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Odin - Old Norse God of War, Wisdom, Wanderers, Witchcraft, and Writing

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Odin is the most important god in Norse mythology and the ideal deity for those looking for a multifaceted deity characterized by curiosity and a willingness to do what it takes to get things done.

He is known as the All-Father and is the progenitor of most of the gods of Asgard in the Norse pantheon. He is also one of the deities responsible for the creation of the world and mankind. The Vikings considered him the god of war, wisdom, wanderers, writing, witchcraft, and Valhalla.

Modern design of Odin the All-Father
Modern design of Odin the All-Father

Odin the God


According to the creation story of Norse mythology, at the dawn of the cosmos Buri, the forefather of all the gods, was licked out of the primordial salt rime by the cosmic cow Audumbla. His son Borr mated with the giantess Bestla, who gave birth to Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve.

At the same time, the primordial giant Ymir was reproducing, with giants springing from his armpits. Worried about the chaos that these beings would wreak on the universe, the three brothers killed Ymir and used his body to create the earth. The flood caused by Ymir’s blood killed almost all of the giants in existence.

The Norse mythology story says that the brothers later created human beings to populate their new world. But they quickly saw that humans would be unable to defend themselves in the Norse universe. They fenced off Midgard, the realm of men, from the rest of the cosmos and became their deities and defenders.


Odin is the father, or grandfather, of many of the Norse deities. His most famous son is Thor, the God of Thunder and the protector of Asgard (the realm of the gods) and Midgard (the realm of men). He fathered Thor on the giantess Jord, who was a personification of the Earth.

With his Aesir wife Frigg, Odin had a son called Baldr, who was the kindest and most handsome of the Norse gods of Asgard. He was killed by Loki, and it was this act that sets in motion the series of events that will cause Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse. It was also this action that caused Odin to break his blood brotherhood with Loki. Prior to this, an old pact meant that Odin was obliged to always accept Loki at his table in Asgard.

Odin also fathered the god Vidarr with the giantess Gridr. He was created specifically to avenge his father’s inevitable death at Ragnarok.

He is also sometimes called the father of several other Norse deities including Heimdall, Bragi, Tyr, and Hodr, but the sources are mixed and unclear.


Odin is a god of war, and it was his favor that was invoked before battle in Viking times. The god of war decides who will win and who will lose and can offer individual protection and strength to warriors.

The most common weapon carried by Viking warriors was the spear, and Odin also carries the enchanted spear Gungnir. Crafted by the Dark Elves, this perfectly balanced weapon for war and never misses its mark.

Before the great war between the Aesir gods and the Vanir gods, Odin threw his spear over the Vanir enemy to officially initiate the battle. Vikings would often throw their spears over the heads of their enemies before battle to dedicate them to Odin.

The Helm of Awe is a modern Scandinavian symbol that can be used to invoke Odin before a battle or other type of challenge. Drawn on the forehead, it promises success, even if success does not look exactly like you imagine.

Aegishjalmur, Helm of Awe, symbol inside a Runic Circle
Aegishjalmur, Helm of Awe, symbol inside a Runic Circle


In several stories from Norse mythology Odin is described as being thirsty for wisdom and willing to do anything to obtain it. He understands better than most that knowledge is power. He is depicted as having just one eye because he plucked out his own eye as a sacrifice to Mimir to be allowed to drink from the well of wisdom.

Similarly, when he learned that the giants were in possession of the Mead of Poetry, he infiltrated their stronghold, pretending to be in love with the giantess who was protecting the mead. He convinced her to let him sip the mead so that he could compose poetry about his feelings.

Instead, Odin drank all the mead and then turned himself into an eagle to fly away. Pursued by the giants, some of the mead escaped from his body as waste and penetrated the ground. Men who drank this residual mead became master bards. The rest Odin stored in three great drinking horns prepared for him in Asgard.

The Horned Triskelion is a Viking symbol that represents the story of Odin stealing the mead and can be used to invoke Odin in creative pursuits.

Odin teaches us that acquiring wisdom, knowledge, and experience often requires a sacrifice, and rituals invoking Odin’s aid should often involve a personal sacrifice.

Odin hung from Yggdrasi to learn the secrets of the runes
Odin hung from Yggdrasi to learn the secrets of the runes


Odin has a great throne in Asgard where he can sit and look out over all the realms of the Norse cosmos and see everything. But he does not like to stay there. He prefers to take on the guise of a wanderer and walk the world himself learning what he can.

He wanders using various aliases, but is always accompanied by two ravens, Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory), which reveal Odin’s identity to those with keen eyes.

Considering the Vikings were explorers, it is little surprise that they venerated a god with the spirit of an explorer.

The modern Scandinavian symbol Vegvisir is a wayfinding symbol that can be used to call on the guidance of Odin. Those who use the symbol will never lose their way, even if they do not know their final destination.

Vegvisir, Norse Compass, wayfinding symbol
Vegvisir, Norse Compass, wayfinding symbol


The Norns, the Norse fates, sit at the base of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, and write destiny into its bark using the runes. According to Norse mythology, seeing this act, Odin was desperate to learn the secrets of the runes. He hung himself from Yggdrasil for nine days and nine nights while pierced by his own spear to learn their secret. He then shared this knowledge with mankind.

The runes are more than just an alphabet that can be used to describe existence. They are a magical toolkit to shape destiny for those who know how to use them.

The runic circle is often used to represent runic magic and our power as individuals to shape our own destiny. The circle can be incorporated into rituals that invoke Odin’s help to find the strength to make big decisions.

Norse runic cirlce
Norse runic cirlce


Odin is a master of rune magic, and also a master of Seidr magic, which was taught to him by the Vanir goddess Freyja when she came to Asgard as a hostage. Seidr is considered a feminine art, but Odin still practices it, unconcerned about those who might question his manliness.

The Triquetra symbol is commonly associated with Odin and magic and is often incorporated into altars to the god.

The world tree Yggdrasil also represents Seidr magic as it is this tree that links all things in the universe and commands the flow of energy between worlds.

Triquetra and Yggdrasil symbols
Triquetra and Yggdrasil symbols


Odin’s hall in Asgard is called Valhalla. Norse mythology tells us that Odin, with the help of the Valkyries, chooses the bravest fallen warriors to live in Asgard in paradise. It is Viking belief that the warriors will stay there until they are called on to fight again alongside the gods in the final battle of Ragnarok when the giants attack Asgard.

The Valkyries can often accompany Odin to an altar as his female helpers.

The Valknut represents Valhalla and was used in Viking times to call the Valkyries to take the fallen warrior to Valhalla and repel spirits that might want to take them to an alternative afterlife. The symbol can also be used to represent one’s destiny, as it is the destiny of these warriors to fight at Ragnarok.

Valknut Valhalla symbol
Valknut Valhalla symbol

Woden the German Odin

As Norse mythology is based on earlier Germanic religion, we can trace the old Norse "Odin" back to the Germanic "Woden", also known as the "lord of frenzy" or the "leader of the possessed". Most of what we know about this god came from Roman contact with the Germans from the second century BC onwards.

Tacitus compares Woden to the Roman god Mercury and noted that he was one of the principal deities worshipped by the Germans. But interestingly, he is not a god of war, but rather a deity of communication and an intermediary between men and gods.

It is rather Tyr that is associated with Mars, the Roman god of war. Scholars believe that Tyr was originally the most important god among the Germans and the Vikings until he was surpassed by Odin, who also took on many of Tyr's attributes, contributing to the complexity of the old Norse god's character.

The Fate of Odin in Norse Mythology

Odin is not a god who is considered invincible and immortal. He is destined to die in the prophesied apocalypse of Ragnarok, one of the most important events in Norse mythology that is yet to happen.

He will lead the battle of the gods against the giants that are desperate to destroy them. He will be joined by the many warriors of Valhalla in defending Asgard. But Odin will be devoured by the great wolf Fenrir, who will also devour much of the world.

At the end of Ragnarok, the cosmos will sink into the waters of chaos, and the universe as we know it will no longer exist.

Who causes Ragnarok?

According to tradition, Loki sets in motion the events of Ragnarok when he causes the death of Odin's son Baldr. This breaks the peace between Loki and the gods, which causes him to lead his children in the final war against the gods. But if you look further back, it is Odin who puts events into motion.

According to Norse mythology, when Odin discovered that Loki had three children with the giantess Angrboda, he was struck by great fear of the fruits of such a monstrous union. This seems to mimic the fear he felt at the many children of the giant Ymir, which led him to kill the giant and the majority of its offspring.

With Loki's children, Odin decided to put them where they could do the least harm. The first, a serpent called Jormungandr, he threw into the waters around Midgard. But there it grew to such a great size that it can encircle the entire world and hold its own tail in its mouth.

The mighty wolf Fenrir the gods tricked and chained up on a deserted island where he is left to howl in anger.

Odin found the couple's third child, Hel, disgusting to look upon because she is half living and half dead. He banished her to Niflheim to be the queen of the underworld.

Is it any surprise that these three children, fully grown, would choose to join their father Loki in a war of revenge against Odin and the gods?

Moreover, when Odin punished Loki for his role in the death of Baldr, he did not stop with Loki. He had Hodr, an Aesir patsy used by Loki to kill Baldr, executed. Loki was imprisoned with a venomous snake dropping painful venom onto his head. But before this, Odin summoned Loki's two children with the Asgard goddess Sigyn. He turned one into a wolf, and losing his senses he tore his other brother apart. Odin then used the entrails of Loki's dead son to tie him to his prison rock.

Odin is certainly ruthless, and it seems to be his own mistakes that will eventually lead to Ragnarok.

Odin and wolf Fenrir Ragnarok
Odin and wolf Fenrir Ragnarok

Attributes and Symbols of Odin


Gungnir is Odin’s enchanted spear made for him by the Dark Elves (dwarves). It is so perfectly balanced that it will never miss its mark. The spear represents the tool of the warrior, but it is not a prestige weapon, such as a sword. It is a common and effective weapon that is wielded with skill and humility.

As well as using the spear in battle, Odin used Gungnir to sacrifice himself on Yggdrasil to learn the secret of the runes. It reminds us that there is more than one way to wield weapons and seek victory.

The spear is also a symbol of authority, as Odin is the leader and chief of Asgard. But in the old Norse world, leaders only remain in power for as long as they are accepted by their followers. The spear represents both the power and responsibility of leadership.

Odin spear Gungnir and Ravens Huginn and Muninn
Odin spear Gungnir and Ravens Huginn and Muninn


Draupnir is a less commonly depicted attribute of Odin, but is another treasure that was made for him by the Dark Elves. It is a fine golden ring that replicates every nine days, making eight further rings just as fine.

This was a fine attribute for a Viking leader, as they were required to share wealth with their followers to maintain their position and status. It is a reminder that giving is an important part of self-growth and development.

The ring also reflects the idea that it is better to learn to create something for yourself than just receive from another person.


Sleipnir is Odin’s eight-legged steed. While it is difficult for most beings to move between the different worlds of the Norse cosmos, Sleipnir moves between them with ease. He can even descend from Asgard to the underworld and return.

Sleipnir reminds us to be adaptable, like Odin, and to slide between different personas as we face new challenges.

Odin riding Sleipnir symbol
Odin riding Sleipnir symbol


Ravens acted as Odin’s eyes and ears in the world. They are a reminder of the need to observe and consider before acting. This is reflected in the names of the two ravens that always accompany Odin when he is wandering, Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory).

The Vikings believed it a good omen to see ravens circling a battlefield as it meant that Odin was present to choose the bravest fallen warriors to take to Valhalla, his hall in Asgard. This reminds us to look for opportunity in what looks like defeat and disappointment.

Including ravens in your altar can ensure that Odin sees and hears your work.

Odin Raven Huginn and Muninn symbol
Odin Raven Huginn and Muninn symbol


Wolves are generally considered a dangerous and chaotic force, and Odin himself is destined to be devoured and killed by the great wolf Fenrir. But Odin is also always accompanied by two familiar wolves, Geri (greed) and Freki (ravenous).

These wolves represent Odin’s most challenging personal characteristics. But while he must struggle constantly to control them, they are also a great sense of strength for the god and drive him forward.

This meaning reminds us of our own most challenging characteristics, which we must learn to control, but can also be a source of strength.

Odin and wolves Geri and Freki
Odin and wolves Geri and Freki


The Valknut is the symbol of Valhalla. In Viking archaeology, it always appears alongside Odin and the dead. It is thought that the symbol was used to call Odin and the Valkyries to take the fallen warrior to Valhalla, and also to repel other spirits that might want to take their soul to an alternative afterlife.

But the meaning of the Valknut is also the courage and bravery that is required to reach Valhalla and the philosophy of living without regret. The Valknut can also be a symbol of destiny, as the warriors of Valhalla have a grand destiny to fulfill.

Horned Triskelion

The Horned Triskelion is a symbol of three interlocking horns that represent the three horns in Asgard in which Odin stores the Mead of Poetry. This symbol can be used when invoking the assistance of Odin in creative pursuits.


The Triquetra is a symbol linked with natural magic in many cultures throughout history, including Norse culture. It is most closely linked with Seidr magic, of which Odin is a master. It can be used to invoke Odin in magical practices.

Runes, Vegvisir, and Aegishjalmur

Since Odin is credited with discovering the secrets of the runes and sharing them with mankind, the runes are also closely associated with the god. Circles of the complete alphabet of Furthark runes used by the Vikings are often associated with Odin.

While we know from the sources that the Vikings engaged in rune magic, no sources record how exactly they were used. The Vikings never wrote about themselves and these practices were probably kept secret from outsiders.

Our only insight into how the Vikings may have used their runes comes from a series of 18th-century Icelandic magic grimoires. But readers must be careful since practices surely changed in the 800 years between the height of the Viking period and the writing of the grimoires.

The grimoires use the runes to create magical staves that are designed to serve different purposes. The two most famous are Aegishjalmur and Vegvisir.

Aegishjalmur is also known as the Helm of Awe. According to the grimoire, a warrior should draw the symbol on their head before battle to ensure their success. Surely this would require invoking the favor of the god of war.

Vegvisir is also known as the Norse Compass. According to the grimoire, if you use the symbol you will never lose your way, even if you don't know where you are going. This was probably used as a wayfinding symbol of Viking explorers but has become a symbol of spiritual guidance in modern Asatru. As the god of wanderers, this spell must also invoke the favor of Odin.

Icelandic magical grimoire pages
Icelandic magical grimoire pages

Odin the Viking

While Thor is often considered the ideal Viking warrior, and was considered the strongest of the gods of Asgard, Odin was created by and very much embodies Viking culture.

War and conflict were at the center of the harsh Viking life. You had to fight for what you wanted, whether that was fighting the harsh weather or fighting your neighbor for resources. Strong leaders that united individual warriors made this possible, and Odin, the leader of Asgard, is the template of the Viking leader.

But while Odin is the god of war, he is also more than that. A good Viking warrior needs to be intelligent, curious, adventerous, and know the secrets of the world. They need to be able to read and write, and work magic.

Odin represents all of these elements, combined into a complicated character who is not perfect, but attacks every aspect of life with the spirit of a warrior.

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