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Odin's most famous adventures in Norse mythology
When it comes to Norse mythology, Odin is widely considered to be the main man. Known as the ‘Allfather’ (father of all the gods), he’s the chief deity of the Æsir family of gods that reside in Asgard. Known for his immense wisdom and knowledge, Odin is married to the goddess Frigg and is often depicted as a bearded, cloak-wearing old man with one eye. Although his hammer-wielding son Thor is more often thought of as a god of war, Odin is very much associated with conflict, battles, and victory.
He rides around the nine realms on an eight-legged horse called Sleipnir, accompanied by two wolves and two ravens, whilst wielding Gungnir, his long spear. That might all sound rather fantastical, but the legend of Odin has a very real presence in our modern world since one of the days of the week is named after him. He was known as ‘Wōden’ in Old English and ‘Wednesday’ comes from the word ‘Wōdnesdæg’ (day of Wōden).
Although our knowledge of Norse mythology is patchy and incomplete, two 13th century Icelandic writings known as the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda help to paint our most thorough picture of the Norse gods. Along with Thor and the mischievous god Loki, Odin is present in many of the myths documented in those ancient manuscripts.
Here is a selection of his most famous adventures in Norse mythology.
Since Odin is the Allfather, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was the first of the Norse gods to appear on the scene. In actual fact, the creation of the universe in Norse mythology has a rather violent beginning and while he does play a significant role, Odin is definitely not the first character in the story.
Norse cosmology is made up of nine realms and, according to legend, they surround and spread out from the Yggdrasil, a sacred cosmic tree at the centre of the universe. The Yggdrasil grew from the void of Ginnungagap, which is enclosed on one side by the fiery Muspelheim and the other side by the frosty Niflheim.
The flames of Muspelheim melted the ice of Niflheim leading to the creation of two entities known as Ymir the giant and Audhumla the cow. These creatures triggered a series of events that saw the birth of Odin and his brothers, Vili and Ve. The trio killed Ymir and his various entrails were spread out to create the Norse universe.
Odin and his brothers weren’t done there. They then set about creating the first humans from two pieces of wood. Odin infused the wood with the breath of life and spirit, while his brothers gave them blood and senses. The godly gifts allowed the two pieces of wood to turn into the world’s first man and woman – Ask and Embla. The pair were then given the realm of Midgard to propagate the human race.
Odin's search for wisdom
Throughout the Norse myths, Odin is on a constant search for wisdom. His desire to improve his abilities takes him on adventures across the nine realms. It's this thirst for knowledge and the willingness to pay any price for its acquisition that lost Odin one of his eyes.
Odin travelled to the Well of Mimir amongst the roots of the sacred tree Yggdrasil. Dwelling there was Mimir, whose cosmic knowledge was even greater than Odin’s. Odin realised Mimir achieved his powers by drinking the waters of the well and so asked him if he too could take a sip. Mimir agreed but only if Odin sacrificed one of his eyes. Thirsty for the powers that the well possessed, Odin agreed, gouged out an eye, and tossed it into the well before enjoying a drink from its waters.
Later on, Mimir was taken hostage by a pantheon of gods known as the Vanir – enemies of the Æsir. Mimir was decapitated and his head sent to Odin. Understanding the value of the wisdom locked in Mimir’s head, Odin embalmed it with herbs and magically empowered it with the ability to talk. The head of Mimir became a valuable asset for Odin who consulted it in times of need.
In another myth, Odin hung himself for nine days from a branch of the Yggdrasil to gain the secrets of some ancient runes. Another story tells of his theft of the mead of the skalds (poets), bestowing upon him exemplary poetic abilities.
The Wild Hunt
Odin’s connection with war in Norse mythology sees him as the leader of the Wild Hunt – an army of the dead who ride across dark stormy skies, especially in winter. Riding at the front of the hoard atop his trusty steed, Odin leads the group of ghostly creatures across the night’s sky. Compiled of a variety of animals and deities, the motley crew strikes fear into those on the ground.
Witnessing a Wild Hunt often foretells a catastrophe, such as a plague or war, and can even lead to the death of those that witness it. As the Hunt passes over, people are abducted to the underworld or taken to far-flung places and left for dead. Sometimes the spirits of those sleeping are taken from their bodies and thrust into the charge of the Wild Hunt, joining the ghostly riders as they cross the winter skies.
Odin’s Valhalla and Ragnarök
Odin rules over the giant ‘hall of the slain’ known as Valhalla, welcoming half of those who die in battle and feasting with them in the great hall. The other half goes to the heavenly meadow of Fólkvangr, ruled over by the Vanir goddess Freya.
During the events of Ragnarök - the battle at the end of the world in Norse mythology which sees the Æsir gods pitted against a multitude of beasts and creatures – Odin leads his army of deceased warriors into battle. However, during the epic fight, Odin is consumed by the gigantic wolf known as Fenrir, bringing an end to the father of all the gods.
11 facts about Odin
It’s been over a thousand years since the Viking Age came to an end. However, Norse mythology continues to not only endure in our modern world but thrive.
The gods in particular draw much fascination and sitting aloft in the Viking pantheon of deities is Odin.
1. Odin was the son of a giantess
Whilst Odin was known as the ‘Allfather’ (father of all the gods), he wasn’t the first to appear in the universe of Norse mythology.
The Nine Realms of Norse cosmology spread out from the Yggdrasil, a sacred cosmic tree at the centre of the universe. The Yggdrasil was said to have grown from the void of Ginnungagap, which was enclosed on one side by the fiery Muspelheim and by the frosty Niflheim on the other.
The flames of Muspelheim melted the ice of Niflheim leading to the creation of two entities known as Ymir the giant and Auðumbla the cow. For three days, Auðumbla licked away at salty ice-blocks to reveal Búri, Odin’s grandfather.
Búri had a son called Borr who married a giant called Bestla. The pair had three sons, one of whom was Odin.
2. Odin created the Norse universe and human beings
Along with his two brothers, Vili and Vé, Odin killed Ymir and used his body parts and entrails to create the Norse universe.
They then created the first human beings from two pieces of wood; one from an ash tree and the other from an elm. Odin infused the wood together with the breath of life and spirit, while his brothers added blood and senses. These godly gifts turned the wood into the world’s first man and woman, Ask and Embla. The pair were then granted the realm of Midgard to propagate the human race.
3. Odin was the head honcho
In Norse mythology, there were two main families of gods, the Æsir and the Vanir. Odin was the king of the Æsir.
The Æsir resided in Ásgard; a celestial fortified realm surrounded by a great wall. Ásgard was connected to another realm, Midgard, the world of humanity. A rainbow bridge, known as the Bifrost, joined the two together.
Odin would often sit on his magical throne called Hlidskjalf, which offered him a wonderous vantage over the Nine Realms.
4. Odin was the god of many things
Like many pagan gods, Norse deities were often associated with a variety of things from war to love, healing to fertility. Odin had many attributes associated with him including wisdom, magic, poetry, war and victory.
Whilst Thor, Odin’s son, is often remembered as the main god of war, Odin was heavily involved in human conflicts and decided the fate of every battle. This made him an incredibly important god for the Vikings who worshipped him on the eve of battle.
Given his association with war, Odin carried a long spear called Gungnir. The mighty weapon was forged by the ground-dwelling dwarves of Nidavellir/Svartalfheim. It was said to never miss its target.
5. Odin only had one eye
Odin was often depicted as a one-eyed, bearded, cloak-wearing old man. The reason he only had one eye was because of his insatiable thirst for knowledge. According to legend, Odin travelled to the Well of Mimir which was situated amongst the roots of the sacred tree Yggdrasil.
There he met Mimir, whose cosmic knowledge was said to be even greater than his. Mimir’s wisdom came from the waters of the well. Wishing to increase his own powers, Odin asked if he too could sip from the well’s water.
Mimir agreed, but on the condition that Odin sacrificed one of his eyes into the well. Odin duly obliged. He gouged out an eye, tossed it into the depths below, and then helped himself to a drink.
6. Odin and Valhalla
Within Ásgard was the great palace of Valhalla, known as the 'hall of the slain'. According to Norse beliefs, when a person died bravely in battle they could go to one of two places. One was Valhalla, and the other was the heavenly meadow of Fólkvangr, ruled over by the Vanir goddess Freya.
Valhalla was a warrior’s dream. They would fight all day and feast all night alongside Odin, and any wounds would magically heal before the next day.
Odin’s love of war meant he didn’t always play fair with those of the human realm. He’d often interfere in human lives to create conflict, hoping for the bravest soldiers to be slain so they could sit with him in Valhalla.
7. Odin had a large family
Odin’s wife was the goddess of the sky called Frigg. She was regarded as the Queen of the Æsir gods and therefore the only one allowed to sit next to her husband. The pair had three children - Baldr, Höðr, and Hermóðr.
Although Frigg was fiercely loyal to Odin, he conducted several extramarital affairs that led to many more children. The most famous of these is the god of war Thor, who was born to the goddess Jörð. Odin’s other children included Víðarr and Váli, who he had with different giant women.
8. Odin had many animals
Odin had several creatures who accompanied him including a pair of wolves, a pair of ravens and an eight-legged horse.
The wolves were called Geri and Freki, whilst the ravens were known as Huginn and Muninn, which translated as ‘Thought’ and ‘Memory’. Odin would send the two ravens out each morning to gather information on what was happening in the world. They’d return to his side and tell him everything they saw.
Odin’s eight-legged horse was called Sleipnir and it could ride through the sky. Odin and Sleipnir would lead the Wild Hunt – a group of ghostly creatures who rode across dark stormy skies, especially in winter. The army of the deceased struck fear into those who witnessed it from the ground.
9. Odin was eaten by a giant wolf
In Norse mythology, the prophesied end of the world of gods and men was known as Ragnarök. During Ragnarök, an epic battle raged between the Æsir gods and a multitude of beasts and creatures.
Odin emptied the halls of Valhalla, leading his army of deceased warriors into battle. During the great fight, Odin’s time came to an end when he was consumed by a gigantic wolf known as Fenrir, who happened to be the son of the trickster god Loki.
10. Odin was the original Father Christmas
At first glance, it's hard to associate a one-eyed god of war, who ended up being eaten by a giant wolf, with our modern-day jolly old Saint Nick. However, a closer inspection reveals the links are there.
Odin was described as a bearded old man who wore a hat and a cloak. Myths also spoke of him riding Sleipnir across the midwinter night sky, delivering gifts to those down below.
Whilst our modern Santa Claus is a combination of folklore and legend from a variety of cultures, the similarities to Odin have many historians arguing that the father of all the gods might well have been the original Father Christmas as well.
11. Odin gave us a day of the week
In Old English, Odin was known as ‘Wōden’. Wednesday derives from the word ‘Wōdnesdæg’, which meant ‘day of Wōden’.
For more articles about the history and culture of the Vikings, check out our Viking history hub.