Wednesday, December 21, 2022

To Odin at Midwinter

The following text is an enormously expanded version of the opening hail I presented at Midwinter Blót as goði (priest) of Thor’s Oak Kindred, our diverse organization dedicated to the practice of the Ásatrú religion in Chicago.

Odin, all-father, wanderer, wise one, bringer of breath, giver of the gift of creativity, thank you for inspiring us to see all human beings as part of the same world family, to open ourselves to new experiences, to seek wisdom and follow the path of learning wherever it leads, to welcome the magical gift of life, and to celebrate the creativity that you inspire in the human spirit.

For all of this, we are grateful.

Wanderer in the Storm (1835) by Julius von Leypold

When we meet someone new and begin a new friendship, you are with us.

As the father of all, you have taught us that human connection is paramount.

In Hávamál (“Sayings of the High One”), you say:
I was young once,
I walked all on my own.
Then I was lost on the ways.
I thought I’d found wealth
when I found another man.
Man’s joy is man.

A young fir-tree shrivels
that stands on stony ground,
no bark nor pine-needle protects it.
A man is like that
whom nobody loves–
how is he to live long?

One does not need to give a man
only a big gift:
often one purchases praises for oneself with little.
With half a loaf
and a leaning cup
I acquired for myself a comrade.
This is not a message of conflict and conquering but of companionship and generosity. Human connection is a key to happiness, and connection can be made with the smallest of kind gestures.

You watch over all of us with your lone eye, and you send your ravens over all of our world to report on humanity’s doings. The neighbor, the fellow citizen, the visitor, the immigrant, and those who live far away from us – all are under your gaze and all are part of the same wider family.

When we open our hearts, all people bring opportunities for friendship.

When we feel the urge to leave our homes and travel the world, you are with us.

As the great way-walker of Norse mythology and the model for myriad wandering wizards, you have shown us that there is always more out there to experience.

Especially now, with plague continuing to darken our doorsteps and further flare-ups threatening on the horizon, the urge to get out of our normal spaces and dive into the diversity of experience beyond our doorsteps can be both overwhelming and frustrating.

Some of us are required by our professions to venture into dangerous situations. Some of us are required by our health conditions to remain at home. Whatever our situation, whenever the opportunity for adventure returns, the wanderlust that we feel in our hearts finds its divine form in you.

When we embrace the mystery and possibility of new experiences, we follow in your footsteps.

When we thrill with the discovery of knowledge and the learning of wisdom, you are with us.

As the devoted seeker who risks much to gain new insight, you have modeled for us the way to wisdom.

It is not easy to educate ourselves, and it is the simple answer to the difficult question that is the most dangerous.

We don’t need to hang on a windswept tree nine entire nights, but we do need to put in the hard work to find solid information and diverse perspectives on the problems that we face as individuals, as communities, as nations, and as a world.

The difficulties before us are legion, and they are serious. From racist violence to the ongoing pandemic to the enormity of climate change, needful answers will not be found in the droppings of corporate media pundits or the offal of social media chain letters.

To find positive ways forward, we must follow your lead and put in the strenuous effort required to find real answers and true paths forward.

When we are amazed at the wonderful diversity of life on earth, you are with us.

As the one who brought breath to the first humans, you have bound us to all life on this beautiful planet.

As we breathe, we continually connect ourselves to each other and to every living creature around us. We share the air with beasts on the ground and birds on the wing, with rooted plants and crawling creatures. The constant exchange of breath out for breath in makes us part of an ongoing gifting cycle with all life on earth.

There are so many forms of life around us, with so many more still unknown to us. Yet there are also forms of life that have disappeared in our own lifetimes, never to return in any human lifetime.

As we poison the air with filth from our burning fuels and industrial waste, we dishonor the breath that you brought us and, indeed, make it harder for our future descendants to themselves breathe.

To show our gratitude for the breath you instilled within us and to respect all the teeming life around us, we must make real changes in how we live.

When we are moved to creativity or embrace the creativity of others, you are with us.

As the inspirer of creativity, you have given us the gift that so often brings us comfort in the darkness.

The great tenth-century Icelandic poet Egill Skallagrímsson was grateful for your providing him with the power of poetry, even as he lamented your taking of his son’s lives. In his poem Sonatorrek (“Loss of Sons”), he writes:
…in good ways too
the friend of wisdom
has granted me
redress for affliction.

He who does battle
and tackles the hell-wolf
gave me the craft
that is beyond reproach…
In the depths of sorrow and anger, he acknowledges that his Odin-inspired poetic ability enables him to express that same sorrow and anger. That artistic work brought some level of catharsis to both Egill then and to those of us who now read his words a thousand and more years later.

Whether we create poetry or prose, song or symphony, collage or construction, the creative act enables us to express our innermost selves and address our deepest concerns. When we immerse ourselves in the creations of others, we can simultaneously lose and find ourselves.

As Egill showed us, your gift of creativity can comfort us in the darkest depths even as it challenges us to rise up and face what the world throws at us.

We ask you to be with us on these darkest nights of the annual cycle.

The darkness can be frightening, and the uncertainty of the days to come can be oppressive.

But the dark can also be comforting, as we gather together with friends and family to celebrate the season in good cheer. The uncertain future can also be exciting, as we dream of days to come and all the adventures and learning that they will surely bring.

As we celebrate these long nights of midwinter, we ask you to bring the light that will grow around us and within us as we turn towards the unknown future of a new year beginning.

We ask you to continue to inspire us with love of community, to keep our hearts open to new experiences, to walk with us on the path to wisdom, to remind us to venerate life as the greatest gift, and to inspire us with the gift of creativity as it both comforts us and challenges us.

Hail, Odin!

Hávamál text is from The Poetic Edda, Volume II: Mythological Poems II (2011) by Ursula Dronke. Sonatorrek text is from The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection (2000) by Penguin Books. An earlier version of this article appeared at The Wild Hunt.

No comments:

Next Post Previous Post Home