This runestone is a small altar to Odin on the farm. The rune is called ansuz, and is the rune of the gods in general, and of Odin in particular. The stone is set in a small oak grove where Catherine and I were married, and that we have dedicated to the gods. This altar, though, stands at the foot of a forked ash, the tree especially sacred to Odin. I am not sure why the sacredness of the ash, except that it is the primary wood to make handles, and Odin's spear, Guignar, which he is usually shown carrying, would have be of ash.
Odin is called Allfather for his role in the creation of the world and of mankind. He is also called Wanderer because of his many journies through Middle Earth and the other of the nine worlds, driven by a restless desire to know and experience. It is common for modern people to class him with such typical sky gods as Zeus and Jehovah, but the ancients knew better--to the Greeks and Romans he was Mercury, the god who leads the souls of the dead to the underworld, and Wednesday (Woden's day) in the North is Mercury's day in France and the Mediterranean. He is accompanied by two ravens, Hugin and Munin, birds more associated with death and the battlefield than with kingship. Odin is a god of warriors, and his battle maidens, the Valkyries carry of the best of those slain in battle to Valhalla to fight and feast until the final showdown with the Frost Giants at Ragnarok. But even more, Odin is a god of knowledge and wisdom. He gave up an eye to drink from the wisdom giving well of Mimir, and he was pierced with a spear and hung nine days and nights on the world ash to gain the knowledge of runes.
Though Odin is the best known of the gods, and generally considered the most powerful, not everyone cares to work with him. He has the reputation of being forceful in his methods, and of making a great many demands, many of them not easily fulfilled. It is not entirely a matter of choice, however; one can only work with those gods that are willing to make themselves known. My wife, Catherine, has had friendly visits from Sif and Njord, but only Odin has shown any particular interest in me. Not that he has offered to pave my way to fame and fortune; rather the message has been that I am too lazy and self-indulgent and need to get off my butt and do for myself, and that he did not hang nine days and nights on the tree to simply see that I got a free ride. Personally, I think that I am less lazy and self-indugent than a lot of the people I know, but apparently other people are not the issue. And, I am the better for the lesson in self- discipline. Odin is not one to ask you to agonize over past sins, though he may warn you not to be such an utter jerk next time. He does not ask you to leave your obligations and devote yourself to a life of prayer. He does not even ask you to love your enemies. What he does ask is that you behave like an intelligent and responsible adult, that you live up to your full potential, that you be a faithful friend and a dangerous enemy, that you be someone to be reckoned with. If the mere humans around you don't need to take you seriously, why should the gods?
This standing stone from Gotland in Sweden shows a number of violent scenes, perhaps Ragnarok. The third band down, however, is clearly dedicated to Odin. He is shown hanging from the tree, and further identified by his ravens, and by the valknut, the three interlocking triangles that are Odin's particular symbol.
The ancient Germanic people were skillful artists, but portraiture was not part of their repitoire. Images of humans and gods are highly stylized. Therefore our visual sense of Odin comes exclusively from the 19th and 20th centuries. Still, there is a consensus. He is always a somewhat selender, tall, bearded, one-eyed man who looks as though he has survived a life of struggle, and has lived, thought, and felt much and deeply. The best picture I know of is on Freya Aswynn's webpage, but I am not sure I am free to use that, or several of the other pictures that I truly like. Here is one by William Pogany from Children of Odin by Padraic Colum. It is a children's book, and so there is a little lack of edge to this. The one beside it, "Odin and Brunhild," by F. Leeke, 1890, is, unfortunately, a little too dark.
It is natural for people to visualize their gods--we are visual creatures. Not one physical detail is given about Jesus in the gospels, but there is a general consensus, and pictures vary surprisingly little. He never looks like Don Rickles or Don Knotts or any of the other thousands of types. Even Mary and God the Father are generally recognizable. The Greek gods and goddesses are rather stylized, but Hermes is clearly not Poseidon. (Poseidon and Zeus can be a problem, though.) If there were nude statues of Athena, Aphrodite, and Artemis, no one would have a problem telling which was which--not that anyone would dare do a nude statue of Athena in the first place. The Greek gods and goddesses are all sleek and elegant, and why not? They never go hungry, they don't die, they are never permanently maimed. Humans struggle and die; the gods watch. In the Iliad, they are comic relief. That is not the case with the Northern gods; their existence is a constant struggle to keep the whole vast framework of things together and working, and there are powerful forces battling against them. Thus Odin is rather rougher looking than the well-groomed Greeks.
The link in the middle is to page two of this site; the one the left is to an American folktale in which Odin appears in his role as Wanderer. It is called "Jack and the Witches." The other link is back to the Asatru page.
This page has been opening with glacial slowness, and so I have moved material to a second page and made some other adjustments that I hope will solve the problem. In addition to two more pictures of Odin, and some additional discussion, I have added Auden's translation of
Havamal, a long eddaic poem that is generally cosidered the best statement of an Odin-philosophy. This page ended at this point with pointing out a gold "next" button which led to the rest of the Odin page, and a couple of other buttons to other relevant pages. These are still at the bottom, but I have added a poem by Michaela Macha She is quite possibly the best and best known heathen poet around, and this poem sums up and draws together some of Odin's major attributes with more clarity and economy than I could possibly do in prose:
"Your hair is grey," a youngster bold told one unmet before,
"The harp betrays you as a Skald; but though you're versed in lore:
What gain is yours beside the hearth? No land you hold; your bread
is earned each day, as witty words win rings--or cost your head."
"Odin touched me. God of Poets, that verse should be my life,
more dear to me than riches' loads, as I for beauty strive.
My lips flow with Odhroerir's flood, for war-time and for Thing;
to fight I need not spill my blood, to serve my folk I sing."
"And you, fair Seeress," spoke again the young man, "What of you?
Such strange-garbed woman will not fain a husband ever woo.
When you in swooning madness reel and talk to shades from Hel,
distrust is always at your heel, though you help those who ail."
"Odin touched me, God of Sight, that I should walk alone.
I wander hidden ways at night and talk to tree and stone.
Seeking wisdom is more meet than foolish people's mirth
and Hroptr's ecstasy more sweet than man's in Middle-Earth."
"You Warrior, why you rage and roam I'll never understand.
While others seek a peaceful home, you fight in foreign lands.
What drives you to the dance of spears until you die or win?
Both friends and foes will shun and fear one who wears Berserk skin."
"Odin touched me, God of War, that I may never rest.
His battle-rapture makes me roar, his fury fills my breast.
Into the fray I lead my men, red ruin in our wake,
and when the frenzy takes me, then I fight for fighting's sake."
Then all went on their different way; the young man stood in thought.
Years later heard he, in a lay, what fate to them had brought:
The Warrior was remembered by all, he died at the height of his fame.
The Seeress saw him on his way to Valhall, and the Scald made