Odin (Wōden, Odhin, Othin, Óðinn)
Odin was the ruler of the Aesir, a group of deities in Norse* mythology. Sometimes called Allfather, Odin played a central role in myths about the creation and destruction of the world. He was the god of battle and also of wisdom, magic, and poetry. His name means “fury” or “frenzy,” the quality of fierce inspiration that guided warriors and poets alike. The name of the fourth day of the week, Wednesday, comes from Woden’s-day, the god’s Old English name. Odin was married to Frigg, the guardian of marriage.
Odin spanned the history of the Norse mythic world from its creation to its destruction. Before the world existed, he and his two younger brothers, Vili and Ve, killed the primal frost giant Ymir. They used Ymir’s bones, blood, and flesh to form the universe. Odin arranged the heavens for the gods, the middle world for humans and dwarfs, and the underworld for the dead. He then created the first man and woman from an ash tree and an elm tree.
Among the deities said to have been Odin’s children were Balder and Thor. Odin—the favorite deity of princes, nobles, and warriors—came to be seen as the supreme Norse god, the one to whom the other deities turned for help and advice. He ruled them from his palace Valhalla in the heavenly realm called Asgard. As the god of war, Odin watched over warriors who fell in battle. Valkyries carried the fallen ones straight to Valhalla. There Odin feasted them and prepared them for Ragnarok, the final battle in which the gods and the world were doomed to perish.
Credited with great wisdom, including knowledge of magic and divination, he had paid a high price for this gift, however, giving one of his eyes in exchange for a drink from the well of Mimir. The waters of this well, which seeped from among the roots of the World Tree Yggdrasill, contained great wisdom. Odin stabbed himself with his magical spear, called Gungnir, and hung from Yggdrasill for nine days and nights in a living death. This self-sacrifice gave him knowledge of the runes, the Norse symbols used for writing and fortune-telling.
Odin liked to wander the earth in the form of an old man wearing a blue cloak and a wide-brimmed hat that hid his one-eyed face. Often he was accompanied by wolves and ravens. His ravens Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Memory) traveled around the world and the underworld each day, returning to tell their knowledge-loving master what they had seen. Odin occasionally rode an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir, who could travel at great speed through the air and across water.