The nordic mythology is rich in mystery and symbolism. The myths of Odin and the Norse cosmos can at times be directly related to common features in a multitude of mysteries and esoteric practices. The magic that Odin, the nordic all-father, uses is called Seidr meaning string or cord. It is a form of shamanism that was commonly practised among the priesthood of northern Europe, being most prevalent among woman. It was the practice of Seidr that bestowed the ability upon Odin to traverse up and down Yggdrasil with his steed Sleipnir, and between worlds in the pursuit of wisdom and immortality. This article will discuss certain Norse symbolism and their relation to common themes in the mysteries and esoteric arts.
Hidden within the mythos, tradition and poetry of northern Europe are the symbolism of the Seidr or Seiðr. This is the practice of magic and altering of fate. It is commonly symbolised by weaving threads, all to alter the greater tapestry. The Norns are masters of the practice of Seidr, while it was Freya who introduced it to the gods, in particular, Odin. Alongside one another, Odin and Freya both represent the feminine and masculine deities of Seidr practise. However, the Norn remain to outright masters of Seidr as it is their responsibility to weave the destiny of the worlds, gods and mankind into the tapestry of time. It is believed that Freyja, a Vanir (lesser god) and chief maiden of the valkyries, first learned the art from the Norn, and in turn taught it to the Æzir (higher gods). When the valkyries of Freyja advance their knowledge of Seidr, they, in turn, become Norn themselves. On Midgard (earth) this form of magic was mostly practised by woman, who acted as seeresses and priestesses. They were known as the völva or seiðkona. These mystics would travel between towns and provide services of their practice in exchange for hospitality and payment. Men also practice the art of seidr but were often ridiculed as being ‘engi’ meaning unmanly. Even Loki accused Odin of being ‘ergi’. Regardless, the practice of Norse Siedr survives unto this day for men and woman alike. It is even growing as more people adopt alternative forms of spiritual practice.
The symbolism depicted in the mysteries of Seidr are in many regards universal and depict a magical craft, not unlike others. Similar to other mystery schools, philosophies and religions, the macrocosm in nordic myth is depicted by means of a tree. This is the mighty ash tree Yggdrasil, the world or cosmic tree. With nine worlds within its roots, trunk and branches the tree is surrounded by a tenth realm or cosmic egg. This egg as Manly P. Hall states is “the definitionless Cipher of the Mysteries” and its shell, the “First cause or Crown” which both creates and surrounds the tree. This is very similar to the Sephirothic tree of Qabbalism, in that both have nine realms or corresponding planes surrounded by the “First cause”. The tree symbolises both the macrocosm (creation) and the microcosm (human), along with their hierarchies, realms and laws. Yggdrasil, the Sephiroth, the Tree of Knowledge, the ash tree of Greek mysteries and many more depict this very same concept. Other archetypal images of mystery tradition are observed in the exploits of the gods, especially so in the case of Odin.
Odin sees through one eye and councils with his two ravens Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory). These ravens soar the skies of Midgard (earth) and then return to Odin to whisper what they have witnessed. In some esoteric circles, the ravens represent the conscious and sub-conscious minds. Mastery of this duel relationship between conscious and subconscious mind is a requirement for any spiritual or arcane practitioner. The concept of birds representing the two states of mind can be seen in the work of Carl Jung. As Timothy Bourn states “Carl Jung proposed that birds can symbolise movement from the conscious to the unconscious mind; and Mircea Eliade wrote extensively on the connection between shamanism and mythical bird-imagery—named the Magical Flight— an idea with clear links to the deity Óðinn.” In the case of Hugin and Munin, this is very likely as their names directly refer to conscious thought and subconscious memory. The use of a bird and flight as a symbol of transcendence to higher worlds is evident in many mystic schools and religions. This may very well be true in nordic symbolism too.
Beneath one of the three roots of Yggdrasil, lies the well of wisdom called Mimisbrunnr, where Odin sacrificed an eye for the right to drink from it. Odin’s sacrifice of plucking out his right eye in order to gain wisdom from Mimir’s well represents the ability to perceive through one eye. This symbolises the third eye, pineal gland, or Anja chakra, which is commonly found in religious, philosophical and esoteric branches. This is perhaps the most well known of all mystery symbols and likewise universal in its meaning. The third eye in mystery tradition represents perception from a higher perspective. This eye is able to see past all barriers and into other realms in order to find knowledge, truth and wisdom. Odin’s thirst for knowledge led to further self-sacrifice.
In the archetypal imagery of experiencing death to reach higher states of understanding, Odin hung himself from Yggdrasil and stabbed himself with his spear Gungir. For nine days he refused aid from others as he hanged and peered down into the Well of Urd, the same well the Norn use to water the roots of Yggdrasil. From here, Odin called to the runes and in turn, the well provided him with their wisdom. The gain of wisdom through death and sacrifice is even evident in Christiaan texts as Ronald Hutton states, “Christ and Odin are both hanged upon a tree (the latter being the common medieval term for a scaffold, applied very often to the cross). Both are pierced by spears, thirst, cry out and are resurrected with infinitely greater glory…”
If one delves deeper into the nordic myth, as with other mythology and mystery traditions, one will become ever more aware of the universal concepts underlying the imagery. The practice of Seidr, like any other arcane art is a means of manipulating the accepted nature of reality. It is used to advance one’s personal wisdom and knowledge as to weave an alternative destiny into the fabric of time. From Yggdrasil to Hugin and Munin, an imagery can be decoded to understand fully what is hidden beneath the art and poetry of nordic myth and magic. Even unto this day, this imagery is powerful enough to entrance those who stare into it and to ensure its survival in the archives of mankind.
Feature Image: By Bloodofox (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Blain, J. (2001) Nine worlds of Seid- magic: Ecstacy and Neo-Shamanism in North-European paganism. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.
Hall, P. and Hall, M.P. (2007) The secret teachings of all ages: An encyclopedic outline of Masonic, hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian symbolic philosophy. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.
Hutton, R. (1991) The pagan religions of the ancient British Isles: Their nature and legacy. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
Sherman, J. (2008) Storytelling: An encyclopedia of mythology and folklore. New Brunswick, NJ, United States: Sharpe Reference.
(No Date) Available at: http://skemman.is/stream/get/1946/12869/31219/1/The_Language_of_Birds_in_Old_Norse_Tradition.pdf (Accessed: 20 October 2016).