Odin and Animals [Ask Me About Odin]

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And now we come to this week’s installment of “Ask Me About Odin.”  (I’ll bet you thought I had forgotten, when you saw the holiday post.)

Stephan asked:  “Is Odin a man of nature and lover of animals?  What are some of his favorite animals?”

Well, to begin with, Odin is not precisely a man.  Oh, He wears that mask well–very, very well, in fact–but then, masks are sort of His thing.  But I’ve glimpsed the absolutely feral, inhuman, alien being that lies beneath the mask of the urbane, sophisticated king, and He assures me that what I’ve seen is only the tip of the iceberg.  He quite enjoys reminding me that He isn’t remotely human.

However, leaving that point to one side, I’m not sure I would describe Him as a “man of nature and lover of animals,” or not in the mundane context that wording seems to conjure in the mind.  Is a god who has wandered the nine worlds with nothing to His name other than the clothes on His back and the wolves at His side—and who has learned from hard and bitter experience how to survive better than Tom Brown in any climate and any given situation–a man of nature and lover of animals?  How about a god who leads the Wild Hunt–as unruly a band of monsters as you’d never want to encounter–through stormswept skies and ice-choked streams and snowdrift-buried forests, astride His faithful (and not a little frightening) eight-legged horse who is not a horse?  Is such a god a man of nature and lover of animals?

You may begin to see what I mean.

Odin does nothing by half measures–nothing, ever–and the Eddas (both Snorri‘s and the Poetic Edda) tell us that He feeds His wolves  meat with His own hands, and that He worries each day about the return of His ravens who fly out over the worlds to bring Him news and knowledge.  Odin is a shaman, so nothing He does is as simple or straightforward as it may at first appear to be, so we are safe in assuming that His relationship with the animals He is associated with in the lore–the ravens, the wolves, and in one single episode (Snorri’s tale about the acquisition of the Mead of Poetry) a snake–are not as simple as all that, either.  Snorri names Him as a shapeshifter, in both Heimskringla (his history of the Norwegian kings) and the Edda, saying that His body would lie still as if dead while He sent His spirit forth to find out the things He wanted to know.  In the Edda, Snorri tells us straight out that He took the form of a snake to gain access to Gunnlod and the Mead.  And as for His “horse,” Sleipnir…well, Sleipnir is a god Himself, or at least the son of one (Odin’s best friend and blood brother, Loki).

So, given the above, are the ravens and the wolves really animals per se, external to Odin yet allied with Him, or are they fetches, aspects of His own soul and/or consciousness that can take on an independent life of their own in order to perform specific tasks?  Perhaps both.  This is a question I’ve pondered for years now without arriving at a definitive answer, but what I can tell you is that corvids–not just ravens, but any corvids, crows especially–have acted as Odin’s messengers for me, have watched over me on His behalf (while heckling me in the process, since like Him they are tricksters), and that while this is a shape He can take if He wishes, His own nature is closer to that of the wolf, and His relationship to His people very similar to that of an alpha wolf to his pack.  And yes, this is a shape He takes as well, and is very much at home in.  His warriors, in Viking times, were sometimes known as Ulfhednar, or “wolf cloaks,” and His protégé Sigfrid (of Volsunga Saga) is a werewolf.

There is one other animal He is sometimes associated with–not as commonly, although the other name for Odinic warriors, Berserker, means “bear shirts”–and that is the bear.  Two of His heiti or by-names, Bruni and Bjorn, mean “brown,” which was commonly used in the northlands as a euphemism for “bear.”

However, since this last connection is a timely one for me, I’m going to talk about it in my next post.

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6 thoughts on “Odin and Animals [Ask Me About Odin]

  1. Yanno, most days I’m glad I get to read these before they go up, so I don’t have to wait as long as everyone else . . . .

  2. That is a fascinating idea and I tend to agree with it. That the Gods’ messengers/children can both be seperate entities and extensions of the God’s Selves, like the Fetch in Feri. I had a raven come to me in a dream years ago when I was suffering from an abcess in my jaw from a tooth. He woke me up sitting on my chest and pecking at my forehead. I woke up just in time to get to the dentist before the absess became unmanageable.

  3. Pingback: A kinder, gentler Odin? [Ask Me About Odin] « Wytch of the North

  4. I tend to agree with all the stuff that is posted inside “Odin and
    Animals [Ask Me About Odin] Wytch of the North”.
    Thanks for all the actual info.Thanks,Noemi

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