Greetings brother, what do you know about sacrifices for odin? Are there sources directing to That?
Velkomin(n), vinur minn! (Welcome, my friend!)
There are indeed many sources that speak of sacrifices to Odin. In fact, I would argue that his sacrifices are the most famous, at least among the Norse gods. I will tell you what I know, but do feel free to explore any of the sources that I cite as well.
The most important sacrifice involved with Odin is his own, when he hung upon Yggdrasil and pierced himself with a spear in order to gain wisdom; a sacrifice of himself to himself. This is not only important symbolically, but also in its impact on the sacrifice rituals that surrounded him.(1) So although this may not be the kind of sacrifice you came to me for, I would still like to share it as a lead-in to actual ritual practice. It comes from Hávamál, stanzas 138–141:(2)
“I know that I hung on a windswept tree nine long nights, wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin, myself to myself, on that tree of which no man knows from where its roots run.
“With no bread did they refresh me nor a drink from a horn, downward I peered; I took up the runes, screaming I took them, then I fell back from there.
“Nine mighty spells I learnt from the famous son, of Bolthor, Bestla’s father, and I got a drink of the precious mead, I, soaked from Odrerir.
“Then I began to quicken and be wise, and to grow and to prosper; one word from another word found a word for me, one deed from another deed found a deed for me.”(3)
And so Odin once hung himself upon a tree, the tree, in a sacrificial ritual. Yet, this ritual is not just unique to the lore, nor is it strictly a symbolic tale. Aye, animals and men alike were sacrificed in this manner to Odin, the All-Father and Lord of the Slain. Adam of Bremen recorded this type of sacrifice at the temple at Uppsala — a once very sacred location in Sweden.(4) Here Odin is named as Wotan, and Freyr as Frikko:
“For all their gods there are appointed priests to offer sacrifices for the people. If plague or famine threaten, a libation is poured into the idol of Thor; if war to Wotan; if marriages are to be celebrated, to Frikko. It is customary also to solemnize in Uppsala, at nine-year intervals, a general feast of all the provinces of Sweden. From attendance at this festival no one is exempted. Kings and people all singly send their gifts to Uppsala and, what is more distressing than any kind of punishment, those who have already adopted Christianity redeem themselves through these ceremonies. The sacrifice is of this nature; of every living thing that is male, they offer nine heads, with the blood of which it is customary to placate gods of this sort. The bodies they hang in the sacred grove that adjoins the temple. Now this grove is so sacred in the eyes of the heathen that each and every tree in it is believed divine because of the death and putrefaction of the victims. Even dogs and horses hang there with men. A Christian seventy-two years old told me that he had seen their bodies suspended promiscuously. Furthermore, the incantations customarily chanted in the ritual of a sacrifice of this kind are manifold and unseemly; therefore, it is better to keep silent about them.”(5)
A few things should already sound familiar. Odin has been mentioned, who, in the Hávamál, said that he hung for “nine long nights.” Along the lines of that symbolic number, “nine heads” are offered and these ceremonies occur in “nine-year intervals.” A sacred grove is also referred to, and Odin hung upon a sacred tree. The trees of this grove are all considered sacred because of these sacrifices, which are hung upon these trees. Given the nature of this ritual, there is a connection between it and Odin, who sacrificed himself in a noticeably similar manner.
What may be surprising is the element of human sacrifice involved here. After all, Adam of Bremen clearly states that “even dogs and horses hang there with men (my emphasis).” More than one source, including non-textual sources, indicates that this was a truthful practice. In what is perhaps a less reliable source,(6) Guatreks saga recounts the sacrifice of King Vikar to Odin, who was even present himself in the judgement. This heroic legend is intertwined with lore and mythological fantasy, but echoes the attachment Odin has with the sacrifice of men. Here Odin, disguised as a man named Grani Horsehairs, has told his foster-son Starkad how to properly sacrifice King Vikar. But they must trick him and the others, for this was a king they were planning to sacrifice, after all. Odin gave Starkad a spear that would appear as a reed to everyone else. Furthermore, the “gallows” he constructs is made to look weak and harmless. And so the ritual unfolds:
“‘Your gallows is ready, king, and it doesn’t seem all that dangerous. If you come over here I’ll put the noose around your neck.’
‘If this contraption is no more dangerous than it appears,’ said the king, ‘it won’t do me any harm. But if things turn out differently, so be it.’
The king mounted the tree stump, and Starkad placed the halter around his neck. Then Starkad stepped down from the stump to the ground, thrust at the king with the reed, and saying, ‘Now I give you to Odin,’ let go of the fir branch. The reed turned into a spear and went right through the king. The tree stump fell away from under his feet. The calf’s entrails became strong rope, and the branch sprang up and lifted the king to the top of the tree.”(7)
Once again, the ritual is clear: a man is stabbed with a spear, hung from a tree, and dedicated to Odin. Even though the people did not find the sacrifice to be in good taste after it had happened, this saga still shows that there was some connection between this manner of sacrifice and Odin. Yet, it does not always have to be of this exact nature, at least when we choose to believe the word of each saga we consider. In Ynglinga saga, Snorri mentions that King Olaf Tretelgja, who did not sacrifice much and perhaps caused a famine as a result, was sacrificed to Odin in this manner instead:
“Then the Svíar mustered an army, made an expedition against King Óláfr, seized his house and burned him in it, dedicating him to Óðinn and sacrificing him for a good season.”(8)
Further examples of human sacrifice to Odin can be seen in even earlier sources, although we enter a possible debate in doing so (see endnote 9 for details). Regardless, there was at least a point in which the first man captured in war was sacrificed to Odin, which may answer the question that if men were to be the offering, what type of man would it be? Other examples suggest criminals as well (Tacitus mentions this in his Germania), but the most honorable sacrifices that one could offer to the Lord of the Slain were, well, the slain. And so, in the days of Old, before the dawn of the Viking Age, men of war were sometimes sacrificed in the same manner as Odin himself described in Hávamál:
“And they incessantly offer up all kinds of sacrifices, and make oblations to the dead, but the noblest of sacrifices, in their eyes, is the first human being whom they have taken captive in war; for they sacrifice him to Ares, whom they regard as the greatest god. And the manner in which they offer up the captive is not by sacrificing him on an altar only, but also by hanging him to a tree, or throwing him among thorns, or killing him by some of the other most cruel forms of death.”(10)
Procopius wrote this during the sixth century, which was near the end of the Migration Period.(11) Some may believe that the above passage refers to Tîwaz (later Týr), but it is known that Wodan (later Odin) took the reigns of war from him during this period.(12) It was during the time of Tactitus, who wrote during the first and early second centuries that the god of war was still confidently Tîwaz. As a result, I consider this example to be referring to Odin, or at least an ‘older’ version of him, especially given the reference of “hanging him to a tree” when considering sacrificial options. It is generally accepted by scholars that this type of sacrifice was “known to be associated with Wodan from early times,”(13) thus giving Odin an old relationship with this ritual; a part of Odin, however small, once demanded and expected this type of sacrifice.
Despite the early nature of these more grim sources, the Prose Edda still retains this image of Odin; even by the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, Odin could still be called by names that reflected this type of ritual sacrifice. When Snorri introduces Odin, for example, it does not take long before a name related to this practices is revealed:
“Odin is called All-father, for he is the father of all gods. He is also called Val-father [father of the slain], since all those who fall in battle are his adopted sons. He assigns them a place in Val-hall and Vingolf, and they are then known as Einheriar. He is also called Hanga-god [god of the hanged] and Hapta-god [god of prisoners]…”(14)
The words of Adam of Bremen must also be remembered, for he also mentioned this sort of human sacrifice (that of hanging) and wrote of such just after the end of the Viking Age.(15) Thus, we have sources from before and after the Viking Age that indicate that men and animals alike were hung from trees in sacrifice to Odin. His name as “Hanga-god” (Hangaguð), God of the Hanged, comes from this practice. As we have already seen in several written accounts, men are hung upon trees when they are sacrificed to Odin, hence the additional title being added to Odin’s long list of names. Yet, do we have any proof beyond written record that the Norse and other Germanic peoples, whether before, during, or after the Viking Age, sacrificed men in this manner? Is this ritual purely literary exaggeration and symbolism to make these people seem backwards and violent in the eyes of Greeks and Christians alike? The Tollund Man would suggest otherwise.
On May 6th, 1950, the body of a man was discovered in a bog in Denmark. This alarmed the locals who had stumbled upon the body, which still looked like it was sleeping beneath the ground. The police came by the 8th, and it was soon realized that this was no murder victim, at least not a recent one. Nay, it was a man who lived around the fourth century. Around his neck was a rope, and the medical examiner was certain that he had been hanged by it.(16) Here is an image of the Tollund Man:
Although it is well-known, and well-documented, that Odin demanded hanged men for sacrifice, this was not the only option that was available to his worshippers; hanging men from trees may be a part of Odin’s vast complexity, but not all of his followers had the means to provide this. One could offer animal sacrifices, and they need not even be hanged. One could even host a ritual feast, which, of course, included ritually sacrificed animals, but also much ale-drinking and feasting in honor of the gods. Such a ritual is spoken of in Hákonar saga Góða, contained in Snorri’s Heimskringla:
“Sigurðr Hlaðajarl was very keen on heathen worship, and so was his father Hákon. Jarl Sigurðr maintained all the ritual banquets on behalf of the king there in Þrœndalǫg. It was an ancient custom, when a ritual feast was to take place, that all the farmers should attend where the temple was and bring there their own supplies for them to use while the banquet lasted. At this banquet everyone had to take part in the ale-drinking. All kinds of domestic animals were slaughtered there, including horses, and all the blood that came from them was then called hlaut (‘lot’), and what the blood was contained in, hlautbowls, and hlaut-twigs, these were fashioned like holy water sprinklers; with these the altars were to be reddened all over, and also the walls of the temple outside and inside and the people also were sprinkled, while the meat was to be cooked for a feast. There would be fires down the middle of the floor in the temple with cauldrons over them. The toasts were handed across the fire, and the one who was holding the banquet and who was the chief person there, he had then to dedicate the toast and all the ritual food; first would be Óðinn’s toast—that was drunk to victory and to the power of the king—and then Njǫrðr’s toast and Freyr’s toast for prosperity and peace. Then after that it was common for many people to drink the bragafull (‘chieftain’s toast’). People also drank toasts to their kinsmen, those who had been buried in mounds, and these were called minni (‘memorial toasts’). Jarl Sigurðr was the most liberal of men. He did something that was very celebrated: he held a great ritual feast at Hlaðir and stood all the expenses.”(17)
In the end, there is much to be said about Odin and the sacrifices that were made to him, the prevalent theme of which is consumed by spears and the hanging of men from trees; sacred groves, spears, hanging, and the men of war are all associated with Odin and the rituals of sacrifice in his name. Yet, one could also offer him a ritual toast and feast, which was far more ‘peaceful’ than hanging men in trees; sacrifices of this less extreme nature were likely the norm. Although, that still usually involved the sacrifice of animals and the use of their blood, which, it seems, could have been either hanged or slaughtered in order to be sacrificed properly. Apart from the hanging of men, the sacrifices made to Odin were much like that made to other gods, such as Thor, Freyr, and Njord (all mentioned above, at one point or another). Regardless of the available options, though, the spear-pierced man (or animal) hanging upon the branch of a sacred tree was a type of sacrifice ritual specially devoted to Odin, the God of the Hanged.
I hope this information satisfies your search for knowledge, friend, for that is what I know in regards to sacrifices to Odin. Feel free to ask me any follow-up questions you may have, or even investigate the sources that I used in the composition of this post. Regardless of what you do now, I wish you the best in all your endeavors.
Með vinsemd og virðingu, (With friendliness and respect,) Fjörn
1. This could be the opposite of what happened, though; the story could have derived from already existing rituals, versus being the cause for its beginning. The poem itself, however, is likely later than the rituals themselves, but that does not mean that the lore behind it was not already alive and well in the hearts of men long before.
2. Some include stanzas 141–144/5, which consists of the knowledge of runes that he acquired while hanging upon Yggdrasil. I have decided to omit them since our purpose is the ritual of the sacrifice itself.
3. Carolyn Larrington trans., Poetic Edda (Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 2014), 32. (Hávamál, st. 138-141.)
4. His account, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, is from ca. 1072-75/6, and was later revised in the early 1080s.
5. Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, translated by F.J. Tschan with new introduction by T. Reuter (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 207-8. (Via the Viking Age Reader.)
6. Sagas are always challenging for the scholar, for we must beware the motifs being used for the purpose of symbolism. It is clear here, after all, that the example stands more strongly for the purpose of symbolism, as the passage will soon tell. Regardless of the inherent insecurities that we may have when history meets mythological fantasy, the existence of other sources that attest to human sacrifice makes this example all the more likely. Furthermore, it strengthens the connection of this practice to Odin.
7. A.A. Somerville trans., Gautreks saga, in Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, edited by Guðni Jónsson, Vol. 4 (Reykjavík, 1959), 31. (Via the Viking Age Reader.)
8. Snorri Sturluson, Ynglinga saga, in Heimskringla, Volume I: The Beginnings to Óláfr Tryggvason, translated by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes, 2nd ed. (London: Viking Society for Northern Research, University College London, 2016), 42. The topic of burning the dead is actually a rich discussion to be had itself, although not necessarily in the form of burning men alive in homes, which is a separate fruitful discussion to be had.
9. The source soon to be mentioned was written by Procopius, an outsider writing in the early sixth century. The key problem is not that he was an outsider, but rather the date of the source. Gods change, and this is a very early look at Odin, or rather Wodan. Some actually would consider these gods to be very different from one another. In fact, because gods change over time, does the Odin of Snorri’s Edda truly compare to the Wodan on the sixth century? They are the same, and yet they are different. Odin is clearly considered God of the Hanged in later works (soon to be mentioned in more detail), but not to the intense nature that is seen in even earlier records. Thus, to use an early source to attest to Odin’s thirst for human sacrifice in war raises the question of temporal placement. Did the men of the Viking Age sacrifice war-captives like this? Perhaps not. Other source do suggest, though, that the practice had not quite died out completely. At the very least, it was perhaps not to the same scale as it was in the more distant past. Yet, even that scale is questionable.
11. The period, lasting primarily from the second century up to the sixth century, is named for clear reason: many of the Germanic peoples were on the move — mostly moving south into the territories of the Roman Empire.
12. The process is complicated, of course. In fact, it appears likely that Odin is not simply the later version of Wodan, but a combination of both Wodan and Tîwaz (see H.R. Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, 56-7). This returns us to the debate mentioned above in endnote 9, which argues that the Odin of the Viking Age may not be the same god we hear of from before the Viking Age. Debates aside, though, this is still a part of Odin’s overall image. Whether the influence is direct or indirect does not matter, for the fact still stands that a part of him once, or always had, demanded human sacrifice in such a manner.
14. Snorri Sturluson, Edda, translated by Anthony Faulkes (London: Everyman, 1995), 21. (Online Edition.)
15. Within a single decade, in fact. The Viking Age ‘officially’ ends in 1066, with King Harald Hardradi’s defeat at Stamford Bridge; Adam of Bremen wrote his text around the year 1075.
16. This information, and much more, was found at http://www.tollundman.dk, which was developed by the Silkeborg Museum and Library, along with ACU Århus County. I thus consider the information to be fairly reliable.
Masculine Energy. Alder is a sacred tree of Celtic Astrology 18 March to 14 April. Druids associated this tree with the fox. The diety Bran considers this tree to be sacred.
Magical Properties: Alder wands are used for witchcraft magick rituals concerning with charisma, journeys, self confidence, bravery, supervision skills, and spiritual growth. Also used in shielding the astral self from unwanted intrusion from other realms.
Female energy. The apple wand is symbolic of fertility, peace, plenty and joy. A tree that is sacred to Venus and the Celtic Goddess Rhiannon. Apple is a staple food of the elven and fairie realm.
Magical Properties: This is a powerful wood of choice for the witch when working with the fairie magick. Apple is a good wood for aiding in the propagation of skills, often used in love magick. Apple wood promotes peace and harmony, magick of light and the divine, and promotes visions.
Female and Effeminate Male energy are present in Ash 18 February to 17 March. Ash is closely aligned to the elemental Earth. Ash is a sacred tree of Celtic Astrology. Greeks associated this tree with Neptune and Mercury. The Druids associated this tree with the adder. The Nords held this tree sacred to Woden (Odin), the Nordic World Tree, Yggdrasil, is an Ash tree and is considered to be the father of all trees. The Welsh associated this tree with the God Gwydion.
Magical Properties: The Ash wand is an excellent wood for promoting brain power, aids in communication, intelligence, wisdom, and promotes curiosity. Use this wood to remove mental blockages and aid in the promotion of word use and understanding. It is the wood of the writer, poet, and scholar. Promotes spiritual love and health. Protects against unwanted change. Brings balance to the mind. It is said that warts rubbed on the bark will be absorbed into the tree. Use for protection from drowning, magickal effectiveness, sea power, and healing. Ash is also used for protection, finding special roots, horse magick, enhances skills of arts and crafts, justice, weather magick, and for working with the magick of cave and wells.
Basswood is sacred to the Greek Goddess Aprhodite and the Celtic Goddess Arianrhod, Goddess of the Stars and Queen of Heaven. Some associate this with the Celtic Tree of Life. Basswood is related with the element of Air.
Magical Properties: Basswood wands are used for creative endeavors, star magick, enlightenment, love, attraction, healing, and enchantments.
Male Energy and because it produces nuts it is closely related to the Oak. Associated with the Greek God Apollo and the Elves Sun Lord Obraash. The Celts used the nut of this tree to fodder the sacred swine. Norse tradition says that tablets of Beech were used to make the very first writing tablets for the runes, strong magick for working with the Nordic runes.
Magical Properties: Beech wands are used in the magick of divination. Reduces swellings and skin inflammations. Helps to balance mental health. Aspiration, desire, and victory are all key elements of this wood. Used while working with ancestors, old wisdom, and magickal research. Beech is a sacred wood of the summer solstice.
Female energy. Birch is a sacred tree of Celtic Astrology 24 December to 20 January. One of the first trees to naturally establish in cleared forests. It is a tree of new beginnings and establishments. Closely aligned with the element of water. The Druids associated this wood with the white stag.
Magical Properties: The Birch wand is used in many cleansing rituals. Birch is a symbol of rebirth, renewal, and diligence. Some use this wood to aid in the calming of emotions. The bark helps to heal wounds and burns. Many European communities use or have used, birch twigs to expel evil spirits. Some cultures utilize birch rods in rituals designed to drive out spirits of the old year. Controlled by Moon influences to include; birth, Lunar spells, healing, and protection. Birch by tradition has been linked to youth and new beginnings. Use in rituals that signify a new start of any endeavor.
Associated with the Greek Goddess Persephone during her detainment in the Underworld. Also associated with the Celt Goddess Sezh that watches over the realm of fertility, herbs, and trees. Used by King Solomon, one of the greatest mystics of all time, in the building of the temple in Jerusalem.
Magical Properties: Cedar wands cleanses negative atmospheres. Used for the creation of sacred spaces. Related to longevity, protection, and preservation.
Both feminine and masculine energies. Artemis, Morrigan, Tyr, Mars, Aries, Herne, and Ambash all consider this wood sacred. Associated with the elemental Earth.
Magical properties: Cherry wands are very centered and has very grounded energy. Earth energy is very well grounded, unwavering, and solid. Cherry is used in ritual to stabilize and focus. Cherry is often used for intuitive and insight and to overcome obstacles. This is an excellent choice for divination or medium work, as well as healing and love magic. Cherry is suited for use in hunting magick, working with animals and familiars, eroticism, unification of covens and groups, spells of detection, and amplifying spell work.
Feminine energy. Elder is a sacred tree of Celtic Astrology 25 November to 23 December. The Elder is also said to be the tree used in the crucifixion of Christ. Associated with the Celt Goddess Cailleach Beara and the Raven. Some have considered this tree to be unlucky due to its association with the crucifixion, or it may one of those nasty rumors started by the church in order to combat belief systems outside their on scope of a limited belief system.
Magical Properties: Elder wands are most often used in Faerie Magic, banishment, magical arts, protection from evil, imagination, change, and healing.
Feminine energy. Often referred to as the home of the fairies. It is known to for its ability to ward away lightening. Associated with the Great Goddess in crone stage. Relative to the elements of both Earth and Air.
Magical Properties: Use of the Elm wands is strong in magic used concerning endurance, fertility, horticulture, passage thru death and phases of life, rebirth, and invocation of the Goddess. Elm adds stability, grounding, and focus to spell working.
Masculine energy. Hawthorn is a sacred tree of Celtic Astrology 13 May to 9 June. Considered sacred by the Celtic summer flower maiden Olwen, also associated with the owl. This tree is also sacred to Aquarius and the windlord Vashaan. It was often planted in the parameters of a cottage for protection. It is believed that fairies live in the hedges of Hawthorn especially if near ash or oak. Associated with the element of Air.
Magical Properties: Hawthorn wands open insight, provides psychic protection, encourages creativity, used to make charms, aids in the development of self confidence, purification, develops patience, detects magic since it is deeply magical from outer realms, used in weather working, banishment of evil spirits, concealing magic, chastity, male potency, and fairy magick.
Feminine energy. Hazel is a sacred tree of Celtic Astrology 5 August to 1 September. Associated with the elements of Fire, Air, and Water. Manannan Mac Lir, the Celtic Sea God, considered the wood to be sacred. Druids associated with the fish Salmon. Aligned with the Greek Goddess Aphrodite and the Celtic Goddess Danu, known by the elves and Arianrhod.
Magical Properties: Artistic ability, magical knowledge, and optimism are provided by the enchanting use of Hazel. The energy of hazel wands promoted love and creativity allowing a person to move beyond self-serving modes of existence. Hazel is the bringer of change. Hazel also promotes creative expression, eloquence, and art of all types. This was the most common wood used to create wands in the ancient Celtic traditions. Also used in magic spells for wisdom, creativity, intelligence, navigation, inspiration, and wrath.
Masculine energy. Hickory is sacred to the Celtic God Lugh and the Greek God Apollo. Hickory is closely related to the oak and many of those properties apply.
Magical Properties: Use this wand in magic that seeks direction, abundance, wholeness, and general acquisitions. It can be a source for developing leadership skill and creating an influence of presence.
Loved by the fairy because of its thorns that protects fairy clearings.
Magical Properties: A mighty wand of protection and bindings. Use while working with the fairy realm. Some use this wood with spells that deal with beauty and physical appearances.
Feminine energy. Holly is a sacred tree of Celtic Astrology 8 July to 4 August. The sacred spear of Odin was made of Holly. The Roman god Mars rules over this mighty wood. Related to the elemental Earth. Associated by Druidic tradition to the grand majesty of the Unicorn. The Smith God Govannon considers this wood to be sacred.
Magical Properties: Purity, strength, logic, power transfer, protection. Holly wands are often used in magic concerning sleep. It is said that a man who carries the leaves and berries of holly is irresistible to women. Since the story of the ruler ship of the Holly King and the Oak King deal with cycles and rebirth, it is often used in magic to ease the loss of loved ones to death. It also carries properties of the sacred, material advance, physical revenge, and beauty.
Masculine energy. Persephone considers this wood to be sacred. Druids related this to the Butterfly. Guinevere the fairy bride rules over this wood.
Magical Properties: Determination, strength, optimism, spiritual growth. Ivy is a fine wand for protection, good against wayward spirits and angry elementals, ensures success in business and all new endeavors.
A favorite of the forest nymphs and where they are surely Pan is close. Lilac is sacred to the Greek Twins Gemini. Associated with the element of Air.
Magical Properties: Lilac wands are good for magic dealing with romance, love, and passion. Superb when utilizing magics for the realm of intellect, communication, mental concentration. Enhances sexual pleasure. Lilac provides protection during travel. When dealing with illusion magic, this wood is very adequate, as with the divining arts.
Maple has both Feminine and Masculine energy. Libra and Virgo consider this tree to be sacred. Associated with the elements of Spirit and Water. The great horned owl is the sacred bird of this tree.
Magical Properties: Some cultures primarily use Maple wands for spiritual healing. Maple is a traveler’s wood. It enhances intellectual pursuits, acquiring knowledge, and communication. Spells concerning art, beauty, binding, and abundance should consider using this wood. The gypsies believe Maple brings gold and that eating the seeds draws love.
Strong Masculine energy. Oak is a sacred tree of Celtic Astrology 10 June to 7 July. The Druids associated the oak with the Wren. Closely aligned with the elements Earth, Water, and Spirit . The Oak is considered to be the most powerful and the most sacred to the Druids. Wizards consider this the most amplified wood to use to in spells that work with time and counter spells. Sacred to the Irish God Dagda.
Magical Properties: Truth, steadfast knowledge, protection. Oak wands bring vitality and long life. To the ancient Celtic people, oak was the protector, provider, benevolent king of the trees. Utilized as a healing wood, and very will grounded considering its strong connection to the earth. This wood helps center the mind, allowing it to focus on the task at hand and ignore distractions. Oak help promote both observation and intuition. Oak magic inspires bravery, presence, leadership skills, prosperity, and strength.
Masculine energy. Associated with the elements of Spirit, Earth, and Fire. Named after the Osage tribe of the Great Plains region.
Magical properties: This wood is famous for its ability to repel household pests and resist rot. Recommended to use this wand in magicks dealing with astral healing, spirit guides, and animal guides. This wood aides in the pursuit of goals and passions.
Masculine energy. Plato makes a reference to the use of Black popular and Silver Fir as an aid in divination. Aligned with the elements of Spirit, Water, and Fire. Influenced by the power of Venus.
Magical properties: Poplar wands have an incredibly diverse energy, allowing it to be an all-purpose wood for magickal workings. The diversity of the energy in this wood makes it useful for evocation as well as banishment rituals. It is also strong with the elements of hope, rebirth, and divinations.
Native Americans and early settlers considered sassafras to be a cure all for all sorts of ailments. The root bark was once believed to be a curative, capable of treating everything from headaches to malaria, fever, liver problems, stomachaches and colds. In addition, the wand was believed to increase hunger. The wood, which continues to be used in furniture, was often used in flooring and bedsteads because people believed the sassafras fragrance would drive away bedbugs and other pesky insects.
Magical properties: Early settlers also believed that beds made from sassafras would drive away evil spirits and give people restful sleep. Eases problems with the digestive system. Burying money near the roots of a Sassafras tree brings prosperity.
Masculine and feminine energies are present in Vinewood. Vine is a sacred tree of Celtic Astrology 2 September to 29 September. Druids associated this wood with the Swan. Considered sacred by the Tuatha De Danaan Gods of Irish Mythology.
Magical Properties: Vinewood wands encourage spiritual initiation, faerie work, joy spells, excitement, rebirth., sacred knowledge, and authority.
Feminine and Masculine energies are present in Black Walnut. Closely aligned with the elements of Earth and Spirit. Walnut is sacred to the Gods Vashaan, Zues, Jupiter, Thor, and Vishnu.
Magical properties: Black walnut wands are well used in magics of teleportation, astral travel, weather working, averting lightening, powers of the wind and breath, and motivation.
Feminine energy. Willow is a sacred tree of Celtic Astrology 15 April to 12 May. Willow is strongly aligned with the element of water and associated with the element of spirit. The Druids associated this tree with the hare. Diana, Hecate, Astarte, Ceridwen, Arianrhod, Rhiannon, and Omulan all consider this to be a very sacred tree.
Magical Properties: Willow wands are strong in the cycles of life dealing with death and rebirth, change, the will. It is a very emotional wood. Willow can add vital energy to the sick and elderly. Some say that burning willow can soothe and guide the souls of the recently deceased. Willow wood is the very essence of magick, not just the mere making a tool into a magical one, willow makes the tool magickal. Willow will align itself to the inner will of the party that shares its energy. The stronger the will, the more effective the wood. Willow is extremely useful in healing. It is also good for love spells and rituals involving emotion. It strengthens the third eye, and is a great tool for divination as well.
Figured this might be a bit specific for the Althing, so I'd throw this in an ask. I hope you, or anyone you know, have some spare words or resources on the Gullveig figure from Völuspá. Most of what I've found follows the "vague feminine entity = Freya" trend which seems unfulfilling and doesn't jive for me in this case. Been working my way through Rydberg's compelling arguments in "Teutonic Mythology," but hope there are other theories I can't dig up on my own. þökkum! (Thanks [i think...])
Velkominn, vinur minn, (Welcome, my friend,)
I MUST SAY that this is a huge topic, and it is one that I feel unworthy, or rather unprepared, to take on. It has also taken me several attempts to properly answer it. As a historian, I study aspects of Icelandic law and society, not mythology; I am far more familiar with the sagas of men, rather than the sagas of gods. I am well-acquainted with the lore, of course, but not nearly to the extent of others.
Still, I have read the words of a few others who have pondered this problem. @thorraborinn has made at least two posts regarding this debate (here and here), both of which I have carefully read through and put much thought into. I have also read a bit of John Lindow’s Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefsand H.R. Ellis Davidson’s Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. I have even considered the footnotes of translators Carolyne Larrington and Lee M. Hollander.
Now, I do not have nearly the same familiarity with the subject as they do, but I will still do my best to place my thoughts and impressions on the table for discussion. I just hope that I do not error along the way, and may I request forgiveness and patience from others if I do manage wander astray. With that said, I shall continue, and so here is the text in question for us to review before and while we discuss this matter:
22. “She remembers the first war in the world, when they stuck Gullveig with spears and in the High-One’s hall they burned her; three times they burned her, three times she was reborn, over and over, yet she lives still.”
23. “Bright One they called her, wherever she came to houses, the seer with pleasing prophecies, she practiced spirit-magic; she knew seid, seid she performed as she liked, she was always a wicked woman’s favorite.”
24. “Then all the Powers went to the thrones of fate, the sacrosanct gods, and considered this: whether the Æsir should yield tribute or whether all the gods should share sacrificial feasts.”
25. “Odin hurled the spear, sped it into the host; that was war still, the first in the world; the wooden rampart of the Æsir stronghold was wrecked; the Vanir, with a war-spell, kept on trampling the plain.”(1)
WITH SO FEW WORDS to work from, our troubles are many. As Thorraborinn has said, gold meant many things to the Norse, especially given that they saw the world through a different cultural lens than we currently hold today. He also mentioned the problem of the name Heiðr (translated as ‘Bright One’ above), which is often attributed to many other vǫlur (sg. vǫlva). Furthermore, as also noted by Thorraborinn, there is the issue of seiðr being the only quality beyond gold to define who Gullveig is.
After all my reading, most of the interpretations put forth have chosen to merge Gullveig and Freyja, for there are many parallels that can be drawn. I have a feeling that this is due to the limitations of our material, because we simply do not have enough to safely pull the two apart; Freyja is the only figure whom we are able to evaluate Gullvieg against. She is the standard upon which we can base our conclusions, but even then there is more to be desired. Perhaps the problem is that we are always left comparing Gullveig to Freyja, when we may be able to see more clearly by treating Gullveig alone. Who is she, why did she come to Æsir, and why did the Vanir go to war over her? The problem in answering these questions, though, is that we have no evidence when we do not use Freyja as a basis; we only have an argument of logic and plausibility.
Yet, I do have one thought to share, although it has little evidence to defend it (as well as having plenty of problems with it). Usually I make a great effort to provide various sources and notations, but I do not see that as being particularly helpful in this situation.
Let’s assume, despite the ‘evidence’ to say otherwise, that Gullveig is not Freyja. Instead, let’s say that Gullveig was a minor Van deity. Even Thorraborinn played with the thought of Gullveig being another daughter (or other degree of kin) of Njord’s, and this is not a heretical idea to ponder. After all, there were other Vanir beyond the later counted three among the Æsir. Time has unfortunately chosen to devour their names and memories. In better words than my own, “the most likely answer seems to be the vast assembly of gods of fertility from many different localities, or which a few names like Ing, Scyld, and Frodi have come down to us, while many more are utterly forgotten.”(2)
Thus, I suspect that Gullveig is a Van whose name has faded into a similar obscurity, and that we are now left here to our endless pondering as a result. I then believe that Gullveig’s roles were ‘transferred’ to Freyja after memory had confined the Vanir to the three that we all know. After all, Freyja’s ‘character’ is fairly complex; her realm is not flat, but multifaceted. She takes men from battle, she taught the Æsir seiðr, she is a goddess of female fertility, and even of love. The situation is similar to how Odin took over the role of ‘Warlord God’ from Tyr, who held such status in the time of the Romans (see Davidson for more on that, if you’d like). In other words, she is the Van who took on the roles of those who were slain by time. Now, perhaps I am utterly mistaken. I have no true evidence for such a claim, rather logical assumptions. My argument does not necessarily clear any gaps in the narrative, but it does serve to explain how we managed to find ourselves in such a mythological mess.
In the end, both sides of the debate are correct (assuming that my perspective on the matter has any grounds to actually stand upon). Gullveig is Freyja, or rather aspects of Gullveig came to make up Freyja in the minds of later authors as Gullveig’s presence continued to fade from memory. Yet, that also means that Gullveig is not Freyja. Gullveig was and is an independent entity that only later became merged with Freyja (where Gullveig was perhaps once a local, regionalized cult). Gullveig continued to live, and so did her power. Her power just came to be expressed through the surviving names of her kin, like the battle-victorious Freyja. Either way, the answer never seems to be very satisfying for us.
THAT IS ALL I CAN OFFER, at least for the moment. I am sure that my theories have plenty of holes in them. As I said before, I am no expert in this realm of understanding, and I therefore do not have the depth of familiarity with it to fill in the gaps of my own narrative. My words are not meant to be absolute. Rather, they are meant to enhance and encourage further contemplation and discussion. I do not expect to be ‘right’, yet I should not be condemned to utter falseness either.
Regardless, my words have not answered any of our missing details, such as how Freyja came to be among the Æsir (though, if the Vanir merged with the Æsir after the war, that alone would have provided the opportunity), nor why Gullveig is so strongly linked to gold (however ‘gold’ was being invoked here, that is). Answering those questioned requires substantial digging, which is something that I suspect others would be far better at than myself (especially since I am so often preoccupied with other aspects of the Norse realm).
Anyway, I will stop my rambling. If I don’t, I will never be able to answer because I always find something to edit, remove, or add. That said, this is not the most organized answer that I have ever produced, but I hope my various thoughts will spark some sort of intriguing discussion or other revelation down the road. If not, I just hope no ‘damage’ has been caused. I hope this is what you were looking for in asking me about this topic. I am terribly sorry that it took my so long to respond, but, as I mentioned earlier, it was quite difficult to manage. I just hope I have not erred too much in my ramblings.
Með vinsemd og virðingu, (With friendliness and respect,) Fjörn
Asgard is the reign of the Æsir, the principal race of Norse gods. Is difficult to access due to its huge walls, though after the war with the Vanir, they were destroyed, being vulnerable to attack of the giants. To rebuild the defensive wall, the Æsir hired the services of a giant who agreed to repair the walls in a very short time, and the Gods accepted, influenced by Loki. He cheated them, saying that he would give back the walls toAsgard in exchange for the Sun, the Moon, and the goddess Freyja. Asgard is connected to Midgard (the realm of men) by Bifrost (also called Asbru), the rainbow bridge, guarded by the god Heimdall. Each god has a different home in Asgard. The best known is Valhalla, the abode of Odin. Heroes killed in action are brought to Valhalla by the Valkyries. Mythologhy says a faster way to go to Valhalla is die hanged, as Odin did. [Let’s not do that.]
Vanaheim is the world of the Vanir, the other race of Norse dieties, who usually were the responsible of the fertility functions. The Vanes (Vanir) were faced with the Aces (Aesir), but eventually reconciled, they came to live in a relative peace. It can suppose that Vanaheim, like the Vanir themselves, is somewhat more wild or “natural,” and less “cultural,” than the world of the Vanir’s Aesir counterparts, or even than the humanity. It’s a sort of nature world, free of technology or modern influences. *Alfheim is the world of elves, governed by the god Freyr. The elves have not an important relevance in the Norse legends, although the ancient sagas identify two types of elves that live in Alfheim: ljósálfar (or light elves) and svartálfar (or dark elves that live inside the mountains)
Midgard ( Miðgarðr in old Norse ) is the world of men created by the gods Odin and his brothers, Vili and Ve after battle with the primeval giant Ymir . After the battle, Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve took the body of the giant Ymir and took him to the great abyss to begin creating an habitable world. Thus, with his skin, they created the lands, with his blood and sweat, the oceans, with his bones the rocks and mountains, with his hair the vegetation and with his teeth the cliffs, where also placed the giant’s eyebrows to make the borders of the sea. To complete the work, the Gods thought to close this world with the cranial vault of the defeated, ordering to four dwarves to hold it. These were called Nordri , Sudri, Austri and Vestri and symbolized the four cardinal points. By placing the vault of heaven with the skull of the vanquished giant, his brains were scattered through the air, giving life to the clouds. However, this new territory was still dark, so the gods decided to go Muspelheim to steal the shining sparks of a sword called Surtr . With the two largest they created the sun and the moon and the other stars. Once the gods finished his work, they just added the winter and summer ,being ready to receive the first humans.
Svartálfaheim ( connected with Nidavellir -dark - fields ) This underground world is placed between the lowest sphere of Midgard and the highest sphere of Helheim,. There lived the dark elves, (referring black to the hair and not the skin) called svartálfar, and the Norse dwarves or dvergar, being the counterpart of the light elves . They’re associated with stones, the underground, death, luck, magic and technology, especially forging. The dark elves reside in the underground and are ancestral spirits that protect people, but they can also be threatening, especially when they are treated rudely . The Svartalfar try to avoid the light, though they can go outside without problems. They’re great architects , intelligent and industrious, and among other wonders, created the Mjolnir hammer of Thor, Odin ’s spear Gungnir, the magic ring Draupnir, and the ship Skíðblaðnir, the Brisingamen necklace of Freyja and Freyr’s golden boar .
Jotunheim is the land of the frozen giants. The giants are usually enemies of the gods, but they had also children with them. It is ruled by Thrym, the king of the frost giants. In Jotunheim, where also live rock giants, it’s placed the strength of Utgard. From there, they threaten Midgard’s humans and the gods of Asgard, of which they are separated by the river Iving.
Niflheim is the world of the dead. I'ts a gloomy kingdom where go the men who have not had a glorious death. There inhabits the dragon Níðhöggr, constantly gnawing the roots of perennial ash Yggdrasil. After Ragnarök, the dragon will be devoted to torment the souls left in the world. In one of the creation myths, Niflheim is the cold matter, the opposite of Muspelheim or hot matter. This world was born of the clash of these in the magical space called Ginnungagap. One of the most dark and gloomy parts of the vast and icy Niflheim is Helheim, where lives the giant queen or goddess Hela, in company of her dog Garm. The belief that when Ragnarok comes, the doomsday battle, Loki and the giants will come in a boat built with the nails of the dead from Hel, creating with this the habit of clipping the nails of the dead to delay these events.
Muspelheim is the world of the fire giants, enemies of the gods. It’s a kingdom full of flames located in the southern hemisphere. It’s governed by Surt, the king and the most powerful of the fire giants. In Norse mythology, the creation starts cof the contact between fire and ice in the huge initial vacuum known as Ginnungagap, creating then the water. The brightest objects in the night sky such as planets, comets and stars, emerged from Muspelheim sparks. In Ragnarok, the heavens will open and Surt will leave Muspelheim, followed by all giants, marching to Asgard and destroying the Bifrost bridge at their passing.
Hel or Helheim, is known as the kingdom of death and is in the deepest, dark and dreary part of Niflheim, one of the nine worlds of Yggdrasil. In the nordic mythology, it was ruled by Hela, the daughter of Loki, and the entrance was guarded by a huge dog known as Garm. Helheim and Niflheim are often associated as the same world, but this is not so: Niflheim is the realm of cold, ice and darkness mainly, and, although there it’s also common the death and destruction, Helheim is specifically the “Capital of Death”. In this world will end those who died by disease or old age, and once they entered there , not even gods could get out because of the endless, inexhaustible and impassable presence of the river Gjöll around this dark reign.
The Scandinavian god Odin is found hanging from the world tree Yggdrassil in the poem
Hávamál, he’s pierced with a spear. Odin says: ‘Nine nights I hung on the tree, wounded by a spear, dedicated to Odin, I myself to myself. I hung on a tree of which no one knows from which roots it grows…I sought below and lifted up the runic letters and I fell down from the tree’.
Odin’s presence in the poem is similar to that of the ‘hanged man’ of the tarot cards, he’s seeing the world upside down, he obtains a different perspective, one transcending the limitations of common view, Odin as the shaman of shamans has the ability to go beyond the borders of our three dimensional apperception so he becomes the Master of the secret knowledge, the Lord of the runes and their magical secrets, but perhaps he pays the price for this enhanced prospect, he’s seen too much… and so he ends up hanged from the tree…a cyclical occurence…another example resembling Odin’s state would be the hanged Jesus on the cross, the wooden cross symbolizing the archetypal sacred tree, the holy element of the earth, the wood with its primordial powers. Odin is pierced, wounded and bound like another Prometheus, the greek maker of humanity, the tree and the rock…sacred temples of the primary humanity where divinity was thought to live inside…both Odin and Prometheus being punished for their authentic vision and strength, both of them victims and liberators… Vera Bousiou
In Norse mythology, Gungnir (Old Norse “swaying one”) is the spear of the god Odin. The spear is described as being so well balanced that it could strike any target, no matter the skill or strength of the fighter. It was crafted by dwarves, and Loki discovered it while on an errand for golden-haired Sif. Loki flatters the dwarves so much that when he asked for the spear, they gave it. Somehow this spear ended up with Odin, though the mythology is unclear on how.
Let’s go with the obvious: Valhalla. A hall of Odin, where chosen warriors go to train each day and await Ragnarök, when they (Einherjar) will fight for the gods. Immortan Joe promises the War Boys that Valhalla, their highest honor, awaits after death. Nux says that all the great heroes are there, which is consistent with the Valhalla of myth.
Immortan Joe serves not only in Odin’s position as war god, but also as a god of death, another area of Odin’s expertise. Immortan Joe decrees which War Boys will be admitted to Valhalla. He plays the part of Odin’s name-kin, the Germanic Wodan, in his Wild Hunt. This hunt is now led in big-ass cars across a desert, rather than on horseback through the sky. The hunting party throw spears with some kind of napalm or bomb on the end, and traditionally, if you wanted your army to be victorious in battle, it was deemed prudent by some to dedicate your foes to Odin by hurling a spear over the entire host. The spear is an item sacred to Odin, and marking your enemies in this fashion meant that you intended them as a sacrifice to Odin or Wodan.
The War Boys. Ah, let’s talk about the War Boys. They were the most fascinating mix of the mythological and also the historical. They serve as warriors of the “cult” of Odin, as it would be said in circles of academia; so very much the “cult” of Immortan Joe. It can be assumed that they will be his warriors in the afterlife, his equivalent of the Einherjar. But the War Boys are first and foremost berserkers. Berserkers were a special kind of brutish warrior, dedicated to Odin or Wodan. Odin quite literally means “frenzy”, the frenzy of creativity and of passion. Berserkers were warriors of frenzy who would drink heavily or in some cases imbibe other substances and become unable to be “bitten by iron”. Invincible, because they were high as hell and couldn’t feel a thing. These warriors would run at the fore or stand at the head of the ships, and their rage was incredible. The War Boys have no fear of death and are driven by bloodlust and dedication to Immortan Joe. The silver paint (or whatever that is) may be akin to a symbol of the berserker’s draught, something to send them over the edge into a fearless state.
The War Boys also have lips with stitching scars, a possible reference to the wily Loki, who had his face sewn shut with a leather thong, which he tore out, leaving scars.
The Valkyries. One of the desert women that Furiosa calls kindred is even named The Valkyrie. They guard the war machine and pick off the war boys, essentially “choosing” who dies by hand: Valkyrie means “chooser of the slain”.
The wives are also reminiscent of Valkyries. They are ethereal, meant to be more beautiful than the rest of the cast. Their “marriage” to Immortan Joe is reminiscent of the Valkyries service of Odin; whether or not the Valkyries were symbolic wives of Odin is often debated. The wives could also resemble the Disír, mysterious women of childbirth and death, but I think the historical association with volvas (prophetesses) is more apparent. The volva seem to have had a very specific form of dress, a uniform almost, that all wore, much like the wives white linen. These travelling prophetesses predicted matters of health and relationships, and also the outcomes of battles. If the prophetess said the battle should be waged on a certain day in a certain place, it was so. Likewise, the wives are the ones who decide to make the journey to “The Green Place” and rope Furiosa into it, and they decide to go back to the Citadel (Furiosa would not have gone without them).
Furiosa could be seen as Valkyrie-like, but I think she almost further resembles a goddess, one of the Ásynjur. She has the warrior’s confidence of the Jotun Skaði, the beauty of Freyja, and the wisdom of Frigg. Furiosa is a one of a kind goddess, yo.
Max resembles the saga hero, a man who is best suited to war and violence. But he also has a bit of the Odinic wanderer in him. Odin would disguise himself and travel among human kind, leaving once he’s accomplished his task. Max does the same.
The town/civilization leaders all sacrificed something to gain exactly that which they’d sacrificed. This is a tried theme in the Norse myths: Freyr gives away his sword (his symbolic dick) even though he’s a god of fertility, Tyr- who perhaps comes from an earlier war god, Tîwaz- is viewed as a “just” god, and he gave his right hand to observe the truth and prevent war (he can no longer shake hands in an agreement); Odin gave his eye for the ability to see further- to possess wisdom. Immortan Joe wears a mask to cover what I assume is a misshapen mouth, yet his power comes from his voice, his commands. The head of the bullet farm looses his eyes, though those are what he needs most to make a shot. And the head of gas town is unable to drive, while he thrives on mobility. All give away what they need most, symbolically.
And that’s all I got, I’m exhausted and I need to go to bed.
21. She remembers the war, the first in the world, when they stabbed at Gold-draught with many spears, and in the hall of the High they burned her body. Three times they burned the one thrice-born, often, over again; yet she lives still.
22. They called her Brightness, when she came to their homes, a witch who could foretell; she knew the skill of wands, she made magic where she could, made magic in a trance; she was always a delight to a wicked woman.
23. Then all the powers went to their thrones of destiny, high-holy gods, and deliberated this: whether the Æsir were obligated to pay tribute, and all the gods were obliged to pay the price.
24. Odin flung his spear, cast into the host, still that was the war, the first in the world; the shield-wall was shattered of the fortress of the Æsir, the Vanir with war-spells trampled the battlefield.
[Source] Andy Orchard translation, The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore. (Penguin Classics, 2011), 8.
I’ve done it! Straight home from the Thursday Premiere of “The The Dark World,” and three sleepless days later - I’ve completed Loki’s Spear - Gungnir that he keeps steeling from Odin. I am so excited - my absolute favorite thing about Gungnir is that it features Runes and beautiful scrollwork. It is now available in my Etsy shop along with Loki’s Chitauri Scepters and Staffs from The Avengers.
Small drabble, inspired by the -inexplicably and inexcusably- deleted scene from Thor: The Dark World.
He has never been more acutely aware of the weight of the spear in his hand; not just of metal but centuries upon centuries of rules and obligations it stood for; rules he had followed even when he knew how steep the cost would be.
The knowledge of what he must do was clear in his mind. He knew the futility of trying to negotiate; he read it in the Elf’s face, in the fervent, all-consuming greed that was seething just underneath the surface of his voice.
This was someone who knew nothing of love, of family, or mercy; driven only by an ambition that surpassed all else. Even compassion toward his own people.
Odin knew all this; but his heart stayed deaf to the truths of his mind, aware only of the face of his beloved; brave and wise even now; giving him permission to be the king, not the husband.
Asking him to kill the monster, asking him to kill her.
She always was stronger than him.
The spear grew almost impossibly heavy in his hand; almost as heavy as his heart, weary with all long centuries of rule and what it took from him.