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    david poole

      I am basing this thread mostly on what I am finding within Karen Cater’s Ogham Sketchbook; this is not my only source for knowledge, but it does contain many details within one place which I find quite helpful, it is also suggesting ideas and thoughts which I might not have had on my own. In the following account you may notice certain themes, which Celtic mythology and Norse mythology share in common. To give a few of them, there is the sacredness of the number three, shapeshifting and transformation. These could be considered to be key to basic processes such as learning and also to inspiration, which are different processes yet connected in some of their means. There are similarities with some of Odin’s quests and the story which we already know of Cerridwen and Taliesin; there are also significant differences, and not just in the surface details but in intentions and outcomes. Odin is more capable than Taliesin, who starts off as less mature and more naive; Odin represents a more capable and aware kind of seeker, Taliesin a more basic one. It should also be noted that Odin’s actions are very different, also that he passes through less transformations or stages on the way to enlightenment. This is obtained at the cost of less time and higher sacrifice.

      According to one source, Odin is supposed to have 205 different names within Scandinavian sources. Why so many, this is very unusual. Could Odin represent a large number of older gods being brought together and simplified into a single god? Each name represents a different function. Woden comes from Old English, Wodan from Saxon. This has been preserved within the names of certain places, including around Wiltshire, such as Waden Hill or the Wansdyke. Wednesday bears his name. Odin is supposed to be associated with wisdom, healing, death, royalty, the gallows, knowledge, war, battle, victory, sorcery, poetry, frenzy, magic, shamanism and the runic alphabet. He is married to Frigg. He wields a spear named Gungnir, and can be depicted wearing a cloak and a broad hat. Sometimes the spear may be replaced by a staff. His two ravens Huginn and Muninn brings him news of events happening across Midgard. There are many stories involving Odin, and much more that might be said, but I am going to restrict that someone in an attempt to provide insight into certain issues. The discovery of the runes, the well of Mimir and the mead of poetry will be my key concerns.

      Odin’s name can be translated as master of ecstasy. Odin comes from odr, ecstasy, fury or inspiration, and inn, which when added to another word means master of. Odin has an affiliation with berserkers and warrior shamans whose fighting techniques and spiritual practices involved achieving a state of ecstatic union with totem animals such as wolves or bears. Raw chaotic battle frenzy is one of main manifestations of odr. Odin is certainly involved with magic and cunning. He is devious, inscrutable and inspired. Freya is also held to be a practitioner of shamanism among the gods.

      We are currently within the energy of Ash. Within an illustration, I notice Midgard, the realm of men, sitting on a disc about half way up Yggdrasil, the world tree. A rainbow, which might be the rainbow bridge, crosses over Midgard and appears to connect a realm just above Midgard with one just below. Reading on just a few pages further we immediately encounter Odin, he appears highly relevant to this month. There is a rather beautiful illustration with some nice details. We see Odin’s two ravens, Huginn and Munnin, thought and memory. Apparently Odin feared losing his memory more than he feared losing his thought. We have a blessing, Waes Hael, and on the other side of the frame it appears that the same phrase has been repeated in one of the futhark dialects. There are three interlinked triangles, a symbol often connected with this god. Freki and Geri, Odin’s two wolves, appear in the bottom corner. Odin is depicted riding Sleipnir, one of the children of Loki. Apparently Sleipnir allows Odin to travel between different worlds, particularly the underworld. This kind of horse is typical of Northern Eurasian shamanism. The animals, ravens and wolves, which accompany Odin are similar to familiar spirits.

      We then go on to the subject of Yggdrasil. This is supposed to be a vast ash tree, although I have read somewhere arguments that Yggdrasil might be another tree. Unfortunately I can’t remember which one. There are nine different realms; Yggdrasil is the framework upon which all of them hang. By moving up and down the tree one travels between different worlds. That should be enough to suggest ideas in itself. It is said to incorporate the Web of Wyrd, which means it encompases fate. With all things connected, including time itself. Odin hung from Yggdrasil for nine days in order to obtain the knowledge of the runes. He then carved these onto a spear cut from one of Yggdrasil’s branches. There are connections made here with Jesus and Buddha, achieving transformation or enlightenment through their use of trees. In the accompanying illustration at the side, Odin is made to resemble the Hanged Man from the Tarot; whether the creators of the Tarot used the story of Odin’s enlightenment as a source I do not know. Obtaining knowledge through sacrifice and suffering is a key theme with this god. Shamans are supposed to undergo a symbolic death and rebirth in order to acquire their powers, this is Odin’s connection with shamanism. The main form of shamanism within Germanic culture was seidr. This involves a man adopting feminine traits and tasks.

      The story of the mead of poetry is where we find a crossover with the central Druidical concept of awen, although the Norse mythology and worldview looks at the subject of inspiration in its own particular way. The mead of poetry or the mead of Suttungr which creates skalds, the Norse name for poets or bards, it is also said to create scholars so perhaps many of us have enjoyed some. At its best one can answer any question or resolve any problem, although it is not clear how much one has to take. Odin has been described as the god of possession, this may involve poetic inspiration on the one hand or berserker rage on the other. Odin tends to speak mainly in poems, see the Havamal as the main example.

      Following the Aesir/Vanir war the gods made a truce by spitting into a vat. From this spittle a man was created named Kvasir, who could answer any question and travelled around the world educating mankind. One day he visited the dwarves Fjalar and Galar who killed him, they poured his blood into two vats and a pot called Bodn, Son and Odrerir. The dwarves mixed Kvasir’s blood with honey to create the mead. Having killed Kvasir, the dwarves then drowned a giant named Gilling and crushed the head of his wife with a millstone. Gilling’s son Suttungr intended to kill both of the dwarves but was talked out of it when they offered him the mead. He accepted, storing the mead in Hnitbjorg, where it was guarded by his daughter, Gunlodd. This explains where the mead comes from and what was done with it initially.

      Odin is always looking for further knowledge and will do literally anything make any sacrifice to obtain it. His story speaks to anyone who is seeking to learn, to improve, to further themselves. All learning requires some kind of sacrifice, whether it be time, money, effort. To continue with the story of Kvasir, Odin once met nine slaves and got them all killed using a whetstone. He spent the night at the home of Baugi, Suttungr’s brother. Odin who had deliberately created this situation, having somehow learned of the mead which must surely have been his objective, offered to do the slave’s work in exchange for a drink of the mead. This suggests a willingness to sacrifice other people or their priorities in order to obtain knowledge, following a very dedicated path, possibly it represents dedication itself as a form of sacrifice. When asked for the mead Suttungr refused, so Odin transforms into a snake and makes his way down a hole in the mountain Hnitbjorg drilled by Baugi. What we see here is shapeshifting during a quest or learning process; we also see this occurring during the story of Cerridwen and Taliesin, where both take many forms. In some ways this is like a teacher and a student progressing through different stages as they learn and advance. Odin reaches Gunlodd and spends three days and three nights with her. For each day he got one draught of Kvasir’s mead. Three, which was regarded as a sacred number by the Celts, also appears sacred to the Norse as well, this is a very specific time period. Note also the use of three draughts to reach a key point of understanding, similar to taking three drops from the cauldron of Cerridwen to obtain enlightenment, or sucking three drops from your thumb.

      Instead of merely sipping draughts however, Odin swigged three containers of the mead. Presumably some was still left over, although what happened to it is not made clear. Odin transformed into an eagle and flew away. Upon discovering Odin’s theft Suttungr transformed into an eagle and flew off after Odin. Again, we have another similarity with Celtic beliefs as someone steals or claims knowledge and is then chased with transformation being key as a means of returning to another world or to escape a pursuer or both. The Aesir saw Odin returning and set out some vats to hold the mead. Upon arriving Odin spat the mead into the vats. Thus the gods obtained the enlightenment or inspiration depending on how you look at it. This is like the realisation or consequences of a quest to obtain knowledge, the result as it were. On the way though Odin had dropped some of the mead, as we know. Anybody could drink of this portion, which was known as the rhymer’s share. This however was not its main purpose. The majority was given to the gods themselves and to people who were actually gifted in poetry from the start. This is a bit different from the story of Cerridwen and Taliesin. Rather than dealing with one specific case, one individual, one initiate, there is an overall plan in which many diverse forces can share, although some of the consequences were unintended and accidental. Then again, it might be said that there were unintended consequences within the bardic tale. Assuming that that process was actually an accident.

      The last story which I would like to look at, as it too is connected to learning and inspiration, is that of the well of Mimir. Mimisbrunnr or Mimir’s well is located beneath one of the three roots of the world tree. This particular root reaches to the space of Ginnungagap, indicating a connection between Mimir’s well and void or nothingness. Ginnungagap appears to be the source of whatever special elements exists within Mimir’s well. Possibly Ginnungagap is a place where knowledge or inspiration is distilled, making either Ginnungagap or Mimir’s well comparable to Cerridwen’s cauldron. The frost jotnar or giants live there, we are getting plenty of cold right now so they must be well on their way towards us. The existence of Mimir’s well comes from the Poetic Edda and from the Prose Edda written by Snorri Sturluson. Having read some of this, I have a grey area of doubt regarding some of Sturluson’s writing and his translation of the Norse stories, which appear from what I can see to have been reinterpreted with a Christian gloss. More specifically, from a scholarly perspective, what I am reading regarding this story indicates there may be errors or mistakes in Sturluson’s interpretation, which is important as it suggests that part or all of the story may be made up. That means this story may not be reliable.

      Returning to our subject, Mimir is supposed to drink from Mimisbrunnr every morning using the horn Gjallarhorn. Mimir takes knowledge into himself, there is no implication that he is responsible for a process intended to benefit someone else. There is also no indication that Mimir makes much effort to develop what occurs within the well; the well’s power comes from a remote, outside source. Mimir is not Cerridwen and is not even attempting to do the same thing which she does with her son, or accidentally if it can be said to be that with Taliesin. Mimir’s well is supposed to contain wisdom and intelligence. These are noble qualities but imply skill, experience and knowledge more than they imply inspiration or creativity or spontaneity. The process of drinking from the well fills Mimir with learning. Odin himself desires some of this. There is a price to be paid or course as there is with all knowledge and learning. In this case, odin must leave an eye behind, placing it within the well. I have read that one of Odin’s eyes is supposed to be the moon and ther other the sun. I believe that the eye which Odin sacrifices is supposed to be the sun, although I may have misremembered this detail. This suggests that a sacrifice must always be made in order to obtain anything of value, and that an exchange must be made in which the provider of knowledge benefits as well as the seeker.


        Hi David,

        That is a very interesting read and you have made a lot of interesting points.

        With regard to the many names of Odin/Woden, I think the evidence could suggest both of your ideas. Some of Odin’s epithets seem to be related to tales about him, he thus earned a nickname or “ekename” accordingly, for example, Hangaguð – “The Hanged God”; some of the other epithets, notably Alföðr – “Allfather”, might suggest his gradual absorption or usurpation of the roles of other deities, Týr coming to mind, that were perhaps held more important before the Viking Age. The corpus of Old Norse/Icelandic material does indeed provide us with a treasury of materials, but it is only a snapshot of a relatively brief period in Scandinavian/North Germanic history and culture, and the end of non-Christian belief. The most important thing that I think we should always bear in mind is that we aren’t necessarily dealing with one, uniform and codified belief system, but rather a web of interlinked, overlapping, complementary and at times contradictory belief systems. I’d even go so far as to say that the question “What religion are you?” would quite well have been met with total incomprehension by a person from one of these ancient cultures.

        With regard to Yggdrasill, it is usually accepted that the tree is an ash, however, other interpretations suggest a yew tree and, with the wealth of folklore and mythology surrounding yew trees, that might be an interesting avenue to explore. Sacred trees are found in the religions, beliefs and folk traditions of peoples in sundry parts of the world throughout the ages and I often wonder if this does not go back to our most ancient and primordial of origins in the forests of time, but that is just my own hypothesis.

        The number three is certainly very interesting, from Judaism, Pythagoreanism, Vedic/Hindu schools of philosophy and belief, Celtic myth and so on, the number three repeats itself over and over again. The threefold death is also a recurring theme to be found in Norse mythology, Myrddin Wyllt in Welsh mythology and the life of the Irish saint Colm Cille (St. Columba). Another interesting number in both Norse and Celtic mythologies is the number nine, but let’s not digress too much now.

        As far as tarot is concerned, I doubt it. Tarot started off as tarocchi, a game played in Northern Italy, emerging at the end of the High Middle Ages or beginning of the Renaissance. Divination with tarot cards only started in the late 18th century. Playing cards themselves came from China, along the Silk Road, via the Islamic world, so I doubt that any symbolism in the tarot decks derives from pre-Christian Celtic or Germanic belief systems, it’s far more likely that the symbolism is linked, if at all, to the ideas of the Gnostics and Renaissance humanism that flourished in Northern Italy at the time and drew its inspiration from Classical Greek, Roman and Gnostic Christian motifs.


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