Saturday, February 24, 2007

Wotan`s Sacrifice of Himself to His Self

The words of Wotan from stanza 137-144 of the Havamal:

I trow I hung on that windy Tree
nine whole days and nights,
stabbed with a spear, offered to Odin,
myself to mine own self given,
high on that Tree of which none hath heard
from what roots it rises to heaven.
None refreshed me ever with food or drink,
I peered right down in the deep;
crying aloud I lifted the Runes
then back I fell from thence.
Nine mighty songs I learned from the great
son of Bale-thorn, Bestla's sire;
I drank a measure of the wondrous Mead,
with the Soulstirrer's drops I was showered.
Ere long I bare fruit, and throve full well,
I grew and waxed in wisdom;
word following word, I found me words,
deed following deed, I wrought deeds.
Hidden Runes shalt thou seek and interpreted signs,
many symbols of might and power,
by the great Singer painted, by the high Powers fashioned,
graved by the Utterer of gods.
For gods graved Odin, for elves graved Daïn,
Dvalin the Dallier for dwarfs,
All-wise for Jötuns, and I, of myself,
graved some for the sons of men.
Dost know how to write, dost know how to read,
dost know how to paint, dost know how to prove,
dost know how to ask, dost know how to offer,
dost know how to send, dost know how to spend?
Better ask for too little than offer too much,
like the gift should be the boon;
better not to send than to overspend.
Thus Odin graved ere the world began;
Then he rose from the deep, and came again.

Many have likened Wotan`s sacrifice of himself to himself to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
However there are many points of difference. Wotan initiates the sacrifice in order to gain hidden esoteric knowledge not to `save mens` souls`. His sacrifice does not result in his `death` but in the acquisition of the runes and cosmic knowledge.
The picture that we have of Wotan on the world tree is one of a shaman entering altered states of consciousness. The nine nights that he spent on the windy tree could infer that each night was spent travelling to one of the nine worlds-Asgard, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Midgard, Jotunheim, Svartalfheim, Niflheim, Muspelheim and Hel.
The world tree, known as Yggdrasil means `The Terrible One`s Steed`. This horse or tree was the vehicle used by Wotan to travel to the various worlds of the Unconsciousness. The use of the horse, an animal sacred to the ancient Teutons and the altered states of consciousness along with visitations to strange worlds are indicative of a shamanic trance.
Wotan is the great magician, the shaman who as the one who has gone before acts as our guide and beckons us to follow him in his journies as the Wanderer of the nine worlds.
The Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung theorised that there were 8 levels of the human personality or levels of the Unconscious, ie the individual, the family, the clan, the nation, a larger group, eg European man, the primal ancestors, the animal ancestors and the "Central Fire".
Wotan`s gaining of the runes was via a process of self-annihilation. This has less to do with the Christian concept of the crucifixion achieving universal salvation but more to do with the Gnostic and Buddhist notion of the elimination of the Self to achieve wholeness.

Those songs I know, which nor sons of men
nor queen in a king's court knows;
the first is Help which will bring thee help
in all woes and in sorrow and strife.
A second I know, which the son of men
must sing, who would heal the sick.
A third I know: if sore need should come
of a spell to stay my foes;
when I sing that song, which shall blunt their swords,
nor their weapons nor staves can wound.
A fourth I know: if men make fast
in chains the joints of my limbs,
when I sing that song which shall set me free,
spring the fetters from hands and feet.
A fifth I know: when I see, by foes shot,
speeding a shaft through the host,
flies it never so strongly I still can stay it,
if I get but a glimpse of its flight.
A sixth I know: when some thane would harm me
in runes on a moist tree's root,
on his head alone shall light the ills
of the curse that he called upon mine.
A seventh I know: if I see a hall
high o'er the bench-mates blazing,
flame it ne'er so fiercely I still can save it, --
I know how to sing that song.
An eighth I know: which all can sing
for their weal if they learn it well;
where hate shall wax 'mid the warrior sons,
I can calm it soon with that song.
A ninth I know: when need befalls me
to save my vessel afloat,
I hush the wind on the stormy wave,
and soothe all the sea to rest.
A tenth I know: when at night the witches
ride and sport in the air,
such spells I weave that they wander home
out of skins and wits bewildered.
An eleventh I know: if haply I lead
my old comrades out to war,
I sing 'neath the shields, and they fare forth mightily
safe into battle,
safe out of battle,
and safe return from the strife.
A twelfth I know: if I see in a tree
a corpse from a halter hanging,
such spells I write, and paint in runes,
that the being descends and speaks.
A thirteenth I know: if the new-born son
of a warrior I sprinkle with water,
that youth will not fail when he fares to war,
never slain shall he bow before sword.
A fourteenth I know: if I needs must number
the Powers to the people of men,
I know all the nature of gods and of elves
which none can know untaught.
A fifteenth I know, which Folk-stirrer sang,
the dwarf, at the gates of Dawn;
he sang strength to the gods, and skill to the elves,
and wisdom to Odin who utters.
A sixteenth I know: when all sweetness and love
I would win from some artful wench,
her heart I turn, and the whole mind change
of that fair-armed lady I love.
A seventeenth I know: so that e'en the shy maiden
is slow to shun my love.
These songs, Stray-Singer, which man's son knows not,
long shalt thou lack in life,
though thy weal if thou win'st them, thy boon if thou obey'st them
thy good if haply thou gain'st them.
An eighteenth I know: which I ne'er shall tell
to maiden or wife of man
save alone to my sister, or haply to her
who folds me fast in her arms;
most safe are secrets known to but one-
the songs are sung to an end.
Now the sayings of the High One are uttered in the hall
for the weal of men, for the woe of Jötuns,
Hail, thou who hast spoken! Hail, thou that knowest!
Hail, ye that have hearkened! Use, thou who hast learned!

Interestingly this section of the Havamal, known as the Runatal refers to 18 different runes, not the 24 of the elder futharc, the 33 of the Anglo-Saxon futhorc or the 16 of the Scandinavian younger futharc. It does however fit nicely with the rediscovered 18 rune futharc of the late 19th/early 20th century German runemaster and mystic, Guido von List.
Did von List `invent` the Armanen 18 rune futharc or did he like Wotan rediscover the runes in a trance like state? It is interesting to note that von List rediscovered these lost runes whilst he was suffering a period of temporary blindness lasting eleven months in 1902.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff. yes, I look at Wotan's sacrifice similarly.The gnostic twin idea, where the lower nature must be given over to the higher. I would not write off the comparisons to Christianity completely, at least not mystical Christianity, where the death of the lower self reveals the god-nature within. Both have an underworld journey, Odin into Hel to recover the runes and Christ into Hell to discover the keys of life and death. Odin is anointed with the mead and Christ the spirit. Obviously most of Christianity is worthless without these higher expectations of becoming, and most sects are quite lawless today.I think the Eastern Orthodox retain some of it. I am a heathen myself, having left Christianity some years ago and find these truths inspiring, drawn to my own cultural roots and archetypes. I look forward to delving into this blog.

Wotans Krieger said...

Thank you for you interesting comment on one of my very old articles!