Friday, November 11, 2016

Óðinn, the Valknut, and the Warrior's Path

I didn't plan to write this on Veteran's Day, but it's a wonderfully appropriate synchronicity. This post is a semi-curated version of a couple of rambling journal entries I've written recently. I hope that the content - my thoughts - are clear enough to the reader (sometimes we think in images, and images can be rather difficult to fully and faithfully narrate into text). So here goes....

I've pulled the 10 of Swords (upright and reversed) so many times in relationship to Odin: what blessing does he offer?; how can I deepen our relationship?; what aspects of psyche is he connected to? (just to name a few).
Pagan Otherworlds Tarot
The 10 of Swords connects to themes of sacrifice, loss, endings, utter release from the bonds of restriction and self-limitation; a death of the old self in order to birth the new. Odin hung for nine days, without a drink or a bite to eat, from Yggdrasil in order to earn the wisdom of the runes, symbols representing the layers and streams of experience and knowledge that flow through the multiverse. The World Tree itself, Yggdrasil, is at once thought to be both around us and within us. So the entirety of existence is not only external to ourselves, but is contained within our very beings (reminds me of that Whitman quote: "I contain multitudes" - which, come to think of it, is a very Odin expression!). As I pondered all of this, I was reminded of a dream I had some time ago of a raven or crow offering me an eyeball to eat. I vividly recall that when I woke up, I felt like the raven was inside my head. In this (rather complex) context, there is a concept of the raven as external messenger, and at the same time as an intrinsic aspect of myself.

Odin is considered to be a god of battle, shamanism, inspiration, wisdom, and death. His symbol is generally thought to be the valknut (knot of the fallen, or dead), three intersecting triangles. Its meaning is not firmly known, but based largely on educated conjecture. In other words, there is nothing historical that explicitly states that Odin and the valknut are connected. However there are pictorial artifacts that do appear to associate them, including one - on the Lärbro stones - that shows what is probably Odin and his ravens at a burial mound over which a downward-angled valknut is depicted.

A couple of weeks ago I was pondering the symbolism of the valknut. I decided to pull three cards about its significance, and I drew: 8 of Swords rx, Knight of Swords rx, and the Ace of Swords.
Pagan Otherworlds Tarot
I noticed immediately that all of the cards were air (intellect, knowledge, language, discernment, communication - very much the domain of Odin), and that the sum of the spread was 9, which is Odin's number. The feeling that this line gave me was: the clarity and new knowledge that comes from journeying through the "other side." It's the 8 of Swords - not 10 - but still there is this feeling of breaking free, or diving in. Mary Greer discusses the shamanic aspects of the 8 of Swords in her book "The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals," and mentions that the significance of the reversal of this card includes initiation. That makes sense. The Knight is a warrior. He ventures forth, freed from  the bindings of time and thought, and there finds illumination. In ancient depictions of the valknut we see evidence of a correlation to the death of a warrior. And as in probably all religions, in particular Ifá and the Northern Tradition, all wisdom has multiple meanings. Warriors, battles, and death are both literal and metaphorical.

Odin sacrificed himself to himself in order to set himself free and truly learn who and what he was. As a deity, or even archetype, it is a bit funny to think of him needing to embark on such a journey, but the story itself demonstrates the whole point of his essence: allowing the ego to die so that the soul can be free to be fully expressed.
Valknut pendant
Who are we when we remove all outer and societal trappings? Who are when we release the baggage that builds up over the years, the stories we tell ourselves (and believe) about what and who we are, and are not? About what we can do and cannot, about what is acceptable and what isn't? If our ultimate goal is self-actualization, then our greatest sacrifice is of ourselves toward that goal. In order to learn, we have to get rid of binary thinking and open ourselves to paradox, to all possibility, which is why true "Odinists" know no barriers or limitations. All experiences, all people, all cultures, all aspects of social strata, all elements of nature, offer new knowledge and the opportunity to learn both about the cosmos and about ourselves. The number nine symbolizes completion; Odinism is ultimately about becoming whole, and free.

If the World Tree is within us, then Odin is effectively hanging himself in the liminal, sacred space of his own inner self, the ultimate initiation. Who are you when you have nothing to name you? By letting himself go he was able to open himself up to the keys of the universe and universal knowledge/wisdom/truth. And with that wisdom he was able to dialogue - consciously engage with - existence itself.

Some believe that to wear a valknut indicates a dedication to Odin and/or Odinic principles, and to the path of a warrior. As I mentioned before, I believe that soldiers are one sort of warrior, and the strength, bravery, and willingness to confront physical death that they embrace as part of their duty to protect and serve is sacred and sobering. I also believe that the path of the warrior is a choice that we make in every moment of our lives, whether or not we ever set foot on a literal battle field.

From my perspective, Odin's principles include (but are not limited to) having the strength to stand up for what is right; reducing and eliminating perceived barriers that prevent us from engaging in the dynamic fabric of life; opening our hearts and minds to learning from all things, and all people; having the courage to look at our own shadows (and not run away); working to identify the influence of our egos, and then working to free ourselves from those bindings; to fully embody our unique selves. All of this involves the never-ending work of self-evaluation, self-acceptance, a desire, dedication, and intent to always "be and do" as authentically, honestly, and openly as possible; a willingness to challenge ourselves to always grow, evolve, and learn.

He alone knows
who wanders wide
and has much experienced 
by what disposition each man is ruled
who common sense possesses.
-Havamal, 18 (B. Thorpe)


  1. What a great post. Though I know near to nothing about Odin, I really love the way to explore his principles/teachings here. This is the second sort of post that I've seen like this and it's such a meaty way to transition in to winter. (see what I did there? eh? eh?:)) thank you for sharing Olivia xx

    1. Thanks, Alaina! Ha! Yes, I see what you did there ;) Thanks for stopping through! <3

  2. Funny, I've read many things about Odin, but never really brought them together to think about what he represents as a whole. This was a fascinating post. I love what you say about self-actualization actually being about sacrificing our "selves", and having to choose the warrior path. Not for the faint of heart! :)

  3. Thanks, Chloe! Definitely not for the faint of heart, that is true! <3