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Odin, Sacrifice, and the Search for Wisdom

For nine days and nine nights Odin hung from the world tree, Yggdrasil, pierced with a spear, without food and water, on a quest to obtain the sacred knowledge of the runes. The idea that wisdom is a thing that requires sacrifice – that it’s a thing that might be traded for, or something that might be won, like an object – permeates mythology, but what does it mean, to see wisdom this way? Odin is said to have been sacrificing “himself to himself” – how does that relate to the pursuit of wisdom, and what is wisdom, anyway?  (more…)

We Are All Lit (The Dwarf)

The Aesir took the body of Balder to the shore, intending to light Hringhorn, his mighty ship, ablaze as a funeral pyre. They couldn’t move the ship without the help of the giantess Hyrrokken, who arrived riding on a wolf with writhing serpents for reins. She pushed the mighty ship so forcefully that fire sprang from underneath the vessel, and the earth shook. Balder’s corpse was borne out onto the waves. His wife Nanna’s heart was broken at the spectacle – she died of grief, and they cast her body onto the pyre. Thor stood solemnly by with his hammer, and then a dwarf, Lit, ran in front of him; Thor kicked the dwarf into the fire and he, too, was burned.


Leadership Among the Giants: How Hymir Saved the World

When Hymir saw the tall, broad-shouldered young man coming over the hill, he thought for a moment that he recognized him, but the boy looked far from strong enough to spend the day with one of the Jötun – the father of Týr, no less. The youth approached him fearlessly, and asked if Hymir wanted to go fishing. Perhaps a test was in order: The giant told the young man to go fetch them something to use as bait, and went about his business, only to look up a little while later to see the lad coming over the hill, again – with the head of Hymir’s strongest, fattest ox cradled on his shoulder! As curious as he was angry, Hymir decided to grant the young man’s request and take him fishing, if only to keep an eye on him, as there was clearly more to this young man than he had at first thought.


Saehrimnir, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr: Where to Invest Your Compassion?

SaehrimnirEvery day Odin’s army of dead warriors, the Einherjar, battle, in preparation to take Odin’s side in the final conflict against the giants – at Ragnarök. They are fed each day off of the flesh of Saehrimnir (Sæhrímnir), a pig (or perhaps a boar) who is boiled each day, only to be whole again by evening. The unending feast is a motif which exists in multiple tales across multiple mythologies. There’s no question of its miraculous quality – certainly the idea of an endless supply of bacon is enticing to many people, and yet… it isn’t much of a life for the pig, is it? (more…)

Gullveig: Pondering What’s Lost

GullveigWhen she came to Odin’s hall the Aesir stabbed her with spears. They burned her three times, and each time she was reborn; under the name Heid (Heiðr) she went forth, going from house to house, prophesying and practicing seid (seiðr, Norse magic). She was Gullveig, and that’s all there is, there isn’t any more. (more…)

Sympathy for Geirröd: Privilege, Anger, and Punishment

GeirrödWhen the giant Geirröd sent a servant after a falcon he saw perching in one of his castle’s high windows, he had no idea that he was about to trap Loki. Loki, for his part, thought that he had plenty of time to flee, and was as shocked as any to find himself at the giant’s mercy. Geirröd knew that the creature he’d caught was no common bird, and when Loki refused to speak, the giant locked him up in a chest and starved him for three months, until Loki admitted his identity, at which point Geirröd realized that he had a golden opportunity: he agreed to release Loki, but first extracted an oath from the Aesir, that he would bring Thor – the greatest enemy of the giants – to Geirröd, without his hammer, and without his belt of strength. A perfect plan, until it all went wrong. (more…)

Creativity, Magic, and The Mead of Poetry

Mead of PoetryThe war between the Vanir and the Aesir ended in a truce, symbolized by the two warring factions spitting into into a jar, that was then fashioned into a man – the wisest of men – Kvasir, who could answer any question. Kvasir traveled far and wide, sharing his wisdom, until he came to the home of two dwarfs, Fjalar and Galar. The dwarfs told him that they wanted to speak with him, but when they had lured him to a secluded place they murdered him, instead, and drained his blood into two jars (Son and Bodn) and the kettle Odrarer. They added honey to the blood of Kvasir and mixed it, creating the mead of poetry, a magical drink that when imbibed could turn anyone into a scholar or poet. They told the gods that Kvasir had choked on his wisdom, and considered the matter settled. (more…)

Snorri’s Euhemerism: Truth, Imagination, and Motive

EuhemerismOdin is the god of wisdom, who sacrificed himself for knowledge as he hung, wounded, for nine nights in the tree Yggdrasil. He is a master of runes, who took knowledge from Vafthrúdnir, the wisest of giants, and even from Hel, herself. He stole the mead of poetry, a drink of which can make anyone an artist, and as king of Valhöll presides over half of the dead, who fight and are reborn in an endless cycle, as they wait for the end of the world. He is the father of Thor, as well as Váli and Vídar, who will survive Ragnarok, and the banisher of the Midgard Serpent, Fenrir the wolf, and Hel. But did he come from the human imagination, or was he a real person? What bias might drive believing one thing, or the other? (more…)