Odin: the shamanic journeying Norse god of magical and social wisdom

By Rosemary Taylor

Odin – such a complex character: a warrior, god of poetic inspiration, shapeshifter, leader of the Aesir Gods; husband; father; and mysterious man of the road. Often depicted as a lone traveller, a wide-brimmed hat pulled down over his face hiding his true identity, ravens perched on his staff or upon his shoulders.

I was told he has 99 names, which in itself seems to demonstrate his variety and changeability; sometimes these names are “fake IDs” that disguise and protect him as he travels through the nine worlds seeking wisdom.

Because Odin needs to be so travel-smart we are reminded how wily any lone traveller had to be in the Heathen period and why the custom of hospitality to strangers was a vital resource, if not a sacred rule.

Disguise helped him to test the true wisdom of those he met, so others felt confident to share all they knew, uninhibited by reverence or fear of the great god; it was also a test of their true nature, their honesty and benevolence, for how a host treats a stranger is a greater guide to character than how he treats a known god. In “Sayings of the High One” Odin notes:

“Only that man who wanders widely
And has journeyed a great deal knows
What sort of mind each man controls;
He who’s sharp in his wits.”

Odin is an observant psychologist. He concealed his hand, his potential power over others. Should their intentions toward him turn dangerous, as sometimes happened in the wild places beyond the civility of Asgard and his own god-clan, then he would have the advantage.

One of Odin’s names is “the Terrible One” and undoubtedly Odin can be utterly ruthless in his quest for wisdom. Should you cross him the consequences could be the worst for you, but, then again, how did you deal your Wyrd in this matter? Did you transgress the sacred customs of hospitality? Are your previous misdoings meeting their strange denouement? Did you wager your life for the chance to crow in a deadly game of knowledge? Did you break an agreement with Odin? Perhaps we should check our own actions and responsibilities or we may meet with fateful reminders in the form of this god.

Your relationship with Odin could turn on a penny, but do not cry victim. We are no less immune to the difficult consequences of our Wyrd than is Odin himself. “All-Father” is another of his names, maker of earth and heavens, creator of man and woman. A great god, yet he learned of his eventual doom from a seeress who envisaged his violent demise. Everyone else seems to know about it too, he is constantly reminded. These circumstances fire his determination to seek more wisdom, in an attempt to resolve Wyrd differently. In the “Sayings of the High One” (Odin is the High One) he advises:

Averagely wise a man ought to be,
never too wise;
for those men have the best sort of life
who know a fair amount.

Averagely wise a man ought to be,
never too wise;
for a wise man’s heart is seldom cheerful,
if he who owns it is too wise.

Averagely wise a man ought to be,
never too wise;
let no one know his fate beforehand,
for he’ll have the most carefree spirit.


The God of Inspiration and Wisdom repeats “Averagely wise a man ought to be”, three times! At one level he really means it, because supernatural knowledge can destroy peace of mind, such as the complete knowledge of your destiny, including its end. Once you know something, you can’t unknow it, the consequences can be powerful and difficult. Caution is sage from the rune-master himself, which should make all rune-readers respectful of the Wyrd they divine for others – especially regarding supposed knowledge of another’s death, the speaking of which is a taboo in modern divinatory work.

At another level, Odin doesn’t mean it at all, for average wisdom is not remotely sufficient in his case.

If you, as spiritual seekers, have to manage your disappointment about folk not wanting to peer beyond the veil; or if you as a political animal, are frustrated that not enough people test the truth of their mainstream newsfeed, you could do worse than look at how Odin, the God of Wisdom, handles this dilemma.

The “Sayings of the High One” is a poem replete with common sense advice given mainly in a “Man of the World” tone. Now avuncular, Odin offers the benefit of his experience, on subjects that range from: personal safety precautions upon entering a strange household including checking the location of doors and windows; to the pointlessness of sleepless worry; to the drawbacks of drunkenness; to the fickleness of both men and women in matters of sex and love; to the niceties and appropriateness of gift-giving in social relationships.

He is able to meet this level of need in a person’s life. Sensible practicalities and how we behave with each other as social beings are important and for some it might be where a need for Odin’s assistance stops. He can raise you above foolishness and into average wisdom. As clan-leader, you might say it fits his role to understand and teach the implications, pitfalls and benefits of all kinds of social interactions.

Whilst listening to the more prosaic side of his nature verbosely flow, one might be lulled into a false sense that Odin himself is only averagely wise. If your concentration is prone to wandering while the respected elder “puts the world to rights”, you might miss exactly when and how you started hearing other strange and occult communications from his lips; you might find yourself swimming in a very different ocean of knowledge without remembering how you got there.

In the same poem, “Sayings of the High One”, Odin gives enigmatic, somewhat fragmented and trance-like accounts of his initiations and then selective detail of spell-casting lore. You just slipped into a whole different level with him, but it’s your choice if you want to stay and look around. That is a matter between you and your Wyrd. What do you want to bring into your experience?

My impression is that Odin has time for the average folk of average wisdom, and time for those who seek truth, the kind of truth that can both drive you mad or take you into the realms of ecstasy. He is not only a god for those who feel different to everyone else, but for those who like to fit in. He is a god for those who want to be tested and for those who seek a worthy but an easier life. As “All-Father” he is Father to All.


For those who wish to go deeper into the realms of the World Tree and into the realms of the self, one might experience both unusual, esoteric forms of power and immensely difficult and testing experiences of endurance. The latter is often inexorably bound to the former.

Who are we to say that this shamanic path will lead all to ecstasy, when it might drive some people mad? Truth is a sparkling but hard diamond that reveals the worldly and personal terrors we must heal, master and integrate into our vision of reality if we are to gain spiritual power and sparkle like a diamond too.

Odin does not force his double-edged gift onto you, he is not a God who demands devotion in this respect; he does not demand initiates or try to control your life. As the most cunning of deceivers, he may mirror your fraudulence, manipulation and perfidy back to you, but didn’t you ask for it? As the great shaman-seeker, he is the driven initiate of his own path, not a jealous God of yours. He is generally most interested in his own business and keeps out of yours unless you wrong him and then, well, he might show you just how badly you wronged your own intelligence.

Odin’s great wisdom is not only that we should acknowledge “different strokes for different folks” , but also that those who like to think themselves shaman-journeyers or spiritual seekers need to operate effectively and socially in ordinary reality too:

“No better burden a man bears on the road
than a store of common sense;
better than riches it will seem in an unfamiliar place,
such is the resort of the wretched.”

If we can’t apply a simple grounded awareness then we won’t manifest anything out of all that crazily-inspiring, Wyrd and wonderful stuff Odin opens us to. Nor will an intellect obsessed by a singular aim or belief, however impressive, engage enough common sense to notice surrounding threats in the environment or to value the benefits of community. We need to stand ably in both types of wisdom, the way Odin manages to.

“Now the High One’s song is recited, in the High One’s hall
very useful to the sons of men
quite useless to the sons of men,
luck to him who recited, luck to him who knows!
May he benefit, he who learned it,
Luck to those who listened!

Odin himself deems his wisdom both useful to humans and useless to humans, perhaps depending on whether humans desire wisdom or care enough to listen. Perhaps he is implying wisdom may not be enough to change everything or make you happy; he could have the unsolved conundrum of diverting his own destiny on his mind. Best to find the answers yourself.

His conclusion is a little ambivalent, but his sayings are offered with some benevolence; though a hearty wishing of “luck” perhaps also gives some indication of challenge.

For Odin, gaining wisdom was a matter of life and death; looking around today with eyes wide open and veils removed, is our situation much different? At a personal level, gaining wisdom of the self might be a matter of psychic and physical survival. In a wider context, pressing for truth might both reveal facts we find almost impossible to bear and the potential solutions to stark human perils. Either way, can we operate effectively beyond the fear of psychic and physical death to find our answers? This is the High One’s journey.

You have been traveling with Odin, luck to those who listened!

[You can read Part 2 here: The Norse God Odin, Initiation, Sacrifice and the Runes.]

This article was by Rosemary Taylor, who gives rune readings via Skype, phone and in person by arrangement, or you can join her Facebook group, Rune Wisdom Update. She regularly runs courses in Glastonbury, Somerset, on all to do with the Northern Tradition, plus shamanic healing services are also available after consultation, including in-depth soul retrieval work, power animal healing and trauma clearing processes.

Visit www.sacredhill.co.uk for more details or email enquiries to rosemary@sacredhill.co.uk

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