Why I Follow Odin

I’ve talked a lot about Loki’s path and what it means to walk it, and I’ve discussed why Odin’s path can be a hard one to walk. But what I haven’t discussed is why Odin is my patron God – at least, not in depth. I’ve mentioned before that He was the first God to come to me when I was walking an eclectic Pagan path, that He was essentially the first God to ever approach me.

That may have been what started me down my Heathen path, and I felt drawn to Him because He had come to me personally, but that wasn’t what made me realize that He was my patron.

Actually, the first time I realized how similar I was to Odin (the deity whose personality is closest to yours tends to be the easiest to develop a patron relationship with), I was a little bit terrified. Okay, if I’m being honest, extremely terrified. Not because the two of us were so similar, but because I became aware, at that moment, that there was nothing I could ever hide from Him. That He would always be able to see through to who I was underneath.

When I came to that realization, I was terrified because I wasn’t ready to be honest with myself yet, let alone have a deity able to see right through me. So, I ignored the relationship with Odin for awhile – a year, in fact – before I swore myself into His service. I was still uneasy with the relationship because I knew that He could see everything, and I didn’t know how to handle that.

I think there was a large part of me that was worried about failing, about never living up to His standards, and another large part of me that questioned why a God like Odin would ever want anything to do with me. Because I grew up in a home where I was made to feel worthless, and there are still days that I fight against that legacy. I didn’t think I had anything to offer anyone – I didn’t see myself as having any value, and that made walking Odin’s path extremely difficult.

Especially because I could have used advice when I started on Odin’s path. But every time I tried to ask for advice or even hinted at struggling at all on any of the internet groups I joined (internet because there’s not much of a Pagan or Heathen presence where I live), I got shut down, and I got shut down in the harshest manner possible.

I remember reading various posts about how only true warriors and martial artists can ever be called to Odin, and how those who don’t at the very least train themselves in martial arts should never deign to call on Odin at all. And that made it even more difficult to try to figure out what Odin wanted from me. I had no idea what to do.

So I immersed myself in the lore, and I tried to ignore all of the naysayers in the forums and on the groups, but there were still doubts that ate at me. And I hated myself, in some ways, for having doubts. I felt that, if I were being a “proper” Heathen, then I wouldn’t have doubts about the path I was walking. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to have doubts.

I think, somewhere along the way, I got so caught up in judging myself for having doubts that I forgot what Odin’s path is truly about, and the central tenet of His path is to seek wisdom. To ask questions. To explore doubts. To be comfortable with not knowing, but uncomfortable enough with not knowing to be willing to seek out the answers.

And that was the reason that I had turned onto Odin’s path in the first place. Because, in Odin, I had found a God who encouraged me to ask questions, who encouraged me to have doubts and to explore those doubts. When I read the Poetic Edda for the first time, I was enchanted and entranced by the stories where Odin went out of His way to obtain both knowledge and wisdom. I was amazed that there was finally a God out there who considered knowledge and wisdom important because I had always valued those traits.

I was raised in a Christian environment, where I was taught that humans were wrong to seek knowledge because of the punishment that the Christian God enacted on Adam and Eve when he learned that the two had eaten from the tree of knowledge. I have always hated that story because I have always felt that a proper God would encourage knowledge, not berate it.

In Odin, I found that God. And a lot of the sacrifice that Odin requires is present already for those who possess a decent amount of intellect. The major sacrifice made by anyone who truly follows Odin’s path is the ability to be blissfully ignorant of the world around you. The price of wisdom is the price of being able to see the reality of the world and how terrible and harsh reality can be. When you choose to see the world the way it is, you automatically sacrifice happiness because there is too much humanity in a person to be able to see the depth of all the world’s horrors and truly remain happy.

It’s ironic, too, when you think about the story of how Odin sacrificed one of his eyes in order to gain wisdom from Mimir’s well. There are some interpretations of that myth that suggest what Odin really did was trade one type of vision for another, and that resonates with me now. Because once you truly embrace Odin’s path, you learn how to see the world through a different pair of lenses, and you are no longer able to easily ignore the horrors you see go on around you. You trade in illusion for reality, and, in turn, you gain access to a small part of Odin’s wisdom. And that, in my experience, has been more than worth the price.

Surviving Odin’s Path

Maybe it’s because I grew up in an abusive home, but I’ve come to recognize the signs of when someone has come close to their breaking point. Actually, I would say it is because I grew up in an abusive home. I learned to recognize the body language my mom exhibited when she was close to her breaking point, and I learned to tiptoe around it.

In essence, I learned how to manipulate because I had to learn how to do so in order to survive. Saying the wrong thing led to places I didn’t want to go, and acting the wrong way – well, let’s suffice to say that the results of that were even less pleasant. I learned to maneuver myself in ways that meant I could present myself to others without ever having them think of me as a threat, or, conversely, I could make myself seem a bigger threat than I was. Essentially, I learned to relate to others through the body language they showed me, and I learned to portray what they expected to see.

And, for a long time, I hated that about myself. I hated that I used manipulation without even thinking about it, and I used to insist that I would never manipulate anyone else and that I didn’t do it at all. But that was more to counter the hatred I had of the way I had been forced to learn to manipulate in order to survive than it was hatred of the manipulation itself.

It’s ironic, though, that society in general looks at manipulation in a negative light – the word carries tons of negative connotations. But manipulation can be used in a positive way, and if that wasn’t true, I would never have been able to learn how to manipulate myself in order to help heal from the mental wounds my mother inflicted on me. I had to relearn how to think, had to manipulate my thinking patterns into new pathways, and I had to create my own honor code that could accept that I had the ability to manipulate others but that I could choose to do it in a kind way rather than a cruel one.

Generally, manipulation is thought of as a tool to get others to go along with what you want or to get what you want. But it can also be used to convince others that they have more potential than they think they do, can help rally others to a cause that they themselves believe in, and provide a way for those whose minds have been damaged to heal themselves.

But the kind of damage that a person must undergo to need manipulation to heal themselves leaves terrible scars, and that damage instills in a person a hardness and steadfastness that is equivalent to the battle hardness found in soldiers. I will never forget the day I spent talking to a man who did three tours in Iraq about my past or his words about how I had survived a war zone that existed outside of the battlefield.

There are obligations that parents have to children that my parents rarely met, and I learned to do what I had to in order to survive at a very early age. I learned that the only person who would ever properly care for me was myself, and I learned not to expect anyone around me to offer me support. I grew up hard, and I’ve lost none of that. I don’t think you can lose it once you’ve gained it.

However, that hardness – that strength – is what allows me to walk Odin’s path because I know that it requires sacrifice, more sacrifice than most realize. I know that it means I will watch others I care about die because Odin is a death-god (and so many are so quick to forget that), and I know that it means I will not die an easy death. But I have not had an easy life, and I see no reason to go easily into death. I was walking Odin’s path before I even knew that there was such a path to walk, so it made sense to continue following it when Odin came into my life.

But it was Odin who helped me realize that I had the strength needed to follow His path, that I could give up what I needed to give up in order to gain the blessings He bestows on those who follow Him.

A few people have told me that they could never follow Odin because they were afraid of how much they would have to give up, and I can appreciate their candor. Of all the paths I walk, Odin’s is the most difficult. Because while the blessings received are always worth the pain wrought (because there is always pain, whether it is physical or emotional), the level of that pain is not to be underestimated. Odin is a dark God; he is a War God, a Death God, and of Shamanistic magic. Those aspects are enhanced by, not balanced by, His provinces of poetry and wisdom.

There are many who try to portray Odin as a light God of laughter and love and majesty. He is none of those things, although He can seem them when He wishes to. I think Pagans often forget that any deity who deals in death deals with the Dark side of life. While death is part of life – in fact, life couldn’t exist without it – death isn’t light.

What is so ironic, here, to me, is that Odin is so well-worshiped among modern Heathens while Loki is so despised. Loki is light. He is laughter and fire and passion and all of the things that balance out the dark path that belongs to Odin. Loki is the one who provides the means to survive Odin’s path without succumbing to the dark completely. That’s why I can’t understand those Heathens who insist on worshiping Odin and refuting Loki – if Loki’s path didn’t balance out Odin’s path, I don’t know how I would have made it through the last six years of my life. I don’t know how I would even make it through a day.

The Importance of Sacrifice

In general, those of us who follow a Pagan faith (whether that faith be Wicca, Asatru, Religio Romana, Kemetism, Hellenism, etc) embrace orthopraxy as part of our spirituality. Which means that we participate in making sacrifices to the Gods we honor by offering alcoholic beverages, food, trinkets, and so on.

Yet it has come to my attention in the last couple of years that there are a lot of people who “sort of” follow Pagan paths rather than fully committing. And that’s fine – up until you ask a deity to interfere in your personal affairs and that deity chooses to respond favorably.

Exchange and sacrifice are an inherent understanding of Pagan faiths. When a deity acts for you, it stands to reason that there is a need to respond in kind – to acknowledge the favor the Gods have bestowed upon you.

I can’t speak for the Gods of other pantheons, but the Norse Gods seem to take a failure to offer a token of appreciation as a great insult. Especially Odin, and it’s generally not wise to offend Him, considering He is one of the darker Gods of the Norse pantheon. Interestingly enough, Odin is far more widely honored in modern times than He was in the pre-Christian era.

Anyway, in the first example – a High Priestess swore an oath to Odin. He upheld his end of the oath made, and she failed to come through. Instead of paying her debt, she did everything she could to exorcise His presence. In order to assure the debt was paid, Odin started to “haunt” the woman’s best friend until she came to me for help, wondering why this sinister, faceless man kept appearing to her on the nights she would visit her friend. Eventually, we put the story together. I don’t know if the High Priestess ever paid her debt – I was tasked only with communicating the message, not resolving the issue.

And communicating that message seems to be part and parcel of the oath I swore dedicating myself to Odin. I don’t speak of this often because I tend to assume people understand what I mean when I say I have dedicated myself to Odin, but perhaps I need to specify what I mean. When I say I am dedicated to Odin, I mean I wear the Valknut, the symbol often called the “Knot of the Slain,” and it essentially marks me as one of Odin’s chosen warriors, which means He can call me to the other side without warning.

In any case, the other example I have of a person who failed to properly appease Odin I actually learned of today – again, I was acting as His messenger. I learned that a woman’s husband had – half-jokingly – addressed one of the numerous crows we have in this area as Odin and asked Odin for help in curing his son’s illness (the boy, 3 years old, was in the hospital on a ventilator due to pneumonia, with little prognosis of getting better anytime soon). Two days after the request, the boy was off the ventilator and growing healthier each day. The woman told me that there had been increasing amounts of crows at her house – so many it has become impossible to walk out the door without seeing an entire murder of them. I asked her if she or her husband had offered a token of appreciation, and she said her husband decided to give up smoking pot for a month but wasn’t sure he had actually dedicated that sacrifice to Odin.

Granted, my knee-jerk reaction (which I avoided actually voicing) was that giving up pot for a month didn’t really seem like much of a sacrifice for a life saved. But I don’t know the woman’s husband, don’t know the hardship that giving up pot would cause him (if any), and I think it’s important to consider that each person comes to a sacrifice in a different way. If the deity to whom the sacrifice is being made accepts the offering, then the sacrifice is valid. If, however, the deity doesn’t accept the offering, something else is required. Figuring out whether the offering has or hasn’t been accepted can be difficult, but I would suggest that if you start seeing a murder of crows outside your house after offering something to Odin, then that sacrifice has most likely not been accepted.

I’m not sure if there’s an irony to the reason Odin is rarely present in my life or if it is to be expected because He in essence can call on me whenever He likes (and so rarely sees the need to do so), but every time He does show up, it always seems to be to communicate a message similar to this one.

I feel like there are a lot of Pagans out there, Heathens included (since some Heathens try to separate themselves from that umbrella) who look at the Gods as kind and benevolent figures who would never threaten or harm Their followers. While that’s a pretty ideal, it is one that completely disregards reality. The Gods are complex. They are kind, but They are also cruel. It does no one good to forget that truth.

If you’re looking for a TL:DR version (which I rarely ever offer), then this would be the catchphrase: If you ask the Gods for a favor and They grant it, pay Them back. 



What is Morality?

I stumbled across this question today: ” When it comes to questions about ethics what is the yardstick in Asatru to measure if something is right or wrong?”

And there is no good answer because morality is relative. It boils down to the question, “If killing one person would prevent the deaths of millions, would you kill the one to save the many or save the one?”

In my experience, most people faced with this ethical dilemma will choose to save the one person they know they can save and hope that something will happen to keep the person from killing millions of others. It’s the whole, “If you could go back and time and kill Hitler, if by doing so you would save millions of lives, would you?”

Most people say no to that question because there is an inherent understanding that changing the past is somehow intrinsically wrong. There are a few people who say yes, but the majority say no, even though Hitler did incredibly horrible things. In some ways, Hitler taught us who we don’t want to be, which is just as important as learning who we do want to be.

I think, in Heathenry, acting morally comes down to a decision – your own sense of ethics vs. the community’s sense of ethics. There are times when a community’s sense of ethics are flawed, when persecution is embraced, and that’s when you can’t allow yourself to be fully swayed by the ethics of the society you live within.

At the same time, if your sense of morality tells you that a man should be killed for killing someone else, but the community thinks that imprisonment is a more viable option, then your sense of ethics needs to be put aside in favor of the community’s.

Figuring out when your ethics should be embraced over the community’s sense of ethics and when you should embrace the community’s sense of ethics is, in my mind, what defines morality.

I might think it a kindness to allow terminally ill patients to euthanize themselves, but society says that it’s cruel and illegal, so I abide by that decision. Laws are, for the most part, what guide the overall framework for society’s moral stance.

Morality is an incredibly hard concept to define because it’s more than a simple right vs. wrong argument. Because sometimes what seems right is the wrong thing to do, and sometimes what seems wrong is the right thing to do. We don’t live in a world where right and wrong are so clear-cut that mistakes can’t be made. But it’s through those mistakes that we learn where we stand on moral issues, and it’s also how we grow into our own humanity.