Odin, the king of the Nordic gods

Odin, the king of the Nordic gods

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Odin (Óđinn) is one of the last main characters of the two Thor films, inspired by the Marvel universe, released in theaters in 2011 and 2013. He is played there by actor Anthony Hopkins. In these films, he is presented as the ruler of the world of the gods, Ásgarđr, the natural father of Þórr and the adoptive father of Loki. His wife is Frigga. He appears there as a one-eyed, rather bossy old man, eager to make Þórr his successor and in spite of Loki's animosity, once the latter has discovered to be in fact the son of Laufey, king of the ice giants of Jotünheimr. But who is Odin in Scandinavian mythology?

Odin, craftsman of the creation of the world

Main god of Norse mythology, Odin is the son of Bor and Bestla. He has two brothers Vili and Vé. They are the first Aesir, responsible for the creation of the world. However, Odin does not have the task of managing this world and ensuring its sustainability.

In Gylfaginning, the first of three parts of Snorri Sturluson's Edda, the poet describes the creation of the world as follows: originally, the world is only an unfathomable abyss, the Ginnungagap. North of this chasm is the world of darkness, Niflheimr, at the center of which flows Hvergelmir, the source of all the original rivers called the Elivagars, whose waves are poisonous. To the south is Muspellsheimr, the world of fire. As they move away from their source, the Elivagars freeze; the vapor from the venom turns into frost which, on contact with Muspellsheimr fire, melts. From these drops is born an original giant Ymir and, to feed him with milk from his udder, an Auđhumla cow. The animal licks the stones covered with frost to eat. The first day, she frees hair from the rocks; the second, a head; the third a whole giant, named Buri. This one has a son Borr who marries Bestla. Three children come: Odin, Vili and Vé. They kill the giant Ymir and they use his body to found the world. They place the giant in the center of the Ginnungagap to make it the earth. With his blood, they make seas and lakes, with his flesh, the continents, with his bones and teeth, the mountains, with his hair, the trees. His skull forms the sky and his brain the threatening clouds.

To perfect this creation, Odin, Vili and Vé use the sparks projected by the fire sword of the guardian of Muspellsheimr, to form the stars; two larger sparks become the moon and the sun.

Then, the gods assemble and, on the axis of the immense ash tree Yggdrasill, they order nine worlds.
• Ásgarđr, above all worlds, becomes the kingdom of the Aesir;
• Álfheimr, the kingdom of the Light Elves, receives Vane Freyr as lord;
• Miđgarđr belongs to men;
• Muspellsheimr, the world of fire, is given to the guard of the giant Surt, armed with his luminous sword;
• Jötunheimr imprisons the frost and mountain giants, brothers of Loki;
• Vanaheimr becomes the kingdom of the Vanir;
• The Dark Elves inhabit Svartálfaheimr;
• Hel, Loki's hideous daughter with a half-black, half-white face, guards Hellheimr, the realm of the dead at the entrance to Niflheimr, the original world of ice.

Odin establishes Bifröst, the rainbow bridge, to connect Ásgarđr and Miđgarđr and he entrusts its care to the god Heimdallr, he who hears the grass grow and every leaf fall, who sees to the ends of the world and does not does not need sleep.

With his brothers Vili and Vé, the god shapes man and woman. Two tree trunks found on the beach receive life, intelligence and movement, speech, hearing, sight. Ask and Embla are clothed and Miđgarđr is given to them to grow and prosper.

Attributes and characteristics of Odin

Odin is often portrayed as a tall old man with graying hair and beard. He wears a large dark colored coat. A soft, wide-brimmed hat is partly pulled down over her face. He is one-eyed. He lost an eye trying to access the Mimisbrunn spring, a source that keeps wisdom and intelligence, in the world of Jotünheimr, under one of the roots of Yggdrasil. But he can take on other aspects such as that of a horseman with a golden helmet, a wanderer, even a woman, which earned him the nickname of Grímnir - masked - because he likes to metamorphose and to disguise oneself.

“Beneath the root directed at the frost giants is Mimisbrunn, who holds wisdom and intelligence. The one who has this source is called Mímir: he is very learned, because he drinks from it using the horn called Giallarhorn. Alfadr came to the spring and asked for a sip, but he did not get it until he had pawned one of his eyes. (Gylfaginning, first of three parts of Snorri Sturluson's Edda).

Odin is considered as the Supreme Ase, the father of all gods and all men, but also as the god of the dead. He sits in his palace, Valaskjálf. This is where the throne of the god, Hliđskjálf is located, from where he can see everything that is happening in the nine worlds of the Yggdrasil tree. In his hand, he wears the Draupnir ring from which nine similar rings dripped every nine nights and his Gungnir spear, which has the particularity of never missing its target. If he has to move, he rides an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir whose teeth are carved with runes, child of Loki transformed into a mare and the stallion Svađilfæri.

Odin, god of war and master of the runes

The god has a second palace, a banquet hall, the Valhöll. It is a huge building whose walls and roof are entirely covered with silver and which has at least 640 doors. This is where the god welcomes half of the men killed in combat, the other half going to stay in the palace of the goddess Freyja. Because Odin is also the god of war, or more exactly that of victory. The warriors welcomed in Vallhöll, the Einherjar, form the army that the god will raise on the day of the Twilight of the Gods, the Ragnarök, in order to face the hostile powers of chaos. On the battlefield, it is the Valkyries, the daughters of Óđinn, who choose and escort the warriors who will reach the Vallhöll, so that fighters are advised not to roll their eyes during the fight in order to not to capture their attention.

The Einherjar spend their day fighting each other. In the evening, the wounded and “dead” regain their vigor and gather in Vallhöll to celebrate. At the time of the feast of Jól, on the winter soltisce, the crash of this army galloping towards Vallhöll, refers to the myth of the wild hunt crossing the sky. Arrived at Odin's palace, the Einherjar drink and eat. The mead comes from the udder of the Heiđrún goat which, perched on the roof of the palace, grazes the tender shoots of the Yggdrasil ash. At the service, the cook Andhrímnir boils the flesh of the wild boar Sæhrímnir, which has the particularity of resuscitating after each meal. Odin, meanwhile, does not eat. Sitting in his throne, he drinks wine and gives the food that is served to him to the two wolves Geri and Freki lying at his feet. Two crows, Huginn and Muninn, left at dawn, come to report to him all the events seen and heard from the worlds they have flown over.

Odin is also the master of the runes. He learns their secrets by hanging 9 nights from the Yggdrasil tree, wounded by his own spear, without eating or drinking. He thus discovers the art of engraving them, dyeing them and interpreting their meaning. He thus becomes master of all forms of magic, the galdr - incantations of all kinds allowing for example to win a lawsuit, to blunt the sword of his adversary, to cry out the storm - and the seiđr - a shamanic practice aimed at harming to someone or to the future. The god can also change his hamr, that is to say his carnal envelope: his body then remains stretched out, inanimate, while he himself has taken the form of a bird, a serpent, d 'a wolf or any other wild animal.

Wild warriors - berserkir and úlfheđnar - are related to Odin, in his warlike and magical function. These fighters wore the fur of bears for the former, of wolves for the latter, which allowed them to magically take the nature of these animals. Once in a trance, inhabited by the furor of the god, their strength increases tenfold: they fight without breaking hand to hand and are invincible.

“His [Odin's] men went forward unarmoured, enraged as dogs or wolves, biting their shields, strong as bears or bulls, and killing people with one blow, but they, neither iron nor fire grieved them. They were called berserkers. »(Ynglinga Saga). On the twilight day of the Gods, Odin is devoured by the wolf Fenrir, son of Loki.

Frigg, the wife of the god

Frigg is Odin's wife; She is notably the mother of the god Baldr and of the blind god Höđr, murderer of her brother at the instigation of Loki. Protectress of lovers, she is also a goddess of fertility, invoked at the same time as Freyja during childbirth. Magician, she has the gift of knowing the destiny of every human and every god, but she never reveals it. It is then related to the three Norns, Urđr (the past), Verđandi (the present), Skuld (the future), which weave at the foot of the Yggdrasil tree the future of each being and Frigg is often represented spinning the clouds to produce the yarn used by them. It can also take the form of a falcon to move around. Several following accompany her: Eir is a healer with great powers; Hlín protects those designated by the goddess to him; Gná rides his steed Hófvarpnir through the nine worlds to deliver his messages; finally, Fulla, a young virgin with flowing hair, is his confidante and his chambermaid. As such, she has custody of the box and shoes of the goddess.

Odin, however, maintains relationships with other women, goddesses and giants. In particular the goddess Jörđ, personification of the Earth, gives him a son, the god Þórr.

Chapter 3 of Snorri Sturluson's Ynglingar Saga attributes an affair to Frigg, with her husband's two brothers. During a long journey of Odin, Vali and Vé, believing that their brother would not come back as long as his absence lasts, share his goods and his wife. This connection is also mentioned in stanza 26 of the Lokasenna, a poem from the Poetic Edda, where Loki overwhelms the gods assembled for a feast with sarcasm:
“Shut up Frigg! You are Fjörgynn's (Óđinn) lover
And have been mad enough for men;
When you left, wife of Vidrir (Óđinn),
Vé and vili
Both press on your breast! "


• Régis Boyer, L'Edda Poétique, Fayard, 1992.
• The Edda, stories of Nordic mythology, by Snorri Sturluson, the dawn of the peoples, Gallimard.
• Régis Boyer, Yggdrasill: The religion of the ancient Scandinavians, Paris, Payot, 1992.
• Jean Renaud, Les dieux des Vikings, Editions Ouest France.

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