My Life with Odin (revised 9/18/12)
I first wrote this post in April 2004, in response to questions that kept coming up about my relationship with Odin, the shamanic wanderer-king who appears in slightly different guises as chieftain of the Norse, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon pantheons. At the time, taking sacred marriage vows to a pagan god–in a manner similar to, yet different from, the practice of marriage Lwa in Vodou–was a much more rare phenomenon than it seems to have become today. When I first took my own vows, I enthusiastically (and foolishly) wrote to a notable but rather controversial Heathen elder to share my experiences. I was told in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want to hear about it because most would-be Odin brides she had encountered were proverbial flashes in the pan, and to come back to her when I’d been on this path for ten years.
Well, the ten year anniversary of my spirit marriage is coming up in December 2012, and while I won’t be going back to that particular elder to crow about my achievement, I did want to take advantage of the O letter in this series to post a slightly revised version of my post from way back then.
I was eight years old when He first came to claim me. I thought He was Santa Claus back then; on stormy winter nights, He would come to me as the Wild Hunter with His retinue of ghostly horsemen and howling wolves. Outside my window, He would pause and call my name, inviting me to come and ride with Him. But He frightened me, and the only response I was capable of was to hide under the covers and pretend I didn’t hear, and later on to try to block the entire experience from my memory.
For a long time, I succeeded in doing just that. I was a strange, complex child who gravitated towards adult books and topics that should have been far over my head. I was drawn to the runes from an early age, but some instinct made me keep putting off studying them; some part of me, even though it wasn’t a conscious part, knew that the runes would lead me straight to Him. Similarly, I loved Tolkien and knew he had borrowed heavily from Norse myth, but I avoided reading those actual myths, even while Odin in the guise of Gandalf continued to beckon. I wrote constantly, from the age of seven or so; it was the first craft that called to me, and I knew it was not the Muses who inspired my scribblings. (Yes, I consider writing to be a craft, although it can be elevated to an art on occasion.) I felt strongly drawn to wolves from an early age, and the call of a raven or an eagle was enough to send chills through my entire body; I felt that they were calling to me to come and hunt with them, but I put this down to being an animal lover with an overactive imagination. I was drawn to plants (especially poison plants!) and sensed a life force in them that I was surprised other people did not seem to feel. I heard voices in the wind, knew I could communicate with trees, and often sensed unseen presences around me, presences that I almost could see with my inner sight.
I knew I was very different from most of the people in my immediate circle of family and friends (although there were whispers of an Aunt Bertha who was a witch), but as I began reading about Paganism and Wicca I learned that many people had an extended awareness similar to mine, if not exactly the same. On the subject of Odin Himself, though, I remained deeply in denial. Whenever I encountered a mention or an image of Him, I would quickly turn my attention away before I had time to consider it, before He had a chance to reel me in.
By the age of 13, I was a Wiccanesque Pagan and was particularly drawn towards the magic and history and Britain. And so, true to form, I veered away from that geographical domain and culture as far as I could and concentrated my research on the gods and mysteries of ancient Egypt. Towards the end of my teens, I actually became Wiccan. It seemed close to what I was looking for, but was still not quite right. Then, in my early twenties, I met another woman who not only also heard voices, but actually heard some of the very same ones I did, and was interacting with these noncorporeal beings on a daily basis. If my new friend had been my own age, I might have thought her deluded (as I often thought myself to be), but she was twenty years my senior, held a normal day job at an insurance company, and was by all indications otherwise normal and sane. We began to talk about our experiences with these beings, hold extended conversations with Them via channelling, and even journey, in sleep or trance states, to visit Them in their otherworldy homes.
The entity who was around me the most took the appearance of an older man with silvered hair, not old like Gandalf but strong, virile, and very alluring—eloquent, charismatic, and more than a little dangerous. He came to me in dreams at night and in my waking hours during the day, and I adored Him with every fiber of my being. He did not call Himself Odin but by another name (one with similarly dark connotations), yet He was a guide and protector of the dead, a traveler between the worlds, a warrior, shape-shifter, and powerful sorcerer. In retrospect, it seems to me that His actual identity should have been obvious, yet at the time somehow He kept me from seeing it, or at least from panicking and fleeing. Then again, He was–and is–a consummate master of Disguise.
When He asked me to marry Him, I eagerly agreed, having no idea what that would mean.
Unfortunately, not long after my otherworldly marriage took place I had a falling out with the woman I had been confiding in about all these things. Our friendship broke up, she and I went our separate ways, and without her support–since she was the only other “non-mundane” person I knew at that time, this being before there were droves of spirit workers in the eaves that I could have potentially turned to–I wasn’t able to sustain the conviction that I was married to a discarnate being, or even that I was actually interacting with these entities. Shortly afterwards, I began dating a man who gradually convinced me that either I had imagined the entire thing, or that it was all very nice but not relevant to my everyday, mundane life. This man wanted me to marry him. I was not head over heels in love with him the way I had been with my otherworldly Husband, but he was my friend, we shared artistic interests, and he could offer a measure of security, so eventually I agreed.
At our wedding, instead of the wedding march I had selected, “Ride of the Valkyries” suddenly blared out as I was about to walk down the aisle. Our hapless deejay was perplexed, but the message was clear: my new marriage was doomed from the start, because I already belonged to another. But this was a warning I neither understood nor heeded. Likewise, all the little signs and hints Odin continued to give me through the following years also went unrecognized. Crows and ravens seemed to follow me everywhere, but my new mortal husband was an avid reader of Carlos Casteneda and insisted they were signs for him instead of for me. Meanwhile, Odin’s name kept popping up in unusual contexts. For example, when I went back to college to finish my BA in English literature, one professor suggested that I read the Eddas, while another suddenly asked me one day, apropos of nothing, if I had heard of Asatru. But I was clueless, and all my energy was consumed in my studies and in trying to be a wife, and a mother to my young daughter. The studies earned me straight As, my daughter grew into a beautiful young woman, but wifehood (to both my husbands) was something I was hopelessly failing at.
Fast forward thirteen or so years. I was unhappy in my marriage, having trouble at my job, and feeling spiritually disconnected, almost spiritually dead. Wicca wasn’t working for me, and hadn’t been for a while. Everything simply felt meaningless. Then a sudden crisis at work threw me into a deep depression that lasted for about a year. I started taking Prozac, but even in spite of that was contemplating suicide. At around that time began to feel a huge tug towards exploring my heritage, which is mostly English, French and Scandinavian. As a means of distracting myself from being miserable, I started studying Norse myths and deities, and felt irresistibly drawn to the stories and images of Odin. (The old avoidance patterns had fallen away because I simply didn’t care anymore.) In a bookstore one day, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods demanded to be bought and devoured, and as I read about Mr. Wednesday my entire being cried out “MINE!!!” I began to dream about Odin. I bought a set of those ubiquitous clay runes that comes with a booklet, and enrolled in a rune study course. Finally, on Ebay, I saw a statue of Odin with His wolves and ravens by Oberon Zell and impulsively bought it. When it arrived I set it up on an impromptu shrine and began to talk to it, telling Him about all the reasons I was so unhappy and begging Him to help me if He could.
It was as if a rug had been pulled out from under my life, swiftly and suddenly, and everything I had known went flying. Within days, there was a dramatic answer to my prayers, a tangible answer that proved to me that Odin was not only a real, distinct, individual God, but that He had a very strong and very PERSONAL interest in me. I had not imagined any of it; it was all very fucking real. One night soon afterwards, He showed up in person–or, well, in astral form, as He had once before riding at the head of His Hunt, and then again years later as my dark suitor. And once again, I fell head over heels in love with Him. He claimed me that night (as belonging to Him; claiming me as His wife came a few short weeks later), and also freed me from the depression as if it had never existed. I quit taking a rather high daily dose of Prozac cold turkey–something you’re not ever supposed to do. And I realized that it hadn’t really been Him I had been running from all those years, but myself–my own destiny or wyrd, the Me I had been born to be.
Much of what people say about Him is true: He is demanding, He plays for the highest stakes imaginable, and His folk live turbulent lives that are typically filled with sacrifice and pain. (Often–in my own case included–literal, physical pain.) His lessons themselves are often painful, challenging our cherished notions of who we think we are, shattering our carefully built personas and safe little worlds. He does this not because He wants to hurt us but because He is the God of consciousness–and what could be more painful than the process of peeling away all of the layers of illusion we’ve accumulated and truly coming to know our own selves?
Yet He is also the God of ecstasy, a word that many people misinterpret these days but that means, in essence, release from the shackles of everyday consciousness, from the chains that bind us too tightly to the “consensus” reality, mundane reality. His gifts enable us to rise above pain like a phoenix rising from its own ashes. And it is in this process, this transmutation of pain, that all of His best gifts emerge: the fearless drive of the warrior, the inner flame that fuels the magic of a sorcerer or witch, the flash of brilliance that can elevate a poem or story from mediocre or good to greatness. He did not come by these gifts, or the ability to bestow them, lightly, but through the torment of His own divine flesh. This is a God who has torn out His own living eye in pursuit of inner sight, who hanged Himself for nine nights from the branches of the World Tree in search of the Mysteries. If Odin knows anything, it is pain, and the roads down which it can lead: death, despair, madness, or something that moves through all of these to become sublime. He sympathizes with our pain, shares it, suffers with us–but then dares us to move past it, to become more than it, to let it show us what we can become. (It is for this reason that many people approach Him by means of ordeal rituals that punish and test the flesh, rituals designed to give them the opportunity to transmute their pain. I do not partake in these rituals myself except in very limited fashion–to the extent of getting a tattoo or a piercing, for example, or hiking for longer than I should for a ritual purpose. This is not because I don’t see the value of this approach, but because I suffer from fibromyalgia, which means everything I do involves pain, and it takes very little to challenge myself physically or push my limits. I like to say–only half jokingly–that my entire life is an ordeal ritual.)
Not long after He claimed me, Odin asked me to formally dedicate myself to Him. I began to script a ritual and compose the oath I planned to take, but soon found Him taking over the writing of it, changing the wording and the oath to suit His own purposes. Before long, I realized that what I had written was a wedding ceremony, interwoven with a blood oath and elements of the old worlds traditions involving the sacrifice of the last sheaf at harvest time. This terrified me, because I was already married, at least in name (although I didn’t realize at the time that my first wedding vows had already been to Him!) and because at the time I had only heard of one other person daring to even think of doing such a thing in modern times, outside of Lwa marriage in Vodou. (Although I had come across references to ancient priestesses being considered brides of the Gods they served.) But He insisted, and even in my terror I wanted this, wanted Him, more than I had ever wanted anything in my entire life. So the ceremony took place, and about six months afterwards was repeated in front of a witness, my kindred sister (who is bride to a different God entirely and who is now, years later, my partner). I ordered a wedding band–a handcrafted silver ring engraved with His name in runes–which I have worn for nearly a decade now.
I am often asked what have been the repercussions in my life of swearing myself to Him in this way. Well, the most outwardly visible result was that my mortal marriage broke up shortly afterwards, and since our lifestyle was based on a two-person income my own means were dramatically reduced when my ex moved out. (In plain language, I was dead broke and living hand to mouth for a very, very long time.) But even beyond that, I have been completely and utterly changed, my life as I knew it prior to our Marriage broken apart and remade. My wedding vows made me the living vehicle for a God, His voice, eyes, and often hands in the world, and a second, later set of vows have made me a doorway for a particular group of spirits closely associated with Him. (In neither of these things am I claiming exclusivity; however, aspiring god-spouses of Odin or any other God might be well-advised to go back and re-read the part about the complete life upheavals I experienced. And yes, I say that knowing full well they won’t heed any warnings, no more than I did.)
I think the Gods ask different things of each of Their followers; even those close to the same God can find their experiences to be very different. In my case, my most important wifely duty is to provide a home for my Husband (even as He wanders), and to carry that home in my heart everywhere I go. He is quite clear on both of these points, as well as on the fact that any other Work I do for Him (or for others, with His consent) must rest on the solid ground of our relationship.
Diana Paxson, who was my mentor for a while in my spiritual studies, has been known to warn people that Odin can become the other half of your soul if you let Him, but that it may well be at the expense of your existing human relationships. That has certainly been the case for me, but I can say without reservation that the sacrifices and growing pains have been more than worth it. He demands that I give Him all that I am, but in return He gives me all that HE is–which is a more than fair bargain, believe me. We have not been without our snags and difficulties, but even the crises have brought me closer to Him and deepened our bond. As in any marriage, maintaining the relationship requires work; however in a spirit marriage there is the added difficulty that you may find yourself unable to even maintain contact with your partner if you neglect that work. There is also a danger of losing sight of the fact that a successful marriage is always about asking what you can do for the other person (on both sides of the partnership), rather than asking what they can do for you. This is an especially virulent trap to fall into when your Husband is a God. It can also be a tricky distinction to make when your Spouse is also your Employer (in whatever sense of that word).
All in all, this is not an easy path; it is definitely not for everyone. Even swearing to Odin at all, in any capacity, is not for everyone, and should not ever be undertaken lightly. It is also impossible to know, when starting down such a tangled pathway, where it will ultimately lead. But ten years down the road at the side of my Wanderer, I wouldn’t trade my life, or its constant Companion, for anything in the world. Here’s to the next ten years!