By Charles McBride
Odin is undoubtedly one of the first major figure to provide inspiration for the classical view of both the accouterments as well as the methods of Wizardry. He provides the imagery for the ideal of the wizard since ancient times and is the primary inspiration for Gandalf. When you think Wizard, whether you are aware of it or not, you are calling upon the imagery of Odin. Moreover Odin exemplifies the way we perform magick and advance our own capabilities in this art form. The following article will help us explore that further starting with the symbolism and then moving to methodology.
Most of us recognize Odin as the primary image of a wizard partially because modern Western fiction depicts great magick users in his image partially if not completely. One of the most recognized symbols of Odin is his clothing. He is seen in the myth’s wearing a long cloak with either a wide brimmed hat or hood. This apparel adorns the All Father protecting his identity as he wanders two and from locations on his purposes, which range from personal gain to testing others as seen in the Eddas. This signature wear not only inspires many ideals of the wizard in terms of presentation but also provides a visible hint to the mental characteristics of a wizard. The cloak represents secrecy, mysterious agendas, and an aloofness to the world. These characteristics which are in many ways the core of Odin’s personality are passed on alongside with his cloak to the fictional wizards who came after the myths. More importantly though these very same characteristics form the basis of the modern mystics methodology. Many schools of thought, for example The Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis adhere to secrecy, mystery, and keeping information tightly controlled from those who would misuse or disrupt it and this could be considered inspired by Odin’s methods.
Odin in Motion:
Wizards are known through fictional history to have access to amazing methods of travel through the sky and much of this may be inspired by Odin and his mighty horse Sleipnir. Sleipnir is a horse like no other with 8 legs and the ability to fly through the air as easily as it may run across land. This mighty horse helps Odin ride ride through both the lands of the living as well as the lands of the dead, in the poem “Baldur’s Dreams” where Odin road his great horse to seek council of a dead seeress on his son’s behalf.
In myth and fiction alike the wizard is known for their ability to travel to many realms often without any other force but their own will which is a quality likewise found within the stories of Odin. In the Yinglinga Saga he moves through the realms by way of astral projection appearing to be asleep or dead as he does so. This concept of a dream walking in this way is considered one of the more common powers attested to the wizard in classic as well as modern myth.
Odin and The Wizards Staff:
Odin is seen carrying a magick spear known as Gungnir, which may be the basis for the concept of the wizard’s staff. This mighty weapon has the properties of incredible magicks, and it is said in Sigrdrífumál that the runes were carved upon its tip. When we think of a wizard’s staff we think of a weapon that can strike its target without fail or error in precision through magickal means. This may be inspired by the properties of Gungnir’s chief power: being so well-balanced that it may perfectly strike its target regardless of the skill of the wielder. For the day and age in which Viking warriors roamed the earth the spear was the most relied upon and versatile weapon. A spear could be used as a lever to move heavy objects, as well as be thrown for range in a fight. For short range combat the speare was a capable weapon acting as both staff and stabbing object. It is no wonder then that the All Father would carry such a powerful and adaptable tool wherever he would go acting as his staff if need be, or his vengeance when warrented. This same versatility is seen in countless manifestations of the wizard archetype and may be inspired by Odin himself.
Odin The Wanderer:
Finally for classical imagery we have the ideal of the wanderer. The classic wizard is seen as one wandering about from place to place for their own goals and means. This is the most common depiction of Odin within mythology. Odin often has his own reasons for what he does, some of great compassion, such as when he disguises himself as a beggar to test the hearts of men. Other times The All Father has his own reasons. In this respect when a wandering wizard is seen we can trace it back easily to the stories of Odin.
Odin is known also for his unrelenting rage when angered. The Úlfhéðnar, mentioned in the Vatnsdæla saga, Haraldskvæði and the Völsunga saga, were the Berserkers also known as Odin’s Men who fought wearing only wolf or animal skins. In some ways these warriors were an extension of that raw vicious nature that was also a major part of Odin. This temperamental nature from passive wanderer to tidal like force of aggression is reflected in many depictions of wizards through the ages. The core dual nature of Odin is so ingrained in the depiction of wizards that it has echoed through nearly every fictional representation of the genre.
Modern Understanding of Mysticism:
Modern mysticism has many features separate from classical methods. In modern magick depolarization is the core of many methods combined with the power of the subconscious mind and will. Odin however understood these things when the view of magick was much more primal to our modern understandings. His very actions show a deep comprehension of modern magickal methods before they had even been quantified or written down.
The best example of Odin’s understanding of mysticism that is being explored in modern day is the concept of depolarization of the male and female. Ask any trained mystic and they will tell you that the barrier of masculine and feminine separates our raw power. We seek to find the water within fire and the fire within water. This depolarization is seen in the stories of Odin wandering around wearing a dress to better understand the nature of what it means to be a woman and thereby work their magicks. He recognized that as a man that which he did not understand he could not use so he sought to become in touch with his feminine side. When you consider the culture he existed in he must have been one menacing force to reckon with to be the leader of such a masculine based pantheon and still venture forth clad in a woman’s clothes. He sought-after the mostly female traditions of Seidr and mastered those further depolarizing him. Odin understood that anything which is a barrier within the self is a barrier to growth in magick and presented this concept long before any other mystical tradition had the opportunity to.
Odin: Master of Ecstasy:
Odin’s name means Master of Ecstasy but most don’t realize that this is the source of his magickal might in many ways. Those who have studied methods of magick such as Chaos Magick and other deconstruction based methods know that emotion plays a major role in the direction of raw energy and power. To that end the focus on that which places one into a state of ecstasy is in essence a root practice of magickal workings. Shamans of the past would move through dance, chant, and often use substances to reach a state of pure bliss. While we do not recommend using illegal substances to reach the ecstatic state we recognize many substances such as teas and herbal drinks are still used for this purpose. More importantly ritual dance, drum circles, and the like can be used to bring one to a state of raw emotional focus. At the moment and emotion is at its peak power is at a maximum and can be directed more easily.
Odin is a God of War primarily for his own pleasure. When reading on Odin it becomes obvious he loves battle for the sake of battle and war for the sake of war. This is an extension of his seeking pleasure, happiness, joyousness, and enjoyment in everything he does. This is a God of joy, not bitterness, though he does have a darker side. Still the battlefield brings him great pleasure. Despite his wisdom shown in the Havamal where much more is said of when not to pick a fight rather than to engage, he is still thrilled at the concept of battle. This is part of Odin in his self interest in joy. Mysticism is the art of achieving and obtaining that which makes us joyous as well as reaching states of elation to achieve longer lasting joys.
Odin further takes his self interest into the direction of learning mysticism. Mysticism is in essence also the art of self interest. Working for ourselves or others we learn magick because it brings US something. It may be a warm fuzzy feeling, security, safety, power, wealth, or simply as something we find joy in. Yet we all seek this out from a selfish desire for more. Odin does not run from his selfishness but embraces it. He also recognizes that in selfish actions some sacrifice is made. The man at the buffet trades the feeling of wellness for the joy of the feast and is often left with a sour stomach after. Meanwhile the athlete trades their contentment and the joy of rest for the joy of the sport and the pain of the muscles after. For Odin he wanted so much that he knew a greater sacrifice must be made. He gave up an eye as well as 9 days hanging from a tree with a spear stabbed through himself for what he wanted. This is the Sacrifice of Odin to Odin and shows a core part of mystical understanding. You must give yourself to yourself as a tool to achieve.
Poetry has long been used in mysticism to form a chant, to direct power, or to act as a verbal component within spell work. Odin is a great lover of poetry as his Rune Poem shows. This powerful poem is both a logical understanding of what things can be done with magicks as well as a good example of spell work in action. The very work of the Rune Poem can gather energies toward goals. More over though Odin as a poet shows that he has a deep and keen mind beyond simply brutish power. It is the poet who crafts the fine spell, and it is the fine spell that disarms the foe who hides unseen.
When you need to achieve a goal and are not powerful enough you do not go to the weak to give you power. Instead you go to the strong to gain greater strength. This is a basic concept that is in the core of evocation and ritual magick of the modern day. Odin understood this though long before our concepts of magick were being created by what we call the old schools. He pursued the strong, the best of the best warriors, so that he might amass an army unbeatable. Only the greatest were worth his time. This was simply because by his nature Odin understood a core principal of mystical working. To call upon aid you must call upon something strong. To call upon something lacking in power to achieve the goal does you no good. His goal is to win a war, and so he needs soldiers who were the best of the best to fight along with him. It is for this reason that Odin only brings the greatest warriors into Valhal. Odin does not go to the weak for aid, but to the strong!
We have discussed self sacrifice a bit before in this and it is worth touching on once more. Self sacrifice is the core of greater strength in any endeavor. The most extreme methods of raising energy, meditation, and transcendental state achievement take up our time, physical energy, and often have some risk. This is because without sacrifice there is no gain. However not all sacrifice Odin makes is in the form of self transformation as is found when he hangs himself from the Yggdrasil. Odin gives up much of himself to be the ruler of the Norse Gods for he knows his place is best served there. He gives up some of his wander lust as well as his drive to find personal power so that his people may be stronger.
Modern mystics consult oracles as needed. We know this method goes back a long way but many forget Odin himself consulted Mimir. Now this is a unique form of Oracle consultation as Mimir is a severed head preserved with herbs and spells so that it might live on and dispense its wisdom. This means that Odin not only consults an oracle for answers but consults with powers from the past, the dead, which is both an ancient and modern tradition. It is a powerful method of seeking answers that many of the greatest Sorcerers of our time continue to use!
Finally we should look at familiar spirits. Odin himself works alongside many powerful beings who he calls to his aid in times of need. The first of these are Hugin and Munin which both mean “thought” and “desire” respectively. In shamanic methods old and new the use of spirit guides to travel vast distances is a common method and Odin himself makes use of this powerful method. He entrusts important tasks to his ravens and relies on them to achieve those things he has not the time, power, or resources to himself achieve.
Odin also has two wolves name Geri and Freki which means “ravenous” or “greedy”. This is a good example just by name of the concept of keeping an otherwise hostile being along with you if it has great loyalty to you. This concept of keeping a powerful familiar who is more vicious than it is anything else stems from Odin and his understanding of the need for raw untamed power. Odin takes good care of his wolves though, feeding them at his table. Offering them food while he himself sustains on drink alone. This concept of making offerings to powerful beings we keep with us is recorded in the old texts in this way.
Lastly we have the Valkyries to look at as well as the great mass of soldiers that Odin keeps to aid him. The Valkyries alone are a formidable force to be reckoned with. Yet they serve another purpose for Odin other than simply a strong arm to add to his already considerable defenses. Instead they also serve as his hand acting in his absence to bring fallen warriors before him for their great works. Odin keeps vast armies of both Valkyries and fallen warriors for one simple reason, there is a limit to what he himself can do on his own. In this respect he recognizes the value of others to aid him and seeks out the best to do so.
From powerful shamanism and sorcery to spirit keeping and evocation we see hints of these methods through everything written about Odin. His methods and manners are a guide post to the shamanic method. He shows us in his actions how to depolarize the self, how to become more in touch with our own wants and needs, how to show ourselves wise through the guidance of the Havamal, and sets a standard for what it means to be a mystic. Nearly any method of magick you work be it working with familiar spirits or larger ceremonial magicks has some parallel in Odin’s methods. He is the quintessential wizard, the great shaman, and we today still have much to learn from his ways.