The God’s Whisper: Guest Post from Odin

Since Odin first contacted me back in February, he’s been hovering in the background of my life, making his presence felt, watching, and occasionally offering advice or insight. He has helped me become a better leader and a better father, and is working with me on a number of my personal struggles.

ire39He also told me a story: his own story. I offer here a shortened version, in his own words. In it, he gives an answer to an ancient riddle; and you may judge for yourself the truth of it.

The Riddle

What did Odin himself whisper in the ear of his dead son Balder before he burned on the pyre?

Now Odin strode through the shallows and gripped the gunwale. He climbed into the boat and stood over the body of his dead son. For some time he gazed at him. Slowly he took off his arm-ring Draupnir… and slipped it onto Balder’s arm. Then Odin bent down and put his mouth to Balder’s ear. Again he gazed at his son; then he left [the ship].

At a sign from Odin a servant stepped forward with a lighted brand. He set fire to the pyre and at once a steady plume of smoke, twisting and spiraling, rose into the calm air.

— from The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland

What did Odin say? Oddly enough, the first person to ask this question is Odin himself, disguised as a wanderer, in a riddle contest with the wise jotun Vafthrudnir. The loser of the contest wins death. When Odin poses this riddle, “Vafthrudnir looked long at his guest, and recognized him. He said in a low voice, ‘No one can tell what, long ago, you whispered in the ear of your son… I’ve pitted myself against Odin. You will always be wiser and wisest.'” (Crossley-Holland)

No answer to the riddle is given in the Lay of Vafthrudnir, or anywhere else in the Norse sagas. Some suggest that Odin promised Balder resurrection, since the it was foretold that Balder would rise again after Ragnarök to rule Asgard in Odin’s stead. Others say it is impossible to know, and that gods and men will be wondering until the end of time.

Here is Odin’s answer.

(Note: I cannot take strict dictation from him, at least not yet — I frequently get word-for-word phrases from him, but more often I get a gist and a vague indication of length. So while this definitely is a representation of Odin’s poetic style, it’s “noisy”, corrupted by my deficiencies as a medium.)

sealjpg.jpg

Hail to the speaker and him who listens! May whoever learns these words prosper because of them! Hail to those who listen!

— Havamal

I am he

that binds together and breaks apart.

The edges of worlds, in these places I am at home — on the threshold, along the fringe of the forests girdling the villages, far above where the air fades into airlessness. I am he that parts the waters, I am he that distilled the blood of Ymir into the nine worlds. I am the oathmaker, the enforcer, the one that separates, divides, and orders.

Who is the oathbreaker? Who is the smith of lies, the changer of shapes, the twister of promises? He is my blood brother; he is my savior, he is my destroyer. He built a mighty wall that keeps safe my homes, and yet he will fell it. He brought me the Spear of Victory, he brought me my arm-ring Draupnir, and it is his son Sleipnir that I ride in battle; yet he and his children will engulf me and all I hold dear.

Loki! Loki of the tattered smile. He is my blood brother — but he is also my older brother.

They say he is the son of giants: Farbouti (‘Anger-Striker’) and Laufey (‘Leaf-Island’). But these are just other names for my own parents, Bur (‘son’) and Bestla (‘tree-bark’). They say he has two brothers, Helblindr (‘Hel-blind’) and Býleistr (‘Bee-lightning’), but those are just two of my own nicknames.

When the world began —

When the ravenous fire first licked the noxious ice, and old Ymir drank the milk of the soft white cow Audumla, and the first giants and trolls and jotuns and Aesir crept about the edges of Ginnungagap, Loki was there, and my brothers Vili and Ve, and I was there too, and we were numbered three.

Loki was there when we slew Ymir — mighty and terrible and foul he was. Ymir we slew, Loki and Vili and Ve and I. And it was we three who slew him.

Then we built mountains from Ymir’s long bones, and shattered other bones into rocks and stones, and made soil from his flesh and the waters from his blood and raised up his vast vaulted skull to make the sky, we three, Loki, Vili, Ve, and I.

Enough mystery! You’ve guessed the riddle by now. Loki and I were one man. But in that most ancient time, it would be truer to say that only Loki was there; I was just a shadow of doubt in Loki’s wild young heart.

The stories say

that Vili, Ve, and I fashioned Asgard and made it a place of green grass and shining palaces, and erected the Rainbow Bridge to connect it with Midgard.

But the way I remember it, we gods built humble homes in the mountains between Midgard and Jotunheim, for we were friends with men and jotuns, and ruled over none; and there was much coming and going and commerce and mixing between us. But there was also strife, feuding between families, and black treachery.

The stories say that the Aesir and the Vanir fought a great war and Asgard’s walls were reduced to rubble; and the war ended in stalemate, and following the custom of the time, members of each tribe were sent to live with the other to ensure peace thereafter.

But the way I remember it, there was mixing and muddying of bloodlines, and shifting of alliegances, and distrust grew among all the Aesir, Vanir, and jotuns.

The stories say that the Aesir made a deal with a jotun to rebuild the wall of Asgard, and Loki tricked the stonemason into building it for free, and Loki joined with the jotun’s mighty workhorse and birthed Odin’s steed, Sleipnir.

But the way I remember it, Loki tricked the stonemason into building a great fortress for himself and his family, he and Angrboda and his three monstrous children, and his second wife Sigyn and her children, and Frigg and hers, and Freyja and hers, and the mistresses that came and went with each moon. Sleipnir was born indeed, but so were Hel and Fenris and Jormungandr, and many other children, grotesque and malformed half-beasts, terrible to look upon.

The stories say that I, Odin, climbed Yggdrasil and hanged myself from it, a sacrifice of myself to myself, for nine days and nine nights, until the wisdom of the runes were revealed to me.

But the way I remember it, Loki did not seek wisdom, and Mimir and the other wise jotuns did not have the courage to seek the deep knowledge of the tree; so the magic of the runes was unknown to all.

The stories say that the Norns advised the gods that the children of Loki would bring ruin on the world; and Odin sent Hel to Niflheim to look after the dead, and tossed Jormungandr into the ocean to become the Midgard Serpent, and Tyr sacrificed his hand so that the mighty wolf Fenris could be bound until Ragnarök.

But the way I remember it, Loki would not suffer his children to be treated in such a way. So Hel lived in her father’s castle, and the dead walked the earth without rest. And the Jormungandr grew and grew and ravaged the countryside with his brother Fenris, hunting at will, and even Loki could not control them.

The stories say that Idunn lived in Asgard and cared for the golden apples of youth, which kept the gods young forever.

But the way I remember it, the apples were argued and fought over and hoarded by many wrangling gods and jotuns, and many were immortal who would better have died, and many died who should have lived for ages.

The stories say that the great treasures of the gods — Odin’s Spear of Victory, Freyr’s golden boar, Thor’s hammer, and many others besides — were made by dwarves who were goaded into a treasure-crafting contest by Loki, to repay his theft of Sif’s golden hair.

But the way I remember it, Loki frequently visited the dwarves and cajoled them into making treasures and weapons for himself and his family; and he and his brood were a scourge of terror on the earth.

The way I remember it…

Midgard was a place of darkness and chaos.

There was no poetry, no art, no gentle rains or green grass; the sun and moon were erratic in their dances, and the seasons came and went as they would — spring now following fall, now preceding it; and summer passing suddenly into frightful winter. It was a world without oaths, without promises, without binding or cohesion. There were no edges, no borders; there was no separation, no division. All flowed together in a cacophony of strife and destruction.

There were patches of light, to be sure. Balder’s home among the highest, whitest peaks of Midgard was a haven of golden peace, though he had no skill in protection or politics, and one day he was murdered in his sleep. Thor was mighty and noble, but fell in with friends who twisted his heart and led him to darkness. Good times we had, great feasts and games and camaraderie, once in a while; but in the next moon, oaths of friendship were broken, and those that had dined together would slit each other’s throats.

The stories say that Ragnarök was the final conflagration, the age of axes and swords and shields asunder. All bonds were broken, all oaths were forsworn, all promises abandoned. Loki and Fenris broke their fetters, the dead were released from Hel, and the Midgard Serpent rose from the sea. Bifrost was broken and battle was joined for the last time; and all ended in fire and water.

But the way I remember it, there was no sudden ending, no breaking and loosing; for the bonds and fetters had never been put in place. Eon after eon passed, each one worse than the last; battle piled on battle, war piled on war, treachery on treachery, famine on famine, plague on plague, death piled upon death. Loki wrangled and wheedled and argued and fought for his castle, his children, and his wives, and lost them one by one. Mountains were leveled and seas raised up; the sun and moon struck each other and fell into the sea; and when black Surt came with his sword of fire to end all at last, there was but one soul left to draw breath: Loki.

Crippled and half-dead

he watched from a cave of safety as the fire licked from Surt’s sword and began to boil the seas. Anger burned in him, but also regret; for he saw how his greed, lust, and short-sightedness had destroyed the world he had made with his brothers. The shadow in his heart, the self-doubt that was Odin, had slowly grown stronger as the world had aged, and at last overcame him as the end drew close.

Loki the Shape Changer! This time his burning will reached out and changed the shape of time.

Yggdrasil’s branches became roots.

Its roots became branches. Dragon became eagle, and eagle, dragon; the cock swallowed its cry; the blood and flesh of Ymir drew itself together and rose again, a living giant blotting out the sky; and reaching out in his pain and hatred, he battled blackened Surt.

All then fell dark —

And when the world began again

When the ravenous fire licked the noxious ice, and old Ymir drank the milk of the soft white cow Audumla, and the first giants and trolls and jotuns and Aesir crept about the edges of Ginnungagap, Loki was there, and my brothers Vili and Ve, and I was there too, and we were numbered four.

A second chance was made, and I, Loki, who is now Odin, became he that binds together and breaks apart. I parted the waters, and distilled the blood of Ymir into the nine worlds. I am the oathmaker, the enforcer, the one that separates, divides, and orders.

For a time there is green grass, and promises kept, and life and love in the sunlight.

But the price is terrible.

Loki, my older brother, myself who is closer than kin, is reduced to a trickster, a treacherous conniver. At the end his bitterness shall overcome him, and he shall cause the death of my son Balder; but this is no fault of his — the fault is mine. I who placed everything in its proper place, I had no place for him. His heart was not wholly evil, but it was twisted and delighted in power and cleverness. I could not cast him out of Asgard, I could not kill him — how could I reject myself so utterly? And so he became a poison that slowly strangled my stronghold.

So the fault is mine that Balder dies, as surely as it were my hand on the spear. I set myself to preserve the good in the world, to protect it from the evil; but I shall fail. And when my good son is placed on the pyre, I shall kneel at his side, and give him my sign of kingship, and whispering, beg his forgiveness.

And last, when the new sun rises beyond Ragnarök, the world will go on without oaths, without promises. There will be no breaking apart, nor gathering together; the waters will mix with the fires and the good mix with the evil. Asgard shall stand with no walls.

And yet, under Balder, it shall stand.

godswhisper

Comments

  1. Hi Jeff —
    Wow… what a story. Puts a whole new perspective (a more accessible one) on Odin and his times. It will be interesting to reframe my recent experiences with him through this shift in viewpoint. Very interesting and touching. Your posts are amazing.

  2. That is amazing… and felt real and true. I wrote a poem for Odin but it’s not as true as this.

    The long dark road stretches away into the night
    And the hooded one walks alone.
    His shirt of wolf’s breath shimmers in the moonlight
    His cobweb hat pulled down low over his eyes.

  3. Jeff Lilly says:

    Lori, it’s great to hear you liked the story! I was totally blown away when Odin told it to me. He said it really is impossible to really know him (Odin) without knowing Loki, too. If you want to know more about Loki, a very interesting site that I found (*after* Odin told me his story!) is here: Lokahal.

    I guess this also answers the question of why Loki was ever numbered among the gods, when he was apparently never worshiped. There’s been a lot of argument about that in Norse scholarship.

    I have spoken once or twice with Loki directly, and he is quite an unpleasant fellow — he spent most of the time insulting me. 🙂 But I could tell he really is a god, because, despite the abuse, I was filled with euphoria the whole time we spoke (always a good sign you’re talking to a very high-vibration being). And he answered my question in a way that showed great wisdom.

  4. Jeff Lilly says:

    Awesome poem, Yvonne! The strange coupling of loneliness and joy I get from Odin is really captured in it. Thanks for your kind words.

    There are all sorts of odd things in Odin’s story that I don’t understand, and I may be coming back to it again and again as my understanding grows. For example, he seems to be implying that Yggdrasil is time itself, in some way; and that his (and Loki’s) mother is a tree — perhaps Yggdrasil again?

  5. Thanks Jeff, glad you liked the poem. Your post inspired in me a great yearning for Odin, and he dropped in to say hi, so thank you for that.

    Regarding Loki, have you read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods? Well worth a read if you haven’t.

    Interesting you mention that their mother is a tree – I’d say that one of her names is Hertha — check out this amazing poem by Swinburne.

    Yggdrasil as time reminds me of The Rose upon the Rood of Time by WB Yeats.

  6. Jeff Lilly says:

    American Gods was given to me by a friend years ago, and I never have sat down to read it. I have two or three books I’m reading simultaneously right now… But it’s on the list!

    Hertha: that is an amazing poem. I don’t understand it, but it’s awesome!

  7. Hertha is one of those poems that you get more out of every time you read it 🙂

  8. odin owlfather says:

    It is LOKI who Broke Troth with the Gods

    For All had Sworn an oath to defend BALDER

    Thus when an Oath is Broken a Star Falls From Heavan

    Such is the Brand of Loki

    The Liar.

    For Odin is Not the brother of Loki.

    Thus Also It is THOR who is the Brother of LOGI God of Fire

    And Odin Rode to speak with the Witch of the Iron Wood

    Thus it was learned That Loki Guided Hoders Hand

    disguised as an old woman

    Thus also Hermod Rode to Hel on Behalf of Balder

    And Odin swore an Oath Upon His Ring

    To Avenge His Silent Son

    whispering into the ear of Balder

    That the Gods Would Mourn For Him

    Three days passed till he was Born Upon Ringhorn

    For it was the Decree of the Norns

    All Should Weep for Balder

    Thus is Willow Sacred to Nanna, Balders Weeping Wife

    And Alder the Bright and Bleeding God of the Morning Star

    and YMIR the oak cut down By the sons of Buri

    when they timbered the land and built long ships

    for Bor and Bestla were the first man and woman

    created from the Ash and Elm

    For it was Odin who breathed life into them

    and named them

    and Frigg who clothed them

    I remind you druids that ye are baldrywds!

    for balder was pinned to an oak

    and your rites are to honor balder

    Not Loki!

  9. odin owlfather says:

    Odal is the rune of Wisdom

    The Rune of Mine Inheritance

    Great is the Gift of the Hazel

    That hangs over the Well of Mimer

    and Wise the Salmon that Circles in a Full Pool

    Nourishment is Good for the Soul

    Give Bread to the Hungry

    Wisdom to those who Hunger

    Great the Gift of Speech

    In the Ear of He who Hears it

    Therfor accept my Counsel Stray Singer

    Well if you heed It

    To learn to sing them

    Will take you a long time

    Though helpful they are if you understand them

    Useful if you use them

    Needful if you need them

    The Wise One has spoken words in the hall

    Needful for men to know

  10. odin owlfather says:

    Kenaz is Odins Hunting Horn

    Loud the Horn the Hunter sounds

    Heed my counsel straysinger

    best if you heed them

    An open Eye may see

    An open Mouth may speak

    An open Ear may hear

    An open Cave may be hide wealth

    An open Purse may be filled

    but

    A snapping bow, a burning flame

    A grinning wolf, a grunting boar

    A raucous crow, a broken tree

    A breaking wave, a broken kettle

    A broken arrow, a breaking tide

    A coiled adder, broken ice

    A bride’s bed talk, a breaking sword

    A bear’s play, a prince’ s children

    A liars welcome, the wit of a slave

    A sick calf, a corpse still fresh

    A brother’s killer encountered upon

    The highway hidden, a house half-burned

    A racing stallion who has wrenched a leg

    Are never safe, let no man trust them

    Let not Loki whisper in your ear.

  11. Jeff Lilly says:

    Odin Owlfather — very pretty! Although to me you sound a bit like an evangelist who’s been reading the wrong book. 🙂 I was going to write more here, but on second thought I think I’ll let your words speak for themselves.

Trackbacks

  1. […] of answers.  But I want to end with a paraphrase of Odin’s description of Ragnarök from the story he told me a year and a half […]

  2. […] “The God’s Whisper: A Guest Post from Odin,” by Jeff Lilly, Druid Journal […]

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