s life. She pays that debt (what seems like) a few days later. Oh, Valeria! I wanted you to live forever!
These are some of my favorite Odin-inspired images. Do you have any I haven’t listed? I’m thinking of inspired images, mind you, not characters who are actually supposed to be Odin. [Sorry Neil Gaiman fans.] Ah, what the heck…go ahead and list any Odin-related characters and images you have come to love.
+ Featured image: An illustration of Baldrs draumar titled Odin rides to Hel, by W.G. Collingwood (1908).