Who is Loki?

There are a lot of theories out there about what kind of god Loki is, and there are theories out there that say He isn’t a god at all. Some theories claim that He is a god of fire, of chaos, destruction. He has been called the Norse equivalent of the Christian devil, although that is a pretty easily discredited claim.

Of all the gods, there is perhaps no other god with so many contradictory theories as to their identity. Ironically enough, this is perhaps the best indication of the type of god Loki is. He is a god of cataclysmic change and of ambiguity. He defies being explained by conventional means. To walk Loki’s path is to be confronted with difficult truths and constant change. No wonder, then, that so many heathens are afraid of contending with Loki.

Change tends to make people uncomfortable, and Loki, as a master of ambiguity, often leaves people disquieted, and that is perhaps the main reason that so many people try to force him into this mold of “evil trickster.” But tricksters aren’t inherently evil, and Loki is unique among tricksters.

Loki has been called the closer because He gets things done. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this previously, but I’ve always viewed Loki as Odin’s shadow. Not his literal shadow, but the one doing the dirty deeds Odin Himself can’t do. Loki can go places that Odin can’t, and He won’t be judged for it – or, rather, His reputation is already in such disarray that He can’t really tarnish it further – and so, Loki can do things that the other gods can’t do.

Loki’s morality is very situational, and I think that is perhaps one of the strongest reasons I am drawn to Him as much as I am. I am drawn to Odin because he represents the ideal, but Loki represents reality. Odin can’t be seen as less than ideal among the gods he leads, as a leader with a tarnished reputation tends to quickly fall out of a leadership role, but Odin knows that it is impossible to do things above-board 100% of the time. That is, I believe, where Loki comes into play.

Even though Loki’s morality may be more situational than Odin’s, I do think that Loki has his own moral code. There are lines that even Loki won’t cross, and I think it’s important to understand what those lines are. He never hurts children, and, while he plays tricks on some of the goddesses, he never hurts them. In fact, except for shredding someone’s dignity, Loki is a fairly non-violent god. I wouldn’t say he’s a peaceful god, however, as he does love to stir things up, and he did play a role in Baldr’s death. He’s not rainbows and sunshine, but he’s not doom and gloom either.

I think, in terms of personality, Loki falls somewhere between the two extremes. Or, rather, he takes the two extremes and bends them and forces them to meet in the middle. He is the master of extremes and adept at creating a middle ground. In some ways, I’d say Loki is not only the god of change and ambiguity, but also the god of compromise.

Still, the question, “Who is Loki?” is not a question easily answered. The truth is, Loki has a million different aspects, and He shows only the aspects that are necessary to each person that approaches Him. The Loki I am familiar with may not be the Loki any other heathen is familiar with because Loki is such a versatile god. That is the real difficulty of following a trickster god – there’s no way to truly define Him, as there’s no way Loki will ever let Himself get pinned down to a single definition.

Loki’s Path: Non-conformity

I’ve talked before about how Loki’s path revolves around change. While that’s a large part of walking His path, there’s a lot more to it. To walk Loki’s path, you really need to be comfortable with ambiguity and abstraction, and you need to have a sense of humor because weird things are going to happen to you. A lot of weird things, in fact. That’s just Loki being affectionate, and it’s really important to learn to look at the weird obstacles life throws at you as Loki’s way of letting you know He’s around.

To walk Loki’s path, it’s definitely necessary to be comfortable with weird. He has a tendency to turn the status quo on its head, and He doesn’t care at all what society has to say about who He should be. He just does His own thing, consequences be damned.

That’s one reason that I think that the Loki portrayed in the Thor movies is just another aspect of Loki. Of all the Gods, He is the one who tends to appear the most in fictional settings. Tricksters lend themselves to the screen. Granted, I don’t view Loki as a villain the way the Thor movies try to paint Him, and the mythology is all wrong, but a movie is just fiction adapted to the screen.

I’ve read articles upon articles about how falsely portraying Norse mythology to the millions of people who watched the Thor movies was misleading and how that representation of the mythology was a “crime” against Norse pagans. I, however, have the audacity (if you will) to disagree with that assessment. I look at those movies as the Gods saying, “Hey, we’re still around, and we’re not going to let any of you forget about it.”

Other articles, of course, have condemned Marvel for “Christianizing” the myths with the way Odin kicks Thor out of Asgard. Getting upset by that is counterproductive, however, as it is a fact of life that Christianity is the major religion in the United States, so more people are going to respond to movies that represent that “savior” mentality. Instead of looking at Marvel as the bad guy, I feel like it makes more sense to say the Gods know how to make Their presence known by adapting to what will appeal to more people. In some ways, the Gods are marketing Themselves, if only to announce that They are still around. If a person is meant to find the Norse Gods, then that person will find Them, whether it is through reading the Poetic Edda, the Norse myths, or watching the Thor movies.

I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me and want to argue that point, but honestly, I’m fed up with every person who feels that the path they walk can only be walked in one way. Every path walked in life has branches, just like Yggdrasil branches into nine worlds. Loki’s path is about exploring the smaller branches, about seeing what is out there, and about not making assumptions.

I remember doing an assignment for a history class a couple semesters back where I had to find information about people who were infamous for being monsters. I found a striking resemblance between the people I researched and Loki because a lot of the people I researched were branded monsters simply because they went against the mainstream culture of their day.

Loki, I suppose, can be called the face of counter-culture, of true nonconformity. Anyone who identifies as pagan in a Christian culture is at least slightly nonconformist to begin with, but that isn’t what I mean by nonconformity. Nor am I referring to the group that most people assume is meant by the term nonconformist, which is generally the goth group.

No, what I mean by nonconformity is more internal. Nonconformists tend to look like everyone else – there’s no need to announce that you don’t agree with mainstream society – but the opinions and beliefs held are radically different than the mainstream of any particular group.

While being pagan is a non-conformist action towards the larger mainstream religious society of Christianity, there is a mainstream group in paganism, and that is Wicca. There’s nothing wrong with people who identify with Wicca – I don’t mean to imply that. But to experience Wicca as the only pagan path and arbitrarily decide that it is the right path without a solid reason as to why it’s the right path is a type of conformity.

If you are Wiccan and you can explain exactly why you are Wiccan, then you aren’t Wiccan just because the majority of pagans are Wiccan. You have deeply seated beliefs and reasons that you can explain, and those reasons are incredibly personal. Nonconformity, at its deepest level, is about putting your personal beliefs and principles over the principle beliefs and ideals put forth by the society you find yourself within, whether we are talking about mainstream American culture or mainstream religious culture.

Even in Asatru, there’s a mainstream way to do things, and if you fail to do them, there’s a tendency to find yourself shunned. Many kindreds disavow Loki, not including Him in their practice, and those kindreds sow distrust towards Loki in their members.

In general terms, Asatru is a religion that is seen as having a practical grounding, and magic (excluding seidr and galdr) are seen as ridiculous, frivolous, and unrealistic. To voice dissenting opinions on this is to invite criticism at best and outright hostility at worse.

The truth is, the mainstream Asatruars expect every other Asatruar to follow certain unwritten guidelines of behavior. Choosing to deviate from that pattern of behavior can result in ostracizing others, and people who are ostracized tend to look for other, easier paths to follow. No one wants to feel ostracized for their beliefs, and, in some ways, mainstream Asatruar tend to chase people away. It is a much more exclusive pagan faith than Wicca, although Wicca has its own set of mainstream expectations.

With Loki being the face of nonconformity, it’s fairly easy to see how a Lokean can feel alienated and ostracized and why Loki is considered by many the God of outsiders, or of society’s misfits. We have a tendency not to fit into the molds that people shove our way, telling us we need to behave in a particular way or believe certain things.

Loki looks at all of those “you should” comments and dismisses them. He doesn’t even bother to ask why, just goes on about the business of being Himself. And that’s what Loki’s path is ultimately about – having the courage to be who you are, no matter what. So, for those people out there who think of Loki as a coward, I have this to say – there is nothing more frightening than standing outside the mold society has prepared for you, knowing that people are going to shun you for daring to be yourself, and then being yourself anyway.

Freyr’s Path: Nobility

Nobility is a reserve of inner strength – a type of character strength that not everyone develops. Ancient cultures used to assume that nobility meant being born to a certain bloodline. In modern times, we view that type of nobility as outdated and antiquated. But is it? Were the ancients wrong about nobility being a blood-right?

I’m talking about nobility today because Freyr’s path is a noble path. Yes, he is associated with fertility and considered a very lustful god in some ways, but that isn’t the aspect of Him that I wish to talk about – enough people have done that. What I find interesting about Freyr’s path is the raw inner strength it requires to walk and the noble grace that is required.

When I say raw inner strength, I am talking about mental strength. Physical strength may also be present, but mental strength is the biggest component of a person’s noble character traits. When I say mental strength, I mean a combination of intellectual and emotional strength. To act nobly, we must be able to be smart about our emotional reactions.

If someone threatens my family, then I will react to that threat. That doesn’t mean jumping straight into a fistfight. If the threat is just a threat that hasn’t escalated to actual violence, then jumping into a physical fight isn’t going to do any good. Instead, I have found it’s better to assess the situation. Has the person threatened my family as a joke or is the threat a serious one? If it’s a serious one, have I done something to provoke the threat? If not, why is there a threat being issued at all? What is the mental stability of the person issuing the threat?

In each case, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked before action is taken because the answers to those questions tell me which action to take. Acting with nobility doesn’t mean seeing a snake in the grass and then leaping to kill it immediately. It’s seeing a snake in the grass and asking, “Does this snake actually mean me harm?” Sometimes, the answer is yes. Other times, the answer is no. Even if the answer is yes, direction action is not always the best action.

Freyr is a political genius. He maneuvers the other Gods with a grace that even Loki admires, and that says a lot, considering how much disregard Loki holds for a great deal of the Gods. Freyr makes alliances – he is the Lord of Alfheim, despite not being an elf himself. That, in and of itself, speaks a great deal to me about his strength of character. Someone who is able to go into a realm and become the Lord of the Elves despite not being an elf Himself – well, that’s impressive.

To do something like that requires an incredible amount of political maneuvering, something that used to be done by the nobility of the ancient cultures. They navigated the world by striking bargains and forging alliances. Imagine our political system free of corruption and that is what nobility should be. Informed politicians making educated decisions instead of conforming to popular opinion.

In ancient cultures, nobles weren’t voted into power – they were granted power by their kings. There was no fear of losing the power, as kings didn’t grant nobility to every family who wished for it. I’m not saying no corruption existed there, but I am saying that the corruption was much less then than it is now. Because then you had one king serving his self-interests and granting nobility to those who would support him. Now, we have two parties full of individuals serving self-interests with no true central figurehead, all concerned with popular opinion and what they have to do to stay in power. There’s a huge contrast.

I suppose the best way to put this is that Freyr’s path represents what nobility could be if it were untarnished by corruption. Freyr shows how a lord should behave with his vassals, valuing every insight given and judging every option carefully before making decisions that impact his kingdom. He is a lordly ruler, which makes since, considering his name means Lord.

Some people think about nobility as the stuffy old English guys with handkerchiefs in their back pockets, interested only in the time it takes them to get away from business. But that isn’t how I view nobility. Not only because Freyr is such a shining example of true nobility but also due to my own family history.

On my mother’s side, I am tied to Scotland and a member of the Clan McGregor. The McGregor motto translates from Gaelic as “Royal is my race.” Originally, the McGregors were one of 8 noble lines in Scotland with ties to royalty. I remember my mother telling me that we were of royal blood when I was a small child, and that in the first few seconds when someone of royal blood bled, the blood was purple instead of red. That is obviously 100% false but it was still an amusing tale. But no, I did not go around cutting myself to discover if my mother was lying to me.

Anyway, to get back on topic, it is generally said that there is no actual proof that one’s blood makes them royal. That no one is born to rule. I used to agree with that, but lately, I’ve started to wonder if that’s just a product of the modern age. We are all pretty vehemently against being seen as inferior to anyone else, so any worldview that suggests the opposite tends to be shot down fairly violently.

Royalty in countries with monarchies is a blood right. You are either born into royalty or you aren’t. It has nothing to do with wealth – there have been incredibly poor kings and queens in the history of the world. Doesn’t mean they were any less royal. Logic decrees that royalty must be based on blood-rights.

Most people also don’t think of blood as being all that important. Old family feuds are disregarded because “we don’t do that anymore.” And yet, when I was a child, I went to school with a Campbell. Before I even knew about the violent feud between the McGregors and Campbells – before I even knew that I was descended from the McGregors – I hated him. He hated me. We had an incredibly strong mutual hatred for the other.

By the time I reached high school, I knew about the McGregors feud with the Campbells, so I did what I could to avoid him. One day, however, completely out of nowhere, he came up to with a soda in his hand and threw it at me. I slapped him. Then I walked away before it could escalate. So, I have had personal experience with my bloodline tying me into a blood-feud that I certainly didn’t start. They are called blood-feuds for a reason – they transcend generations and the knowledge of their existence doesn’t matter. I don’t know too much about the logistics of blood-feuds and how they end, but I know they are never settled peacefully. I still get angry thinking about him, and I am generally a rational person. If it had been anyone but him who threw the soda at me, I could have laughed it off as a joke. That’s what I mean – blood-feuds make you irrational.

So, if blood-feuds are real, then it isn’t a hard stretch to imagine that blood-rights for nobility are real as well. My family line has been traced back to ancient kings of Scotland, so I know that I am descended from a noble line. In my immediate family, I grew up poor, but I never experienced the “trailer park” world that is a common story amongst many impoverished families. Instead, I was taught to behave properly. My mother insisted on proper etiquette, and I still find it disquieting when I am in public and someone does something crass. Formality matters to me in a way that it doesn’t matter to others, and I’m keenly aware of it. I’m also aware of how obnoxious it can make me seem, so I do my best to tone it down when I’m around people who don’t appreciate it. Adapting to social situations is a political maneuver as much as forging alliances or making bargains, so it fits within Freyr’s realm.

Talking about this raises a lot of controversial topics that most people prefer to shy away from, but I don’t think that is a good way to represent Freyr. He doesn’t shy away from difficult situations or controversial topics, so I won’t either. I think that Freyr’s path may be one of the hardest ones to walk because it involves understanding many perspectives and then deciding on what is good for the whole rather than for each individual, and the good of the whole must matter more. Understanding priorities is a big theme with Him, and I think the “whole vs. individual” thing is best understood by thinking of it in a family context. When parents make decisions, they try to do what’s best for their children (assuming good parenting skills) even if those decisions anger the child. Nobility, in my mind, is the same concept applied on a much broader scale.

Loki and Limits

I don’t think I’ve ever explained why I feel so drawn to Loki, aside from the fact that he’s a lot of fun, of course. The first time I really felt drawn to him was the first time I read the Lokasenna (a.k.a. Lokabrenna). Sure, he’s crashing a party and insulting everyone, but the reason he’s crashing the party is because he didn’t receive an invite – an insult of its own. I can’t really blame him for taking offense. But in the Lokasenna, Loki wields the truth as his weapon and gets accused of being a liar. I think this is mostly because Gods and humans alike don’t like having their dirty laundry aired in public – Loki has no qualms about airing it for them.

The draw though, was that he was telling the truth and being called a liar. That is something that I can relate to incredibly well, and I have a few memorable stories to illustrate that fact. When I was young – around 9 or 10, me and my sister were horsing around, and she kicked a ceiling tile loose above the top bunk of our bunk bed. I was honest with my mother, but my sister had lied and said I did it, and then I ended up getting in trouble for lying.

As a child, I used to sprain my ankle a lot, but I’ve never been one that cries when I’m in pain. I used to get called a liar a lot for that. Just to illustrate my level of pain tolerance – I have two metal rods in my right leg from a car accident from ~ten years ago. I was told that I screamed when I got pulled out of the vehicle, but I didn’t cry at all. I did go into shock (thus the not remembering the screaming).

The worst experience I had with being called a liar – I was 22 (about 6 years ago now), and I had gallstones. One night, I was in terrible pain, and I took two Vicodin (then prescribed for the metal rods in my leg) hoping they would help. They didn’t. I sat up all night, unable to sleep. In the morning, when my roommate woke up, I asked her to take me to the hospital. She refused, and it was fairly clear that she didn’t believe I was in as much pain as I said I was. I gave up trying to get her to take me, and I drove myself to the hospital. When I got there, the doctor who saw me rushed me into surgery right away – I had to have my gallbladder removed.

So, I have had quite a few experiences in life where I’ve been accused of lying even when I’ve told the truth. To say I never lie would, of course, be a lie, but I don’t go out of my way to lie. For the most part, I am honest. I’m not even a fan of white lies. Luckily, I’m not often asked for fashion advice, so I don’t have to worry about the “Do I look fat in this?” type of questions. Plus, people generally don’t ask those types of questions anyway.

So, I found myself drawn to Loki because I felt we both had experiences with telling the truth yet being called a liar, and we kind of instantly clicked. I mean, he likes to “steal” my socks (he always gives them back), and that’s not something that anyone but a friend would do. That doesn’t mean Loki lets me get away with lying to myself, though – I think he detests self-deceit more than the other Gods do.

What I find kind of ironic, however, is that I have a natural dislike of boundaries. I hate being told what I can and cannot do. Usually, if someone tells me I can’t do something, I find myself wanting to prove them wrong. That has gotten me into trouble over the years, but it has also gotten me out of some tight spots. The ironic part of this is that I am very good at designing boundaries. I can set rules and create systems that work astonishingly well because I am very, very good at finding the loopholes. Granted, I have trouble making myself abide by the systems that I create, but I have seen first-hand how effective they are with other people (I ran a guild on World of Warcraft for awhile, and I am currently the President of the Global Students Club at my school).

In this way, I feel that I emulate Loki. Because Loki doesn’t have a problem with rules – he just doesn’t obey them. In fact, I think the slogan “Rules were made to be broken” may have originally been a Lokean saying. There are some areas, though, where even Loki won’t break the rules. Except I think that it’s more that he doesn’t see a need to break the rules in those areas than a desire to abide by them. I have areas like that too – I will abide by certain rules until I see a need to break them. Or until the rules start to feel stifling.

I think it’s because of how similar our temperaments are, in some respects, that I find it much easier to relate to Loki than I do some of the other Gods. Loki is also much more actively involved in the human realm – I think he enjoys the human world.

Anyway, that’s my take on Loki, telling the truth, and the irony of limits. I hope I didn’t ramble too much and that all of this made sense! If it didn’t, let me know, and I will be more than willing to clarify.

Trading with Tyr

I feel that the relationships I have with all the Gods are interesting, but I have to admit that my experience with Tyr today was fairly intriguing. Usually when one of the Gods wants something from me, I get a feeling about what offering they would like. Loki likes sweets. Odin seems fairly impartial, but he does like an occasional drink. Freyja likes candles. In any case, all of the Gods like different things. When one of the Gods wants something from me, I try to acquiesce with their desires.

Today was the first time Tyr really asked me for anything. As I was leaving school today, I got this sense that Tyr really wanted me to stop at the Mexican restaurant where one of my friends works. He wanted Mexican food, so I went in and sat down. My friend was working and she came up to me and asked what I wanted. I had no idea what Tyr wanted, so I decided to leave it up to Him by telling my friend to order whatever she thought was best. I ended up with a chicken chimicanga with rice and guacamole salad. Tyr didn’t want the chimichanga, but He did want the rice and salad along with the tortilla chips that come as an appetizer.

As I ate my portion of the meal, my friend came and sat with me and asked me if I would go by Wal-Mart and get her some queso fresco because she hadn’t eaten all day and she really wanted some queso fresco. I told her I would, and she said that she would give me the chimichanga meal in return. When she asked me, I wasn’t expecting a trade of any sort – she suggested it, and I realized that Tyr was making His presence felt through the trade. Finding a balance is what He does best, after all.

So I finished eating and boxed up what Tyr wanted to bring Him as an offering when I got home, then went to Wal-Mart and bought my friend her queso fresco. When I got home, I found a tree and laid the food out beside the tree, then covered it with the leaves that surrounded it. That is how I normally leave food offerings because I feel it honors both the Gods and the land spirits where I live when I do so. Tyr was happy with that, so I felt fulfilled. I don’t know about other people, but when I leave offerings that are accepted, I get this sense of what is almost bliss.

Anyway, I started thinking about what I had to go through in order to obtain Tyr’s food, and I think that part of the offering itself was the trade that was enacted between me and my friend. I do find it interesting, though, that Tyr wanted Mexican food but didn’t just ask me to pick Him something up the way the other Gods might. It makes me wonder if all of the offerings I end up giving Him are going to be preceded by some sort of barter like the one that occurred between me and my friend. I’m okay with the answer to that question being yes because the experience was another one confirming the very real presence of the Gods in my life, and I count all such experiences as blessings.

Sigyn in Runes

Sigyn is one of the goddesses that gets some of the least love in the lore we have, but I found myself drawn to her for the role she played when Loki was bound. While everyone else deserted him, she stayed and suffered with him. Sigyn did everything she could to ease his pain, catching the venom in the bowl until the bowl could no longer hold it.

Others have said that Sigyn was cruel because she didn’t free Loki from his imprisonment, but she didn’t have the power to free him from the chains of Odin. I’ve never felt that Loki ever held that against her, and I’ve always gotten the impression that he is grateful for the respite she was able to offer him.

In my experience, Sigyn is one of the kindest, warmest goddesses of the pantheon. She’s a quiet homebody, but she has a big heart. And she’s incredibly loyal – who else would have stayed by Loki’s side, watching him suffer through such an ordeal while helpless to do anything about it? And yet, she doesn’t mind the fact that Loki sleeps around. The impression I get is that the reason she doesn’t care is that she knows that she is the woman he always comes back to – after all, she is his wife.

Because there isn’t much lore about Sigyn, it seems appropriate to do a rune reading of her name. The only story we have about her is the story of her role in Loki’s torment after he’s bound, and that doesn’t really say much.

Sigyn’s name breaks down into the follwing runes:

Sowilo, Isa, Gebo, Jera, Nauthiz

Sowilo is the rune of the sun, of success, and of victory. The sun is a nurturing force, and I’ve always found it interesting that the Sun is a goddess in Norse mythology and a god in other mythologies. In any case, this rune describes Sigyn’s warm, caring nature.

Isa is the rune of ice, or of stillness. In rune work, it usually indicates a time of stagnation, although I personally prefer to look at such periods as times of consistency or stability. From that viewpoint, Sigyn is very consistent in her attitude and manner – a perfect counterbalance to Loki’s chaotic nature.

Gebo is the rune of partnership or gift-giving. Here, Sigyn’s hospitable nature can be seen. As I have said, she is a warm goddess and always welcomes visitors. There’s a serenity to her that the other goddesses don’t have, and I find her presence to be one of the most comforting.

Jera is the rune of harvest, or of plans come to fruition. Perhaps in her original function, Sigyn was a grain goddess, but that’s something we may never know for sure. Too much of her lore has been lost.

Nauthiz is the rune of need or need-fire, which indicates resistance or friction. I think that it is this element in Sigyn that allows her to handle Loki’s inconsistency. He is very different from her, and she from him, but they have learned to work together out of necessity.

As I write this, I realize how much of Sigyn’s lore has been lost, and it saddens me. She is a goddess worth knowing, and yet, she is one that few know at all.

 

Odin in Runes

I’ve been going through “Teutonic Religion” by Kvedulf Gundarsson, as well as “Runelore” by Edred Thorsson, and I came upon an interesting idea. It seems such an obvious thing to do that I almost feel silly that I never thought about doing it before. Gundarrson states that the runes of Wodan’s name shows Odin’s nature, and I found that pretty interesting. Of course, I think to get a full picture of Odin, you’d have to do a runic analysis of every single one of his kennings, and that would be an incredibly difficult feat.

Since I have “Runelore,” I decided to consult it for some more in-depth meanings of the runes because the simple meanings don’t do justice to an analysis. I’m going to stick with “Wodan” rather than “Odin” because I feel that the runes that make up Wodan give a more complete impression of him than the runes for Odin, considering Odin is the English version of his name.

The runes for Wodan are:

Wunjo – Joy

Othala – Inheritance

Dagaz – Dawn

Ansuz – Ase (Odin)

Nauthiz – Need

I’ve provided the simple one-word translation for those who aren’t familiar with the runes. Now, I am going to go more in-depth with each one and explain why those runes explain Odin’s path so succinctly.

Wunjo

Thorsson has quite a bit to say on the subject of the runes, and his interpretation of Wunjo is an intriguing one. What struck me the most about his interpretation of this particular rune was this: “The wunjo marshals diverse but sympathetic forces and/or beings to a common purpose.” Overall, it’s a rune that promotes harmony and peace – an aspect of Odin that few people appreciate. This is the aspect that gives Odin his All-father status. He is a leader of the community, looking for ways to keep his people prospering and healthy. I also find it interesting that Thorsson uses the phrase “sympathetic forces” because Odin rules runework, which is a type of sympathetic magic.

Othala

On Othala, Thorsson has this to say: “Othala describes the essence of the mystery of the ebb and flow between states of order and chaos – the great cosmic state of flux. However, it celebrates the state of balance obtained when forces of consciousness have established their enclosures interacting with the powers of the exterior darkness.” This is obviously a much more metaphysical interpretation of the rune than “inheritance.” It still refers to inheritance because families are enclosed units within larger groups, and the smaller group turns to the larger group while maintaining its independence. Othala, according to Thorrson, indicates a sacred enclosure – a rune that marks sacred sites. I’m still working on wrapping my head around this rune because it is very much a rune that speaks to the deeper aspects of magic. That it deals with magic in any form is enough to give it a strong relation to Odin, but the fact it speaks to the deepest type of magic truly ties it to him. After all, he is known for his working of magic, and is, perhaps, the foremost authority on it (along with Freyja, of course).

Dagaz

Dagaz is an interesting rune because it’s the rune of extremes. While it translates to “dawn,” in runic work, it is often translated as “breakthrough.” This makes sense, if you consider dawn to be the sun breaking through the cover of darkness. According to Thorrson, “Dagaz is the ‘[Odian] Paradox’ – the sudden realization (after concerted conscious effort of the will) that perceived opposites are aspects of a third idea that contains both….This is the simultaneous, bidirectional will that is almost unique to Germanic magical lore.” And here we have another rune that ties Odin to magic. In fact, every rune in his name ties him to magic, so it’s easy to see why he’s considered the god of both inspiration and madness. Extremes can drive people to do crazy things, but Dagaz is a useful rune because it allows the path between extremes to be seen clearly. Dagaz indicates a balance between the creative and destructive forces of the world around us, and Odin works desperately to maintain that balance.

Ansuz

This rune should be pretty self-explanatory, considering it’s the rune of Odin himself. “Ase” means “God,” and specifically refers to Odin. It is also the rune of communication, the rune that links the divine world and the human world. This is where Odin’s ecstasy comes in most clearly. Thorsson’s interpretation is one I like quite a bit. He states, “On a cosmological level, ansuz describes an ecology of energy. It is the medium through which power is received, the receptacle of that power, and the power itself when expressed through the inspired mental state.” In this rune, I can see Odin perhaps the most clearly. If you’ve ever met a person who was incredibly calm but just knew that there was incredible power brimming underneath the surface of that calm – that’s the type of ecology of energy that Thorsson is referring to. Power leashed by the will. In fact, most of the time, when I encounter Odin, he is incredibly calm and collected, but there is a vibe that he is dangerous when provoked.

Nauthiz

Nauthiz, or need, is an interesting rune. When doing runework, it generally indicates a lack of something that is needed, but in magic, need is what calls forth the strongest and most potent forces. This is referred to as need-fire in the rune poems, and we certainly see Odin acting out of need often enough in the myths. He is in need of a solution to Ragnarok, and there is nothing and no one that will stand in his way until he finds the answers he is looking for. This is Odin provoked into action, and he is dangerous when provoked. As an example, one of my friends had a difficult encounter with him. To keep a long story short: My friend’s friend swore an oath to Odin and then broke the oath and banished him from her life, so Odin started showing up on my friend’s doorstep, demanding she do something about it (despite the fact my friend doesn’t follow the Norse gods). In other words, Odin’s will isn’t something that is easy to thwart, and he will find a way to get what he wants. It is in this aspect that Odin is the most dangerous.

I think that this exercise is worth doing for the other gods and goddesses as well, so I may eventually break down all of their names like this. I encourage everyone to do this, as I really feel that going through the runes in this way not only enhances understanding of the runes but also enhances the understanding of the gods themselves.

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