Oðin: Misogynist or Bastard

Published in Cup of Wonder
Issue Number Four
October 2000

Notes From a Different Harp
By Sapphire Runesinger

First, let me say that I am new to Asatru. I have worshipped, honoured and studied the Goddess in all Her guises, and honoured Her Consorts as well; in fact, it was an article on Frigga found in a back issue of SageWoman, that piqued my interest in the Norse pantheon. I began looking more closely at the Norse Goddesses, and at Asatru. I found Teutonic Religion and Freya Aswynn's excellent Leaves of Yggdrasil. The Asatru Goddesses are more powerful than Wagner or the Third Reich portray. Blots to these Goddesses bring results. Yet, I am drawn to Asatru and at the same time uncomfortable with it.

There is no reason for a woman to be a friend of Odin. Indeed, I can name many reasons for her to have as little as possible with the Allfather! Odin is the original male chauvinist pig. He's unfaithful to His wife, Frigga. He treats His many mistresses and dalliances no better; He says outright in Havamal that He lies when he flatters them. He also claims that women are fickle, deceitful and not to be trusted. Odin seduces and abandons Gunnlod to win the mead of poetry and boasts about it later. Rinda is raped outright. He forces the Volva to reveal her prophecy to Him. He has no feminine qualities; He is not a god I would call on lightly.

by Arlea Æðelwyrd Hunt-Anschütz

I would argue that Oðin is a true egalitarian who is in touch with his feminine side. He sees women as worthy and equal opponents. He makes no special allowances for them. He can't afford to. The female gods and giants are just as intelligent, resourceful, and tough as their male counterparts. Oðin will use every resource at his disposal, including seduction, to accomplish his goals. In this way his behaviour is a lot like Freyja's.

Since Sapphire bases her conclusions on examples from the lore, I will proceed by examining these examples in detail. We must keep in mind that, through their symbolism, myths hold meaning at subconscious levels. They are not historical accounts of the actions of the gods. We must also keep in mind the fact that the tales we have were preserved for us by Christians who may have altered them somewhat to portray the Aesir and Vanir in a less than positive light. The Eddas can give us clues about the nature of a god, but they certainly don't tell the whole story. However, just for the sake of argument, I'll proceed as though Snorri and Saxo are accurate reporters who present incriminating evidence about my old friend Bolverk.

Concerning Oðin's unfaithfulness, Snorri tells us that Frigg is Oðin's "wife", but we are never told that she and One Eye took an oath of fidelity to each other. We know they had a son together, Baldr, whom they both dearly loved, but from the evidence we have in the lore, it seems as though their relationship with each other was, at best, strained. Grimnismal describes how, after an argument with Oðin, Frigg sends a message to King Geirrod telling him to beware of an evil wizard who might try to bewitch him. She gives him her husband's description. The result is that Oðin is tortured between two fires without food for eight days. In any case, it seems that Oðin and Frigg have an "open marriage." In Lokasenna Frigg is accused of sleeping with Oðin's two brother's, Vili and Ve. She doesn't deny the charge, but quickly changes the subject to Baldr. Oðin certainly couldn't have ever been "sneaking around" on Frigg. They both can view the worlds from Hlidskialf and Frigg is said to "know men's fates."

As for the seduction of Gunnlod, we must keep in mind that Bolverk did try to get hold of the mead of poetry by other means first, which included doing the work of nine men over the summer for Gunnlod's uncle. Oðin was serious about acquiring this mead, to the point of putting his own life in danger. He says in the Havamal 106:

With the mouth of the auger I made space for myself
and gnawed through the stone;
over me and under me went the paths of giants,
thus I risked my head. *

Oðin wasn't just playing around with Gunnlod. He needed her help to accomplish his mission as he tells us in Havamal 108:

I am in doubt as to whether I would have come
back from the courts of the giants,
if I had not made use of Gunnlod, that good woman,
and put my arms about her.

Did Ole One Eye mistreat the Jotun woman in some way order to acquire the mead of poetry? In Skaldskaparmal, Snorri tells us that: "Bolverk went to where Gunnlod was and lay with her for three nights and then she let him drink three draughts of the mead." There's no mention of any reluctance to cooperate on Gunnlod's part.

Havamal 110 states that Oðin "left Suttung betrayed at the feast and made Gunnlod weep". But is she weeping because she felt that Oðin had used her as a means to an end and then chosen to discard her? Or because she knows that, since Bolverk has stolen from and lied to them, her father and uncle would be sure to kill her lover if he ever came near her again? Given the affectionate way Oðin refers to her in the Havamal, the latter is a possibility.

In Baldrs Draumar Oðin uses magick to raise the reluctant seeress from the dead and to get her to speak, but since he does the same with Mimir, he's clearly an equal-opportunity necromancer. The seeress tells Oðin that Rind will give birth to his son Vali, who will slay Baldr's killer.

Saxo Grammaticus gives us the rest of the story. He states that Rind repeatedly rejected Oðin's advances. Finally, he put her under a spell to make her lose her wits. He then disguised himself as an old wise- woman and told Rind's father he could heal her. Once he had her to himself, he raped her. There's no reference to this rape in any other source. It's tempting to just write off the story as one more of Saxo's strange inventions since many details are inconsistent with the story of Baldr's death given in the Eddas. But let's suppose Saxo was reporting an ancient myth. This is no ordinary rape. Oðin doesn't force Rind to submit to him out of malice or some sick need to establish his dominance. He's motivated by the knowledge that his son by Rind will avenge Baldr and also be one of the few gods to survive Ragnarok.

If we take the mythology at face value, it looks as though, when other methods fail, Oðin is willing to put women under spells, seduce them or even rape them in order to accomplish what he feels is an important goal. He clearly feels that the end justifies the means. Does this make him a misogynist? No, it just makes him a bastard. He is equally ruthless with men. In his role as a god of war and death, he has to be.

In the Havamal, Oðin shares the benefit of his experience and the lessons he's learned from his mistakes. He advises men not to trust women, but this doesn't make him a chauvinist, since he also advises women not to trust men, as in verse 91:

I can speak frankly since I have known both:
the hearts of men are fickle towards women;
when we speak most fairly, then we think most falsely,
that entraps the wise mind.

This seems to me to be wise advise indeed. I've certainly come across women who are "fickle, deceitful and not to be trusted", and men who flatter women to try to get them into bed. Of course, not all women are untrustworthy and not all men are habitual liars, but it's usually better to regard advances from the opposite sex with scepticism rather than assuming that all men and women treat each other honestly.

Does Oðin have feminine qualities? Loki certainly thinks so. He accuses his blood brother of womanly behaviour in Lokasenna 24.

'But you once practise sied on Samsey,
and you beat on the drum like witches do,
in the likeness of a wizard you journeyed among mankind,
and I thought that the hallmark of a pervert.'

In Norse heathen society, Seid magick was associated with women's sexuality to the degree that a man practising it was thought to be sexually deviant. So why does Oðin indulge in it? For the same reason he hangs himself on Yggdrasil and the same reason he seduces Gunnlod. He'll do anything to gain wisdom.

Women should not call on Oðin lightly. Nor should men. He requires his chosen adherents to follow his example of risk taking and self- sacrifice in the pursuit of understanding and growth. He guides his friends down the treacherous path leading towards self-transformation. He puts them through trials that require them to live up to their fullest potential. He demands that they make tough choices and live with the results. Life with Bolverk as a patron involves going through agony in the pursuit of ecstasy.

Women befriend the Lord of the Gallows for the same reason that men do. They are willing to make the sacrifices that are necessary in order to achieve their goals, and they know that if they do make these sacrifices, Oðin will make their goals obtainable. And (a bit of personal insight from one who knows) women can be assured that Bolverk will be no less demanding of them in the process than he is of his male followers, and that the rewards they gain will be no less profound.

* All quotes from the Poetic Edda are from the Carolyne Larrington translation.

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