In anticipation of the upcoming Tim Burton exhibit, the museum has devoted a small gallery to "Burton Selects: From LACMA's Collection." The filmmaker chose pieces from the museum's permanent collection that fit with his personal aesthetic - works by German Expressionists, Mannerists, Symbolists, and artists from Japan and Mexico. The museum's description of the decidedly gothy works connects them to "the haunted interiors and emotive creatures found in Burton’s feature films."
|The Tree of Life by George Grosz (1927)|
In the poem Hávamál (“Sayings of the High One”), Odin says these famous lines, describing the self-sacrifice that led to his discovery of the runes -
I know that I hung on a windy treeIn the late 11th century, Adam of Bremen described the heathen temple at Uppsala that was dedicated to Thor, Wotan and Frikko.
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.
It is customary also to solemnize in Uppsala, at nine-year intervals, a general feast of all the provinces of Sweden. From attendance at this festival no one is exempted. Kings and people all and singly send their gifts to Uppsala and, what is more distressing than any kind of punishment, those who have already adopted Christianity redeem themselves through these ceremonies. The sacrifice is of this nature: of every living thing that is male, they offer nine heads, with the blood of which it is customary to placate gods of this sort. The bodies they hang in the sacred grove that adjoins the temple. Now this grove is so sacred in the eyes of the heathen that each and every tree in it is believed divine because of the death or putrefaction of the victims.The grim yet cartoonish design of Grosz's print seems like a perfectly poetic illustration of these mythic and historic descriptions of ritualized hanging.
|Bird Girl: Sonia Gramatté by Walter Gramatté (1922)|
In addition to being a goddess of fertility and love, Freya is also associated with the dead. In the poem Grímnismál ("Sayings of the Masked One"), Odin - during an ecstatic wisdom performance - describes Freya's abode in Ásgarð ("Home of the Æsir" - the Norse gods). Freya lives in Fólkvang ("Field of the host"),
and there Freya arrangesThe brooding, animalistic gaze of the girl in Gramatté's print lines up with the more frightening aspects of Freya's character, and it can serve as an antidote to the fetishistic fantasies of many male-produced portrayals of the goddess as a sort of sexed-up superhero.
the choice of seats in the hall;
half the slain she chooses every day,
and half Odin owns.
|To Edgar Poe by Odilon Redon (1882)|
In the early 13th century, the Icelandic author and poet Snorri Sturluson described the mythic well of wisdom in his Edda. He relates that Odin - as part of his endless search for knowledge of the universe and of the future - sacrifices one of his eyes in order to receive a drink from the well,
which has widsom and intelligence contained in it, and the master of the well is called Mimir. He is full of learning because he drinks of the well from the horn Giallarhorn. All-father [Odin] went there and asked for a single drink from the well, but he did not get one until he placed his eye as a pledge.Mimir is an engimatic figure in the mythology. According to Snorri, he is a decapitated head preserved and kept alive by Odin's magic. In my (admittedly willful) reading of Redon's print, the eye of Odin carries the head of Mimir above the well of widsom as it gazes into infinity.
|Winter by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (circa 1755)|
The god Thor is regularly described as being off in the east, fighting giants. He is sometimes seen as the protector of the common people, and the jötnar of Norse myth can be interpreted as physical representations of the terrifying forces of nature. Clearly, these kids need some help from the god of thunder - and he just may be riding his chariot above the storm clouds behind them.
|Fossil skeleton of dire wolf|
Of course, "dire wolf" is also an apt description of Fenrir, the monstrous wolf of Norse myth. He is the son of Loki (with the giantess Angrboda) who bites off the right hand of the god Týr and will kill Odin in the final battle at the end of mythic time. It is strange to think that - over 16,000 years ago - large dire wolves (with massive fangs) were roaming around what is now Wilshire Boulevard.
There you have it - Odin, Freya, Fenrir and the frost-giants are alive and well and living in Los Angeles.