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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Odin as a God of Healing

 When Odin is mentioned in conversation most people probably do not immediately think of him as a healing deity. God of battle, of the valiant dead, of poetry, of kings, of runes, even of magic or wisdom, but probably not healing. However I have personally related to him this way for many years and often pray to him to heal illnesses and injuries. Admittedly this began as my own personal practice becuase it seemed natural to go to Odin for pretty much anything since I dedicated to him, but as it turns out there is some evidence that he may have been seen as such historically as well. So let's look at the historic evidence of Odin as a god of healing*
    There are two examples of Odin being referred to or prayed to as a helaing God; both appear in 10th century manuscripts. One is the Anglo-Saxon "Nine Herbs Charm" which refers to Woden in relation to herbal healing, and the other is the Germanic second Merserburg Charm which refers to Wodan healing an injured horse.

   The Nine Herbs Charm, excerpt:
  "A snake came crawling, it bit a man.
Then Woden took nine glory-twigs,
Smote the serpent so that it flew into nine parts.
There apple brought this pass against poison,
That she nevermore would enter her house" (Cameron, 1993)

  The second Merserburg Charm:
  "Phol and Wodan were riding to the woods,
and the foot of Balder's foal was sprained
So Sinthgunt, Sunna's sister, conjured it.
and Frija, Volla's sister, conjured it.
and Wodan conjured it, as well he could:
Like bone-sprain, so blood-sprain,
so joint-sprain:
Bone to bone, blood to blood,
joints to joints, so may they be glued" (Fortson, 2004)

  In the 9 Herbs Charm we see Odin being invoked against poison in relation to a larger herbal magic charm. In the Merserburg Charm we see him being invoked in conjunction with Sinthgunt (unknown outside of this reference but referred to as a sister of Sunna), and Frija (Frigga) to heal what could be a severe sprain or broken leg of a horse. This second charm itself is very similar to one in the Carmina Gadelica, Charm of the Sprain 130, referring to "Bride" (Brighid)
   "Bride went out
In the morning early,
With a pair of horses;
One broke his leg,
With much ado,
That was apart,
She put bone to bone,
She put flesh to flesh,
She put sinew to sinew,
She put vein to vein;
As she healed that
May I heal this
." (Carmichael, 1900)
   I tend to believe the similarity may reflect a pattern of healing charms found in both cultures which leads me to believe that the Merserburg Charm was likely to have been used as a healing chant over a certain type of injury. The two healing charms are enough for me to feel that he was likely to have been called on for healing, at least in certain areas and during a later period, and that, as they say, is good enough for me.
   I have viewed Odin as a god of healing for many years and I pray to him in conjunction with other deities including Eir, Brighid, and Airmed. I would say that for myself I have found that he is very effective in this capacity, but his help in this area is always at a cost in proportion to what is being asked for. When I am willing to pay that price he has literally preformed miracles; when I am not willing to pay then the offer stays open, as it were.


*I should be clear that although I am a "hard" polytheist I do believe that Odin, Wotan, Woden, and Wodan (among other names) are the same deity. Odin has more names than any other god I know of, including more than 200 by names or heiti.

References:
Cameron, M., (1993). Anglo-Saxon Medicine.
Carmichael, A., (1900). Carmina Gadelica volume 2
Fortson, B., (2004).  Indo-European language and culture: an introduction

4 comments:

  1. and having posted this I have of course come upon some additional supporting evidence. A site for the Orkney Islands, an area of Scotland which was settled by the Norse, discusses Odin and specifically mentions him in connection to a Christianized healing charm used there which is strikingly similar to the second Merserburg Charm http://www.orkneyjar.com/tradition/wreestin.htm
    Also in disucssing this a friend pointed out, very rightly so, that it was Odin who breathed life into the first humans in the Norse creation story, which could also relate him to healing of the life giving or breathe/lung related sort. Some fascinating food for thought there.

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  2. Thanks for posting this... it was timely. A friend and mentor is ill. I'll put your research to good use.

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  3. The "joint to joint, sinew to sinew" charm seems to be very, very old. In 500BCE, the Atharva-Veda includes the following,

    "Let thy marrow come together with thy marrow, thy joint together with thy joint; together let what of thy flesh has fallen apart, together let thy bone grow over." (Whitney, William Dwight, Atharva-Veda Samhita, Motilal Banarsidass, 1962, pp.166-168, as quoted in Flowers, Stephen E., The Galdrabók, Rûna-Raven Press, 2005, p.81 or Weiser, 1989, p.111).

    That would seem to indicate that the charm may date back as far as the period prior to the split of Indic and European groups.

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  4. Excellent post! Thanks for the information.

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