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.
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.
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 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.
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, 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.