Odin was the principal Norse god during the era of the Vikings.
His worship came to be widespread during the 8th and 9th
centuries. Roman contacts with the early Germanic people
identified Tyr as the sky god of the Norse. So it appears that
Odin displaced Tyr as the primary god, while Tyr retained his
place as a god of war.
Odin was the main god of war, wisdom, and ruler of the gods. He was also invoked to bring on the berserk state in which Viking warriors went into a frenzy, biting their shields and feeling no pain or fear. Odin's name means something similar to “fury” or “madness”. He lived in Valhalla, the great hall in Asgard, with the Einherjar (or “glorious dead”). The Valkyries gathered these Einherjar from fallen warriors. Originally the Valkyries were goddesses of slaughter and destruction; it was only later that they became the shield-bearers of Odin.
Odin’s story begins with Audhumla, a great cow who lived in Ginnungagap, a primordial stew at the dawn of time. Audhumla licked the ice until Buri emerged, the first man. Buri in turn had Bor who married a frost giantess and had Odin, Vili, and Ve. These three brothers defeated the frost giants and Ymir, the great giant whose corpse they used to create the world. Ymir’s flesh became the earth, his bones the mountains, his teeth and jaw the rocks, his blood the rivers and seas, and his skull the sky. After all was complete Odin hung himself on Yggdrasil, the world-tree for nine days. It was there that he learned the runes, the writing system of the ancient Norse, and gained insight into the world. It is also said that while he hung on the tree, he was stabbed with a spear. This death and rebirth idea may have given Christianity a head start in the Norse lands. The hanging was also an important part of Norse life. It was sometimes thought that hanging oneself was a direct way to Valhalla. Hanging was also a common form of execution in Norse times.
Odin was perhaps the most learned of all the Norse gods. He cast his eye into Mimir’s well for a drink of its wisdom. For this reason Odin is most often portrayed with a broad-billed hat, hair covering one eye, or a hood. Odin kept up with the actions of the world with two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who’s names mean thought and memory respectively. The two birds left Valhalla at dawn and returned every night with news of what happened during the day. For companionship Odin kept Geri and Freki, two hunting wolves. He lived in Asgard with his wife, Frigg. Odin however was not completely loyal to her, and fathered many offspring with other goddesses, mortals, and frost giantesses. His sons and daughters include Thor, Balder, Hodr, and Vali. Odin also had a tower at the top of Asgard where he could go to sit and see the entire world, only he and Frigg were allowed to go there.
At the start of a battle it was customary to cast a spear over the enemy in the name of Tyr or Odin. Odin was heavily associated with the spear. Gungnir, Odin’s spear, was carved from the wood of Yggdrasil by the dwarven sons of Ivaldi for Loki. Loki having cut off the hair of Sif, who was famed for her beautiful hair, thought it wise to not only to make Sif a wig of golden hair, but also to give the other gods gifts. Because of its enchantment Gungnir was said to be both unbreakable and unerring in its aim.
Odin is destined to meet his end at Ragnorok, the death of the Gods. When the time comes Odin will release the Einherjar in a vain attempt to save the old Gods. Odin will be killed in a struggle with Fenrir, a wolf-son of Loki. His death will be avenged by Vidar who will kill Fenrir with his iron boot.
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