Understanding Odin

When I was a younger man, I had a hard time relating to Odin. The Allfather, the king of the Aesir, seemed somewhat gloomy. He was to me a symbol of the death that awaits all men.

This has changed. I would like to say that my reading and research have changed my view of Odin, but that would be a lie. I consider myself to be quite well read on the subject, but so was I 20 years ago. Maybe a man needs to experience some existential changes in his life to truly understand who the Allfather is. To me, becoming a father was such an existential change. So was seeing the fruit of more than two decades of hard work as a novelist materialize into commercial success.

Having said that, I guess you can tell that I am not bound by the modern concept of being timid about such things. But why should we? My ancestors, the Norse, were not timid about their wealth. They loved to display their wealth and understood very well that it is better to be rich than to be poor. However, they also understood that a poor man with integrity is richer than a wealthy man who has lost his.

The knowledgeable among you are probably thinking that I’m getting my gods mixed up here. If we’re talking about wealth, we should really be talking about Njord, or maybe even Frey. However, I am personally not very concerned about wealth as a means of making my own life more comfortable. I celebrated my bestseller novel by buying a new handle for my forest axe, and I have no plans to spend money on silly things. There is a reason for this, except for the obvious financial one. To me, wealth should be about legacy. It should be about leaving more for your children than what was given to you by your own parents. It should be about how you will be remembered. Nobody remembers a rich jerk in a sports car. But if you put money aside, if you provide for your kids’ education, leave them some money for buying their first apartment, and so on, you will never be forgotten. And this is one of the ways Odin speaks to us. Odin is the timeless god. He is all about how you will transcend after you’re gone. He speaks to us from the past and from the future, and this could be why we may have a hard time understanding him. Well, at least I had. But now, at the age of 45, I actually think he is the one who makes most sense of all the gods.

Now, I should add that I have a much wider understanding of the concept of a god than many people of the Abrahamic faiths have. I believe most of us who relate to the Norse way of life do. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a huge hall filled with the brave and fallen, who are feasting on an unlimited supply of bacon and drinking their heads off every night. A god is to me a symbol, a feeling, something that resonates with the heart and the mind in a way that is hard to explain. When I made a blot to Odin just before the launch of my novel, pouring a horn of mead in the center of a sacred stone circle not far from my house, I did so to strengthen my focus, and because it was the only way I could think of to say thanks to those who lived here a thousand years ago. Some people go to church to remember and give thanks. I go to the stone circles.

So Odin is about legacy. Of course, that goes far beyond how much wealth you leave behind. I would argue that material wealth is nowhere near the most important asset you leave for your kids and your loved ones. Giving your kids good values and a moral compass, teaching them to believe in themselves, etc., is obviously much more essential, but I’ll leave that for another blogpost.

Understanding Odin is understanding who you are going to be when you are no longer around. It is, in this age of passive entertainment and mental shallowness, an idea that many simply cannot, or will not, understand. Furthermore, understanding Odin is about understanding nature. This concept can be equally hard to grasp. But we need to put away our modern (by that, I mean post-heathen) concept of communicating with a god. Nature is a god to me. And Odin is, in the very least, part of that. Have you ever sat alone in a forest when the wind blows through the treetops? There is a voice in that sound. Maybe it is the sound of your own thoughts. Maybe it is your subconscious self. To me, that sound is the voice of Odin. Sometimes he puts words into the thoughts I struggle with. He makes things clearer and helps me focus. And again, when I say “he”, I do not mean a physical being. To me, Odin is a feeling, a force, a way of thinking. To you, he might be something more concrete, and that’s fine. Though some of the more dogmatic individuals out there will disagree, there is no right or wrong here. Understanding Odin is about understanding yourself, and that takes a certain amount of maturity, and for most people, gaining maturity takes time. But Odin is not in a hurry. He will wait.

-Bjørn Andreas Bull-Hansen