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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…)