Odin was the king of the Asier, the principal race of Norse gods. He was considered the father of all the gods and was primarily associated with magic, wisdom, war, poetry, and the runic alphabet.
Mentioned frequently from the period of the Roman occupation to the Viking Age, Odin is a prominent figure in Norse mythology who continues to be acknowledged in modern popular culture. For instance, we are reminded of him every Wednesday, the weekday that was named after him; Odin is Woden in Old English, and Woden’s day became Wednesday.
Myth has it that Odin created the universe after killing the primal frost giant Ymir with the help of his brothers, Vili and Ve. They continued by making the first man and woman, Askr and Embla, from an ash tree and an elm tree.
Odin married Frigg, who is the mother of his sons Baldur, Hod, and Hermod. With Jord, the earth goddess, he fathered Thor. He is believed to have had more sons by other wives, including Vidar from the giantess Grid.
In most Norse texts, Odin is depicted as a long-bearded, one-eyed man wearing a broad hat and a cloak. He often holds his spear, called Gungnir, which he acquired from the trickster god Loki after he stole it from the dwarves who made it.
The story of how Odin lost his one eye is related to his never-ending quest for wisdom. In one story, Mimir, the wisest of the Aesir gods, forces Odin to sacrifice an eye in exchange for a drink of water from his magical well of knowledge. In another story, Odin takes possession of Mimir’s head after he was decapitated by the Vanir, a rival tribe. The head was to tell him secrets and give him advice.
Odin sought further knowledge in the runes, the letters of the runic alphabet. To achieve this, he hung from a tree with a spear in his side for nine days and nights without food or drink. He often used runes to practice wizardry.
Together with Freya, the goddess of love and war, Odin possessed the souls of slain warriors. The half-belonging to him found a final resting place in Valhalla, his palatial home with 640 doors. They were brought here by Odin’s daughters, the Valkyries, who met them on the battlefield.
Facts About Odin
- Odin rode on a flying, eight-legged steel horse called Sleipnir;
- The ravens Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory) were Odin’s companions. They travelled across the Nine Worlds in Norse cosmology and returned to their master’s shoulder with tales of what they saw;
- Odin had two pet wolves called Geri and Freki. He is said to have created them when he became lonely. Like ravens, they haunt battlefields and feast upon the dead. Odin, who only drinks wine, gives them all his food;
- In Valhalla, Odin sat on his throne called Hlidskjalf from where he watched over the Nine Worlds;
- As god of war, Odin often meddled in the affairs of humans to incite violence. Myth has it that he could cause battles simply by throwing his spear;
- The Vikings, especially the champion berserker warriors, sacrificed humans in Odin’s honor. As the one who decided who won battles, he was their patron;
- Odin met his demise in the form of Fenrir, a giant wolf and son of Loki, who kills and eats him during Ragnarök, the end of the world in Norse mythology;
- Odin is often described as the king of gods, favored by princes, nobles, and warriors;
- The books of the Prose Edda, an Old Norse work of literature, frequently attests to Odin. His relationship with other figures, such as Freya, Loki, and Frigg, has also been the subject of many Germanic studies;
- Writer J.R.R. Tolkien based several of his characters on Odin. The wizard Gandalf looks a lot like Odin in his cloaked and hooded disguise;
- Odin is a fictional character in Marvel Comics and was portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins in the superhero film Thor;
- More recently, Odin features as Mr. Wednesday in Neil Gaiman’s bestselling novel American Gods;
- Many places across the globe were named after Odin. They include the island of Ödenso in Finland, Odensberg in Sweden, Woensdrecht in The Netherlands, Wonston in England, Mount Odin in Canada, and Odin, Minnesota in the US.
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