Tag Archives: Odin

Thoughts on “American Gods: My Ainsel” by Neil Gaiman: Issue 03

There is a great section in this installment where Wednesday (who is actually the god Odin) tells Shadow about the mystical secrets and knowledge that he possesses.

“Nine nights I hung on a bare tree, my side pierced with a spear’s point. I swayed and blew in the cold winds and the hot winds, a sacrifice of myself, to myself, and the worlds opened to me. These are the charms I learned.

“I know a charm that can heal with a touch. I know a charm that can take warriors through the tumult unscathed and unhurt. I know a charm to free myself from all bonds and locks. I can quench fire simply by looking at it. I can sing the storm to sleep for long enough to bring a ship to shore. I learned to dispel witches, to spin them around in the skies so that they will never find their way back to their own doors again. I know a charm that can turn aside the weapons of an enemy.”

Wednesday spoke as if he were reciting the words of a religious ritual.

“I can make people believe in my dreams. I know the names of all the gods. And I know the greatest charm of all, and that charm I can tell to no man. For a secret that no one knows but you is the most powerful charm of all.”

I generally operate on the principle that secrets tend to be unhealthy, that one is only as sick as one’s secrets. But I do not think that this is the type of secret that Gaiman is referring to. I feel that he is trying to convey that the most powerful truths are those that are hidden the deepest, which no individual can access except via the portal of myth and symbolism. Spiritual secrets are not secret because no one is willing to share the knowledge; they are secret because only certain individuals have to ability to grasp the meaning buried deep within the symbol or myth. The ability to understand the metaphysical secrets accessible to the human psyche only through symbolism is the wellspring of true wisdom and power. And that the most hidden of truths, the secret only known to the one or the few, that is the most powerful of spiritual truths, and hence the most coveted.

Thanks for stopping by, and never stop seeking.

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Thoughts on “The Sandman, Volume 4: Season of Mists” by Neil Gaiman

My friend Miriam told me this was her favorite book in the series, and I can see why. The story is excellent. Essentially, Lucifer decides to vacate Hell and gives Morpheus, the Dream Lord, the key to Hell. What ensues is a pantheon of various deities all trying to convince the Dream Lord that they should be given dominion over Hell, and making their various cases to support their claims. The result is a highly creative view into the personalities of various gods and goddesses across diverse religions.

The book opens in the Garden of Destiny. The opening passage explores the labyrinthine paths which symbolize a human life, the choices we make, and how upon later reflection, the realization that many of the choices that we make in life are not really choices at all.

Walk any path in Destiny’s garden, and you will be forced to choose, not once but many times. The paths fork and divide. With each step you take through Destiny’s garden, you make a choice, and every choice determines future paths. However, at the end of a lifetime of walking you might look back, and see only one path stretching out behind you; or look ahead, and see only darkness. Sometimes you dream about the paths of Destiny, and speculate, to no purpose. Dream about the paths you took and the paths you didn’t take… The paths diverge and branch and reconnect; some say not even Destiny himself truly knows where any way will take you, where each twist and turn will lead. But even if Destiny could tell you, he will not. Destiny holds his secrets. The Garden of Destiny. You would know it if you saw it. After all, you will wander it until you die. Or beyond. For the paths are long, and even in death there is no ending to them.

When all the deities converge on the castle of Dream, Odin tasks Loki with observing and noting the activities of the other deities. Loki’s thoughts on the angels I found particularly interesting.

And above all, I watch the angels. They do not eat, or flirt, or converse. They observe. I watch them in awe, All-Father. They are so beautiful and distant. The feet of the angels never touch the base earth, not even in dreams. I can read nothing in their faces, much as I try. And what they are thinking, I cannot even imagine.

As I read this, it reminded me of the Wim Wenders film, “Wings of Desire.” If you’ve not seen it, it’s a classic and worth watching.

As many of you know, we are often burdened with things that we do not want, but letting go and getting rid of those burdens is not always easy. Art and literature abound with metaphors about people clinging to their unwanted baggage, dragging it painfully through life. Think of Sisyphus with his stone, or Jacob Marley dragging his chains. In this book, Dream echoes this sentiment.

They all want it, and I don’t. I never thought that disposing of the unwanted could be so hard.

Possibly my favorite passage in this book is where the angels tell the Dream Lord of God’s decree regarding the existence of Hell.

We… I will relay the message. It is from my Creator… There must be a Hell. There must be a place for the demons; a place for the damned. Hell is Heaven’s reflection. It is Heaven’s shadow. They define each other. Reward and punishment; hope and despair. There must be a Hell, for without Hell, Heaven has no meaning. And thus, Hell must be —

This is very Taoist, in my view. There must always be darkness to balance light, a yin to balance yang. It also makes me think of Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow:

Carl Jung stated the shadow to be the unknown dark side of the personality. According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. Jung writes that if these projections remain hidden, “The projection-making factor (the Shadow archetype) then has a free hand and can realize its object—if it has one—or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

The concept of Heaven and Hell, as Gaiman expresses it, then becomes a metaphor for the our human consciousness. Our divine consciousness cannot exist without the shadow. There must always be a balance between the light and dark within the psyche.

Anyway, this series is amazing. The writing is brilliant and the artwork if outstanding. I highly recommend this to all you readers out there. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff.

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“Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman

I had to travel for work recently, and this was the perfect book to read while on flights and in hotel rooms. It was a quick read, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Basically, everything you expect from Gaiman in the retelling of Norse myths. He took stories from the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda and presents them in his own voice. It works really well.

There is an abundance of the usual characters that we expect in the Norse myths: Thor, Odin, Loki, Freya, and so on. But Gaiman also treats us to some lesser-known players, and some of these stories have resonant similarities to other myths. For example, in the following creation story, Ask and Embla are created from the Ash and Elm trees, and the names conjure images of Adam and Eve.

Ve carved the logs. He gave them the shape of people. He carved their ears, that they might hear, and their eyes, that they might see, and lips, that they might speak.

The two logs stood on the beach, two naked people. Ve had carved one with male genitals, the other he had carved female.

The three brothers made clothes for the woman and the man, to cover themselves and to keep them warm, in the chilly sea-spray on the beach at the edge of the world.

Last of all they gave the two people they had made names: the man they called Ask, or Ash Tree; the woman they called Embla, or Elm.

(p. 34)

It is rare that I actually laugh out loud when I am reading, but it happened during this book (glad I wasn’t drinking coffee – it would have come out my nose). It occurred during the myth about the Mead of Poetry, which Odin, in the form of a giant eagle, stole from a giant, carrying the mead in his mouth and spitting it into vats back as Asgard. But that is not the whole story.

There. That is the story of the mead of poetry and how it was given to the world. It is a story filled with dishonor and deceit, with murder and trickery. But it is not quite the whole story. There is one more thing to tell you. The delicate among you should stop your ears, or read no further.

Here is the last thing, and a shameful admission it is. When the all-father in eagle form had almost reached the vats, with Suttung immediately behind him, Odin blew some of the mead out of his behind, a splattery wet fart of foul-smelling mead right in Suttung’s face, blinding the giant and throwing him off Odin’s trail.

No one, then or now, wanted to drink the mead that came out of Odin’s ass. But whenever you hear bad poets declaiming their bad poetry, filled with foolish similes and ugly rhymes, you will know which of the meads they have tasted.

(p. 151)

I will forever have this image in my mind when I read a bad poem!

Many of the myths in this book are symbolic for issues that we as conscious beings have to grapple with. A great example of this is when Thor wrestles an old woman and is unable to defeat her. This tale is symbolic for how we, aware of our mortality, have to wrestle with the knowledge of our impending death as we enter into old age.

“And the old woman?” asked Thor. “Your old nurse? What was she?” His voice was very mild, but he had hold of the shaft of his hammer, and he was holding it comfortably.

“That was Elli, old age. No one can beat old age, because in the end she takes each of us, makes us weaker and weaker until she closes our eyes for good. All of us except you, Thor. You wrestled old age, and we marveled that you stayed standing, that even when she took power over you, you fell down only to one knee. We have never seen anything like last night, Thor. Never.”

(p. 176)

Something that has always fascinated me about mythology is how recurring themes appear across various myths, regardless of the time and place in which those myths originated. A great example is the river which the souls of the dead must cross. For me, it symbolizes the crossing of the stream of consciousness, which we must undertake in order for our consciousness to return to the divine source.

Hermod the Nimble rode for nine days and nine nights without stopping. He rode deeper and he rode through gathering darkness: from gloom to twilight to night to a pitch-black starless dark. All that he could see in the darkness was something golden glinting far ahead of him.

Closer he rode, and closer, and the light grew brighter. It was gold, and it was the thatch bridge across the Gjaller River, across which all who die must travel.

(pp. 242 – 243)

This book is outstanding on so many levels. It is simple and accessible, yet brimming with profound wisdom for those who want to dive deep into the text. I highly recommend this to all readers.

Cheers!

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“The Younger Edda” by Snorre Sturluson

YoungerEddaThis book has been on my list for a while and I finally got around to reading it. Essentially, it’s a collection of tales from Norse mythology. As I started reading it, I quickly learned that I had to disregard all the introductory text, as well as the footnotes. It may have just been the translation, but the sheer volume of academic blather and mental masturbation that was wasting pages almost made me delete the book from my reader. Once I skipped over all the analysis and got into the actual text, though, it got much more interesting.

As with many epics, there are sections that contain lists of names, and you can drive yourself crazy trying to remember them all, especially since the gods and persons in the book are referred to by multiple names. I didn’t spend a lot of energy trying to keep track of everyone, but instead focused on the stories.

The first thing that struck me about this text is how much it inspired Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I wasn’t completely surprised by this, since I recall reading about it somewhere. Yet it seems that Tolkien borrowed not just the epic style, but he also took names from the Edda. I was surprised to see Gandalf’s name appear in the Edda.

The earlier part of the book deals with the creation myth and it was interesting to compare the Norse version to other creation myths. For example, the god Surt seems a combination of divine beings from other texts. He is similar to the cherubim and St Michael the Archangel, with the sword of flame. He also seems to embody aspects of Shiva, the destroyer of worlds.

Surt is the name of him who stands on its border guarding it. He has a flaming sword in his hand, and at the end of the world he will come and harry, conquer all the gods, and burn up the whole world with fire.

There are some interesting differences, too. The one that stands out the most for me is that when the moon and sun are created, the genders attributed to them are the reverse of what is common. In everything that I have read so far, the sun is associated with masculine energy, while the moon with its cycles is symbolic of the feminine. Not so in the Norse mythology.

The sun knew not Where her hall she had; The moon knew not What might he had; The stars knew not Their resting-places.

I thought about how this type of gender reversal would affect the symbolism of the sun and the moon. I suppose in the cold north, the sun becomes a symbol for birth, life, and regeneration, causing plants to spring from the earth. The moon, associated with might in the text, has the power to shift the tides, a power that certainly must have been important to the Vikings. So the symbolism attached to these astral bodies makes sense when you look at it from that perspective. That’s the thing about symbols—they mean different things to different people.

Although the god Thor figures prominently in the text, I’m not going to say much about him. Personally, I found Thor to be arrogant and prone to hubris. It was like his attitude was always: If I hit it hard enough with my hammer, I’ll get what I want. Thor’s flaw as a hero is that he doesn’t really use his brains as much as he should. It’s all brawn for Thor, which is his defect, in my opinion.

Loke, on the other hand, I found infinitely fascinating. He is like Lucifer, Prometheus, Anansi, and Odysseus all rolled into one. He is beautiful; he is a trickster; he is sharp and cunning; he is the embodiment of all the things that make a character thrilling and interesting.

There is yet one who is numbered among the asas, but whom some call the backbiter of the asas. He is the originator of deceit, and the disgrace of all gods and men. His name is Loke, or Lopt. His father is the giant Farbaute, but his mother’s name is Laufey, or Nal. His brothers are Byleist and Helblinde. Loke is fair and beautiful of face, but evil in disposition, and very fickle-minded. He surpasses other men in the craft called cunning, and cheats in all things. He has often brought the asas into great trouble, and often helped them out again, with his cunning contrivances.

Loke, according to the Norse mythology, is the father of the ourosboros, which for me is one of the most powerful symbols. I was kind of surprised by this. I had always viewed the ourosboros as a symbol for cycles and eternity and had never considered that it was created by another divine entity.

Loke had yet more children. A giantess in Jotunheim, hight Angerboda. With her he begat three children. The first was the Fenris-wolf; the second, Jormungand, that is, the Midgard-serpent, and the third, Hel. When the gods knew that these three children were being fostered in Jotunheim, and were aware of the prophesies that much woe and misfortune would thence come to them, and considering that much evil might be looked for from them on their mother’s side, and still more on their father’s, Alfather sent some of the gods to take the children and bring them to him. When they came to him he threw the serpent into the deep sea which surrounds all lands. There waxed the serpent so that he lies in the midst of the ocean, surrounds the earth, and bites his own tail.

OurosborosI feel like I could write an entire book on Loke. He is by far the most interesting character in the Edda. But, I want to talk about Odin for a little bit, so I will say farewell to Loke, for now.

I learned a lot about the god Odin from this book. Not only is he the father of the other gods, or the Alfather (I like to think of him as the archetype from which the other gods were formed), but he is the source of magic and poetry, which are closely related. Poetry, or the art of “skald-craft,” was passed down from Odin, but Odin remains the master. It is said that: “With words alone he could quench fire, still the ocean in tempest, and turn the wind to any quarter he pleased.”

Odin taught the magical arts to the priests and priestesses of old. Essentially, all magic, witchcraft, and sorcery was passed down from the Alfather.

He taught all these arts in runes and songs, which are called incantations, and therefore the Asaland people are called incantation-smiths. Odin also understood the art in which the greatest power is lodged, and which he himself practiced, namely, what is called magic. By means of this he could know the predestined fate of men, or their not yet completed lot, and also bring on the death, ill-luck or bad health of people, or take away the strength or wit from one person and give it to another. But after such witchcraft followed such weakness and anxiety, that it was not thought respectable for men to practice it; and therefore the priestesses were brought up in this art… From these arts he became very celebrated. His enemies dreaded him; his friends put their trust in him, and he relied on his power and on himself. He taught the most of his arts to his priests of the sacrifices, and they came nearest to himself in all wisdom and witch-knowledge. Many others, however, occupied themselves much with it; and from that time witchcraft spread far and wide, and continued long.

This is not an easy book to read. It is very dense and the language is archaic. That said, if you are interested in mythology, magic, and the occult, it is a must read. I am glad that I persevered and finished the book. It was very insightful for me. As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments. Thanks.

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