(Previously published post from 2015, slightly reworked with a bit added at the end for 2017.)
I have been putting off writing this because I really, really dislike telling anyone they are making a mistake in how they approach a particular deity, that their experiences and perceptions about a deity are incorrect, or in general that they are “doing it wrong.” I’ve been on the receiving end of this sort of thing a few times in the past, and I know that (particularly for a newbie) the effect of having someone more experienced tell you that you’re “wrong” in regard to your UPG or experiences with a Power can be devastating. Even now that I’ve had years of experience myself as a devotee, I am not a fan of telling other people “this is how it is,” or of proclaiming my own experiences of the Powers and the Otherworlds as “Fact,” because the Otherworlds are so much more malleable than the physical plane; different people can and do experience them differently, and the gods are more than capable of manifesting very differently to different people as well. Odin has more than 200 names, each of which demonstrates subtle nuances in the wide range of ways He can present Himself. I am also aware that my own experience of Him is…idiosyncratic, to say the least.
That said, there are a few cautionary notes I can issue from my own experience and observations, with the caveat that, although I’ve been with Him since roughly 2002, these are from MY perspective only. Your mileage may vary, as they say, and it doesn’t make either of us “wrong” if that happens to be the case.
1. He isn’t quite as people-greedy as everyone assumes. When I first started in heathenry, there was a general perception of Odin (along with Freyja) as a kind of “gateway deity”; in other words, He lured people into the tradition (“Come to heathenry, we have mead; also, I’m an awfully charming fellow, am I not? Be dazzled by My Presence,”), then sometimes passed them along to the Person they were really meant to work with. These days, I’m not really involved with mainstream heathenry anymore so I have no idea if this “gateway deity” notion is still a Thing in those circles. However, I have noticed that in the wider polytheist community, when Odin makes an appearance in someone’s life that person tends to assume He is there to claim them. This is a 360 degree pivot from the assumption that part of His role–as King, and as a god of liminal spaces, including passageways and transitions such as entering a new religious tradition–is to usher people in, to allow them access and welcome them, and then introduce them around.
Now, obviously this is not always where His direct involvement ends, since of course He DOES claim people. But when confronted with the intensity of Odin’s presence, with His charisma and with the fact that He (again, along with Freyja) is one of the two gods in the tradition who basically oozes sex appeal as part of His very essence…well, people DO become dazzled, and I truthfully can’t blame them. But I have seen enough cases of people who have become infatuated with Odin and are then later passed along to a different deity entirely to know that He approaches people for a variety of reasons (not just to claim them), and it’s best to take your individual experience of Him at face value, without making comparisons or parallels to what you’ve read in other people’s blogs, etc. This is especially true if you read a disproportionate number of spirit worker blogs.
2. Snorri notwithstanding, bolstering His forces for Ragnarok is not Odin’s be-all, end-all goal. Of course, if I actually believed in Ragnarok as a Thing, I might buy the concept of a people-greedy Odin, since a general does need troops. However, given the timing of the Ragnorok mythos (the references to it all date from post-Christian writings, unless I’m very much mistaken) and its similarity to the Christian end-times prophecies…sorry, guys, I just don’t believe this is an authentic piece of lore to which ancient Scandinavian Heathens actually subscribed. (Also, it is NEVER mentioned anywhere other than Scandinavia; collecting souls to bolster His forces for Ragnarok wasn’t a goal for Anglo-Saxon Woden, for example–though, as we’ve covered, Woden’s character as a deity is somewhat different from that of His Scandinavian counterpart.)
3.Partly because I don’t believe in Ragnorok, I also don’t buy the idea of Odin as a god of “the-end-justifies-the-means.” He IS intensely pragmatic, often calculating, and He DOES lay His plans years–sometimes decades or centuries–in advance. He is also not above manipulating individuals as He needs to if the success of His plans calls for that. He is a King, and all of the above are things a King sometimes must do; as the ruler of a kingdom and a people, He has to look at a bigger picture, a wider vision. Sometimes this can make people feel as though their own personal needs and goals were disregarded, but because Odin is Odin, He knows a good deal more about how Wyrd will play out than most of us do, and His long-range plans always take into account what will serve most of His people in the best way possible (i.e. the “greater good”). It is not uncommon for Him to dismiss His own needs and wants if it serves whatever greater good He is pursuing. However, this does not mean that individual people and their feelings do not matter to Him, or that He will sacrifice absolutely anyone or anything to meet His goals. Odin is a master tactician, and recognizes that sometimes one must take two steps back in order to move one step forward. This can seem like a loss or a sacrifice from the perspective of someone who only experiences the step back, but does not also see the forward progress–and this, of course, is one reason why so many people dislike and fear Him.
4. Despite the lack of people-greediness, Odin genuinely likes people. They fascinate Him, He enjoys spending time with them, and He is endlessly curious about the things they do and why they do them. He does NOT see people simply as tools with which to accomplish some goal He has in mind; He values them and is intrigued by them. If He shows up in your space it could be simply because you’ve caught His attention and He wants to know more. He also likes to check up on people who are attached in some way to His close family members (this is part of His role as head of the family and also head of His kingdom), so if you’re devoted to Loki or Thor, for example, you should NOT be surprised if Odin shows up to say hi (or even to question or challenge you), and you shouldn’t necessarily assume He is there for any reason other than curiosity and a proprietary interest in His People’s people. Unless, of course, He tells you otherwise, which brings us to…
5. Odin is not cryptic. If Odin is anything at all, it is direct. We have a joke in our household about a time, years ago, Jo was out walking when He showed up and told her she was “in a bad place.” She thought He was making a metaphorical observation about the fact that she was feeling depressed, but Odin NEVER simply states the obvious; He considers that a waste of both His time and yours. What He said to her was a literal warning; she was standing on a bad spot of land, where a spirit ended up attaching itself to her, and there ended up being a bit of a mess to deal with because she did not take that warning literally. Despite His connection with poetry, in my experience Odin does NOT speak cryptically or in metaphors; He means exactly what He says. If you can’t understand what He is saying, you need to spend some time figuring it out (look at the frame of reference, for starters) because chances are it’s something you NEED to know.
6. Odin does not hold Himself above other sincere seekers. Odin’s entire path is based on wisdom, knowledge, power (read: self-actualization), and the pursuit, application, and benefits of all of those things. These three concepts cover a rather wide gamut, spanning His role as King as well as His experiences as Wanderer, Shaman, and Seeker. He gave an eye for a single draught from the Well of Memory, sacrificed His honor for the Mead of Poetry, and hanged Himself from a tree to obtain the runes; these actions show you what He values most and prioritizes, as a deity. Despite this, He does not hold Himself up as being THE MASTER as compared with the rest of us; He is a fellow Seeker and Explorer–one who has been on the path longer, for sure, but not Someone who regards Himself as inherently superior, all-knowing, or perfect. He is a prime example of the saying that “the more you know, the more you realize you still have to learn.” Odin is a perpetual student of the workings of Wyrd and the Universe, and He derives endless joy and fascination from His never-ending quest to learn more, see more, know more, and do more. Sure, He is a deity, so He is technically “above” us in that sense, but He has made it clear to me that in the context of our relationship (for example) we are equals. I’d wager the same is true in all His relationships.
7. Odin does not mess with people or make their lives miserable just for kicks. Throughout my years of being involved with Him , I’ve run into many, many people who have what I call “Odinphobia”; they have encountered His reputation for turning people’s lives upside-down, and as a result they want nothing to do with Him. To a certain extent, this reputation is well-earned. Odin is a catalyst; if you become involved with Him in any kind of close capacity and there is something in your life that needs fixing, you can bet He will fix it, and if you resist Him this may happen in a way that you end up not liking. However, this generally only happens with people who have willingly given Him power over their lives, via an oath. I can speak from experience that the process of having your life unfucked by Him can be messy, painful, and prolonged, and is not at all a pleasant experience. However, I can ALSO speak to the fact that, in my case, it was absolutely necessary. I would not be where I am today–living in Oregon with a wonderful and supportive wife, and at least still working from home and doing what I love, if no longer enjoying the success I previously had–if He had not put me through that process.
However, if your relationship with Him is a more casual one–if, for example, you want Him to teach you the runes and He agrees, or you just want to get to know Him–He isn’t likely to tear your life apart or turn it upside down just because. To enact that sort of sweeping change, He has to have the right to do so–which would generally be because you’ve given Him that right, via oaths of some kind. He does not make a habit of just waltzing into random people’s lives and destroying them without any reason whatsoever.
And added to refresh this post for 2017:
9. Odin is not a fan of racism, white supremacy, neo-Nazis, the Alt-Right, or any of the other rampant garbage swimming around the country currently. Oh, make no mistake, people with these wrongheaded attitudes have been around all along–white supremacists used to occasionally rear their heads at heathen pub moots when I was organizing them back in Philly–but our current administration has given them license to come out and show their collective asses even more so than usual. Do I sound angry? Yeah, when the valknut is on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate symbols, and I have to counsel people of good intent against wearing or displaying it openly, you bet I’m pissed. But this crap has to do with some of the idiots Odin attracts (the ones who are looking for a certain type of alpha male deity and either don’t mind or actively embrace the Nazi co-opting of some of the ancient Norse symbols), not with Odin Himself. Odin is a Wanderer, a Traveler, which is the exact opposite of a xenophobe. To travel widely, as the lore (and extensively shared UPG) tells us He does, you have to be willing to subject yourself, habitually, to being a foreigner, a stranger, an outsider…an immigrant, in a sense. If you’re going to make a career out of asking people to accept you, you have to be willing to accept them in return. That makes the entire notion of racism rather counter-productive, doesn’t it?
Also, another thought to chew on: if Odin were to show up in the US today, chances are the border patrol would find a problem with His paperwork and either detain Him or send Him away. (For their sakes, hopefully the latter.)