A kinder, gentler Odin? [Ask Me About Odin]
Linda wrote: “I would like to learn about Odin’s more gentle aspects.”
This may be the trickiest question yet. Certainly it has been the hardest for me to write about.
Does Odin have a gentler side? Believe it or not, yes. Will YOU ever have the opportunity to witness it? Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it?
Years ago, back when I was newly married to Odin, I felt that He was getting a bad rap from most people. It seemed that all people could talk about (even people who belonged to him) was what a hardass He was, how harsh and demanding He could be, and the terrible demands He made of them. And while He did make some demands of me (such as leaving my mortal then-husband, turning my entire life upside down, and so forth—you know, little things like that) I did not experience these things as being harsh. From my perspective, He was simply claiming what was His—which, I was ecstatically happy to know, meant me. Yes, the process of tearing my life apart was painful, but it was a sacrifice I was more than willing to make in return for His fierce devotion to me, His searing love, and His surprising gentleness towards me. In fact, I was so touched by the tenderness of this supposedly “harsh” god that I set about trying to tell other people about this side of Him—only to find out, pretty quickly, that few people believed me.
There was a reason for that: these sides of His personality that I was—and am—fortunate enough to experience were—and are—private, not for public consumption or public display. This is why I don’t write in detail about my daily interactions with Him; many things about our relationship are meant to remain private, and I respect His wishes and keep them that way.
I also learned, as I became more comfortable in our relationship–and at the same time gained more experience, and thus confidence, in my path as a spirit worker–that I could be treated to Odin’s harsher side myself if I pushed Him hard enough. In fact, to my initial astonishment, He could even be cruel when the occasion warranted it. Yes, that’s right, folks, there are situations in which cruelty (or what many people would describe as cruelty) is called for. As an example, the other day I had a conversation with Him that quickly devolved into a fight. (Yes, I do sometimes fight with Him. No, I don’t usually post about that because it too is private—but in this case I need an example, so you get to hear about this one, or at least its vague outlines. I will also insert here that many pagans reading this might be puzzled by the whole notion of having an argument with a god, but when you’ve dealing with real gods who have real agendas and personalities of Their own apart from yours—rather than simply being your own mental sockpuppets–it is not all that surprising.)
Usually, Odin does not bother participating in our fights; He just sits back and listens to me rant and rave at Him about whatever is troubling me at the time, and after a while patiently asks me if I’m done. Sometimes, though, I push too hard, and in this case I was pushing too hard while also stubbornly clinging to an idea about my spirit work practice that I had picked up from one of the blogs I read. Not only was this idea contrary to what He had told me previously about my path, but it was also contrary to what I had realized on my own about it; somehow, however, I had bought into it enough to argue the point. (As a sidenote, Galina’s post about the need to stop caring what anyone other than one’s own gods and spirits think could not have been more timely for me—and this story proves her point that even spirit workers who have been around the block a few times still have to struggle against this temptation pretty much constantly.)
Now. As those of you who belong to Odin yourselves, or have even worked with Him at all, undoubtedly know, He has strong—VERY strong–alpha male wolf tendencies. Meaning, in any relationship, especially with one who belongs to Him, He is very protective and very territorial. While these are good things (at least from my perspective), there is one ground rule you’d better not forget, and that is that HE leads, and YOU follow. Does this make us doormats? Not exactly, because He tends to choose people who are very strong willed and dominant in our own right. Why does He do this? Perhaps because He likes our spirit, perhaps because dominating weak people just wouldn’t be as much of a challenge–and He does love a challenge. Perhaps a little of both. However, what we all come to understand (unless we relish the notion of fighting with Him endlessly–and few of us do) is that if you try to lead Him instead, or ignore His leadership, you are subject to being disciplined–and because Odin is Odin, it will probably hurt. Any attempts I’ve made, through the years, to deviate from this rule have met with disaster; even my plans to write about Him here in this blog this past December failed, because I hadn’t run that plan past Him first and it wasn’t what He had in mind. So He did not take at all well to my parroting back someone else’s blog post at Him, and I—instead of really listening to what He had to say in response to that—pushed on, convinced that if I only framed my own thoughts in just the right way, He would surely agree with me.
Of course, being Odin, He pushed back even harder, and at one point He deliberately said something that was aimed at 1) hurting my feelings by belittling a spirit work task I had done recently (something, I will add, that He had asked me to do), and 2) capturing my attention sharply enough to force me to abandon my faulty line of reasoning. #2 was the true goal of the remark, of course, but #1 still stung quite a bit, and I told Him so. “I’m a bastard, My dear,” He replied, with amusement but absolutely no remorse. He did not mean the born-out-of-wedlock kind. “There is a reason why many people end up hating me; I am quite hate-able. I’m not actually kind, or sweet, or tender. I would rather be those things to you–but I don’t mind pissing you off if that’s what it takes. However, I did not say what I said just for the sake of being an ass, either.” And it was true; after I reflected on the situation further, I had to concede that 1) He had made His point very effectively, and 2) while the comment He had made would have been quite cruel coming from a human husband, He—being Odin and all-was actually being remarkably restrained.
He also spoke truth when He told me quite bluntly that kindness, tenderness, and gentleness are not truly in His nature; He has never claimed otherwise. However, just as His mother Bestla has taught me that it is possible to behave graciously without having a gracious bone in one’s body, I know from my own—admittedly rather idiosyncratic and atypical—experience that Odin can be gentle, patient, tender and even compassionate when you allow Him to be so—and the fact that it is truly not in His basic nature to be these things makes it even more remarkable and touching when He is. As an alpha male wolf, if you challenge Him He will attack; His most basic nature is that of a predator (remember what I said last week about His not being even remotely human?) and, like it or not, this means that it’s best to avoid provoking Him unless you’re prepared for some really, really bad results. However, as an alpha male wolf (and as a king), above all else He protects and cares for His people and His pack. Sometimes this also means protecting us from our own willfulness and stupidity, although there are also plenty of times when He will allow me to do a stupid or willful thing, and let me reap the bad results of it, in order to teach me not to do it again. In order to qualify as pack, though, or to merit His kingly protection, you must be one of His own in addition to being willing to submit to His authority. Asgard—His domain—consists of Aesir and Vanir, Jotnar, alfar, duergar, land spirits, the denizens of the Hunt, and a number of other wights we don’t even have names for; the vast majority of His subjects are not even human. And when dealing with humans, most of whom have long since forgotten Him and pay Him no worship or even respect, most of whom think of Him only in terms of Marvel Comics, movies, or video games, Odin is extremely tribal; He cares—fiercely and with absolute and almost frightening devotion—about those who belong to Him, is curious and fascinated by those who interest Him in some way or who He thinks He may be able to make use of, and beyond that doesn’t really give a flying leap about the bulk of the rest of humanity.
This is a hard truth that is being repeated this week in and around several of the blogs I read: as polytheists, we are interacting with real gods who are, when you get right down to it, real people, and just like us, just like all of the real mortal people we all know, the gods do not love or even like everyone, and They do not love or like everyone equally either, even among Their own. This is even more true of Odin than most. Yes, He is the Allfather, and yes, the myths tell us that He and His brothers created man, but whether or not you take this as literal truth it does not imply that He takes a beneficent view of mankind as a general mass; He would not have names such as Glad-of-War or Bale-Worker, were this the case. Yes, Odin is a king, a caretaker of His people as a whole, but just as a mortal king need not like His individual subjects equally—or, indeed, like them at all, the same is true of Him. He is not an altruistic god; His generosity can be astounding, but it must be earned. He can be compassionate, but it isn’t His primary operating mode, and it too must be earned. A fortunate few experience His gentleness, His tenderness; it is there, it is hinted at in some of His names such as Nourisher and Wish Father (although the latter could easily have darker connotations as well), but—ready for this?–nope, fooled you, these last few things cannot be earned at all; they are His to bestow as He feels so moved, and this is why they are not part of most people’s experience of Him. If they are part of yours, if He has given you the tremendous gift of experiencing that side of His nature, do yourself a favor: do not ever make the mistake of taking it for granted (and I am inserting this part as much as a reminder to myself as to anyone reading this). For it is a gift not lightly given, and it is not given to all.