You are currently viewing Odin- The Hanged Man. Norse/Germanic Mythology
The Hanged Man is all about surrender and sacrifice for a higher good. It could be a reminder to change one's perspective and go with the flow.

Odin- The Hanged Man. Norse/Germanic Mythology

Odin from the Norse Pantheon was their sovereign god. Odin’s mount was a fast eight-legged white horse known as Sleipnir. In addition, Odin also had two ravens known as Hugin and Muninor which means Thought and Memory. One day while Odin was riding Sleipnir, he reached the world ash tree known as Yggdrasil.  In Norse Cosmology there are nine worlds. They are connected together by the world tree called Yggdrasil, which is supposed to be a gigantic Ash tree.

On his way to the Ygdrassil, Odin saw the three Norns or goddesses named Urd, Skuld and Verdandi, who wove the fates of men and gods. The Norns like the Greek goddesses of Fate, known as the Moira, represent the “Wyrd” or Fates. They are Urd, Skuld and Verdandi, and represent the past, present and future. Like the Moira, they are not controlled by any gods, and in fact, are older than the Aesir or the ancient pantheon of Norse Gods. They have their residence at the second root of the Yggdrasil. Theirs is the task of nurturing and caring for the World Tree, which they do by keeping it well irrigated with water from the spring called Urdsbrunner. The Nornes are known to be adept and practised Rune users, and are the ones who guided Odin in his quest for wisdom. The Norns divulged a few secrets to Odin and thus had his attention piqued, who requested them to teach him more about the world. Thus the Norns asked him to seek Mimer and his fountain of wisdom.   

Mimer was a giant who differed from his race and was in league with the gods. As a guardian of the Well of wisdom from which all the gods aspired to drink, Mimer was synonymous with wisdom in the ancient world of the Norsemen. No god disputed his right over the fountain or violated his territory. When Mimer was killed protecting the interests of the gods, Odin had his head embalmed, so that he could consult him before the final battle or Ragnarok between good and evil. Therefore, his wisdom will be of vital importance long after his death. The well of Mimer was close to the sacred Norse world tree Yggdrasil. It is of importance as it carries within itself the record and intelligence of antiquity, recording even the birth of the Aesir or the gods of Odin’s generation, who fought the Vanir gods and were ultimately united into a single tribe. In German Mimer means the one who articulates with knowledge. In Latin and in Saxon Mimer means “memory”.

The Hanged Man. Rider Waite Tarot.
The Hanged Man. Rider Waite Tarot.

Odin then rode to meet Mimer and requested him to allow him a drink from his fountain. Mimer demanded that Odin could drink from the fountain in exchange for his left eye. Odin gladly agreed and tore out his eye in exchange for a drink. He thus brought poetry to men. The concept of physical discomfort and sacrificing the self for the greater good was very noble in Norse society.    

On his return from Mimer, Odin came across and got entangled on the World tree or Yggdrasil. Odin sought all kinds of wisdom and for each of these initiations, he was demanded to make sacrifices of himself. He was adept at female mysteries and “women’s magic”, and to learn these from Frejya, he had to “emasculate” himself. Women are initiated as they bleed every month so that they may be the receptacles of new life. Therefore, to be initiated into the concealments and mysteries of the Runes, Odin had to hang upside down and through a self-inflicted wound, bleed from his side as women do during their menses, so that he may have the “enlightenment of their female half” and thereby complete himself, and thus attain the knowledge of the Runes. His faithful steed and his ravens waited for him, but he could not free himself and hung upside down for a total of nine days and nights. During this duration, he ate nothing and drank nothing, till the knowledge of the Runes came to him and he managed to free himself. His quest for the runes is recorded in the poem Hamaval, in the following lines:    

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. (Stanza 137)    

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. (Stanza 138)     

Then, as soon as he was freed, he carved the runes into the tree so that he may share knowledge of the Runes, with gods and men. The Runes are a formidable magical tool, carrying with them the ability to protect against discord, ill health, ailments. They are potent in their enchantment and can manifest one’s desires, and turn them into reality. They carry the secrets of life, this and the next and they had existed in the domain of the Norns themselves. More importantly, they carry in themselves the power and wisdom of the All-Father Odin.    

Odin’s entire being is characterized by his concern for the benefit of mankind. While he was responsible for keeping the Asgard safe, he also was on an everlasting pursuit of knowledge. He battled the Giants and got the skaldic mead  from them, and thus brought poetry into the realm of men. He was known to be the god of wisdom, and the skalds agree that Odin is the indisputable father of poetry.    

Dignified: There are times when to have total control, one must embrace total surrender. The Hanged Man is about such a time. Typical to the qualities of The Hanged Man, Odin does not betray the pain and the discomfort of hanging upside down on the Yggdrasil, since his eyes are set on a higher aspiration. We have been in a complete state of comfort despite hanging upside down when we were in the womb, since we have surrendered our will to the divine. Odin demands that you place the same faith in the All-father and the Universe and let go of all care going with the flow. Know and remember that just as the fetus will be pushed out from the comfort of the womb, and thereby be born, so too will your period of sacrifice come to an end.

The Hanged Man is all about sacrificing for a greater good and that sacrifice has to be made with a willing intention. Keep your focus on the cause for the sacrifice to stay motivated. What perhaps is the most reassuring factor, is that, the choice to make the sacrifices is not thrust upon the querent. In fact, it was sought out by the querent pretty much in the manner that Odin went out to search the runes.

The Hanged Man is also about being in limbo and not knowing what to expect or if the trials are nearing their end. Odin had no idea about the length of his own trials as well. The message here is a very simple one “Let go and let god”, and sometimes it is not very difficult to do so when one has tried all solutions to a problem and failed.    

Perhaps the most important message of the upside-down Odin is the most obvious. There are times when all one has to do is look at something with a different perspective. In this case the change would be taking no action at all, after all this is the time to be in contemplation and inaction.    The Hanged Man is all about a shift in perspective.

Reversed or Weakly Aspected: Reversed The Hanged Man is about the possibility that the querent is finding it difficult to access the Odin within, therefore there is a refusal to “let go”, surrender or have a change in perspective.

Sometimes, however, the Hanged Man reversed may be prompting you to take action, after all Odin was the god of war as well as wisdom. There is also a chance, that there is an inability to adjust one’s perspective and see things in a new manner. It can also indicate that the querent is feeling alienated from the world and also from the divine, and feeling that the situation is like taking a long walk in a dark tunnel with no way out.

Know that this too shall not stay and it will become easier to endure the sacrifice Odin demands of you for your ideals.

Work Cited:

MacCulloch, John A. Celtic Mythology . Pennsylvania State University: Academy Chicago, 1996.  

Andrew, Elizabeth J. Writing the Sacred Journey: Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir . Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, 2005.  

Rydberg, Viktor. Teutonic Mythology Gods and Goddesses of the Northland (in three volumes). Vol. I. LONDON-COPENHAGEN – STOCKHOLM – BERLIN- NEW YORK, NORROENA SOCIETY, 1907. III vols.  

Bellows, Henry Adams. The Poetic Edda. Vol. II VOLUMES IN I. New York: Princeton University Press: Princeton., 1936.  

Tauring, Kari. The Runes: A Human Journey ., 2007.  

Wilson, Elizabeth. Lights and Shadows of Ancient European Mythology, Language and History. Kessinger Publishing, 2003.  

Clover, Carol J. and John Lindow. Old Norse-Icelandic literature: a critical guide, Volume 45 . University of Toronto Press, 2005.  

Images Used on The Site. Illustrations from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, known also as the Rider Tarot and the Waite Tarot, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. 1971 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. All rights reserved. The Rider-Waite Tarot deck is a registered trademark of U.S. Games Systems, Inc

Further Reading:

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    Mark Grainger

    I have a couple issues with Odin as the tarot Hanged Man.

    First, the Tarot card is believed to be a “pittura infamante” or “defaming portrait,” used in the Renaissance to defame traitors, thieves, or corrupt people when no legal remedy was available. This doesn’t apply to Odin’s sacrifice.

    Second, there’s no indication from existing records that Odin hung himself by the foot. To the contrary, the implication is that he hung by the neck and was pierced by a spear. This “model” of sacrifice was also used in the sagas when sacrificing humans to Odin. In one such story, a leader is intended to be the sacrifice, and to try and get out of dying, he and his men set up a mock sacrifice, where they use a noose on a weak branch and plan to spear him with a harmless stick. But at the last second, the branch thickens and the stick turns into a spear, and the leader is killed.

    So, while I agree both images are about sacrifice for the greater good, the Hanged Man and Odin are not related beyond that broad meaning.

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