This website uses cookies to provide a rich user experience. Please consult our Cookie Policy to learn about what cookies this website uses, or to control the cookies you receive. You need do nothing if you are happy to receive cookies.
Look and Learn History Picture Library License images from £2.99 Pay by PayPal for images for immediate download Member of British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA)

Odin, Valhalla and the ride of the Valkyries

Posted in Legend, Music, Myth, Religion on Monday, 17 December 2012

Click on any image for details about licensing for commercial or personal use.

This edited article about Odin originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 799 published on 7th May 1977.

Wotan kills Siegmund, picture, image, illustration

In Teutonic mythology the Norse god Odin becomes Woden or Wotan, here killing Siegmund in a scene from Wagner’s Ring, as Brunnhilde looks on, by Ron Embleton

One of the fiercest gods of ancient times was Odin, who wore a shining breastplate and a golden helmet. To the Germanic people of the second century, he was known as Woden, the god of war. But in Norse mythology he was Odin, the greatest of the gods.

They visualised him as the god of night storms, riding through the skies on his huge magical horse, Sleipnir. This faithful steed had eight hooves and could gallop over land and water or glide through the air.

They imagined Odin leaping through the lightning-streaked sky, grasping his spear. Gungnir, which had been made by dwarfs.

In battle, the warriors sought his help; and the Angles and Saxons called upon him to be on their side before they invaded Britain in the 5th century.

Odin’s horse was the swiftest of all stallions. The story is told that one day Odin was riding in the land of the giants, when one of the inhabitants. Hrungnir, admired both horse and rider. Hrungnir claimed, “I myself have a stallion which is even stronger and swifter than yours.”

Odin challenged the giant to prove this and the two raced across the countryside.

However sharply Hrungnir prodded his horse with his spurs, he could not catch up with Odin. Each time he reached the crest of a hill, he saw Odin flying on Sleipnir ahead of him towards the next crest.

Hrungnir was not the only person to have reason to wonder at the magical qualities of Odin’s horse. Once a man called Hadding was being chased by merciless enemies. Odin picked him up, wrapped him in a large cloak and lay him on the saddle before him. While the horse was galloping home, the young man curiously glanced out through a hole in the cloak.

He was shocked by what he saw. They were travelling over the sea and Sleipnir’s hooves were pounding the ocean as though he were on a paved road.

Odin’s home was a large palace called Valhalla where he dwelt with his favourite heroes who had been killed in battle.

Gleaming gold covered the roof and on benches lay the heroes’ breastplates. The palace hall was enormous with 540 doors, each wide enough to admit 800 soldiers abreast. Each evening, Odin watched the heroes feasting and fighting; the flashing of their swords reflected the huge fires burning in the middle of the hall.

Two crows perched on Odin’s shoulders whispering in his ear. Every day, they flew all over the world, speaking to the living and the dead, and came back before breakfast to give Odin the news.

In Valhalla lived two supernatural women called Valkyries, who were both guardians and servants. Apart from waiting on the warriors, they had more war-like duties.

Whenever a battle was being fought, the Valkyries went among the fighters and decided who should die and which side should win.

They were invisible to all except the heroes chosen to die and go to Valhalla. To these chosen, they would suddenly appear and tell them of their fate.

Many tales are told about Odin. Not only was he a war-like god, but he could cure illness with magic; he could make the weapons of an enemy useless; he could break a prisoner’s chains, calm or enrage the sea and make the dead speak.

The Angles and Saxons looked upon him as the ancestor of their kings, and the fourth day of the week. Wednesday (Woden’s day), bears his name. The manner in which the cult began is very interesting.

In certain parts of Europe, people believed that, on stormy nights, they could hear the galloping of horses’ hooves through the sky. These were ridden, they said, by the ghosts of dead warriors led by a raging fighter. They called this leader Woden, from the German word for “rage”.

So the belief spread and the stories multiplied and grew more and more imaginative until Woden – or Odin – became a wonderful god whose exploits still make exciting reading today.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.