Heathen Woman: The Reality of Odin

Odin, the All-Father of Nordic gods by Carl Emil Doepler. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.Do you believe that Odin is a real, living god? This is a question that I’ve encountered numerous times since I began teaching, and though the answer may differ depending on whom you ask, my answer is always the same: Yes!

The next question is usually along the lines of “How do you know that you’re experiencing him versus your own personal thoughts?” Doubt is one of the first aspects of existential thought that we learn. After all, mankind has made great advancements through questioning and evaluating various “truths.” As children, our minds naturally wander, ever in pursuit of the fantastic. Children don’t enter this world jaded; their minds are open to those things that are energetically driven no matter how they are presented (spiritually, physically, etc.). As we age, we tend to put these feelings and pursuits aside, and in the process we often are left with creative limitations, binding us to what we can perceive with our basic physical senses. Having a personal connection with Odin, however, requires an individual to again open the mind and embrace the willingness to allow his ecstatic, roaring nature to flow within us. That is when we begin to “feel” him without touching and sense his presence in our daily lives.

Doubt, in my opinion, is one of the most self-defeating feelings that we possess. Doubt can chain us to the bottom of metaphorical mountains that we could otherwise have scaled, if it weren’t for the deep need to know with certainty that we would succeed, or that what we perceived was indeed real. To that point, I give you a visualization to meditate on: When the wind blows across your face, do you feel it? Of course you do. However, you can’t see it, taste it, or touch it, but you know it’s real and you trust the experience. Forming a relationship with any deity is very similar. Instead of doubt, we need to trust ourselves and the experience. Do not give way to the idea that you could be mistaken. If you feel something in your heart and throughout your being, then that experience is for you to own. Questioning it diminishes the experience. Consider that the messages that you perceive from the runes, meditation, the gods, or other spiritual sources are natural ways of reaching beyond what is physically limiting. A helpful way of working through these experiences is to keep a journal of your spiritual path filled with observations and thoughts that detail your personal experiences.

Odin’s personifications are diverse, as are the roles that he assumes. In some ways, it may be easier to perceive the presence of gods such as Thor and Freya, since we can clearly see and feel an approaching storm or the blossoming fertile beauty in a colorful field of flowers. We immediately appreciate these things as connective natural forces stemming from the gods themselves, and we then begin to explore their other aspects, such as Thor’s protection of mankind or Freya’s connection to war and death. In peeling back the layers that initially begin with a physical sense, our minds tend to open more easily to the broader personifications of our gods.

Odin, though, is a bit different. Our ancestors witnessed wars, the carrion birds awaiting their turn at what lay dying on the battlefield. In today’s world, many of us have been sheltered from those sights, yet it was upon the red battlefield that Odin’s mighty presence was certainly felt and clearly seen. The rage of the Berserker, the tactical measures of the Úlfhéðnar, and kings in pursuit of their dynasties were very real images, and hence Odin was measured as a god that was always in charge and ever close to the tribes.

So how do we experience Odin now? We must look at all of the aspects of him. In addition to being a war chief and considered king, he was also a leader, the harnesser of runes, a spiritual guide, and a traveler. Odin sought wisdom in widespread endeavors, and in learning about them, we can develop our own insights about why these aspects of him are important. Odin is the Allfather and thus all-encompassing, not in a necessarily omnipotent way, but more in the perspective of the wise sage who is ever in pursuit of wisdom in all matters. Visualizing Odin as a multi-layered deity that possesses much more than the ability to incite a war is the first step in forming a deeper connection to him. It can also help offset some of the trepidation that some feel when they consider seeking him out.

Secondly, Odin’s traits include very human characteristics including love, social demands, fallacy, defeat, passion, and other traits that are part of our daily lives. In other words, Odin not only understands what it’s like to be human, he fully embodies those qualities. For those who have come to heathenry through a Christian upbringing, it’s common to see Odin elevated to a Christ-like position because of lifelong associations of an all-knowing supernatural deity. There are major differences that need to be considered, however; while this kind of thinking may be a hard habit to break, it’s essential so that we are able to develop a personal connection to him from a heathen perspective. It’s important to see Odin as a strong leader who owns a great deal of lived experience. We can gain a deeper insight into him by grasping not only the god that he is, but also how his understanding directly relates to the lives of men and women. It is then that we can begin to understand the reality, and not just the mythology, of Odin himself.

Heathen Woman is published on alternate Fridays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

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About Heather O'Brien

Heather O’Brien is an interfaith clergy member and Founder of Women of Asatru. She writes and speaks on heathen related topics pertaining to heathen reconstruction, Norse mythology, and European folk lore.

Heather has been studying Germanic tribal reconstruction and Celto-Germanic mythology for over fifteen years, and is in the process of writing a book that focuses on supporting and encouraging heathen women. She has also written for columns pertaining to organic homesteading.

  • xJane

    Yikes! If you change the god in question:

    Do you believe that [Jesus/Allah/G-D] is a real, living god?

    The question becomes one that most people would never even consider asking! I’m so sorry you have to deal with it!

    Of course, doubt—and managing doubt—is one of the major issues that confronts any believer. Regardless of who your god/dess is, there are times when they don’t seem to answer your prayers, when their presence is not as acutely felt as we might wish. Thanks for the reminder to work through it.

  • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

    When just starting out on my faring away from Christianity, in my teens, I found doubt a most useful tool. I could look at an experience objectively and research to see if there was any precedent for it, elsewhere. Much of what I experienced I found was shared by others, and some was not.

    This allowed me to better know myself and tell the difference between real experiences and flights of imagination.

    I think that, if a person experiences something in a way that is completely at odds with others perceptions, then they have to ask how much of that is internal.

    Of course, sometimes the gods do not leave any room for doubt.

  • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

    Something to contemplate on Wodensday. :)

  • Erin Lale

    I don’t need faith or belief because I feel them. Odin’s breath is in my lungs. Thor’s rain falls on my garden and grows vegetables for me to eat. When I ask for more rain, he responds.

  • Andy Blake

    I know there are spiritual presences all around me because they speak to me in the ordinary and everyday, through people and names and numbers and places and incidents which have ‘signs’ stamped all over them, in many cases relatable to ancient mythologies. I am certain that one of these was Odin and another was the Greek Artemis, although you can’t begin to interpret the signs unless you are both familiar with the mythos in question and recognise the coincidences as meaningful in the first place. One particular presence hit me like an inner explosion of light one evening in the late summer of 2008 and I shared my life with Her for roughly four months until I began to doubt how much of our conversations were coming from me and how much from Her. That kind of shut it down but She is still like the sun peeking through the clouds every now and then. How do I visualise Her? As a heroine from a popular sci-fi TV show (don’t ask!). Although for me the archetype correlates easily with both Freyja and the Gnostic Sophia. In my experience the gods can use any mythos that has imaginative power, including modern fiction and even Christianity – which itself rests on a transformed (pre-Jewish) Hebrew polytheism that was a whole lot closer to Asatru than many Heathens today either suspect or would feel comfortable with…

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