In the course of writing Fimbulwinter, I’ve been diving deep into academic works on Norse and Celtic mythology, history, and archaeology. I came across a way that the Norse would consecrate their enemies to Odin that has been stuck in my head ever since. It is, no doubt, a method known to my astute and educated readers who have an interest in the subject.
At the start of a battle, as the lines of shields squared up and faced each other across a field or a pass, or jockeyed for prime position, one single warrior would grasp a spear sacred to the Ecstatic One, the god of trickery, intoxication, magic, inspiration, battle, and overall chief of the Norse pantheon. Shouting, “Odin owns you all!” the warrior would cast the spear over the enemy formation, thus dedicating all those enemies about to die to Old One-Eye. I can’t help but wonder what would’ve gone through Saxon, French, Arab, or Irish minds as this spear sailed overhead, and the battle-shout in a foreign tongue drove fear deep into their hearts. Was there a pennant or flag fluttering from the spear? Blood or strips of fur? Would this ritual have seemed familiar or totally alien?
This has been one of the great benefits of writing about subjects I want to know more about. Through this, I’ve learned how much more complicated the Norse myths are, their antiquity, and how little we truly know.
Through this, Odin has emerged as one of the most complex and nuanced gods I think I’ve read about in my comparative mythological research. There are so many facets to his being, good and bad, but he is always himself. Conniving, cunning, and full of a desperate need for remembrance, I cannot help but admire this figure once beloved by my ancestors. He gives the gift of inspiration to poets and kings, but also binds and takes, bestowing battle-madness. I find it utterly fascinating that Odin did not begin his godhood as chief of the Norse pantheon. Rather he seems to have supplanted Tyr in the far-distant past. Odin seems not to be a stern and judging figure, watching from on high, or dallying with mortals solely to anger his wife. He comes across to me as a character with agency, with a story arc, with a drive and needs and desires of his own. He plans and plots, sacrifices, and teaches, befuddles, and beguiles.
As I slog my way through the query trenches, as the artillery of form rejections thunders all around me, a spear flies overhead, wrapped in strips of bear and wolf fur. Words chanted in an ancient tongue cut through the thunderous roar across the battlefield. Inspiration and madness walk hand in hand in their wake.
Two ravens take wing.