In order to obtain the art of poetry, the understanding of runes, Galdr rune magic, Seidr – Norse shamanistic magic, divination, and other esoteric forms of knowledge, as well as a deeper understanding of the nine worlds the Chief God of our Norse/Germanic faith, Odin, had to go through various trials and/or experiences. After Odin acquired and learned these different forms of knowledge, he in turn began to serve as a teacher and muse to impart his wisdom and gifts to the other Gods and to us - mankind. If we listen to him by reading written sources like the Havamal and others, follow his example of being willing to suffer for knowledge and excellence, and ask for his guidance, he will continue to act in this fashion as our teacher today. Odin did not invent these sacred arts and gifts from nothing – he had to obtain them himself - mainly by personal hardship. In doing so he set an example for both our ancestors and us to follow – nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. Odin´s trials also seem like a transformation of sorts - a mystic initiation ritual.
Odin paid the price of one of his eyes in order to have one drink from Mimir’s well and gain wisdom. He drank from Mimir's well with the Giallarhorn, which we will see and hear from again when Heimdall will blow it to signal Ragnarök. Odin obtained the Mead of Poetry in Suttungr’s realm. Here is the story. When the war between the Aesir and Vanir had ended, the two camps of Gods sealed their peace by spitting into a communal bowl. Their mixed spittle formed the wisest of the Gods – Kvasir. After his magical birth, Kvasir, traveled the nine worlds, but he was murdered by envious dwarves and his blood was brewed into a mead called Óðrœrir. The giant Suttungr, killed the dwarves who had murdered Kvasir, in an unrelated act of revenge, and the mead fell into his hands. Suttungr hid the mead in three huge vats inside of a mountain and had his daughter Gunnlod guard it. Odin tricked Suttungr’s brother to get him access to the mountain and once inside he then seduced Gunnlod. Odin wooed and tricked the lovesick Gunnlod to give him just few sips of the precious mead, but when he did so he drained all three vats. He then shapeshifted into an eagle and flew towards Asgard, with Suttungr, also a shape shifter in eagle form, realizing Odin had stolen the mead, pursued him. Odin reached Asgard before Suttungr and regurgitated the mead into several vats. Suttungr was then burned up in flight by a massive fire lit by the other Gods. While he was regurgitating the mead, a few drops fell from Odin’s beak to us in Midgard and these continue to act as our inspiration.
There is a connection between the Mead of Poetry and drinking from Mimir’s well in that both the skills/arts of poetry and wisdom were gained from liquids. Both sources of knowledge are guarded by giants - Suttungr and Mimir. Both knowledge conferring drinks, the water from Mimir’s well and the mead (brewed from the slain God Kvasir’s blood), served as an initiation for Odin to higher level of being.
The runes which Odin discovers while hanging in pain from Yggdrasil - the world tree - for nine days and nights were indeed first carved into that very tree by Urdr and her Norns, as written in Voluspá. Odin also gains sacred knowledge from Freyja who teaches him Seidr – a form of Norse magic. He becomes proficient at it. Seidr centered on divination, magic and sorcery. Freya is the archetype of the Völva - a professional practitioner of Seidr. The art of Seidr is generally associated as a feminine art whereas Galdr, which Odin learns from an unnamed male giant, is often seen as a male art. Available information suggests that Seidr was very much the domain of women in ancient Norse and Germanic times. It was not seen as a manly art, though Odin practiced it - he is an exception, and many modern-day practitioners of Seidr maintain that only women should practice Seidr.
Galdr though is practiced by men and women. As we interpret it, it is a type of chanting, or singing, art and way of making spells and creating positive energy with runes. Galdr is the very sounds and vibrations of the runes. Galdr is mentioned in the Poetic Edda, and Hávamál. Odin says he knows 18 Galdr for various purposes. I recently participated in a Galdr workshop where we chanted the rune Wunjo for success and prosperity.
The Ynglinga Saga records that Odin would travel to distant lands for learning and on missions to gain knowledge. He often does so in his disguise of a cloak and floppy hat using an alias. Odin went to the edge of the underworld to consult a dead female seeress to determine the fate of his son Baldr. Here too is an important lesson and example about the knowledge that travel (to both good and bad places) and opening our horizons can provide to us. I have lived much of my life in other countries, travelling, working, learning languages, and fighting abroad in numerous wars, and it is an education unto itself.
There are forms of Norse esoteric magic and shamanism that were, and are, more acceptable, for men to practice than Seidr. These include the Norse/Germanic cults of elite ecstatic warriors. Here we are talking about warbands of Berserker and Ulfhednar. These were no ordinary warriors. Their initiation rituals, fighting tactics and techniques, and spiritual practices were cult like. They were legendary and are the Germanic/Norse faith equivalent of Christian fighting orders/groups like the Knights Templar. They were “warrior-shamans” who channeled animal spirits. The Berserkers channeled the bear and the Ulfhednar, especially close to Odin, channeled the wolf. In the Ynglinga Saga it is written that Odin’s warriors fought without armor in battle and were possessed by the spirits of animals like wolves and bears. They howled and slew their enemies, while they themselves remained unharmed by fire and iron. They went berserk – a word and verb that remains in our English vocabulary. These animal-spirit warriors have what is called a totem animal, and they allegedly could sometimes even shift their shapes to become a bear or a wolf. Doing this they achieved a closer relationship with Odin who was the master of these beasts, a shape shifter himself, and the God and grantor of victory and furor.
Initiation into one of these cults historically might have involved spending a period alone in the wilderness. The aspirant obtained food by hunting, gathering, and, if necessary, stealing provisions. A sort of SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, and escape) training that I and many others in our military circle have experienced. This animal spirit bond to the wolf or bear was displayed by the warriors who would dress themselves with hides of wolves and bears. This was a sign of these warriors going beyond the confines of their humanity and becoming animal predators - a transformation. Just as enemies fear the arrival of elite units on the battlefield, the sight of the Berserker and Ulfhednar on the battlefield was frightening to their enemies. Odin’s Warrior Tribe will be reviving Berserker and Ulfhednar warrior cults for a very select group of male and female tribal members and The Society of Gungnir.
A few final thoughts - Odin and indeed the other Gods know their fate that is coming with Ragnarök. We know it too. Some believe that Ragnarök has already taken place, but that is a conversation or post for another time. The Gods did not simply accept their fate though. Despite the inevitability of Ragnarök they choose to prepare for it and when the time comes, they will stand and fight until the very last. They do not moan about their fate, they revel in it as do many of us. Odin trains and prepares an army of Einherjar – proven warriors in Valhalla. This army like no other that has ever existed and it will exit Valhalla in fury and fight alongside Odin and the Gods at the time of Ragnarök against all the evil. For many a Viking to die a glorious death on the battlefield in hopes of reaching Valhalla where they will ultimately fight and die an even more glorious death at Ragnarök was a sublimely beautiful concept. That by itself explains much of their philosophy and success during their age – they did not fear death.
From Ragnar’s Death poem as he lay dying in the pit of snakes,
“I desire my death now.
The disir (Valkyrie) call me home,
whom Herjan (Odin) hastens onward
from his hall, to take me.
On the high bench, boldly,
I’ll drink beer with the Aesir;
hope of life is lost now,
laughing shall I die!”