Odin and His Masks

This morning while running errands Sannion and I were discussing our respective theologies in some depth. We began talking about the Gods and whether or not the Gods had always existed external to Their mythos and if so, what the purpose of certain myths might be. Certainly for both of us, madness, fragmentation, and ordeal run through the cycles of both our Gods, Dionysos and Odin. Nothing with respect to our Gods is coincidental or to be taken for granted and this prompted us to delve deeper.

As we were speaking, I flashed to an experience that I had with Odin many, many years ago, and later with Gunnlod. For years I had asked to experience Odin in what might well be one of His earliest manifestations, as Wodenaz, the raging God of the storm and winds. This was denied me for a very long time until one day, when ragingly angry with another spiritworker for interfering where she ought not to have and attempting to steal a plum prize from Odin’s clutches, He was there, as Wodenaz and what I experienced was as different from the Odin I knew as Dionysos might be from Phanes or Zagreus. Both were Odin, but there was a continuum there, one I didn’t understand until an encounter much later with Gunnlod.

It was in this latter encounter that She made reference to ‘what Odin was before He learned to wear the mask of civilization for His purpose’ and I thought “aha!” and it was the first time I realized that our Gods may also go through a learning process, or maybe stages of manifestation, that there was development occurring with Their personalities. Today I got another glimpse of what that might mean.

We talk of our Gods having different paths. Some of us deal with Odin as shaman, or Odin as the gelded One, or Odin as All Father, or Wanderer, or Gift Giver or many other things (He has over one hundred recorded titles after all). If you look at the lore of Dionysos it gets so confusing that sometimes it’s difficult to tell where He came from, Who His parents are, and how His story played out too. I suspect that, had Norse oral culture had a longer period to evolve and develop before the interference of Christianity and literacy we might have surviving stories for our Gods betraying just as much confusing complexity. As it is, why we may not argue Odin’s parentage or liaisons, we do have a God always traveling and always seeking out multiple partners and multiple ordeals (maybe I’m repeating myself there lol), and specifically a God that wears masks. I think that’s significant. Moreover, we do know that Odin is a shapeshifter, and that one of His chosen forms is a snake. Whenever you have a God Who sheds His skin, it’s worth taking note. It’s worth asking exactly what is going on with this taking on and taking off of different skins.

Why do They have to do that? Why do They choose to do that, and how does that tie into my initial musings about Gods existing before time?

This is my theory. I think that many of our Gods always existed but not necessarily in a form that either rendered us immediately accessible to Them, or Them accessible to us. I think that in Their pure form They are as much destruction as production and in order to act upon that which They have created without transmuting it into something wholly other, there had to be a process of becoming. I think there was Sentient Will and Being, Force and Power…the breaking apart and knitting together of matter by Those that had not face nor form nor even perhaps names. They were because They were. The putting on and taking off of masks, the ritual shedding of skin, the devastation of ordeal and the reordering of self again and again when it is over is all part of a process of evolution and becoming for these Gods. They must remember Themselves again and again and again—perhaps because They must make Themselves so very small to be conceived of and perceived by us.

That process of differentiation is what separates Wodenaz from Oski and Oski from Allfather, and Allfather from Yggr and on and on. It is what allows us to have direct contact with Them. It is why, I think that for some Gods madness is such an important facet of Their being – They are constantly having to reorder Themselves and restore Themselves, and hold so many Selves in place. Perhaps that is one of the things that devotion does for Them: gives a point of focus upon which to solidify a Self for engagement.

I don’t know if I’m entirely comfortable with this line of thought, but I think it’s an important line of inquiry to follow. I don’t’ want in any way to imply that we have power over the Gods, we don’t. I do, however, think that devotion provides stability not only for us. I think that perhaps it helps lock a means of communication between a Power and our world in healthy place, in a way that benefits all parties involved. It fills the mask with life.

(…which begs the question: are there masks that more than one God can use? )

I Know that Odin had to learn the mask of civilization but I also know it’s exactly that for Him: a mask to be put on or taken off at will. Likewise, having seen the slaughter of Ymir, I also know to my core that in no way, shape, or form could we hope to effectively and productively engage with THAT Odin, nor He with us. The chasm between Beings/beings is just too great. Just as the primal urge, the raw material and instinct of the Gap had to transmute itself into matter through the process of creation, had to gain temporality and wyrd through the process of manifestation before evolution could occur, a similar process seems to occur with our Gods…at least the Ones who care about direct engagement with this world in a conscious, mutual capacity.

Those Who carry the blessings of creation, Who choose for whatever reason to remain engaged with Their creations are mad, mad Gods carrying around a thousand different shards of Themselves split apart not just to facilitate engagement with this world, but to facilitate Their own growing and becoming into power. For Gods who create, I think there can be no greater evil than stasis, than remaining the same, than stagnation and the security of a single, unchanging self. They Themselves come to mirror in Their own cycles the very processes They brought into being at the beginning of time and thus those processes continue.

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Posted on September 2, 2015, in Heathenry, hellenic things, Polytheism, theology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this post. I’ve never thought about things in this way and it’s been really helpful.

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  2. Lots to think about here. Thank you!

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  3. The idea of gods wearing masks, sometimes the same mask, came across in a weird period of time known on tumblr as #deerpocalypse. If you wish, just check out the deerpocalypse tags by Cold Albion. It’s interesting. Especially since old Cold Albion, aka Craig Slee, is a worshiper of Odin who saw His hand in that weird synchronicity.

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  4. I get what you are saying and it makes sense. It is always said that no one god can create everything without an element of madness … perhaps the way that you have described it, comes close to defining the nature in which our gods live. They are changing constantly and taking on many forms / personalities. With our devotions perhaps we are aiding them to ‘focus’. I know Odin as the knowledge seeker but I am aware of his many other ‘guises’ although I have not seen them. I have now much to think on.

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  5. This is very interesting. Although my path’s Brythonic I find myself constantly coming across and drawn to pieces about Odin as his myths and lore are very similar to my patron Gwyn ap Nudd’s: Woden’s a god of fury whereas Gwyn contains the fury of the spirits of Annwn, both are gods of the dead, psychopomps and leaders of ‘the Wild Hunt’ connected with ecstasy and vision. Both are associated with black water-horses that slip between worlds, wolves, ravens and owls. I wouldn’t equate them but do find the overlap uncanny.

    Along with other devotees I’ve sensed that Gwyn in his earlier form as Vindos was more primal and wolf-like, and Lee Davies links Gwyn to the Koroyonos, god of the Koryos http://cylchriannon.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/gwyn-ap-nudd-dead-and-koryos.html a role shared with Odin.Have you any experiences of Odin as god of the Koryos (or heard of these concepts?) Or met Gwyn?

    Whilst on the topic I’ve tended to find Gwyn’s appearance shifts according to time and place, most bizarrely my dreams in which he features are mainly of what seem to be variants of the future or at least futuristic dreamworlds… do you get that often?

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  6. As for multiple gods wearing the same mask…that is, I suspect, what happens in a lot of Hellenic mystery traditions.

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