Yggdrasill's teachings

or

Oðinn's runic magic

 

 

Odinn, the god, is known to be a fearsome magician. How did he manage to gather all this knowledge?

First of all, it should be well understood that old Scandinavian world, as reported by its poets, is immersed in an mood of magic that belongs to everyone. For example, Dwarves are able to forge objects carrying an obvious magic such as Freyja’s Garland of Flames or Thorr’s hammer. In this context, it is said that Odinn received two additional lessons, one on behalf of Freyja, the other on behalf of Yggdrasill tree. Of Freyja’s teachings, seidhr or seidh, we know almost nothing besides that it enables to leave our physical body to act on the external world by means of our spiritual body. On the other hand, Yggdrasill’s teaching, the one of runic magic, has been described in the old poems, as I’ll now tell you.

 

Odinn is also famous because of his taste for handling knowledge, be it to spread it out, to check another being’s knowledge, or to hear it substantiated by someone else, or to acquire it.

In the tale “War of Æsir and Vanir,” we have already seen a significant source of knowledge for Odinn, namely Mimir’s head, often also called simply Mimir. Anyhow, Mimir has been kept alive by the care that Odinn gave him by means of herbs and incantations. This enables us to imagine a magician Odinn able to bring a beheaded human back to life - or something similar to life. Mimir will become the warder of the knowledge source which spouts out at Yggdrasill’s base and that feeds the close lake of wisdom. Norns live on banks of this lake. They know and/decide of everyone’s örlög. They carve these örlög in Giants’ runes on wood stripes in order to fix them forever. All this illustrates what large share of the world knowledge is gathered at Yggdrasill’s base. In order to be allowed to consult this source and Mimir himself, Odinn agreed to sacrifice one of his eyes, offered to this source. He thus lost the sight of a ‘half of the world’, the one pertaining the eye thrown in the water, but he obtained the sight of what we call the invisible world of the spirits.  

Odinn thus consulted the Norns about his örlög, and Mimir on the wisest action to take in order to ensure the divine order continuation. Both confirmed that he needed to add the runes of Æsir and humankind to the other types of runes, the ones of Giants, of Elves and of Dwarves. At any condition, he had to acquire this knowledge and then to transfer it to humankind. They also showed him the way for getting these runes. He had to suffer nine nights, hung in Yggdrasill tree. He could neither eat nor drink during this span of time and his body had also to be stricken by a spear. These sufferings were the sacrifice by which he should, he Odinn, sacrify to Odinn, “himself to himself” offered. During the nine long nights of this sacrifice, Yggdrasill gave him the knowledge of runic magic such as Odinn is able now to practice and such that mankind tries to practice as well as it can.

 

We are simple human persons, and "to offer oneself in sacrifice to oneself” shows the naïve intent of being a god. We cannot not think that sufferings similar to Odinn’s would bring us a knowledge similar to his. Only a god could come into such an intimate contact with the axis of the world and acquire this kind of knowledge. We, simple humans, we have an intelligence that can wake up and constantly increase, and a sensitivity that enables us to see the hidden aspect of the things.  Well-ordered intelligence and sensitivity are our tools to acquire runic knowledge.

 

Some poems describe Odinn’s magic abilities related to runes. I will quote two of them, one is quite terrifying and the other is somewhat funny at the start, and it becomes then touching.

 

Odinn is called the god of hung ones as it should be expected since he has been hanging in Yggdrasill. This is why he is able of the most sinister form of magic, the one of temporarily revive hanged corpses. Here is how he describes this capacity:

 

If I see high on a gallows-tree

quivering and swinging a necklaced corpse,

I then know which runes to carve and

in them seize the necessary power

to make this person coming to me

and sharing words with me.

 

This form of magic is called necromancy, it is regarded as the blackest of black magic. Making use of it is Odinn’s privilege. To some extent, we trust him that he will not use it with dark destroying intentions. All considered, that magic might be ‘black’ or ‘white’ is not very relevant, it should rather be qualified as a destructive or a constructive one. Constructive magic cannot be criticized even if it is relies on the soul of the dead ones. It must be noted, however, that we know several charms created by human individuals who awake corpses to ask their help. All these charms have a destructive goal such as “Let my enemy suffer in such or such way!” and this explains why necromancy arouses so much horror.

Odinn is described - and he describes himself - as a male being; he thus describes only the male side of human relationships. Our gods are not universal beings who transcend sexuality and we cannot seriously blame Odinn for his silence on how women feel. In fact, we can see that when he speaks of men-women relations they can immediately be translated in terms of women-men ones. He considers three types of relations that he can sustain with women and he associates a runic magic to each one of them. There are the “beautiful ones with white arms” who are knowledgeable and full of wisdom. The pleasure of the relation with them comes from their mind that teaches to men a world vision different from theirs. Odinn boasts of knowing the runic songs that make their brains spin. There are other white armed beauties whose body is young and full of ardor. Of course, competition to allure them is severe and Odinn knows the runic songs pulling them in his arms in preference to any other one. Lastly, extremely rare, there are the “beautiful ones with protective arms” upon whom no runic song catches, but to whom the runic song of shared love is taught:

This song is at the root of others all,

such knowledge cannot be shared

except with her alone who tenderly

holds me in her arms, my sister,

sharing body and soul together.

 

This is the last of the secret songs

that I wish to teach to humankind.

 

Such was the lesson that Yggdrasill gave to Odinn.